This is another one of those “versus” articles where I both agree and disagree with the one I’m versing. In this case however its a case of agreeing this exists but questioning examples and going more into why it exists. The video itself goes into it further of course but here’s what you need to know to decide whether or not to waste time on either of us.
Named after the lone girl Smurf, that’s basically the idea. It’s a bunch of male characters and one girl. This mostly happens in boys shows, a belief on the part of creators and toy companies that little boys don’t want to see a lot of those cootie-producers in their shows. I’m not sure I ever agreed with that and I certainly don’t now. No matter why it happened the fact is it did happen.
In the video by Saberspark, he (or rather girl counterpart Sabie) go over the idea of the Smurfette Principle, its origins, and if it’s really as horrible as some make it out to be. I might have just posted it but these are young whippersnappers. I was there, man. I know what went down in the 1980s, where this happened. And I know one of their examples is completely wrong. See if you can guess which one when they hit the “lightning round” early on.
Catch more Saberspark on his YouTube channel.
And visit Sabie’s voice actress, Elsie Lovelock, on her YouTube channel.
If you guessed the example I thought they were way off on was the original He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe you were paying attention yesterday. While the toyline only had two girl characters–one good, one evil–because Mattel didn’t think boys would even buy that, the original mini-comics they try to sell two Teelas to kids by creating the Goddess, which was really just the Teela figure in the snake armor. Oh, they tried to explain that as Teela being the Goddess’s clone daughter…and the squicky plan that it entailed, but it was still an excuse not to make another girl figure. In the cartoon the Goddess would be renamed the Sorceress and her costume changed to that of a colored falcon as they turned Zoar from a winged warrior with guns on his head to her normal-sized falcon disguise when leaving Castle Grayskull. She would eventually get her own action figure.
Meanwhile, plenty of other women would appear on the show, from one-shots to returning characters. All of them were strong in one way or another, with only one strong in a bad way (she was a selfish brat) and another being weak but learning to become strong because like I said yesterday Eternia is a planet-wide death trap and women there HAVE to be strong as the men in order to survive. This is what drew girls to the show as much as the boys. The women were feminine but were also smart, good pilots, and sometimes even saved the guys. That’s why the original She-Ra: Princess Of Power existed, with Bow not even being the only male thanks to Kowl, Broom, and two of three Twigglets on the hero side, plus other random men and women shown part of the Rebellion army. Back on Eternia there were also women in the Royal Guard and all the girls I mentioned who were powerful in their own way, all still feminine while doing so. No girly-girls here unless you watch the Princess Of Power toy ads and mini-comics. Even if they collected flowers they were placed next to their weapons rack.
The reason the girl hero even existed was because “boys don’t hit girls” so someone had to fight the villainesses. Maybe they were supposed to show that women can do anything boys can do (there’s an episode that tried to prove the point in a way that was totally unnecessary because the whole series did that without it being a moral of the day theme) or just something different for the animators to draw but these were boys shows. The industry wouldn’t realize girls like action shows as well until the 80s shows proved it, and even then it wouldn’t be until the 90s that they got anything more intense than Lady Lovelylocks with exceptions like Jana Of The Jungle, The Secrets Of Isis, and Goldie Gold & Action Jack.
Even the Smurf themselves fall into this category. The little blue people first appeared as one-shot characters in an issue of Johan and Peewit (pronounced “Peewee” like in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon). The story was called “The Flute With Six Holes”, and the “Schtroumpf” (the Smurf’s original name in that story and native language) weren’t in the majority of the story. If you’ve seen the cartoon movie adaptation not made by HB, or the recently translated comic for Papercutz’ run of Smurfs comics (I did a review) you know that the flute was created by the Smurfs and when its magic ended up in the hands of a crook our heroes went looking for the Smurfs to help. Smurfette wasn’t even in existence at the time, but the Schtroumpf were popular enough that Peyo gave them their own series. In fact the story that debuted her in the comics wasn’t even as complementary to her as the show was. All Gargmel did was make a girl, and let the chaos happen naturally. She was kind of a pest, because this was, again, a series targeting boys who still though girls were icky and annoying. She got better eventually, but how much of that is on the cartoon I wouldn’t know.
The show would introduce a second girl. Sassette, among the kids introduced later in the season. Like Smurfette she was not created through…however the Smurfs came to exist, while the boy Smurflings were de-aged according to the Smurf wiki. Smurfette would return to the comics, though again I don’t know if the comic was first to make her a regular citizen of the village or the show. Either way, the female gender was never shown to be normal in the world of the Smurfs until the Lost Village movie nor where they shown needing to reproduce. They may be like the Autobots before the introduction of Female Autobots in season two, a genderless species who just happen to use male pronouns for the convenience of the young male audience.
The article came out in 1991, but by then there had started to be more shows for girls who liked action shows, and really that’s what we’re talking about here. Look again at Sabie’s examples. They’re all action shows for boys. Rainbow Brite, Princess Guinevere and the Jewel Riders, Sky Dancers, Lady Lovelylocks, Strawberry Shortcake, Moondreamers, The Secrets Of Isis, Butterbean’s Cafe, Sofia The First, Elena Of Avalor, Steven Universe (despite the title character being a boy), Kim Possible, Punky Brewster, The Pebbles & Bam-Bam Show, Sailor Moon, RWBY, Winx Club two different versions of DC Super Hero Girls, and WITCH are nowhere to be seen despite a balance or skewered female cast (and these are just ones I can remember as a boy who didn’t watch a lot of girls shows, though even I watched or watches a few shows on this list) but she does list of shows from each of these time periods, including more recent stuff like Paw Patrol. Oddly she doesn’t mention MASK, a show that falls into the Smurfette Principle rather well given that Gloria Baker, a recurring character on MASK’s side, and Vanessa Warfield, a regular member of VENOM’s missions of crime, certainly qualify. Meanwhile Pole Position features two human females, an adult and a little girl, and only one male among the two male-patterned vehicles and a little genetic experiment cat/racoon thing (that is his back story by the way) and Tess was always the more serious one compared to her brother Dan.
As far as Sesame Street having no leading ladies, maybe not the Muppets (the case should be made for Prairie Dawn and even now you have Abbie the pixie or whatever she is and not much else) but certainly among the humans there were three when I grew up and all were important to the show when I grew up. And let’s not discount support roles in action shows for boys (which again Teela and Tess were not, and really neither was Gloria) since if Crystal wasn’t there to beam the Centurions down their weapons or give them information they would have gotten killed and they knew it. G.I. Joe had women who fought alongside the male soldiers in a time when the military didn’t even have that and you can’t tell me that Scarlet, Lady Jaye, and Jinx weren’t badasses. (Cover Girl didn’t get much screen time.) Heck, Jinx was a martial arts expert who fought best with her eyes closed because she was trained by a blind master and you don’t mess with her. (Right, Lt. Falcon?)
As far as the other two examples she goes into, I agree on Star Wars, which is why I supported Forces Of Destiny promoting the few female heroes in the franchise that hadn’t been trashed with the expanded universe of the time. Both Leia and Padme were shown to be great fighters who could fight as well as their male counterpars, while Asoka had a character arc and Rey existed fully-formed with anything that could have been interesting drained away by, as Literature Devil would put it, being that awesome.
The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did add a few females to their cast besides April and the ignored by Sabie character Irma. Mona Lisa was Raphael’s love interest and would be re-imagined for Nickelodeon’s first Turtles cartoon. Then there’s Venus, a good idea so poorly utilized…which is really how Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation overall could be described…that we’d rather forget her. April wasn’t even a reporter in the original comics, but a scientist. The movie TMNT would finally show April kicking butt while the two shows she mentioned from Nick de-aged April to teenage in the first show and maybe 12 at best in Rise. (That’s how she looks to be anyway. They also race-swapped her because new characters are hard and the redhead bodycount had to start somewhere. Wait, no, that would be Jimmy Olsen, who still hasn’t had a live-action redhead version.) Others showed up in the comics and cartoons, but this again is a franchise targeting a male demographic and the show is usually targeted at boys. Should they make an action show that targets BOTH boys and girls? Yes. Will they? Unfortunately no, and it’s amazing they finally gave girls a few action shows where they’re the lead.
Am I defending the Smurfette Principle or saying it doesn’t exist? Not really. It does exist and it does happen too often, but there are shows that gender-swap the idea when targeting a more girl audience. Also, the women that were under the Principle are either important in the support role to saving the guys’ backsides and are shown to be strong in their own way when a crisis calls them to (there’s an episode of Centurions when Skyvault is invaded and Crystal is able to handle the situation while the guys try to get up there to help and she’s shown in the series to be smarter than Jake and Ace while as smart as team leader Max Ray) or just as strong in a battle as the boys. Teela, Isis, Astra, Moray, Micro Woman, Web Woman, Wonder Woman, Jana, Goldie Gold…all women who have appeared in Saturday Night Showcase (and some of their videos are still live) or in reviews I’ve done, and I’m only scratching the surface. A boys show doesn’t have as many women but it’s how they’re depicted that made me like then, and some of the shows with a primarily female cast. And she only mentioned cartoons (since Saberspark’s channel is animation-centered). I could list a number of live-action shows that did the same.
Sabie and Saberspark acknowledge things are improving and that using the Smurfette Principle to insist a show is sexist is exaggerating but something to consider when it comes to making better female characters. Girls are finally getting action shows with a primary female cast on par with the boys, while She-Ra is no longer the exception and how they’re approached are improving. However, action shows on the whole have been dying off so even boys are losing out on this genre out of a misconception that video games have killed the genre and action movies for adults have gone all dark and bloody. This is something to look at but should be looked at honestly, which the video ultimately does. That’s why I said at the start that this “versus” actually featured agreements, but that’s not as interesting to read according to the internet.
Now if he does an episode going further into the stuff about these shows being “glorified toy commercials” we have a serious argument in the making. I’m watching you, Saberspark! No, seriously, I follow his channel and watch his show and you guys should to. Link’s back up under the article.