Portrayal of Men and Women in cartoons

by Sai Krupa

Watching cartoons is easily a preferred pastime for most kids. From Tom and Jerry to Dora the explorer, the list of cartoons that holds our attention regularly goes on and on. Children are attracted to colorful images and animated characters, and when they grow older, to the storyline, too. Children retain what they see, because cartoons are visually capable of capturing their attention. The cartoon industry thus plays a vital role in the development of children’s thoughts, ideas and responses to things happening around them. As children are innocent, they get conditioned to certain opinions, stereotypes, notions and expectations that are difficult to change later.

Children usually believe what they see. When a child watches cartoons that showcase certain gender stereotypes, they retain those ideas. Johnny Bravo, for example, projects the male lead character as a muscular man whose job is to only chase after girls. Chota Bheem, a rather influential and popular cartoon series, misleads children into assuming that the male lead always remains powerful no matter what happens. Cartoons tend to project unrealistic traits that lead to a lasting impression on what a gender role is. Let’s take a closer look into how genders are projected in cartoons.

When it comes to the basic gender stereotypes around masculinity, it is that they are strong, aggressive, dominating and powerful. Cartoons base themselves on these rules. Men are portrayed as macho, aggressive and have no room for emotional vulnerability. Johnny Bravo is one such cartoon. Further, men are given more importance in cartoons so much that the story is either based completely on them or revolves around their life, leaving very less space, time and value for women. Women are shown in stereotypical roles or supporting roles. They play roles that do not show heroism or boldness. Unfortunately, they are reduced to supporting roles even when the male characters fail to complete any task or achieve anything worthwhile. The basic characteristic assigned to women is that of being caring, very reserved and calm. For example, in Scooby Doo, although it’s Velma who solves the case, Shaggy — though cowardly — takes the credit. In a similar manner, Fred and Daphne are portrayed as though Daphne is weak and needs Fred to protect her.

Women, irrespective of their ages, are projected in a negative light — for example, as an evil witch. Or, they are portrayed as being completely dependent on the male characters of the family, often having no goals of their own. Or, a woman is shown as a glamour doll — like Miss Bellum in the Powerpuff Girls, or even Penelope Pitstop.

Children learn from what they see. When such things are repeatedly played on television, they are conditioned to follow stereotypes as the norm. These stereotypes have a deep impact on these young minds, they limit their thoughts and fail to allow kids to be open-minded and open to other points of view. As children grow up, it is not easy for them to accept other ideas and perspectives of gender. They grow up with a biased perspective, and may not be open to accepting the perspectives of others.

The effect cannot be quantified, but it is definitely a very negative one.