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Girls, Dolls, and Ponies

I chose to analyze the children’s cartoon, Horseland, for the reading “reality? tv assignment because the show presents “realistic? characters with whom children are meant to identify. Horseland airs on CBS Saturday mornings at 9am as part of the Secret Slumber Party series. On weekend mornings, CBS hosts a Secret Slumber Party and shows cartoons that are largely targeted towards young females. Between shows, five girls in their pajamas dance, sing, and encourage young viewers to stay tuned for more. I stumbled upon Horseland by accident and deemed it worthy of feminist analysis because of the incredible gender division presented between the male and female characters.

“Fire, Fire Burning Bright,? the episode of Horseland that I viewed, told a moralistic tale about the importance of doing one’s part as a member of a team. Five girls, chaperoned by their male friend, went camping in the woods with their horses for their first time. Two of the girls did not want to pull their weight and, as a result of their laziness and carelessness, burned down a forest and jeopardized the lives of their peers. Chloe and Zoey did not gather enough water and, when left with the responsibility of dowsing the fire, did an insufficient job of extinguishing it fully. While everyone was sleeping, a forest fire began and the characters were forced to pull together, (led by the male character Will), to escape the blaze.
What struck me initially about this series was the portrayal of the girls in the show. All five girls were stick thin and beautiful with extremely long hair. Aside from the fact that the girls went camping, they were very feminine and required a male to guide and take care of them. After the group escaped from the fire, one of the girls said to Will: “We’re all safe because of you.? Although the moral of the story was about teamwork and responsibility, the message sent was that females should trust men instead of themselves to take care of a situation. When the characters were forced to swim to safety and Chloe and Zoey explained they could not swim, another girl offered to bear the weight of one of them. Will told the girls no, that the extra weight could endanger both girls’ lives. Chloe responded by saying, “I don’t weigh that much.? This young character with whom the young female audience is meant to identify with is already worried about being perceived as heavy. The majority of the characters, (three of the girls and the male leader), were white. Two of the girls were of an unspecified ethnic background and stood as the token representatives of people of color. Each character had a horse and so it is likely that they were of a wealthy class.
Although this show may not appear to be “reality? tv, it is designed with the intent that its viewers will identify with the characters and learn lessons from them. As Ann Decille writes in her piece, “Dyes and Dolls: Multicultural Barbie and the Merchandising of Difference?: “Dolls in particular invite children to replicate them, to imagine themselves in their dolls’ images? (48). Cartoons characters as well as dolls are texts from which children learn what it is to be “real.? If the bodies girls see in the media are mainly white, thin, beautiful, and “feminine,? they will assume that this is what real women are supposed to be. Shows such as Horseland create an image of the female body that children learn to accept as normal. Deborah Sarbin writes: “In terms of the media, we continue to face the relentless homogenizing of the female body? (The Short, Happy Life of Plus-size Women’s Fashion Magazines, 241).
If the dancing girls between shows was not enough of a clue, the commercials that aired during Horseland and the Secret Slumber Party series made it quite apparent that the audience being targeted was young girls. The commercials reinforced the stereotypical portrayals of uber-feminine young girls obsessed with performing their gender through fashion, friendships, and play. There was a commercial for the Bratzgirls dolls that struck me because the promoter specifically said, “They do things just like you,? and then went on to describe how the dolls love fashion, sunbathing, and shopping. What is so intriguing about this quote is that the girls watching the commercial are taught what it is girls “should? do from consumer culture. The dolls are not modeled after girls’ activities, but the girls are molded by patriarchal stereotypes posing as dolls. Ann Decille describes dolls as: “objects that do the dirty work of patriarchy and capitalism in the most insidious way- in the guise of child’s play? (50).
The problem with Horseland and cartoons such as this is that they teach young impressionable girls how to be “real.? They bury ideas in girls heads about beauty and behavior that later manifest in weight worries, eating disorders, and low self-esteem. We need REAL role-models in the media for children to identify with if we want to break the cycle of patriarchy driven by consumer culture. Children learn from what they see and so the issue of children’s media must be addressed by feminism and in feminist goals.