Just to be clear…

…the fact that I talk a lot about how the Nick TMNT‘ series is consistently embarrassing when it comes to women doesn’t mean that other TMNT incarnations could not also, on occasion, be just as embarrassing.

BttS Cast

This right here is an image of all the characters in season 7 of the 4Kids TMNT cartoon to have an impact on the plot of a given episode.  Of the fourteen fifteen sixteen (I forgot Splinter and the Ultimate Gamer–hat tip to Loudo for that one), only two three–roughly 13% 19%– are coded female, and only one appears in more than one episode.  Of the ten eleven characters to have an impact on more than one episode, only one (9%) is a woman.  So riddle me this, Batman: why is that number so low?  And why do creators seem to consider that ratio acceptable?

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11 Responses to Just to be clear…

  1. Loudo says:

    Actually, you are forgetting one (kind of) important female character from the cast of Season 7: the Ultimate Gamer, who was the main villain of the SuperQuest episode. I thought it was a nice idea, because MMORPG players (and nerds in general) are usually portrayed as boys.
    Also, I think this season was the first time we saw a female Purple Dragon who isn’t Angel. Not saying this makes the gender ratio of this season acceptable, just pointing a few extra women. 😄

  2. Ian says:

    Oh, dang. I totally forgot her, yeah : ). In fact, I’m extra-grateful for the reminder, since you’ve just made me realize I’m actually missing the character models for that episode. As for the Purple Dragons, there were actually a handful of female members shown in Angel’s debut episode, although they didn’t get to appear as regularly as some of the others. In any case, I tend to count Dragons as extras unless there’s a reason to classify them as something else (such as how the three who appear in “The Christmas Turtles” are that episode’s main antagonists) so yeah, not insignificant, but not particularly relevant when it comes to this particular list.

  3. Pterobat says:

    T’make it worse, Viral was essentially taken over by Cyber Shredder, and Cyber Shredder was a male character (if Cyber Shredder had been female, that would have been interesting).

    People are comfortable for a lot of reasons, most of which we’re both familiar with. Probably the most important for a children’s show is that it is assumed the target audience (young boys) aren’t interested in stories about female characters, while young girls will watch the show regardless.

    In the larger view, being a male character is seen as “neutral” and “normal” by many and therefore, a character needs a “reason” to be female.

    Awful stuff.

  4. Loudo says:

    I agree the Purple Dragon doesn’t belong to this list. But I think it would have significant if this season had been the first one to introduce a female anonymous goon. But since this isn’t the case never mind that, I’ll have to rewatch Angel’s episode, I didn’t remember the Purple Dragon women. =)

  5. Loudo says:

    @Pterobat
    Actually, I don’t find that a negative thing (maybe not positive, but not negative either). I mean, I find it annoying when you have a female villain who is constantly handled with kid gloves, just because she’s a woman.
    Viral was a great villain for me. She was a female character, yet she was bossed and bullied by her boss, she got her ass constantly kicked by the turtles, and is one of the few characters in the whole series to die.
    I think it’s much more satisfying then having Leonardo spare Karai every two episodes she appeared in (as much as I like Karai, I found that frustrating).

  6. thatotherguy says:

    Hey I sparked a post! (If I didn’t, please ignore the previous sentence).

    I think it comes down to something I believe you mentioned on this blog elsewhere. The view that male is somehow the default, especially in a series targeted at young boys. It doesn’t help that the original comics were created as four (male) ninja turtles and their (male) ninja rat sensei (do you ever think about how weird this premise is?) I actually cut the comics a break, since they were originally created as a parody of the “grim ‘n gritty” style of comics, and in a parody of that style of comic, you probably would make your heroes male.

    It also doesn’t help that The Next Mutation soured the entire fan-base on the idea of a female turtle (mind you that show was terrible and Venus de Milo wasn’t exactly an interesting character. Actually strike that, Venus de Milo wasn’t actually a character).

    That being said, I don’t particularly like (even though in my post on your “New Girl in Town” review I did just this) the counting of women for these shows. I think it’s a lot better to look at how the female characters are portrayed.

    I admit to liking the 2012 series but if there’s a problem with its dealing with gender, it’s not the lack of female characters, it’s Don’s creepy crush thing (shame because, beyond that character trait, I actually really like this version of Don) and April…utter blandness. At first I liked this April but honestly, she’s been given very few personality traits other than “nice” and “determined”. Mind, this is a start for character traits, but her character has received little fleshing out, and she’s soured on me for that reason. Karai…well in her first episode I had no clue what to make of her. But it’s her first episode. I’ll give her time.

    Back to the 2003 series the number of women may be very low, but they’re mostly dealt with well. The worst one is probably Starly as she exists entirely to be a love interest for Cody and…uh…yeah that’s all she’s there for. Most of the other female characters are either pretty well fleshed out (even Angel, who appeared in something like 4 episodes, gets pretty decent characterization) or interesting conceptually (Viral’s been brought a lot here. FF doesn’t get enough credit for some of it’s really cool ideas and Viral was a primary example). The counting of the number of women in the series overall leads to disappointing results but the women/girls that 2k3 has are treated very well as characters (in addition to the characters that I missed like Viral, nobody mentioned Renet who annoys the heck out of me, but counts) and for that reason this isn’t the biggest problem I have with that series.

    No that would be the Ninja Tribunal season which I loathe with every fiber of my being.

    Okay maybe that was a bit extreme. (Yikes, that was a long post).

  7. Ian says:

    @thatotherguy

    Yes, you totally did spark a post. Take a bow, you! : )

    I tend to cut Eastman and Laird a fair bit of slack as well, because the original TMNT concept was made on a lark, with no expectation that it needed to make sense or be progressive or have actual characterization. Or, for that matter, without the slightest clue it would ever become a multimedia phenomenon, in which their initial characters would become entrenched. Were they to do it all over again, knowing what they now know…who knows?

    As for quality vs. quantity, I don’t agree. Yes, a show that has gender parity but no interesting female characters isn’t much of an improvement over the status quo, but I also think that there is a direct correlation between the amount of female characters and the chance that any of them will be awesome.

    Take Avatar: The Last Airbender, for example. Azula, one of its main antagonists, is considered one of the series most popular characters, and is considered by many to be one of the greatest villains in animation. She’s amoral, charismatic, driven, manipulative, openly sexual, sadistic and an excellent fighter…all in all, rather awesome, as Tumblr would attest.

    Azula would never exist in a work where she is the only female character. First, that show would never be allowed to have its only female character be a villain. Second, a show would not allow its only female character not be a love interest. Third, any character that awesome would quickly be considered a Mary Sue.

    To put it another way, works with one [woman, person of color, member of a marginalized group] tend to spend a lot of effort making sure that that person isn’t seen as an offensive portrayal of that entire group. As such, those characters tend to be…well, inoffensive: straight (unless they’re the gay character), conventionally attractive, smart-but-not too smart, a capable fighter–as the poem A strong female character describes (and yes, I’ve linked to it already; it’s worth linking to again) they are designed to be basically broad enough so that they can do anything a writer needs that [lone member of a marginalized group] to do. As such, manipulative Azula can never be that character. The X-Men’s openly sexual Emma Frost can never be that character. Omar, the gay, African American stick-up man from The Wire, can never be that character. Renet can never be that character. Instead, we tend to get Aprils, and while I like April, she’s not the sort of character I feel passionate about. What’s more, having Aprils as the sole representative of women makes a lot of other women invisible, which is problematic in the extreme.

    On the other hand, having more of everyone means more chances to be distinct and individual and quirky without the creators having to worry about being offensive–you can have your women who are fat and confident and your women who are fat and self-conscious about it and your women who like having lots of sex with strangers and your women who don’t and your women who are absolutely fucked up and your women who know everything there is to know about both shoes and fighting and women who know nothing about either but love to make lists and your women who are gay and your women who were born the wrong sex–basically, you have the chance to create people.

    In my second Karai essay, one of the commenters, GregX, complained that Karai’s arc in the Ninja Tribunal season took away her chance to become a great female villain, which is especially bad when those are so very rare. And that’s true! However, also true, I feel, is the idea that Karai never had the chops for long-term villainy, and that trying to turn her into one would have been a disservice to the character. What’s more, I also feel that she had the potential for an absolutely fascinating arc about having to rebuild one’s life after everything comes crashing down. So how to square the circle? More characters, rather than pushing characters into roles they may not be suited for.

    @Loudo:

    Personally, I’d be more on board with the lack of plot armor if the people getting killed off weren’t underrepresented–sure, it’s a bit like affirmative action for underrepresented characters, but then, there’s a reason why affirmative action is a good idea. What’s more, the way this particular “death” comes about feels, to me, too “Rocks fall, everybody dies”–Viral is overtaken because the plot requires her to, and we never even get to see her attempt to kick ass as she is killed. Plus, given how resulting character turned out to be considerably less interesting than she was, I’d probably be much happier with her being kept around.

    @Pterobat:

    Probably the most important for a children’s show is that it is assumed the target audience (young boys) aren’t interested in stories about female characters, while young girls will watch the show regardless.

    Well, yeah. I just want people who haven’t necessarily thought about this before to wonder why that’s the case, when there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. I mean, it’s not like The Hunger Games hasn’t made a billion trillion bucks, or that The Legend of Korra and Powerpuff Girls weren’t huge hits. Even if it is true, for example, that action figures of female characters don’t sell as well of those of male characters, it bears investigating why that’s the case. : )

  8. Pterobat says:

    @Ludo:

    Erm, my complaint is not that Viral suffers, but that she is taken over and replaced by a male character, that being Cyber Shredder. A female character replaced by a male character. Nothing else.

    @Ian:

    I do believe Karai could have gone down the path of self-destructive vengeance, and it’s an interesting thing to imagine. I think we need more tragic female characters, or female characters who are anti-heroes in the classical sense.

    And sadly, while we see female-lead series being successful, many parties will be determined to treat them as outliers. It sucks, and we’ll have to do what we can.

  9. Ian says:

    Moderator Note: F.Y.I.: I’ve unapproved a comment posted here at 6:02 a.m. today, as it made me uncomfortable and left me unsure about what I should do about it or how the comment policy should apply. Depending on what I decide to do, it may get restored intact, restored under a cipher, or deleted outright. If anyone wishes to ask me about it, they may do so privately at my e-mail address the_big_bad_85 att hotmail.com. Thank you.

  10. Scott says:

    Just curious but why only bring up the female character ratio? Can’t this be said for any type of minority?

    Why not bring up the lack of black characters on the show? Or Hispanic characters? Or Indians? Or what about the fact that the series has no gay or lesbian characters (and for this I am talking about the comics more than the cartoons).

    You can say this for any type of minority.

  11. Ian says:

    Hello, Scott. Yes, you are perfectly correct that there are several complaints that one could make about the franchise’s lack of diversity when it comes to groups besides women. Putting aside the fact that a) you can’t have Women of Color or QUILTBAG* women if there are no women period and that my argument for more women is implicitly an argument for more racial and sexual diversify b) that I have, in fact, written about the lack of gay characters throughout the franchise’s history before, there’s the fact that, well, that’s not the argument at the moment. I may talk in the future, and I do in fact have plans to do just that, when time permits. However, this does not diminish the importance of those topics, or my support for more People of Color and QUILTBAG characters in the franchise.

    As to why I don’t want to talk about them for the moment, there are several reasons. First of all, there’s the fact that the franchise has historically done considerably better when it comes to representing men of color than they have women. Some versions have done better than others (the original cartoon was fond of racist caricatures) and there tends to be a lot of disparity when it comes to which groups are represented (the 2003 series, for example has several prominent Black and African American people, but no people explicitly coded as Latino) but speaking in the most general terms, things look considerably better. Second, there’s the fact that personally, I find the issue harder to talk about properly–particularly in a series where many of the characters aren’t explicitly coded as having a “race”–making talking about it something that requires more preparation and perhaps more knowledge on the topic than I currently possess.

    —-

    * Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans*, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer

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