My mother is a self-described "70s feminist." When I was growing up, she kind of discouraged me and my siblings from being into stuff like My Little Pony because she felt it reinforced limiting gender stereotypes. Which, this having been the 1980s, was probably true.
So the conversation in which I told her I was now, in my 30s, a huge My Little Pony fan was odd.
We were having coffee, and I said "you'll never guess what I'm into now."
"My Little Pony."
"Oh. (pause) So you're reliving your lost girlhood?"
"Yes, but there's more."
The fact is, I think MLP in its current incarnation is, for the most part, an unexpectedly enlightened voice for feminism in children's entertainment. Female, not male, is the cultural default gender in Equestria, and femininity is allowed to encompass the full range of individual personalities, and the message that anyone really can be anything she feels inside is...a big part of why I'm such a fan and why I find the show inspiring. I hope lots of kids are watching it. That would make me hopeful for the future.
I would have said, four years ago, that that couldn't be done with a schlocky property like MLP. I can only presume Ms. Faust, like her namesake, sold her soul to bring us this. There's really no other explanation.
But notice I said "for the most part." There are times MLP causes me to throw up my hands and say to it "dude, I stuck up for you to my feminist mom. Don't make me look stupid here."
I have a list for you. I was composing it in my head while I was sitting in traffic with my cat making a sad face at me because I forced her to go to the vet this morning.
To the cast and crew of MLP:FIM, if you're reading this (yeah, right, ha ha ha), I criticize because I love your work and hold you to a higher standard.
TOP FIVE LEAST FEMINIST THINGS ABOUT THE (OTHERWISE QUITE FEMINIST) CURRENT INCARNATION OF MY LITTLE PONY
5. Miss America
I'm not one of those people for whom Twilight Sparkle getting wings was a jumping-the-shark moment. I like it fine. I look forward to seeing what they do with it in season 4.
But the HUB having the reigning Miss America there to introduce the show? For Celestia's sake. Are you just trolling every feminist in the world? Did you enter an "undermining your own message" contest?
4. Princess Celestia
I like Celestia fine as a character, but why isn't she Queen Celestia? That would make a lot more sense; Celestia is clearly in charge, and that's a queen, not a princess. I have been told Ms. Faust originally intended for her to be a queen, but Hasbro said no, "princess" is more commercial. (I was told this by someone at a party, but I'm repeating it anyway because it's convenient to my point.)
It doesn't interfere with my own enjoyment of the show, but I do feel there's already quite enough pressure for little girls to aspire to being "princesses." The word has connotations of "more pretty than useful."
Celestia is a queen, and calling her a princess diminishes her. Don't be afraid of female power, Hasbro.
3. Princess Cadance
If we're going to have queens but call them "princesses," fine, but then stick to that. Celestia is the sun, nurturing and watching over all. Luna is mistress of the night and queen of the dreamworld.
Cadance is...well, she's pink!
She doesn't even fit the theme (the other princesses are day, night, and twilight). She's just this pink alicorn whose only useful function in the show involved her being thrown at someone, and whose actual function was to have a pink princess for commercial purposes.
Putting her in the same category as the rulers of Equestria, who seem to actually be engaged in useful activities, diminishes what could be a pretty strong statement to little girls.
It's like Hasbro is trying to make money instead of art. I know, right? Totally out of nowhere.
2. The toys
Speaking of Hasbro.
The show could so easily just have been a commercial for toys. Previous versions of it certainly fell into that category. But they gave it to someone who took it seriously and gave it a soul, and something worthwhile to say.
And so hearing a Princess Celestia doll saying "my barrettes are so pretty!," which would have been unsurprising to me at any point prior to 2010, now makes me cringe. The aspects of the MLP phenomenon that are directly controlled by Hasbro lag way behind the show.
And...well, you know what's coming.
1. Equestria Girls
I really hate Equestria Girls.
People who worked on that, if you're reading this (hahahahahaha, I'm hilarious!), you did a fine job with what you had to work with (unless you're responsible for the script or the character designs, in which case...well, I still choose to blame Hasbro).
But the whole thing badly undercuts everything I like about the TV show. The fact that every character is identically model-thin undercuts the TV show's "femininity comes in all flavors" message. The high-school-popularity storyline does its best to shoehorn itself into the show's power-of-friendship theme, but...the prom? Really?
And Twilight Sparkle...almost gives up the literal essence of who she is for some barely-distinguishable douche, for whom she has feelings because the plot requires her to.
Giving up who you are for a man is pretty much the idea feminism exists to challenge. To me there's no better argument for not considering the movie "canon" than that the Twilight Sparkle I know and love would never, ever do that.
So what am I saying? I'm saying Friendship is Magic is, partly by design and partly despite design, a fantastic leap forward for feminism in children's entertainment. It presents child and adult fans with an alternative to patriarchy and the gender binary. If its message reaches a lot of children, that would be a really good thing for the future.
And when My Little Pony acts more like the version my feminist mom wouldn't let me get into as a child, I'll be here ineffectually complaining about it on the internet.
Peace love and miniature horses,