I’ve often discussed on this blog the things that affected my sexuality as I grew up and a lot of those things are cartoons. Almost all kids watch cartoons. And lots and lots of cartoons have some kind of subtle sexual things going on, or some sexual or oversexualized character. I’m not here to discuss the worrying sexualization of things like Dora and Strawberry Shortcake. I’m not really talking about that kind of thing; it’s more of an inherent sexuality that, in its own gentle way, reflects that life is sexual, humans are sexual beings. It’s not pornographic or vulgar (most of the time). BUT there were many, many images of female characters, female characters with some kind of power, that impacted my sexuality greatly as a child. So this post is going to be dedicated to all those wonderful characters.
Ohhh, Jessica. Many a young person, of any gender, has swooned over your luscious, heavy-lidded, Veronica Lake-inspired visage, your impossibly, surreally curvy body and your mysterious, aloof disposition. Possibly the animated femme fatale to end all animated femme fatales, I had the HUGEST crush on Jessica Rabbit from about age 6 to…now. I watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit all the time as a child and was completely smitten with her. But she wasn’t just a sizzling sexpot or homage to noir femme fatales; she was pawn in a plot against her husband, one of the many people caught up in something they couldn’t control. Her motives become clearer as the story goes on and she transcends what she originally seems to be. I <3 Jessica Rabbit.
I’ve discussed at length the impact Sailor Moon had on my sexuality. I was attracted to practically every single scout; they were part of some of my earliest sexual fantasies. At 13, I had a very large clothe scroll image of the Inner Senshi…in swimsuits. There’s no denying the incredible affect this show had on me. Hot girls in short skirts kicking ass? Yes, please. Young me was totally excited about it. And young me also wasn’t stupid enough to buy that Haruka and Michiru were cousins. And thinking back on it, it’s very possible that Michiru and Haruka’s relationship, thinly veiled as it was by the censors, made me feel more comfortable with my own lesbian fantasies. All in all, this show was a fucking godsend for my sexuality, regardless of all the fucked up messages it sent out.
After Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z was the most important anime of my childhood. It was the “masculine” to Sailor Moon’s “feminine” and I liked the balance. And Bulma was the complete opposite of our ditzy lead Senshi, Usagi: she was an all around well-rounded character almost from the start. She felt very real to me: she had issues, she had a flawed love life, she was very, very intelligent (a scientific genius actually; it runs in the family) and kind-hearted but she was also temperamental and immature at times. She had believable progression as a character, as did all of the Dragon Ball characters (the series starts when Goku and Bulma are quite young). She goes from fifteen year old kid genius adventurer to believable young woman to mother of two children. Pretty intense character development for what was deemed ‘a kid’s show’. I was drawn to Bulma as a character, not just because she was attractive (very attractive) but because she seemed like someone I could know in real life.
Specifically the Batman: The Animated Series incarnation but really, any Catwoman will do. I loved Catwoman so much when I was younger that I would pretend to be her all the time. I had this hideous pair of leather boots that looked like elephant skin and went up to my shins that I called my Catwoman boots and I wore them EVERY WHERE. I would take black driving gloves (that were my mom’s) and put needles, point out, carefully in the finger tips to give myself claws. Catwoman is another femme fatale archetype; a sleek, sensual pussy cat who sexually teases Batman while committing all kinds of crimes. And she has a whip; she’s into bondage and that’s awesome. While Catwoman may not be a supervillain and rather more of an anti-hero than anything else, she was still a very compelling character, especially once you delve into her history and all her different incarnations.
This is another character that I’ve talked in depth about in the past so I won’t dwell on it here too long. Other than being in the film that first exposed me to the idea of repressed desires and tormented sexual psyches, Esmeralda the character was defiant, rebellious and concerned for the rights of her people. She represented a marginalized group and wouldn’t tolerate injustice. But during all this she maintains an air of good nature and flirtatious mischief. And something that I’ve only started to think about recently: Esmeralda expresses sexuality (through the power of pole dancing) and yet, she is not set up as an immoral character; rather it is the puritanical Frollo who is represented as the monster.
It’s no great surprise that Ms. Bellum from The Powerpuff Girls, what with her uncanny resemblance to Jessica Rabbit, should draw my attention (as I’m sure she did with many other viewers). The ironic humor of the character lies solely in the absence of her head: despite the fact that visually she is nothing more than a very sexy body she is the brains behind the mayoral office that runs Towsnville. The Mayor is nothing more than an incompetent manchild. The mix of quiet confident intelligence with that surreally curved body creates an overall delightful and incredibly attractive character.
Sedusa, on the other hand, is completely insane. She is all the negative feminine stereotypes people believe wrapped into one ball of wicked energy: maniacal, dangerous vanity (in the form of her killer locks); sexual teasing and coercion to turn men into idiots that will bend easily to her will (as demonstrated quite well in “Mommy Fearest” and “Something’s a Ms“; the latter of course is an awesome clash between Sedusa and Ms. Bellum); huge temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. She’s not quite the femme fatale that, say, Jessica Rabbit or Catwoman are. But she’s a great villain and honestly, sometimes there’s nothing more attractive than a great female villain in a tight suit.
Red Hot Riding Hood is a kind of unfortunate character: she exists solely to be looked at and drooled over (quite literally). There are a few different incarnations of her: Swing Shift Cinderella, Little Rural Riding Hood, Wild and Woolfy, and a few others but they are all basically the same character and all serve the same purpose. This is one of the few characters that I was drawn to almost entirely because of the way she looked; she was very sexualized and the cartoons were so energetically sexual and suggestive that censors actually demanded that some of the scenes be cut! And I think that with the mix of oversexualization and fractured fairy tale, it was easy to get drawn into.
The burlesque mouse, as I call her, from The Great Mouse Detective serves a similar purpose. She’s a sexy little mouse who sings a suggestive song in a seedy bar. This was one of my favorite parts of the movie. But why do I consider these two characters, who aren’t really much of characters in terms of development, as something that impacted me? Because I found them really, really sexy and was attracted to the way they looked; THAT impacted me. And they were the first exposure I had to burlesque; both characters are something that you’d be hard pressed to get away with in children’s entertainment now. They’re overtly sexual and I responded to that in a big way when I was younger.
So there’s a short list of some of the cartoons that had an affect, big or small, on my sexuality. I can look at all of these characters and figure out how they fit into my progression as a sexual person. And you may be wondering, well, why are they all girls? Did these cartoons make you queer? Of course not; there are hundreds of girls out there who watched these same characters just as much as I did and are straight. I gravitated towards them because I was attracted to the female form before the male. These cartoons sparked some of the earliest sexual attractions I had; I was naturally drawn to these female characters and they helped me further understand myself sexually. I appreciate the willingness of some animators to NOT shy away from the fact that humans, and yes, children, are sexual. Including sexuality of some kind in a cartoon or cartoon character does not pervert it or make it pornographic. These are all subtle forms of sex and sexuality. But they speak volumes. I appreciate every one of these characters for helping me understand myself, for helping me recognize the beauty of the female body without demonizing it, and for making me feel like it was okay to touch myself while thinking of women. These cartoons are fucking amazing.