This week, the BBC treated us to a history lesson about sexual revolution — in the form of animation. Every generation, the BBC says, has its own subversive female cartoon character who sashays or skydives or golden lassos her way into our lives, and challenges society’s views about femininity. Here are a couple of their best picks:
Betty Boop, 1930
When Betty Boop appeared on the big screen in 1932, she had something no other female cartoon character had ever exhibited: cleavage. She wore high heels and a garter belt, and embodied the carefree persona of a ’20s flapper. Before Betty Boop, female cartoon characters were either anthropomorphic, or caricatures of actual women who were often reduced to physical comedy like falling over and showing their bloomers. We never see Betty Boop’s underoos. We don’t even know if Betty Boop wore underoos. But she was the first cartoon character ever to make anyone wonder.
strong>Wonder Woman, 1941
In the 1940s, comic-book characters were supposed to inflame either your sense of patriotism or heroism. Wonder Woman stirred up both of those things, and something else entirely. Funnily enough, a cartoonist didn’t envision Wonder Woman; nope, she was created by a psychologist. On the outside, she was all about truth and justice — the American way and all that. On the inside, though? The woman liked to be in charge. Every episode featured lassos, whips, chains, manacles or some combination of those things. People who study animated history will tell you it’s because Wonder Woman represents discipline. I say she was just way into bondage.
Jessica Rabbit, 1988
My parents took my sister and I to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit? the weekend that it opened. During the now infamous pattycake scene, my dad looked over at my mom like, is this seriously a cartoon? “You don’t know how hard it is being a woman looking the way I do,” Jessica Rabbit answered him. “I’m not bad; I’m just drawn that way.” And boy was she ever: She’s sultry, curvaceous and voiced by Kathleen Turner. My dad was right to worry that she’d make me think about pattycake.
Lara Croft, 1996
What Indiana Jones is to straight women (clever, dangerous, athletic, irresponsible, treasure-hunting sexiness), Lara Croft is to gay ladies. Created as a reckless video-game character, Croft spun off into both the comic-book and movie world. She has a blatant disregard for society’s moral code, plus unlimited ammunition. Lara Croft is a far cry from the sexed-down, robe-wearing housewife Betty Boop was ultimately forced to become.
Which cartoon characters do you think represent the sexual revolution?