Red Fraggle is a Feminist Icon

13 Dec

It wasn’t until I learned that I was pregnant with Theo that I suddenly realized how very little I knew about, well, babies. I mean, in theory they’re great, but in practice they’re kind of terrifying. Like, I was going to be responsible for what now? I could barely even take care of myself, never mind another person, and one who was tiny, helpless and incontinent at that.

Being the book-o-phile that I am, my solution was to immediately run out and buy a ton of books about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. I also went online and joined a bunch of mommy communities, which were, um, interesting. After sifting through all of the information available to us, Matt and I began to try to come up with the Best Plan Possible for raising our kid. Because, you know, that’s totally a thing that’s going to work out.

Babies just love plans, and are definitely going to turn out exactly the way you want them to.

Sorry, I’ll wait until your done laughing your fool head off before I continue.

One of the things that Matt and I decided was that we were going to follow the AAP’s guidelines and not expose our children to any television under the age of two. That wouldn’t be overly challenging, we figured; after all, we barely watched television ourselves, and surely it would be easy to watch what little we did after our bundle of joy went to bed. Anyway, we thought, what benefit was there in letting our children watch television? Especially when the world around them was so fascinating? Surely we would be happy to engage and entertain our children at all times. Surely we would never, ever want a short, say, half-hour break from them.

Of course, one of the first things you do when you become a parent is break all of your own rules. You quickly learn that there aren’t very many hard and fast rules, and the few that do exist weren’t created by you. Sure, it’s great to be consistent and back your words up with actions, but when you become a parent you learn how valuable flexibility can be. It’s easy to be an expert on childrearing when it’s all still theoretical; once you have an actual, physical, screaming baby, it’s often advantageous to revisit your policies and re-evaluate what your priorities are.

All of this is to say that we totally caved on the no TV thing.

When Theo was fourteen or fifteen months old, we started watching short YouTube clips of Fraggle Rock at bedtime. It was nice to spend 10 minutes every evening curled up together on our big bed, watching nostalgic television by lamplight. Afterwards, we would talk about what we’d just watched, and then I would nurse Theo to sleep. It was a pretty great way to end the day.

In the course of revisiting one of my favourite childhood shows, I realized something: Fraggle Rock was pretty fucking progressive with regards to gender roles.

I also realized that Red Fraggle was probably my first real feminist icon.

When it came to strong female role models, I was actually a pretty lucky kid. I had my mother, who was and continues to be a kick-ass inspiration, a woman who always worked outside the house, raised three kids on her own after my father left, and recently purchased her first home after spending year and years saving up for a downpayment. I had my grandmother, a women who also worked outside the home for her entire adult life, and who once took her employer to court because he wouldn’t allow women to wear pants in the workplace. I had my aunt, an Egyptologist who travelled to the Middle East for archeological digs. I had my great-aunt who, as a missionary to Niger in the 1960s, dedicated her life to educating girls. I definitely wasn’t lacking for real-life women to look up to and be inspired by.

But I wasn’t able to relate to those women and their accomplishments in the same way that I could relate to an adorable red-headed muppet who was about the same size I was and dealt with a lot of the same issues I did.

Red Fraggle is just awesome. She’s smart, funny, opinionated, competitive and likes to be in charge. She speaks her mind, like, frequently, and the other Fraggles almost always listen to what she has to say (even if they don’t ultimately agree with her). She’s adventurous, athletic and generally pretty fearless. She doesn’t wear pink (except for her hair ribbons). Oh, and she’s sarcastic. So delightfully sarcastic.

She also has some of the best lines spoken by a female character in a children’s show, like, ever. The following is from season one, episode fifteen, ‘I Don’t Care’:

Red: Hey Mokey! They gave me somebody else’s lines for this scene!

Mokey; Uh, let’s see, you say, I know my prince will come and rescue me.

Red: Who needs a prince? I can rescue me!

Mokey: And then you say, hark, I think I hear the hoofbeats of his fiery charger.

Red: Oh good grief.

[a brief interlude of dialogue between Mokey and Boober]

Red: But I don’t have to be rescued, Mokey! I can climb on this trellis! Better yet, I’ll swing on this vine. Why don’t we call it the Tale of the Triumphant Princess?

What’s great is that Red has no issue being a princess, she just wants to be a princess who can take care of herself. She’s totally fine with being feminine and girly, but she doesn’t want to have to rely on anyone else. Instead of waiting around to be rescued, she wants to take charge of her own destiny – a pretty admirable trait.

Red challenges traditional gender roles, both openly and tacitly. One of the best things about Fraggle Rock is that the other characters are totally fine with her behaviour. Sure, she can be abrasive and obnoxious at times, and yeah, she has a hard time admitting when she’s wrong, but these aren’t presented as being character flaws because she’s female; they’re presented as being negative traits because of the impact they have on herself and other people.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Red is the best swimmer in Fraggle Rock. Better than any of the boys, even.

The neat thing about this show is that it’s not just Red who challenges gender roles; it’s Boober and Wembley too. It’s presented as being totally fine for Boober, a male Fraggle, to prefer to stay home all day washing socks and cooking. It’s also fine for Wembley to “wemble”, i.e. waiver with indecisiveness. That last one is especially interesting because a lot of Wembley’s “wembling” comes from a place of not wanting to pick sides when his friends argue and, ultimately, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s pretty rare for a male character to be shown as being so openly emotional. Rare, but awesome.

Mokey and Gobo, the two remaining Fraggles in the main cast of characters, are more typical of their genders: Mokey, a wispy poet who wears long flowing robes and speaks in a vague, dreamy voice is the sort of den mother of Fraggle Rock, and Gobo, bold, adventurous and a natural leader, spends his days exploring the rock and coming up with escapades for his friends. They participate in breaking down gender barriers, though, by letting their friends be who they are and encouraging them to do the things they love. They never ask Red, Boober or Wembley to behave in a certain way because of their gender; they only ask that each of them treats the others with respect.

Anyway, I guess it’s clear that we’ve totally, unapologetically broken our rules about television. We still don’t watch much of it; mostly just Fraggle Rock and Mister Dressup (okay, and sometimes Jay-Z videos, but only because Theo specifically asks for them). Children’s television, especially newer shows, are still pretty much a foreign country to me, one that I’m sure I will someday have to explore. Until then, I’m happy with my Fraggles and the lessons they’re teaching my son. For example, swimming before breakfast is great, music and dancing are a necessity, and boys and girls are totally, happily equal.

Sounds like utopia to me.

Red

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24 Responses to “Red Fraggle is a Feminist Icon”

  1. Joella at Fine and Fair December 13, 2012 at 4:00 am #

    Yeah! I love this!

    If you haven’t, check out Yo Gabba Gabba. It seems a bit “out there” at first, but it is chock-full of awesome lessons in diversity and a refreshing lack of gendered messages.

    • bellejarblog December 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

      Thanks!! 🙂

      I’ve heard a lot of good things about Yo Gabba Gabba! It sounds pretty amazing, we’ll definitely have to check it out.

  2. Kylie December 13, 2012 at 6:51 am #

    Love this! Feminist analysis of Fraggle Rock!

    Oh, I tried so hard to follow that AAP rule! I wouldn’t even check email if I was holding my daughter while she was an infant. That was before smart phones and Facebook took over the world. Now my son—seven years later, it’s a very different story.

    This reminds me, though, that when I DID break down and let my daughter watch movies when she was 18 months, we started with March of the Penguins (also a great gender-bender), Baby Einstein DVD that just showed kids at the zoo while classical music played… and… wait for it… a Fraggle Rock DVD I picked up at Ross. I’ll have to dig that out for my Little Guy.

    • bellejarblog December 13, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

      Thanks!!

      I was the same way in the early days! Up until recently, I wouldn’t even go on the computer if my son was in the same room. Now I figure that he can handle it if he’s busy entertaining myself and I want to quickly check email/Facebook.

      I will have to check out March of the Penguins – totally forgot about its existence! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  3. gamerwife December 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Awesome. I’ve often said that the reason I identify as feminist is that I grew up with Miss Piggy, Princess Leia & The Paperbag Princess. Never really considered Red Fraggle before, but I have a feeling I might have to revisit Fraggle Rock.

    • bellejarblog December 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

      Oooooh the Paperbag Princess. I need to get a copy of that book for Theo!

      Fraggle Rock is definitely pretty rad.

  4. playfulmeanderings December 14, 2012 at 4:12 am #

    Red Fraggle is definitely a positive role model. Rock on!

    • bellejarblog December 18, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

      I actually enjoy her so much. Her sarcasm is AMAZING. We were watching Fraggle Rock last night and I kept cracking up whenever she had something to say. Man, I wish I was a fraggle so that I could hang out with her.

  5. lexikatscan December 14, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    Red is awesome. Generations missed this beautiful show.
    I once met one of the Emmy Award winning producers from the show. He couldn’t understand why the show was so magical to me.

    • bellejarblog December 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

      Oh that is amazing that you met them! This show is magical for sure; Fraggle Rock is basically a socialist utopia, is what I’ve decided.

  6. eden December 15, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    When Theo is a bit older, Arthur is a SERIOUSLY progressive and awesome kids’ show. And also amazingly surreal, featuring such lines as “Neil Gaiman, what are you doing in my falafel?”

    • bellejarblog December 18, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

      My sister (11 years my junior) used to watch Arthur! I will have to check it out for sure.

      Also, Neil Gaiman Falafel is a) amazing and b) the name of my new band

  7. empressnasigoreng December 15, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    I love this too. If you haven’t already, check out the books Princess SMartypants and Prince Cinders by Babette Cole.

    • ann at thevelvetaubergine December 16, 2012 at 6:54 am #

      Babette Cole! I haven’t thought about her in years. The very best sex ed book I found for young children was “Mummy Laid an Egg.” Sex: it’s something baffling that adults do, but it looks like silly fun (really, there was an illustration of sex on skateboards if I’m remembering rightly).

      • empressnasigoreng December 16, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

        Yes, that is a great one. My other favourite is Truelove about the dog who has to adjust to the arrival of a new baby in the family. (He runs away and joins a gang of dogs who do a ram raid on Ye Olde Sausage Shoppe).

      • ann at thevelvetaubergine December 17, 2012 at 12:29 am #

        heh. I love good kid-directed books and films and tv. It’s weird that so much of it is so terrible.

      • bellejarblog December 18, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

        Whoa, that also sounds amazing. My mother’s sex ed book was a book full of photographs of fetuses in utero and was actually kind of scary.

      • ann at thevelvetaubergine December 18, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

        This definitely has a “sex as reproduction” bias, but I bought it at the time for my two year old when I was pregnant with my daughter and it was really great for that. They both loved reading it for entertainment for years. I think it finally went in a batch of younger kids books we passed on to our nephews. I looked the book up after posting and — no big surprise — this hits banned books lists a lot. *le sigh*

    • bellejarblog December 18, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

      Oh I will have to find those! I’ve never heard of them 🙂

  8. TicaMarie December 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    I love Fraggle Rock and remember being inspired by Red’s spunky-ness as a kid. I recently tried to watch an episode with my 3 year old step-daughter and she had absolutely no interest at all. It nearly broke my heart. The next time we sat down to watch something she asked “Just not the ones with fuzzy hair, ok?” Sigh, I’m going to keep trying!

  9. islanddictator March 20, 2013 at 2:05 am #

    LOVED LOVED LOVED THIS! when I was little I was nicknamed Red and being a bit of a feminist myself I completely understand! lol

  10. Jennifer April 3, 2013 at 2:23 am #

    I have nothing to add – just that I loved this and I really enjoy your writing.

  11. sammykur May 28, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    I think we read too much into things at times jar jar binks isnt racist anf I dont brlieve red to be feminist , just an example of art mimicing life.

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