During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from last year. This post originally appeared on September 16, 2011.
I always thought my friend Sarah summed up the appeal of My Little Pony the best:
Once you believe in rainbow-coloured ponies who can talk, there isn’t much limit to your imagination.
I was the sort of little girl who had over a hundred My Little Ponies, largely due to my mother’s uncanny ability to find them incredibly cheap at garage sales. With so many, we could put on pony musicals where we wrote or adapted all the music and made costumes out of whatever scraps our parents were willing to lend us. My childhood best friend and I built an entire “computer game” for my little sister to play using ponies as the characters (Gameplay was inspired by our favourite adventure game for PC, Monkey Island. Nowadays, I’d call it a roleplaying game but I didn’t know the terminology then.) We had ponies on the bridge of the Enterprise, and ponies going camping on the very conveniently green-carpeted stairs in my house, and ponies ponies ponies.
So when I heard that the new series was being spearheaded by the woman who brought us Powerpuff Girls, I was intrigued, I even saw a powered ride on toys at top9rated themed to MLP. And then I started hearing stuff about how it was really good. In fact, it was so good that it was garnering adult fans, including men who were really not in the target demographic at all. “Bronies.”
But I was busy, so I held off ’till after my first big academic job talk when finally the juxtaposition between this latest transition to adulthood and my inner child was too funny to pass up. I loaded up a couple of episodes on youtube from my room at the bed and breakfast where I was staying. They were fun! So then, through the gruelling months of finishing my thesis, I’d use ponies as a treat for finishing a round of revisions. By now, I’ve almost learned all the words to the song in my favourite episode. I learned that Brony could mean any adult fan, not just the boys. I learned that the brown pony with the hourglass “cutie mark” on his butt had been fan-named “Dr. Whooves” for his resemblance to a certain timelord. I found myself hitting up Equestria Daily for a daily dose of cute fanart. I started making a pony crochet pattern while my internet was slow. I am most definitely hooked. (*groan* … crochet pun.)
Creator Lauren Faust says, “I used to say that my own inner eight-year-old was my personal focus group.” and she’s certainly channelled the sorts of adventures that my little ponies were having too. Most importantly, it doesn’t rely on the offensive “girly” stereotypes that irk me so much as an adult woman. Consider the “mane” six: Geeky Twilight Sparkle loves books and learning and isn’t afraid to show it. Honest Applejack is self-reliant even to a fault! Rainbow Dash is competitive (the way people keep telling us women aren’t supposed to be). Fluttershy is the timid animal lover, but with a core of strength especially when it comes to protecting her friends. Even Rarity, the most stereotypically girly debutante pony and fashion designer, is also a dedicated small-business owner. And Pinkie Pie is just soooo random. These gals aren’t always breaking into tears when life gets hard: they’re trying novel solutions and finding a lot of inner strength.
There’s an excellent interview with Lauren Faust up at Equestria Daily which I think will appeal to many geek feminists, even if you’re not fans of the show. Here’s a quote (edited slightly for ableist language):
My specific dreams are still to make great entertainment for girls. I just don’t think there’s enough truly good stuff out there for them, but I also have kind of selfish reasons. When I think of something I want to say or an experience I want to share, my ideas are usually innately feminine because I’m female – and I refuse to believe that something being feminine by nature automatically means it isn’t worthwhile. If I can put the tiniest dent in the perception that “girly” equals “[bad]” or “for girls” equals “crappy,” I’ll be very satisfied.
I think Friendship is Magic has really got something special going here. Not only does it show the kind of role models I wish I’d had on TV as a little girl, but it’s also show that flies in the face of the common wisdom that boys (and even full-grown men) won’t watch anything where women or girls are the primary characters. You know, maybe the problem was just that we needed more good stuff for girls? So here we are with the bronies, eagerly anticipating the second season (which starts tomorrow!), planning meetups, and buying toys. Maybe, just maybe, this breakaway success will cause publishers to realize that if you make great TV for girls, it’s going to attract more than a narrow audience. This could be the beginning of evolution in girls’ programming. Heck, it could be the beginning of a change in the entire entertainment industry! But I know you’re going to tell me all I’m dreaming.
It’s okay, I’m willing to believe in rainbow-coloured ponies who can talk; I can imagine anything.