I’ve written a lot of posts on this blog related to feminist issues or portrayals of women in media. I’m not a scholar or an expert on this subject, but I try my best to do it justice. But I have blind spots. This isn’t an excuse I’m making; it’s self-awareness. As a male, my upbringing and conditioning was totally different from girls and women and because of that, there are so many activities or points of view that I either take for granted or don’t even give a thought that girls and women can’t think or act the same way about. In the city I went to college to, I constantly walked everywhere by myself. I did so assured that the passersby wouldn’t catcall or harass me, or that someone who smiled at or said hello to me wasn’t trying to proposition me. And that is just one example.
One of my earlier posts on this blog was a post about Johnny Bravo, which I defended from a feminist point of view (although I stopped far short of asserting it was a feminist cartoon). Looking back at it, although I think the points I made about the influence that a post-Women’s Lib society had on its conception vs. let’s say a Pepe Le Pew cartoon are accurate, I may have been too generous to Johnny Bravo. I mentioned in passing that there is a possibility that the show inadvertently glorifies the Johnny Bravo character despite its effort to ridicule him. It’s a bit like how Norman Lear created the Archie Bunker character in All In the Family to be a takedown of that antiquated and reactionary conservative point of view he embodied but discovered that a large chunk of his audience agreed with him and sympathized with him constantly getting dogpiled by his liberal daughter and son-in-law. Anecdotally, I’ve have noticed that all of my other friends that I have talked to about Johnny Bravo and really like it are men. My female friends that I have talked about Johnny Bravo with don’t seem to like the show very much. I don’t know their reasons, but I can imagine that a character like this may not look so hilarious to people whose reality is constantly getting hit on or harassed by real-life Johnny Bravos simply for stepping outside.
Finally, this brings me to the Animaniacs character Hello Nurse.
Just like its predecessor Tiny Toon Adventures and its prototype, Ralph Bakshi’s Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, Animaniacs sought to reinvigorate the sensibilities and the spirit of animation’s golden age, particularly the Warner Bros. cartoons. One of the very minor ways they did that was by providing an update on the sexy Tex Avery female character.
The function of these characters in the Tex Avery cartoons was nothing more than to make the male characters loony with lust. Hello Nurse also served as stabilizing force between the rambunctious Warner Brothers (*Dot voice* and Warner Sister!) and the consternated Otto Scratchansniff. It is also worth noting that in Wakko’s tribute song to her, most of praise he is showering on her is about her intellect, personality, and accomplishments.
From what I can tell, this is a take on the object of lust character with a more modern sensibility. In the post-Women’s Lib society that was the 1990s, creating another female character that didn’t have anything going on besides making dudes hoot and holler when she walked into the room would have been, to put it lightly, a little gauche. One of the things Wakko praised about Hello Nurse is that she’s politically correct! How often do you here that used positively?
Nonetheless, there is still a major blind spot in this character’s conception.
This think-piece about Animaniacs by Charlene deGuzman still finds the handling of this character incredibly retrograde, and I see her point. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it shouldn’t be shown to children, but that point isn’t completely invalid and her reason for refusing to show it to her nephew is understandable. The show never takes Yakko’s and Wakko’s behavior towards Hello Nurse to task. At best, it says the behavior is somewhat annoying but largely harmless. Dot’s typical eye-rolling response (“Boys…”) frames the behavior as a “boys will be boys” thing, which is a phrase that is trotted out as a defense to toxic masculinity. You could say that Yakko and Wakko only behave this way because they’re only kids and don’t know any better. Okay, but then couldn’t Hello Nurse or some other adult tell them that they’re behavior is inappropriate? Or how about the fact that Hello Nurse isn’t even given an actual name?
Young boys like Yakko and Wakko need to learn early on that behavior like this is inappropriate. If behavior like this is validated, it’s going to set the tone to how these boys interact with the opposite sex when they get older. And very often, those interactions are a hell of a lot less cute or funny than two furry little kids jumping in a woman’s arms or even Johnny Bravo’s inept pick-up game.
P.S. Yeah yeah yeah, I know that Dot behaved the same way when some hunky dude walked into the room, so yay equality right? Hell no. All of the Warners’ behavior towards people they’re attracted to are all inappropriate, but Dot’s behavior doesn’t exist in a context in which men often can’t walk the street alone without getting propositioned or accosted by women or where men often get assaulted or killed by women for rejecting their advances. However, I will say that Dot’s dreams about Newt Gingrich are both the most hilarious and stomach-turning thing in the world.
P.P.S And as always, the comment section on Cartoon Brew doesn’t fail to be the absolute fucking worst when it comes to anything related to media theory.