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Compelling and least compelling aspects of the Smurfette Principle


The most compelling aspect of the Smurfette Principle is its critique of gender representation, highlighting how female characters are often tokenized in media. The least compelling aspect is the oversimplification of complex gender dynamics, potentially overlooking nuanced portrayals and the diversity of female experiences within different contexts.

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What is most compelling about the Smurfette Principle?

The most compelling thing about the Smurfette Principle is that it rings true in many ways.  We can think of all sorts of examples that seem to show us that the argument advanced by the principle is in fact true.

The Smurfette Principle was first given that name in 1991 by Katha Pollitt, writing in the New York Times.  She argued that essentially all children’s stories that are told in our culture, whether they be in movies, on TV, or in books, are male-dominated.  Maleness is the norm while femaleness is the exception.  Female characters only exist as adjuncts to the male characters who have very little in the way of individuality or personality.  The principle has been extended since then to include shows and movies that are not made for children.

What is most compelling about this is that we can think of many examples that prove the point that Pollitt and others like her make.  Pollitt herself points to shows like Sesame Street where all of the muppets are male.  We can go to the other end of the spectrum and look at a show like The Sopranos, which was hugely popular some years ago or Breaking Bad which is a hit today.  These shows are essentially about men.  Women who have major roles in them are either the wives and girlfriends (often portrayed as obstacles to what the men want to do) or in some way existing only to show us more about the men (like Dr. Melfi in The Sopranos).

The fact that it is so easy to think of examples that bear out the Smurfette Principle make that theory compelling

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What is least compelling about The Smurfette Principle?

The least compelling thing about the Smurfette Principle is that it is hard to prove in an objective way and is easily manipulated to make it seem true at all times.

The Smurfette Principle, as first put forward by Katha Pollitt in 1991, held that the vast majority of stories aimed at children (in movies, on TV, and even in books) are male-centric.  Female characters never have much in the way of distinctive personalities and are not very important.  They tend to exist only as foils to the men or helpers or in some other role that is centered around the man.  Since 1991, other writers have expanded the idea to include stories told for adults as well.

What is least compelling about this principle is that it is so hard to prove objectively.  It is true that we could take some given set of shows and books (perhaps hits and best sellers) and count up the male and female characters.  But the heart of the Smurfette Principle is more qualitative.  It argues that female characters simply are not as important in the stories as male characters are.  This is much harder to prove because a person who wants to make a point can interpret characters any way they like.  For example, a person could look at the hit show Game of Thrones and define the female characters in different ways.  Are they just pawns of the male characters or are they (Arya Stark and Cersei Lannister, for example) truly important characters in their own right?

Theories like this are based so much on the way in which observers interpret various characters.  This subjectivity is the least compelling aspect of the Smurfette Principle.

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