any of those who grew up with the Smurfs cartoon on Saturday mornings in the 1980's (US) may have been too young and innocent to understand the implicit gender stereotype of how Smurfette came to be a citizen of the Smurf village. She is the only female Smurf in the entire blue species, and so popular that a "trope" is named after her in tv storyline philosophy (See "The Smurfette Principal"). But why is she so popular? Is it her blonde hair? Her feminine qualities? One thing is for sure, She is no Uhura. And far from it.
Popularity may be easy to define, as she looks like a blue-skinned version of Barbie (only stumpier). But how did she come about? Wasn't she just written in as a staple member of the original Smurf village? I was too young to remember, so I did some research.
Let us start from the beginning when there were no female Smurfs and Gargamel has already been introduced as the main antagonist. The storyline is that Garagamel creates Smurfette to get revenge on the Smurfs. He states, "And my vengenge will be TERRIBLE!!" After brainstorming (outloud to Asriel) about setting fire or possibly casting a spell for the vegetation to die, he doesn't think that's enough. He wants, "...A fearsome spell that makes them beg for mercy!! A horrible curse..." [reference: 2011 english translation comic]
After deciding to send them a "smurfette", he puts a doll together with clay, pearls for teeth, sapphires for eyes, blue paint, some rags for clothing:
After he finds the recipe, he recites it conveniently for the audience:
As a recap, here is the "recipe" for a smurfette as recited by Gargamel:
A sprig of FLIRTATIOUSNESS…
A solid layer of NON-OBJECTIVITY….
three crocodile tears…
A BIRD brain…
powder of a VIPER'S TONGUE
a carat of SNEAKINESS….
a handful of ANGER…
a dash of LYING tissue.
TRANSPARENT of course…
a bushel of GREEDINESS…
a quart of BAD FAITH…
one thimbleful of RECKLESSNESS….
a stroke of pride
pint of ENVY….
some zest of sensitivity…
a bit of FOOLISHNESS and
a bit of CUNNING…
lots of VOLATILITY and
lots of OBSTINANCY…
a candle burned at both ends.
-(written by Peyo and Yvan Delporte, 1967, translated for english 2011)
WHOAH horsie! What did he just say? After reading this, my feminist blood cells began to boil and my childhood was no longer deemed "innocent". Sounds of shattered glass filled my head and the memories of jumping over a mushroom in the Colecovision video game were tainted. No wonder your character died when you bumped into it. It was POISON!
This is all on heels of my daughers obsession with the Smurfs after her daddy bought her the figurines (long before the movie came out). Then the comics in english published in 2011, then the live action/animated movie in July 2011. Suffice to say she is hooked at the moment. She painted her Smurf mushroom house pink and even made Mommy sew a pink felt dress for her Smurfette figurine. How do you backpedal with a modern 5 year old who LOVES the blonde haired character, when she herself is a brunette? But even more problematic, when this character is a CURSE?
I tried to rationalize it over and over, but could not come up with an excuse. First, lets see what the young minds witnessed on televison 30 years ago in the animated version:
If that's not enough, the outcome is soooo stereotypical, it makes you gag. Take a look at the Gargamel version ("before") and the Papa Smurf makeover version ("after").
Grrrrrrr. Uggh. So many sounds come out of my gut when I visualize the big picture. But what do the grown ups do about it? Good question, because it seems there has been much activity over the last 30+ years, including a scholar who criticises it's cultural significance. Recently, some have even tried to bring the 2011 Smurfs movie down by campaigning negative reviews on a popular movie review site (rottentomatoes.com). Salon.com has 3 theories, my favorite being:
[It's a] Perfect opportunity for "Smurf" conspiracy theorists to come out of the woodwork: There really are people out there who truly believe the Smurfs are composed of Klan members. Or Marxists. Or Fascists. Or women-haters.
Apparently this mass criticism has been a long time coming, considering the original Belgian/French comic books were first published in the 1960's by Peyo. So my friends, it seems as bitter tasting as the "recipe for Smurfette" is, this village of blue beings were scrutinized for many things, aside from being "woman haters".
What do we learn from this? How can we change this? I challenge you to seek out, and create powerful, smart female characters in all forms of media. Books, video games, comics, movies, even a short poem. Tell us who your inspirations are and why, so we can pass these examples on to our sons, daughters, our peers. Maybe we can even teach something to our parents.
If you aren't a creator, critique, dissect and inform your peers of the hurtful influence these gender-stereotyped, weak, less-than-equal female caricatures are to their male counterparts. Use your social networking skills to shine a light on the dark side of corporations making money off of women by pigeon-holing their intelligence and sheepishness. Stand up and help the younger generations see that you do not accept such BULLSHITE.
While you can girlcott or passively dismiss the Smurfs and their only female character, there is more power in creating a bigger, better, more popular female character(s) as a diversion that positively influences.
Create, critique, communicate. Make a difference, don't delay. LIFT THE CURSE.