If you’re reading this blog, you might be aware of Friendship is Magic-starter Lauren Faust’s personal project: Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls.
If a creator has a major fandom for one of their works, it’ll often follow them into their other projects. But this doesn’t seem to have happened with Galaxy Girls — by and large, the Pony fandom doesn’t seem to have spilled over. And it certainly hasn’t attracted FiM’s unexpected cross-gender audience.
Why? Probably for several reasons — among them the lack of a multimillion-dollar corporate giant backing it. But even then, we’d probably expect more interest from the Pony fans than we’ve seen. And I think one reason for this lack of interest — at least from the male contingent of the Brony fandom — can be seen on the “About” section of the Galaxy Girls website:
“What do girls like?”
Ask this question and you’ll probably get all the usual answers, like boys, clothes, and talking to (okay, texting) friends for hours and hours. That’s all cool, but you and I know that girls are sooo much more interesting than that! Sometimes other people forget that we are also passionate about music, art, sports, animals, or learning new things…the list would reach to the moon and beyond. And sometimes we forget that, too. Truth is, being cute, stylish, and cool doesn’t mean giving up what makes you unique—whether you’re crazy smart, an amazing athlete, or just…wacky, like Mars. Although she prefers to be called “eccentric.”
Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls welcome every girl to their celestial sorority. This group of friends is fun and funky and filled with truly unique individuals who have their own interests. Sound familiar? Maybe you have a pal who, like Jupiter, wants to rescue every stray pet in the neighborhood. Or your best friend is a know-it-all, I mean really good student, like Uranus. The key to discovering who each Galaxy Girl really is, and what she loves, can be found in her personal symbol—whether a heart for our lovely friend Venus, wings for the workout warrior Mercury, or a skull for that cosmic rocker, Pluto.
There’s a Galaxy Girl (or two) for everyone; all you have to do is figure out
WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM?
An excellent message for girls, but it’s pretty clear that this isn’t my space. It’s not really feeling unwelcome, as just feeling mis-matched. It’s similar to the way that in, say, a karate tournament, I wouldn’t enter the over-30 age bracket — there’s nothing at all wrong with martial artists older than 30, but I’m not one of them, so I shouldn’t be in their space. And I certainly wouldn’t expect them to cater to me. By the same token, the gals have their areas, we guys have ours, and it’s best that the other crowd not intrude — or at least, so says the voice in the back of my head. If anything, I get the sense that I’m the one being inappropriate by being here.
I wouldn’t call this a mistake on Faust’s part — by all indications, attracting a cross-gender audience isn’t a priority with this project (and there’s really no good reason it should be). But it does help answer the question of why Bronies, or at least male Bronies, haven’t been drawn en masse to Galaxy Girls.
But that, of course, raises the obvious question: why didn’t this hinder FiM as well? Okay, sure, as a guy, one kind of gets the sense that Galaxy Girls is the wrong place to go. But that’s also the case for FiM, right?
Seriously, no. Here, watch the intro (or, if you’re like me, recite it from memory):
How many times is it mentioned that all (or any) of the Mane Six are female? Zero.
Go back and re-watch the pilot (or, if you’re like me, recite it from memory — stop judging me, damn it). Excluding pronouns and brief asides like “Alright girls!” (which shouldn’t really count), how many overt references to gender are there? Zero.
Go back and watch “Suited for Success”, the episode focused on probably the most stereotypically “girly” activity (dressmaking). How many overt references to gender are there? Well, excluding pronouns and asides, there is Pinkie’s brief fear that Rarity will become a “crazy cat-lady”. But even if we decide that counts (which is arguable), that’s pretty much it.
In fact, I can think of one time that anyone’s gender is explicitly made “A Thing” throughout the series, and it’s for the sake of a ten-second gag in Episode 3:
Applejack: “Well, wallop my withers Spike! Isn’t that just like a boy! Can’t handle the least bit of sentiment.”
There’s a halfway-direct mention of Spike’s gender with the “we don’t normally wear clothes” scene in “The Best Night Ever”. So, okay, we can count that as a half. That’s still remarkably rare. The fact that Spike is a dragon is a plot point far more often than the fact that he’s male.
And when you think about it, it’s pretty odd that we expect the opposite. Why do we expect gender to be a bigger deal than species? For that matter, why is it that when I claim to empathize with, identify with, and relate to a female purple magical unicorn with telekinetic powers studying directly under her world’s god-empress, the “female” part of that sentence is what’s considered weird? That’s actually kind of absurd, when you really consider it.
Society might tell males that this isn’t an appropriate show for us, but the show itself never does. And I think that’s a big key to its cross-gender appeal.
But equally importantly, gender isn’t swept under the rug, either. One certainly wouldn’t have much trouble inferring the gender of the characters just from reading the dialogue, and they participate in several stereotypically “female” activities (“Suited for Success”, the spa, etc). The fact that most of the cast are female isn’t downplayed, and it isn’t shoved in the audience’s face, either. It doesn’t have to be their defining identity trait, and it doesn’t have to be shamed or hidden. It’s just kind of…allowed to be.
What a concept, huh?
In one sense, this is just a case of the classic narrative rule of “show, don’t tell”. In FiM, the characters’ variety of personalities are so clear, there’s no need to emphasize “there are many ways to be female” — it’s evident from the start.
By most indications, the show’s target audience doesn’t find this a deal-breaker, and this shouldn’t really surprise us. I don’t recall ever feeling deprived because Leonardo or Raphael didn’t explicitly remind me that I was male at any point while they were fighting Shredder.
And if we continue to consider “boys’ cartoons”, then we’ll realize that FiM‘s cross-gender appeal shouldn’t have surprised anyone, either. Girls and women (some of them, anyway) have been doing the exact same thing for years, by enjoying and participating in things that were “for boys” (videogames, action cartoons, etc.). And like us with FiM, they didn’t seem to feel that there was some kind of impenetrable wall between them and Goliath or Leo by virtue of their different genders. By and large, someone had to tell them that they weren’t “supposed” to enjoy those things — and the lesson didn’t always stick.
It seems like it didn’t always stick for us boys, either. I have met several other guys in their 20’s who, like me, have a suspiciously solid knowledge of the plot and characters of Sailor Moon, despite having “never watched it growing up.”
So, to bring this back to Galaxy Girls (and to something resembling a point); it seems to me that the push to provide the much-requested “well-written female role models”, while a good start, is an incomplete solution to the problem. We also need to be making clear that Superman, Aang, and (for that matter) Shining Armor are perfectly valid and appropriate role models for girls, and that Korra and Twilight are appropriate role models for boys. And furthermore, if we do only the first and not the second (as we often seem to), then we sort of tell people that they aren’t. If we say “girls need role models” as our justification (as though we needed one) for including well-written female characters, we necessarily imply that males are not appropriate role models for females, and vice-versa — which seems like a remarkably bad thing to teach people.
Debunking this idea might be easier than we think. I mean, a guy liking “girly stuff” is even more heavily stigmatized than the reverse; and still, all it took for tens of thousands of us to forget that we weren’t “supposed” to like ponies is treating the characters’ genders the way we’d treat any other characteristic — as one distinctive trait among many.
Does this mean I think Faust is at fault in the way she’s presenting Galaxy Girls after all? Ehh, good question, but I think I’d still say “no”. Like I said before, overt appeals to female identity aren’t bad solutions to the problem of gender-discrimination, they’re just incomplete ones. And in a practical sense, Faust has over a decade of experience in animation and storytelling, so I’m going to assume she knows what she’s doing better than I do.
So basically, I’m saying that I still want to be just like Elisa Maza when I grow up, and you can’t stop me.