Design and Demographics: An Ongoing Debate

Audio Edition Coming Soon!

Character designs from 1985 vs. 2018 for She-Ra, Bow, Glimmer, and Catra. (Images from @SheRaUpdates)

Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 are going to be pretty exciting! A whole slew of television that I love will be airing, either as a continuation of shows I already love, or brand new offerings to enjoy: The Dragon Prince, Star Wars: The Clone WarsCastlevania, Doctor Who, The Expanse, Young Justice, Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, and Star Trek Discovery, to name a few.

However, the one that caught my attention and sparked this entry was discovering a controversy over the upcoming animated reboot of She-Ra. (Controversy? On the internet? I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you!) It seems like it boils down to the relationship between aesthetic design and sexism. Some people were stoked about the new animation style for the show, courtesy of Noelle Stevenson who worked on the comic book series Lumberjanes and the graphic novel Nimona. Others were… less enthusiastic. Apparently there’s been a great deal of backlash because the new design for She-Ra isn’t “sexy” enough. (Since She-Ra is apparently actually supposed to be 16 years old, the new design looks far more age-appropriate than the original, who I would have assumed was in her 20s.)

Personally, I think the entire debate is a bit ridiculous. I’ve never seen the original TV show from the 80s, although I did have some of the dolls (and totally made up my own stories because I had no idea who they were.) But something struck me as I was reading articles about this design battle. There was talk of how She-Ra is a “girls’ show” and “this is why girls can’t have nice things” and “why can’t men let girls have role models that aren’t based on sex appeal?” This controversy over gender separation (such as the color-coding of children’s toys in stores and the difference in design between male and female characters) has popped up in various forms over the years.

Is there really a difference anymore between “his” and “hers”? It seems like folks on both sides of the She-Ra debate think that there is. What I want to know was if this was a result of old-style marketing, environmental/societal values, or genuine difference of interest between boys and girls.

I don’t think there is a simple answer to that question because all of those factors and more play a role in shaping the tastes and outlooks of children. There’s a lot of difference ways to look at and discuss the importance and impact of design and I know I’m barely scratching the surface here. But overall, I think this controversy is something that bothers the adults far more than the offspring they are supposedly protecting or enlightening.

I’m female but I played with Hot Wheels, Transformers, and dinosaurs as readily as I would play with Barbie, My Little Pony, and plastic horses. Whenever we were allowed to make a purchase, I would go into all of the toy aisles and pick what I thought looked fun, regardless of who it was “meant” for. To me, toys are “meant” to be played with; it doesn’t matter who that player is. Some with television shows, books, movies, and manga. I love “movies for boys” with car chases and explosions just as much as “movies for girls” with romances and emotional drama. I like what I like and the targeted demographic isn’t a barrier to my enjoyment of the media.

To me, this demarcation seems mostly like an easy tag for an item’s location. This is why books are classified into “genres.” A shelf may be marked “Science Fiction” or “Fantasy,” but there probably isn’t a section inside it labeled “Military Science Fiction” or “Urban Fantasy.” There’s a wide variety within that shelf and a lot of stuff overlaps; the only purpose of the label is get you to the general area of a demographic. Same thing with online services like Amazon or Netflix. Marketing on a large scale usually can’t showcase every niche because that’s too expensive. These are “more like guidelines than actual rules” to make things easier to find. Once you’re in the general area, then you can start combing for the specific thing you want.

While there is merit to the concern regarding the portrayal of women in toys and media, I do think that this battle over the new She-Ra design, like so many others on the internet, has blown itself out of proportion. It’s silly for people to rail about how the design of reboot of an old show “ruins it” or to get up in arms about things being “discriminatory” because of a label. Just let the kids play with what they are interested in (as long as it’s appropriate to their age and maturity level).

And if you don’t like the look of the new She-Ra… don’t watch it. No one is forcing you to do otherwise.


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