Kim Possible, Gender Roles and Masculinity vs. Femininity

As a child, Kim Possible was one of my favourite shows and now as an adult after exploring the role of gender in the series for one of my university classes, I have quickly found out how amazing the show was at not only entertaining viewers but challenging kids to think beyond stereotypical gender roles and challenge their own boundaries and limits.

What Kim Possible Is All About

kim-and-ronmonkey-fist-and-dr-drakken

Kim Possible is a Disney channel show that reverses the roles of masculinity and femininity and challenges gender concepts. The show revolves around a female lead, named Kim Possible, who’s daily life involves fighting and stopping villains from taking over the world, while balancing her school life and relationships. Kim is presented as a heroic, strong-willed crime stopper who “can do anything”. Her sidekick on the other hand, Ron Stoppable, is goofy, abnormal, clumsy and struggles with his masculinity. He is also very much often in Kim’s shadow, allowing for Kim to stand out all the more as a very positive female lead inspiring young girls that they can do anything. Unlike many shows for children, Kim Possible demonstrates that girls can be powerful and change the world too.

Why Gender is an Important Topic in TV and the Media

homer-simpson

A lot of what kids learn these days comes from the media and one of the primary sources of media in which children learn comes from watching television. TV can have positive impacts even for kids as early as infancy and the life lessons that they teach can give children invaluable second-hand experiences and takeaways as they go through childhood (Isenberg and Jalongo, 2014). However, many television series’ can have a negative effect on children when they do things like reinforce gender stereotypes. Shows like The Simpsons and Phineas and Ferb though highly entertaining and popular shows that youth love to watch do often reinforce gender stereotypes and may even teach young girls and boys, this is how females are supposed to act, and this is how males are supposed to act. In The Simpsons, the two main female characters, Marge and Lisa are portrayed as highly intelligent “do gooders” who hardly ever do anything wrong. Lisa does not participate in any sports, though she is highly talented in the field of music while Marge is a stay at home mom who does not work. The male characters in contrast, Homer and Bart are both seen as lovable goofballs who are always finding themselves getting into trouble. They are also both fans of sport and occasionally can be seen participating in them as well, while Homer and his male compatriots at work are also portrayed as very heavy drinkers. These kinds of messages on the television screen, plant ideas in the minds of children of how males and females are supposed to act.

One show that does not have such an issue with the portrayal of gender roles is the great Kim Possible, and that is in large part due to the show’s brilliant almost role reversal techniques of making all the major male characters very feminine and all the major female characters very masculine. At the same time, traditional portrayals of both genders can still be seen in every single episode. Therefore all important characters in the series are portrayed as both very masculine and very feminine, teaching kids that they can be whatever they want to be and don’t have to play in to the gender roles that other television series’ may tell to them to.

How Kim Possible Challenges Messages That Are Often Seen In Media

kim-and-shego

Kim Possible challenges many messages that are often portrayed in television shows. Among these messages include: the notion that girls and boys can’t be friends, the notion that males are stronger than females, the notion that females have to be feminine, and the notion that males have to be masculine. All of these messages are challenged and proven wrong by the show.

Firstly, in a show like The Simpsons males are always shown hanging out with other males, whether it be Homer and his drunken friends, Mr. Burns and Smithers, Millhouse and Bart or Nelson and the bullies. This may send the message to children that that’s the way it’s supposed to be and that it is an abnormal thing for children of opposite sexes to be good friends. In contrast in Kim Possible the two main characters, Kim and Ron, are best friends and are always by each other’s side, especially when saving the world. This demonstrates to young children that boys and girls can be best friends and can work together to solve all sorts of problems. In perhaps the greatest episodes of the series, “A Sitch in Time” (Motz, Roth, & Loter, 2003), Shego sees the only way she can defeat Kim Possible is by splitting her up from her best friend Ron, demonstrating how unbreakable of a bond they have.

The second message that the show challenges is that males are stronger and better than females. Kim Possible challenges this message by making the opposite be true, and making every single female character stronger and smarter than their male companion. Kim does all of the fighting and planning to defeat her enemies, while Ron is used as the distraction. Meanwhile, this notion is also true of their arch nemesis’ Shego and Drakken. Shego does all of the fighting for Dr. Drakken while he sits back and watches and in later episodes in the series, hiding and running away. In “A Sitch in Time” (Motz, Roth, & Loter, 2003), Shego is the one who takes over the world rather than the other three male villains in the story who get locked up in jail, showing how female power is stronger than male power.

But although the role reversal is amazing, kids need to see males and females on an equal playing field in media so that they understand that men and women should be treated equally. By having the females be stronger than the males, it may teach some children that females are better than males. But it would be hard to argue that Kim Possible does teach this false message as Kim and Ron and Shego and Dr. Drakken are always presented on an equally playing field, even though they often are not. Both pairs always work together in their attempt to defeat the other and even though Kim and Shego are the much stronger fighters, Ron also quite frequently is the one who ultimately foils the enemy’s plan while Dr. Drakken always has his time in the limelight as well. For example in “Bonding” (Behnke, Humphrey, & Loter, 2004), Ron foils Professor Dementor’s evil plan by throwing a muffin at the evil man’s machine. In “A Sitch in Time” (Motz, Roth, & Loter, 2003), it is Ron again who foils Shego’s plan to take over the world by breaking the Time Monkey. Regardless of who defeats the villain in the end, it is always a team effort, putting boys and girls on an equal playing field almost all of the time.

The Juxtaposition of Masculinity and Femininity in Every Major Character

Kim 

kim-possible

One of my favourite things about Kim Possible is the juxtaposition of femininity and masculinity that can be found in every single major character. All major characters are presented with both masculine and feminine qualities, teaching kids that whether you are a boy or a girl, it doesn’t matter if you are masculine, feminine or both. Starting with Kim, Kim’s feminine qualities include: cheerleading, shopping at Club Banana and enjoying fashion, which can all be seen in the first episode, “Crush” (Schooley, MacCorkle & Bailey, 2002). Her more masculine qualities include fighting, intelligent planning to defeat her enemies, and mental toughness as demonstrated particularly in “The New Ron” (Palmer & Bailey, 2002). The show intertwines these feminine and masculine characteristics in order to create this notion of Kim being masculine and feminine at the same time. Her abilities in cheerleading and background in gymnastics are two things that make her so agile and great at fighting. All of her weapons are also beauty products. This includes a hair dryer that shoots out a rope that they use to climb buildings, a lip gloss stink bomb, and a mirror for seeing things out of sight. She also fights her enemies in clothing that shows her midriff. This juxtaposes the fighting (masculine quality) with her feminine sexuality at the exact same time. Although this is an example of objectifying a female character to wear sexy clothing, because it is paired up with something masculine, in fighting, no one’s really ever focusing on her midriff. Moreover, Kim’s looks aren’t ever presented as her best quality; instead her courageousness, toughness and intelligence are presented as her best attributes, which are usually things attributed to male characters in media. Even without all of the other characters in the show, the character of Kim alone challenges the notion of girls having to always be feminine.

Ron 

ron-stoppable

Ron meanwhile is also often seen as being incredibly feminine, perhaps even more than Kim. Ron enjoys and excels in things like cooking and arts and crafts (things that are often associated with female characters) more than sports (what is often associated with male characters). Also instead of being on a sports team, he is the school mascot and thus is constantly spending time with Kim and the cheerleading squad. Ron also is a main caregiver to his baby sister in later seasons, showing him as someone that can be nurturing, a trait that is not typically associated with males in the media. Ron is also easily scared by small bugs and monkeys and often becomes the damsel in distress in situations where he encounters them, needing Kim to rescue him. Also, the actor who plays Ron has a very high-pitched, almost feminine sounding voice, which must be intentional to highlight him as being anything but manly. However, there is also juxtaposition between Ron’s feminine side and his masculine side. Ron goes along with Kim on every single mission and that alone, proves him to be a brave and courageous figure. Also, as previously mentioned he often defeats the bad guys himself. Even when he is screaming while running away from “spinning tops of doom” in “The New Ron” (Palmer & Bailey, 2002), he still manages to escape every single one of the attacking “spinning tops of doom” and ends up helping Kim defeat Senior Senior and Junior Junior. Ron is also a fairly typical guy as he is goofy, he constantly makes jokes, he loves stuffing food in his mouth, he flirts with the cheerleaders and he even becomes the star running back of the football team in the final season.

Shego and Drakken 

shego-and-dr-drakken

The two other major characters, Shego and Drakken, are also highly emphasized as being both masculine and feminine characters. Shego, always does all of the fighting for Drakken and is extremely strong and powerful, like when she uses her green glowing powers to violently attack Motor Ed in “Steal Wheels” (Swenlin & Loter, 2004). Shego is often seen as the more capable villain like when she takes over the world instead of Drakken in “A Sitch in Time” (Motz, Roth, & Loter, 2003). However, she is always constantly filing her nails and like Kim, her goddess-like beauty, is certainly intentional to make her feminine side stand out as well. Comparatively, Drakken is evil and quite honestly hideous looking, traits that are much more common in male villains than female villains in television shows (Cohen, 2009). Drakken meanwhile, like Ron, is a very weak fighter and often doesn’t do much fighting at all. Like Ron, the actor who plays him has a fairly high pitched voice. But he is still a mean, harsh, masculine villain who is constantly creating plans to take over the world. Also, in terms of his physical appearance, his pony tail is juxtaposed with a scar on his face. In terms of his capabilities, his highly intelligent plans to take over the world are juxtaposed with his cowardliness when Kim and Ron show up to defeat him, once again wonderfully contrasting femininity and masculinity in his character.

Conclusion

kim-possible-and-ron-stoppable

Overall, the messages conveyed in Kim Possible challenge gender roles and challenge many of the messages that are normally found in television shows. By making all characters both feminine and masculine, it allows kids to identify with them on many different levels and shows kids that you can be whoever you want to be and don’t ever have to play in to any kind of stereotypical role that society tells you to. This is just one of the things that make Kim Possible one of the greatest shows in the history of television.

References

Behnke, J. (Writer), Humphrey, R. (Writer), & Loter, S. (Director). (2004). Bonding (Television Series Episode). In Schooley, B. (Producer) & MacCorkle, M. (Producer). Kim Possible. United States: Disney Channel.

Cohen, J. (2009). Defining Identification: A Theoretical Look at the Identification of Audiences With Media Characters. Mass Communication and Society, 4(3), 245-264.

Finnigan, D. (2002). Mouse House Sniffs Tween Success With Kim Possible and Lizzie McGuire. Brandweek, 43(27), 16.

Hains, R. C. (2009). Power Feminism, Mediated: Girl Power and the Commercial Politics of Change. Women’s Studies in Communication, 32(1), 89-113.

Hoffner, C. (1996). Children’s wishful identification and parasocial interaction with favorite television characters. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 40(3), 389-402.

Motz, B. (Writer), Roth, B. (Writer), & Loter, S. (Director). (2003). A Sitch in Time (Television Series Episode). In Schooley, B. (Producer) & MacCorkle, M. (Producer). Kim Possible. United States: Disney Channel.

Palmer, M. (Writer), & Bailey, C. (Director). (2002). The New Ron (Television Series Episode). In Schooley, B. (Producer) & MacCorkle, M. (Producer). Kim Possible. United States: Disney Channel.

Schooley, B. (Writer), MacCorkle, M. (Writer), & Bailey, C. (Director). (2002). Crush (Television Series Episode). Kim Possible. United States: Disney Channel.

Swenlin, B. (Writer), & Loter, S. (Director). (2004). Steal Wheels (Television Series Episode).  In Schooley, B. (Producer) & MacCorkle, M. (Producer). Kim Possible. United States: Disney Channel. Air Date: November 28, 2003

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