Where are the Girl-Crazed Boys in Animation?

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Western animation does this all the time:

It gives female characters a “boy-crazed” trait.

And it’s not just treated as a minor characteristic. Typically, its a defining element of their personalities.

Western animation seems to carry the impression that young females are constantly engaged in high/middle-school crushes—and it can be quite humorous. But more importantly it begs the question of:

Where are the girl-crazed boys?
Let’s start off by looking at Disney Channel’s longest-aired television program Phineas and FerbThis series stars two young boys who decide that they want to create the most spontaneous summer ever by building daily wild contraptions. The series was quite male-led, which was obvious in its premise. And adding to the heteronormative perspective from which its story is told, the two most significant female characters, Candace Flynn-Fletcher and Isabella Garcia-Shapiro, are partially defined by their crushes on specific male characters.

 

Many of Isabella’s character plot points surround her feelings towards Phineas, and it is treated by the writers as one of her defining characteristics.

Candace, on the other hand, is a special case. Even upon dating the guy she previously has an obsessive and from-afar crush on (Jeremy Johnston), she still maintains her boy-crazy behaviour towards him. Her stalker-like tendencies has her constantly keeping tabs on him and melo-dramatically reacting over his prominently normal behaviour. Many of the scenes featuring Candace (whenever she’s not trying to get her brothers in trouble) involve her attempting to “decipher” the painstakinglyclear behaviour of her current boyfriend. This portrays her as completely insecure, irrational, and even somewhat insane.

 

Don’t get me wrong, Candace is a gem of hilarity in the world of modern-day animated characters; however the pattern of boy-obsessed female characters is long-lived, and should be discussed from a critical perspective.

A similar dynamic is featured with Marinette Dupain-Cheng towards Adrien Agreste in the widely-popular series Miraculous LadybugMarinette is known to have admirable traits (kindness, warmth, bravery, etc.), and despite being an animated character, many fans refer to her as an excellent role model to young girls. However, her behaviour towards her crush, similar to Candace’s, is stalker-like and obsessive.

 

The series features a set of superheroes—one being Marinette—and their endeavours in guarding Paris from dark magic. As a superheroine and a role model, being boy-obsessed is not exactly a prime quality that comes to mind.

Aside from plastering photos of Adrien all over her bedroom walls, she also has a pull-down version of his schedule. Although these features (especially the latter) are emphasized for the sake of humor, they still feed into a specific portrayal of how young females behave when it comes to boys their age.

 


Mabel Pines of Gravity Falls,

Tina Belcher of Bob’s Burgers,

Clover of Totally Spies,

The list goes on.

 

All of these female characters are boy-crazed to a large degree—so much that it’s one of the central traits that drive each of their personalities.

Male characters who are deeply infatuated with female characters are already less of a commonality; but watching an animated girl-crazed boy go about his borderline-obsessive behaviour is a rarity.

Think about it, could you picture a male character completely drooling over a female one? Could you picture him dropping everything he’s doing just to be in the same vicinity as the girl he likes? Or having her weekly schedule in pull-down form?

 

The answer is, probably not. Because it would mean a male subjecting himself to a female, allowing her presence to make him lose all sense of rationality. Portraying a male character behaving this way is not very masculine.

 

But why exactly is this an issue? All of these examples are just of harmless animated shows, right?

Yes, Western animation is generally not meant to be taken too seriously, but it typically carries impactful messages—especially towards young viewers who typically make up its majority audience. Crushes, especially from afar, emit a very specific power dynamic: The person being crushed on is seen as having more desirable traits than the person that is doing the crushing—who is often portrayed as a relatively socially-weaker character of the two.

 

In having females prominently crushing over males, their relationship mirrors a very male-dominant power dynamic.

Western animation loves to dramatize. Exaggeration has been a stand-out factor of cartoons for as long as they’ve been created. So
exaggerated boy-crush behaviours only emphasize the power difference between the two genders. Additionally, boy-crazed characters are often portrayed as irrational as a result of their crush. They tend to lose control and end up either embarrassing themselves or somehow getting into some form of trouble (arguably) reducing their power status.

And what’s really bothersome is the fact that a female character’s crush on a male is implicitly promoted as a redeeming female quality. This is not only an issue inherent in Western animation tropes, but reflects wider issues in the entertainment industry as a whole: Males are much more prominent in creative decision-making positions than females.

 

As mentioned in my very first blog postStar vs. the Forces of Evil’s creator Daron Nefcy is only the second woman to create a television program in Disney Television Animation’s history. Considering that this production company has created over 50 original series, the ratio of male-to-female creators is very disheartening, and definitely shows in the perspective that these stories are told from.

 

So, the boy-crazed girl trope is rooted in much deeper societal issues (so deep that it would be exhausting to discuss in a single post). And although it’s definitely not the case for all animated female characters, there is a trend that has yet to be diluted over the past few decades (Helga’s “Arnold shrine” anyone?).

We can hope that with successful female creators on the rise (Daron Nefcy and Rebecca Sugar), more favorable characterizations of “redeeming female qualities” will be explored in Western animation.

 

 

So far, the new wave of female perspectives is looking pretty promising—but this topic is for another day.

 

6 Comments

  • Hi Julianna,
    This post of yours spoke to me on a spiritual level! I have always thought the same thing when I used to watch cartoons as a child, girls are always ‘boy crazy’. I love how you addressed the topic and you made me reflect on the countless times I developed a ‘crush’ on the boy character in a show because of all the female characters ‘crushing’ on the boy.
    Love this! Keep writing!

    • Thanks for you comment Prab! It’s pretty interesting to revisit the series that you watched when you were younger, because you start to really see some of the implications that were unnoticeable 10 years ago. Haha and I can completely relate to finding animated guys attractive as a child, just because of how excitable female protagonists were around them. It’s pretty funny thinking back to it, but also reveals some underlying issues related to gender dynamics.

  • Timothy

    I very much enjoy reading this article, however adding on to the other half of this discussion I don’t think reversing the roles would be a good idea. I boy doesn’t quite have the innocent charm a girl has when it comes to love obsessions. For a boy it might ended up feeling creepy and would bring concerns on what a future with that kind of behavior would lead too you for a guy. Now despite the fact I found Isabella’s crush incredibly charming I don’t think obession is a good influence and a good treat at all to have portrayed in any kind of story telling medium for any gender. However if it is to be done I personally believe it is better if she does it given it promotes a smaller threat. Thank you for a thought provoking article it was very incite full and I look forward to any other kind of break down you may have on your YouTube channel where I found this article.

    • Thank you for reading this article! I hardly get comments on my blog, so this notification got me really excited haha. I completely agree with the fact that there is a double standard when it comes to obsessive behaviour towards a gender of interest. The boy-crazed trait presented by a female character is definitely seen as more endearing than the reverse dynamic, so I can see why creators choose one over the other. But I think it’s also important to note that crushes don’t need to be portrayed as obsessive at all to be entertaining. I’m not sure if you watch Star Vs. the Forces of Evil, but the way that this series showcases romantic emotions is both relatable and completely unproblematic, unless it’s intentionally meant to present an issue (e.g. Tom’s persistent attempts to get Star’s attention). Whether or not you’ve seen the series, the creator and a large portion of the creative team are women, which isn’t a coincidence at all in my opinion. I also agree with your thoughts on Isabella’s crush on Phineas being quite charming, but as you also implied, there are many negative connotations attached to the crush-obsessed archetype regardless of gender, especially when it’s portrayed as a redeeming quality.
      Again thanks for commenting! It makes me really happy to know that a small handful of people are reading my content.

      • Timothy

        I very much agree, obsession is not healthy, but on the contrary is very charming to see among children and I must admit, Isabella and Phineas was one of the cutest relationships I have ever seen (next to Steven and Connie). Nevertheless Star vs The Forces of Evil is one of the most clever cartoons I have ever seen in terms of portraying relationships and crushes. I do very well believe that they send a much more healthy example of how to deal with emotional and romantic problems/feelings. I find Jackie and especially emotionally mature character that deals with problems in a way I have rarely ever seen in any medium of story telling. I do hope to see more women get involve in the art of story telling. They appear to have a much strong grasp on emotions the men do honestly. I am glad we can both win from this engaging concept that you have explored in this blog. It’s nice to see that other people are aware of these things too.

        • Jackie is a phenomenal character! The series portrays the cliche love-triangle dynamic in such a refreshing way. For once, all of the characters in the dynamic are very likable, and neither of them hold resentment towards one another. At the end of the day Star, Marco, Jackie, and on the other end of the spectrum, Tom, are fairly good friends, and no one seeks out any form of maltreatment towards anyone else. Jackie really articulates her emotions well in one of the recent episodes, and her response to Marco’s love for Mewnie was seen from the perspective of genuine care and understanding. There are no hard feelings, which is something that is rarely seen on television that tends to lean towards dramatizing rather than showcasing realistic and healthy relationships. I’ve only seen the first few episodes of Steven Universe so far, but I hear many great things about the relationship portrayals in the series as well. I don’t want to say that females have a stronger grasp on emotions than males, but in such a male-saturated industry, female creators in animation have definitely proven to bring a different and refreshing take to many characterization and storytelling tropes—as any diverse perspective would bring relative to the norm.

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