Philip Cohen over at The Society Pages has a good article out detailing why Smurfette is still problematic. The basics: “The Smurfs, originating as they did in mid-century Europe, exhibit the quaint sexism in which boys or men are generic people – with their unique qualities and abilities – while girls and women are primarily identified by their femininity.” Oh and also, she’s created by an evil wizard to mess up the menfolk with her devilish womanly ways.
Gross. It’s always been gross, and we’ve known that for a long time. And yet Smurfette and her ilk keep coming back to haunt us. Cohen writes: “Today, a blockbuster children’s movie can invoke 50-year-old gender stereotypes with little fear of a powerful feminist backlash.”
It’s not just children’s movies. We’re living through the Age of Rehash, when anything that was ever popular in the past is worth dredging up and, with a little makeup, running back by us. One of the problems with doing that is that stuff from the past can be chock-full of the very things we’ve worked hard to get better at or get rid of – racism and sexism, for example. They’re right there in older stories, ready to be all racist and sexist again.
Not only that, but somehow things from the past get an automatic hall pass. Probably (but let’s be realistic, not definitely) a new Smurfs-style story would not be a go, today. But because the Smurfs could reasonably be called “classic,” they’re just passed on with all the terrible Smurfette-ness intact.
Why? There’s no reason we shouldn’t hold older stories to new standards. Because fiction has this fun property: it is made up. And it can be re-imagined.