I’m sure that no one expected a revamped cartoon about colorful ponies to take the Internet by storm, but no one expected the Spanish Inquisition either. The popularity of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is certainly warranted due to its writing and smooth animation. Though aimed at children, it fosters nostalgia and its anime-esque style has made it more attractive to older fanbases.
But one of the most important aspects of the show is its intentional portrayal of female unity. Lauren Faust, the creator, said that she wanted to make a girls show that celebrates all the different ways of being a girl. That’s why the personalities of the “mane six” vary so much. However, My Little Pony goes even further and emphasizes that all six of these very different types of girls are friends.
How many middle/high school dramas are there that pit the awkward, nerdy/less feminine girl against the snobby, popular, and usually vapid feminine one? How many YA heroines are written either with an overt or underlying sentiment of “I’m not like other girls,” which translates as “I’m not one of those dumb girls that cares about makeup and fashion”?
It’s prevalent and problematic from a feminist standpoint as it encourages the habit of making other types of women the enemy. It’s not feminist to hate on feminine women for expressing themselves in feminine ways. It’s not feminist to hate on masculine women or tomboys for expressing their gender outside of femininity. What is 100% feminist is unity between all types of women and also criticizing the areas where feminism has fallen short, such as its historic exclusion of lesbian/queer women, women of color, and transwomen.
The female unity in My Little Pony is not representative of a unity between every kind of woman out there. However, it’s a step in the right direction. There is still conflict and growth between these characters, but their homeostasis is always friendship. Any animosity between these personalities is presented as a problem that needs to be resolved as opposed to one pony being taught a lesson by the other and therefore projecting the type of female that she represents as the better one.
What I think is particularly important is how the individual relationships between the ponies are written. These relationships show that it’s not only possible to form bonds with those who express femininity in a different way from you, but it desirable to do so.
Rarity and Applejack: Where Sequins Meet Sowing
On the surface, these two are almost polar opposites. The only pony that may be even more of Rarity’s opposite is Rainbow Dash. However, Applejack and Rarity have a dynamic relationship that works through their extreme differences and results in a strong bond. In one episode of the first season where they’re both invited to a sleepover with Twilight Sparkle, they get so frustrated with each other that they can hardly stand being in the same room. Applejack doesn’t understand why Rarity gets so antsy if her hair gets wet and Rarity doesn’t understand why Applejack cringes at the thought of wearing a facial mask.
This personality clash is nothing new, and for most of the episode it follows the course we’ve come to expect from this conflict. Both ponies demean each other’s versions of femininity to the point where all they have to say to each other is insults. In many other stories, this conflict ends with the Applejack-like girl somehow triumphing over the Rarity-like girl. The Rarity-like girl is usually publicly embarrassed by accidentally falling into some trap that gets her dirty. By the time this happens, the audience generally feels that the Rarity-like girl deserves it for being mean, catty, and unintelligent.
However, this is how Applejack and Rarity’s conflict ends:
They both get messy and they hug it out. Afterward, neither of them fundamentally changes how they express their femininity, but their bond deepens as they accept femininities different from their own. Neither one “wins” over the other, and other episodes make it very clear that Rarity is much more than a high-brow fashionista. She’s an artist and the company she keeps is proof that she is not the stuck-up girl that seems to be on the surface. She looks like a stereotype, but her actual character breaks it.
It’s a problem that, when we look at stories featuring women and a very feminine character appears, we assume that she is either a villain, a snob, and/or unintelligent unless proven otherwise (another example of this is Asami Sato from The Legend of Korra). From a single glance, we expect that character to be an antagonist. Where does this come from? Really, you can trace it back through history to the time when people first began telling stories. Numerous female characters over time have been villainized if they are extremely feminine. They are written as Eves, seductresses who aim to destroy anything wholesome and good. Generation after generation has been given stories where very feminine women are always villains, thus the ingrained assumption and the Femme Fatale trope.
This doesn’t mean that villains can’t be feminine. What it does mean is that writers and audiences need to understand and challenge this notion. The relationship between Applejack and Rarity does just that while still grappling with conflict. The result is a genuine friendship that could quite possibly be magical.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash: Two Sides of the Same Coin
The relationship between Applejack and Rainbow Dash shows that just because two types of girls are similar doesn’t mean things are always peachy between them. Both ponies pride themselves on their athleticism, especially Rainbow Dash. In one episode, they both vie to be the best athlete in Ponyville, which spurs a rivalry between them that quickly turns ugly. With each one focused on winning, they’re quick to cheat and interpret every setback as the fault of the other. However, like Rarity and Applejack’s conflict, Rainbow Dash and Applejack’s conflict is one that ends with unity. Their relationship isn’t so much about undermining any stereotypes of relationships between two types of girls, but rather showing that similar interests/abilities don’t automatically guarantee harmony. Rainbow Dash’s character especially shows that sometimes, the non-girly girl who we usually root for isn’t a very nice person. In some episodes, she borders on terrible with some of the quips she makes about others and the way she treats other ponies.
Despite all of that, the homeostasis is always unity. The fact that no character is perfect and no relationship is perfect only increases the quality of the show. It’s only natural that the different personality types in My Little Pony will clash, but the clashing never ends with any sort of high school drama victory over someone else. In that sense, the show promotes an important aspect of feminism: other women are not the enemy because of how they express their femininity.
What can writers take away from this?
Female characters don’t exist solely to bicker or gossip with one another. What My Little Pony offers is several examples of very different, but well-written personality types that can easily be transposed and adjusted into your own original ladies. Potential conflicts between female characters can and should go much deeper than perpetuating the superficial divide between different types of femininity.