Cartoons: Research Statement

Television cartoons are a uniquely interpretive form. They are a complex combination of social reproduction and conflict and, because as popular culture they are used as material resources in everyday life, may serve simultaneously dominant and marginal interests. They have been a widely misunderstood art form precisely because of their categorization as children’s entertainment; as cultural forms associated with children are commonly marginalized.

Girl cartoons present an example of three-dimensional social marginalization: as children’s television, girl’s programming, and as animated cartoons, all under-valued categories of social placement and study. This positioning as a subordinate cultural form may grant girl cartoons the ability to express different viewpoints and ideas from that of the dominant framework. Gender normativity is part of this synthesis of social structure and personal agency.

To assess how cartoons playfully promote a counter-hegemonic force on television’s socially compulsive gender coding, this research considers the socio-historical framework of cartoon programming, the role of women as television executives and the unique phenomenon of an adult male fanbase to a culturally coded girl product; the Bronies.



Girl Cartoons: A Playful Transgression on Popular Culture’s Compulsory Gender Coding: Dissertation, May 2011.

This dissertation evaluates television girl cartoons to understand their transgressive and counter-hegemonic properties to the compulsive gender coding in popular culture products. My original hypothesis was that cartoon girls are represented in ways that counter the themes historically used to construct “little girls'” identity, such as romance, peer rivalry, and gendered self-deprecation. However, I found that though they indeed do subvert normative gender codes, there exists constructed boundaries presented in the form of secondary characters, identified here as feminine foils, traditionally gendered girl character, and anti-feminine foils, traditionally gendered boy characters.


The Power Girls Before Girl Power: 1980s Toy-Based Girl Cartoons

The Power Girls Before Girl Power: 1980s Toy-Based Girl Cartoons – Katia Perea

Abstract: The socio/cultural history and partnership of toy advertisement and children’s television is rich and well documented (Schneider 1989, Kunkel 1988, Seiter 1993). In this article I discuss the influence of policy in girl’s cartoon programming as well as the relationship between commercialization and financial motivation in creating a girl cartoon media product. I then discuss the formulaic, gender normative parameters this new genre set in place to identify girl cartoons as well as girl media consumption and how within those parameters girl cartoon characters were able to represent an empowered girl popular culture product a decade before the nomenclature Girl Power.


Girl Cartoons Second Wave: Transforming the Genre

Animation: an interdisciplinary journal (SAGE),  November 2015 vol. 10 no. 3 189-204

The US girl cartoon genre began in the 1980s with the Federal Communication Commission’s deregulation of television, allowing the programming of toy-based cartoons. The toy industry’s gender binary of girl toys vs boy toys was translated into the definitive split of girl cartoons and boy cartoons. This first wave of girl cartoons defined the gender normative parameters that would identifiably label a cartoon program as a girl cartoon: rainbow unicorns and star sparkles in friendship communities with motivational girl leaders that displayed confidence, determination and savvy while processing emotions and solving conflicts through communication. These characters were young girls, not teenagers or young adults with developed bodies. It is rarely addressed that these cartoon characters presented an empowered girl media product in popular culture a decade before the nomenclature ‘Girl Power’, and did so sans sexualization. In this article, the author discusses the second wave of girl cartoons that came about with US television’s cartoon renaissance in the 1990s. This research explores the ways that lead girl characters were newly portrayed and how they evolved from the girl cartoon representations in the first wave era. Along with the representation of empowered girl characters, this research identified a feminine triptych. In character settings with more than one girl lead, the feminine portrayals were represented in the triptych of the beauty, the brains and the brawns. This research also revealed a persistent glitch to the empowerment of girl cartoon protagonists in the form of secondary characters, identified as mean girls and misogyny boys or no-homo boys. Another shortcoming is identified as boobs and boyfriends, to demonstrate the compulsion to give characters above the age of 12 sexualized bodies and heteronormative relationships. Several cartoon episodes of The Powerpuff Girls, Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, Dora the Explorer, Ni Hao- Kai Lan, Franny’s Feet, Lilo and Stitch: The Series, Maya & Miguel, Word Girl and Mighty B! are textually analyzed to document both verbal and visual gender cues.


Girl Cartoons, Bronies, & the Princess Paradox

Amherst College Office of Student Activities & the Women’s & Gender Center, April 20th, 2017

The Bronies, Disney’s master narrative, and the princess paradox will be explored in Professor Perea’s discussion on the genre of Girl Cartoons while exploring how gender normative coding is playfully transgressed from within mainstream media.


Girl Cartoons and the Role of Women as Television Executives in the 1990s, October 10th, 2017

This article discusses the influence of the women purveyors who have been instrumental in the development of US television cartoons. It focuses on the US 1990s digital era upon which the massification of the medium of television through cable and global satellite distribution coincided with women’s entry into television executive positions. This era is commonly referred to in the US as the Cartoon Renaissance. The combination of women executives and cable television distribution brought about the proliferation of new cartoon programs and consequently television girl cartoons’ second wave (Perea 2015). While a small body of existing literature explores the role of Nickelodeon in children’s programming and women’s position as animation industry decision-makers (Hendershot 2004, Banet-Weiser 2007), there has yet to be an analysis that includes Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, PBS, FOX, Warner Bros. and the interchangeable women between them, as well as the new parameters of girl cartoon programming that came about under their leadership.


Touching Queerness in Disney Films Dumbo and Lilo & Stitch

Disney’s influence as a cultural purveyor is difficult to overstate. From cinema screen to television programming, vacation theme parks to wardrobe, toys and books, Disney’s consistent ability to entertain children as well as adults has made it a mainstay of popular culture. This research will look at two Disney films, Dumbo (1941)1 and Lilo & Stitch (2002),2 both from distinctly different eras, and analyze the similarities in artistic styling, studio financial climate, and their narrative representation of otherness as it relates to Queer identity.

Some of my presentations on the topic can be found here on my site, and upcoming ones like my Bronycon talk, are listed on my blog.

Skip to toolbar