“Pretty Smart”: Subversive Intelligence in Girl Power Cartoons

  • Rebecca C. Hains


Who says a girl cannot be pretty and smart at the same time? In girl power cartoons, girls who are both brilliant and beautiful abound. Preteen and teenage girls star as action-adventure cartoon heroines, using their physical strength and keen intellectual abilities to fight crime and save the world. They also succeed academically and socially in school, earning good grades, wearing the latest fashions, enjoying the attention of boys, and sporting enviably perfect hair. Through such depictions, girl power texts offer girls cultural support by suggesting that they can be feminine, intelligent, strong, and empowered—they can have it all. This is a significant change, as earlier cartoons rarely focused on powerful, smart girls. Now, pro-girl cartoons proliferate across children’s cultural landscape. After exploring the growth of the girl power movement, this chapter focuses on girl power cartoons’ contributions to changing representations of intelligent girls. Girl power is, in part, a response to cultural concerns about adolescent girls’ plummeting intelligence, self-esteem, and self-image. The brilliant girls depicted in these cartoons are not victims of this crisis. Instead, they subvert the cultural expectation that girls should avoid displaying their intelligence. The characters model the use of “niceness” as a subversive strategy to make female intelligence palatable. By acting nice, smart girls are also able to positively change the world at large.


Adolescent Girl Cultural Expectation Normative Femininity Nice Behavior Beauty Standard 
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© Sherrie A. Inness 2007

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  • Rebecca C. Hains

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