On Miss Piggy and Feminism

When I was little, I loved to watch the Muppets (I wouldn’t be surprised if Statler and Waldorf are where I first learned to be a snarky jerk). However, right from the getgo I was always disappointed by the lack of female characters. Along with that, I was very uncomfortable and a bit angry with the depiction of Miss Piggy.

Miss Piggy is the only featured female character on the Muppets, and she’s grating at the best of times. She’s narcissistic, self-centered, and a high-maintenance diva. Her “relationship” with Kermit is such a stereotype–the whiny, demanding, shrill woman who takes the sweet, gentle, caring man for a ride. I had a hard time believing that the snobby Miss Piggy had any genuine feelings for Kermit, other than a sense of ownership, and a constant desire to nag him about marriage (which, despite being a sweet, gentle, caring man, Kermit stereotypically avoids). Despite being theoretically involved with Kermit, Miss Piggy constantly flirts with other men, behaves brazenly, and throws around her sexuality. While I have no problem with women owning their sexuality, even as a kid, I rankled against the concept of a woman attempting to use her sexuality and flirtation to get what she wants, particularly when there is allegedly someone else in her life. Furthermore, when her attempted seductions failed (which they often did), she would storm off in a self-righteous rage, but not without it being made perfectly clear that the audience should be laughing at her and mocking her attempts and subsequent unhappiness. My distaste was reinforced by the fact that she never got anything she wanted any other way–she was generally depicted as ditzy or even stupid, and tolerant Kermit often had to solve her problems. Other characters on the show actively disliked her, and rightly so–she was rude and haughty toward any other characters that she could be bothered to interact with at all.

I hated Miss Piggy. I hated that I couldn’t identify with her, and I hated that she was a perfect example of how women were viewed. Even to this day, I hear people rattling off lists of traits that I hated in Miss Piggy as examples of why women are so awful. I have to wonder, though, if I would’ve hated Miss Piggy just as much if she hadn’t been the only female–what if there had been another female character on the show, who was intelligent, capable, independent, etc? Would I have hated Miss Piggy as much, or would I have been able to relax a little, realizing that there were other avenues of womanhood that didn’t involve being such a terrible negative stereotype?

Don’t get me wrong, I still love the Muppets and I think Jim Henson was an amazingly talented person. However, it’s important to consider all the angles of the culture we consume. If you have kids, or work with kids, I think it’s important to keep an eye out for all of these “teachable” moments. I know I strike upon them often in the literature I read, and I’m trying to start actively keeping a list to help me work these opportunities into my classroom when I start teaching next year (a post coming soon on Brett Ashley from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises). We can watch and enjoy the Muppets, but it’s important to keep in mind what kind of idea of womanhood and femininity Miss Piggy represents, and how that can be damaging to people who internalize it, of both genders. It’s not just important how men perceive women–are little boys growing up with the perception that Miss Piggy is what womanhood is?–but it’s also important how women perceive themselves–do we want to raise our little girls to believe that Miss Piggy is what a woman should be? It’s like the Barbie debate (I was thrilled, by the way, when “computer engineer” won out as the new Barbie occupation!) and what are we teaching girls they should look like, act like, etc.

Again, it’s not necessarily best to cut these things out, because they are everywhere in our culture so one would have to become more or less a hermit in order to avoid them, but rather it is important to be critical and always consider things from multiple angles. Semiotics: it’s for everyone!

All that said, I really wish I had a picture of the Swedish Chef in my kitchen (granted, that’s yet another can of semiotics worms) and Beaker was always one of my favorites. Is it any surprise that I grew up into a tomboy nerd with a fondness for cooking?

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02/24/2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized.

One Comment

  1. Andie replied:

    But what of Janice?? What of Janice, I say!

    (okay, in fairness, Janice was kind of a throwaway character. *shrug* I liked her)

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