Media Franchising and Gender Reinforcement: A Girl’s Perspective on Her Love for Power Rangers

Derek Johnson proposes in the introduction of his work, Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries, that the success of franchises relies on the reinforcement of gender stereotypes. He explains:

Masculinized or feminized, the fact that so many of these franchises do have a specific gender orientation (heavily policed especially in the case of cultural products targeted at children) hints at a fundamental relationship between franchising and the cultural reproduction of gender worthy of exploration here. (Johnson, 21).

Many well-known franchises are geared towards younger audiences. For this reason it is extremely important to think critically about the influence of these franchises on young minds. Due to the tendency of many franchises prominently featuring cis-white males, there is a lot to be said about the harmful effects of a lack of representation in popular culture. These effects are significant and worthy of study but rather than be pessimistic, I would like to focus my discussion here on my experience with my favorite franchise growing up and the potential original source of my interest in fighting the patriarchy, The Power Rangers. 

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Kimberly Hart and Trini Kwan.

As my fellow blogger, fonzfranc, has already addressed, The Power Rangers had a prominent female character, Kimberly Hart, “the pink Power Ranger“. However as a rebellious young tomboy, her valley-girl style didn’t really match mine. When my cousins and I “played Power Rangers” I was always the yellow one, Trini Kwan. She knew kung fu, was intelligent and interested in environmentalism. Now I’m sure you’re wondering, “how does this connect back to Johnson’s reading?” I’m getting there. The point is that as a young viewer I had a choice about how I wanted to be represented. Though it was only a choice between the pink ranger and the yellow one, I still had a choice. For once, my cousins and I could all play Power Rangers without having both girls be the same character. My cousin Casey, the girl who really liked pink, and I didn’t have to fight (though of course I thought I was the cooler, more original one). Other television shows have followed the same criteria, of two girls: one brainiac and one “pretty one”. Scooby-Doo is the first franchise that comes to mind. Growing older, I felt frustrated having to pick between being the brainiac and the pretty one. This frustration is evidence of the presence of one-dimensional female characters and male writers lacking imagination. It is also evidence of reinforcing gender stereotypes and heternormativity. For me, the difference between Power Rangers and other programs was knowing that no matter what kind of girl I was, I could still kick ass. When my brother and I watched the show and tried out our fighting skills, we were both Power Rangers, not a boy Ranger and a girl one. This program was the only instance where we felt like we were fighting on the same team. Considering how Johnson’s work claims that, “The social relations and multiplied production practices of franchising, on the one hand, have been frequently structured by gender” (56) I find that this program found a healthy medium between reinforcing some gender stereotypes and also making a space amongst the crime fighters for girls. Having two female Rangers meant that both “the pretty one” and “the brainiac” could kick ass. Despite Kimberly’s initial introduction as a “valley-girl”, her character evolved throughout the series and became one of the toughest and caring member of the group. Even though I preferred to play the yellow ranger, what is most important is that on any other day I could always be the pink one.

Sources:
Johnson, Derek. Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries.NYU Press, 2013. Print. Postmillennial Pop.

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