For the past few months, I’ve been reading articles, reading blog posts, seeing images, having some conversations, and reading some status updates from friends and family – mostly all on “the Facebook,” mind you – regarding what really defines masculinity and how the whole feminism movement is “ruining” whatever it is people are finding it ruin. I can see what all the hooplah is about though: men are suddenly getting pulled out of their comfort zones – being confronted with the sudden realization that “what makes a man” can be based on societal expectations. Uh oh, SpaghettiOs.
While I think we could talk for eons about the whole subject, I felt like sharing something that I hope would bring up a discussion of how the world can be full of expectations when it comes to defining roles and how it is really isn’t a norm.
Once upon a time – and this may be hard to believe – but I was younger than I am now. It was the early nineties and I was busy watching cartoons with my closest friend and brother. Cartoons such as X-Men, Transformers, Denver the Last Dinosaur, and so on. When we weren’t doing that, we’d play games on our Nintendo Entertainment System. Super Mario Bros. 2, Guerilla War, Clash at Demonhead, Blades of Steel, BurgerTime, and many more.
Sometimes we’d find ways to incorporate the video games into our imaginative world of pretend play. We’d re-enact games like Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge by playing the game, then running around as an X-Man character. This also worked when we played road hockey after playing Blades of Steel. “Get the pass,” we’d say. Although we probably heard it as “Hit the Pads” or “Make the Pass” as the language in the game was a pretty garbled mess.
We’d also all watch the G.I. Joe animated series. We had a lot of fun with our action figures and on the odd occasion, we’d pretend we were G.I. Joes. We’d play the NES game, Captain Skyhawk and pretend we were on a mission to do whatever it was the Joe’s had to do. Fight Cobra? Defeat aliens? I don’t know. Why we just didn’t play the G.I. Joe game for NES still boggles my mind to this day.
However, when we played G.I. Joe, we picked who we’d pretend to be. My friend always chose Duke. My brother was either Snake Eyes or Roadblock. Me? I was always the bad-ass javelin-throwing Joe, Lady Jaye. We’d spend hours in front of the television and hanging out with one another as we defeated whomever it was we had to defeat in the video game – then we’d take the fight outside and pretend to fight Cobra as well. We were kids – it was fun!
Looking back at it now, no one ever told me it was “weird” to pretend to be Lady Jaye. All of us just picked a Joe we liked and was that person for the few hours when we pretended to be G.I. Joe’s. My parents never said anything to me about it. Talk about progressive parents. It probably made as much sense to them as seeing us young Canadian boys pretending to be Real American Heroes.
To me, Lady Jaye was and is still just another one of the Joe’s.
Later in my life, I picked up the G.I. Joe cartoon series on DVD and ploughed through it all. Reflecting on my childhood, you know what? Lady Jaye really was a bad-ass. The writers on the show did an excellent job not making sexist or misogynistic characters. And even if they did for an episode, the female Joe’s proved them otherwise.
Lady Jaye, Scarlett, Cover Girl, The Baroness, Dreadnok Zarana, Jinx – all of them kicked some serious butt. They were written as equals and no one ever said otherwise in the cartoon show.
I even remember an episode dedicated to just showing how awesome the women Joe’s were. Spell of the Siren featured Lady Jaye, Scarlett, and Cover Girl as they had to rescue every male-Joe who was brainwashed by The Baroness. I can’t think of any other show that I grew up with that did anything similar to that outside of the X-Men animated series with Rogue and Storm. Even both cartoon shows managed to pass the Bechdel test!
It’s interesting to go back and see why I wanted to be Lady Jaye: she’s simply an incredible character! As a young boy, I never saw her as anything else but someone to look up to. As an adult, I still see the same thing.
Admittedly, I’m speaking solely about the G.I. Joe: Real American Hero TV series. While even the early Marvel comics have shown her in a positive light, a simple Google search can show you what she’s currently like in the mainstream – especially since the second live-action G.I. Joe movie.
While I’ve tackled some other obvious issues regarding the way women are portrayed in comic books and in cartoons, I have to say that I’m completely surprised and impressed how these Joes were written and portrayed.
What my parents thought of me wasn’t based on them telling me how to live. It wasn’t them imprinting their expectations on me. They were letting me be me. And if you ask me, I think I turned out just fine.
But to my main point: Lady Jaye didn’t fill the traditional role of a woman or a man. She was her own person. When one thinks of G.I. Joe, few people would think women would be included in that group – let alone being able to name one of them. They’re JOES after all. You’d expect no women, right? But that’s the thing about societal expectations: what you think you know is not always what’s right. And while some of you may be thinking, “She was seen as one of the Joe’s because she was written like a man,” try re-reading what I wrote above and think about why you’re wrong.
I know I’m just barely scratching the surface with this topic, so for any comments, questions, concerns: sound off below!