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Smurfette Sexism
SMURFETTE SEXISM
Is Smurfette Sexist? Are blonds better than brunettes? Does having black hair make you evil? An analysis of the cultural forces at work within the character of Smurfette.
SMURFETTE ON TRIAL - IS SMURFETTE SEXIST?
Sexism and Smurfette

Smurfette is sexist.

It's a feminist charge bandied about - but what does it mean? Is Smurfette being used as a tool to keep women from reaching their full potential? Is she designed to sully the name of all womankind and engender stereotypes? To get to the heart of the answer, we need to analyze the character of Smurfette.

Let's smurf a look in more detail.

First of all, what are the charges?
Smurfette Sexism
Smurfette Sexism
  • Smurfette is superficial. She is usually concerned with personal, trivial matters, such as which dress to wear, whether or not she looks pretty, and how nicely her flowerbed appears.
  • Smurfette is manipulative. Smurfette uses her wiles and powers of persuasion to her own gain, manipulating the hapless men in her path to bend to her will.
  • Smurfette, as the only female character in the Smurf Village, represents all of feminity and all of womankind as a whole. Her success and failures within the Smurf world represent woman in toto - when Smurfette does something poorly, she insults all woman.
  • Smurfette promotes lookism. Smurfette's transformation from black hair to blond haired is inherently misogynist.

Smurfette - Sexist?
Is Smurfette Sexist?
Smurfette Analyzed

One must first ask, what was the intent of the creator of the Smurfs, Pierre Culliford (aka Peyo)?

The most enlightening and perhaps only real information, outside of the Smurf stories themselves, comes from an interpreter who translated Peyo's native French language into English for an interview with NBC.

Here is an account of what the interpreter heard - versus what was actually told to the NBC executives.
In attempt to get started on their Smurf cartoon, NBC and Hanna Barbera executives needed to get some background. One of the questions they asked was about the nature of Smurfette. Peyo responded in French, "She is pretty, blond, she has all the characteristics of women..."

The interpreter, knowing how progressive the United States was regarding woman's rights, interpreted Peyo's words as "she has all the qualities of women". The interpreter knew that Peyo spoke virtually no English, so some of Peyo's harsher tone could be ameliorated through politically correct "translation".

Peyo went on to say, in French, "She seduces, she uses trickery rather than force to get results. She is incapable of telling a joke without blowing the punch line. She is a blabbermouth but only makes superficial comments. She is constantly creating enormous problems for the Smurfs but always manages to blame it on someone else". The interpreter tried to minimize these comments.

Finally, one of the US participants asked if Smurfette would be at least able to save the Smurfs if they were in danger - could she make important decisions to save her fellow Smurfs? Peyo, upon hearing this translated into French, was astounded - he replied "Come on now, do they expect me to make her a (female) gym teacher?" The interpreter did not translate this remark into English.

Smurfette on Trial
Smurfette on Trial
Defending Smurfette

Seems pretty damning once Peyo's comments are taken into consideration - Peyo appears to be misogynist.

The real story, however, is far more complicated.

First of all, the Smurf stories are primarly known through the world famous cartoon series - a series created and written by Hollywood - a known bastion of liberal and progressive values.
Even popular Smurf stories written by Peyo and Yvan Delporte were rewritten through the lens of the modern American perspective. Would these American writers really sacrifice their own values to honor the intent of Peyo, a man that spoke no English and had no involvement in the show? It appears the answer is no.
It is important to note that although Smurfette is certainly not the action hero of the series, she is clearly not useless.

In fact she shows time and time again that she is capable of making decisions and even saving all of her fellow Smurfs when need be (see the episode, "The Smurfette") - a fine rebuke of the notion that Smurfette is a powerless woman.

Smurfette can indeed be a superhero.
Superhero Smurfette
Smurfette the Superhero
Smurfette is not superficial. Her comments are no more or less stupifying than other characters - like Brainy Smurf. She is, after all, a cartoon character, and one that quite often provides comic relief. But her comic foibles and folly are no less or more ridiculous than anyone elses - she can be silly, but so can a handful of other Smurfs.

It's not all hair and make-up for Smurfette, sometimes it gets real. Smurfette champions the sick (an ill mouse) in the episode, "Squeaky" and learns gut-wrenchingly hard lessons about life and death.
Smurfette and Squeaky
Learning about Life and Death
One could argue that because of this episode, Smurfette grows in character more than any of the other Smurfs in the entire series - hardly the journey of a trite character.

Can Smurfette manipulate the other Smurfs using trickery? Sometimes, but usually not with evil intent. Other characters use charm, wit or force in attempt to get what they want, and Smurfette is no different - but it doesn't make her the living embodiment of misogynism.
What of the idea that Smurfette is the only female? Well that on its face isn't even true. There are other females, such as Nanny Smurf, who is wise and patient, along with the young and precocious Sassette Smurfling. All three characters are quite different and very easily put the rest the ridculous idea that Smurfette carries the weight of all femaledom on her shoulders. Smurfette doesn't represent all women - she is simply one female character among a cast of other female characters.
There are more serious aspersions cast against Smurfette's character however. There is the issue of Smurfette's transformation. Originally, Smurfette had black, roughly-cut hair and less "feminine" clothing - she was considered evil and reviled. After Papa Smurf worked his magic, she was transformed into a "good" Smurf - with blond, luxurious locks, a girly dress, and even high heel shoes. The implied message is simple, critics say: eschewing common standards of feminine beauty is considered evil, while dressing up in girly clothing actually makes you a good person. Transforming Smurfette
Transforming Smurfette
The idea of female transformation, whether in a Hitchcock or David Lynch movie, (or even a "makeover" television show) reflect primal instincts regarding female identity and rebirth - an analysis of which simply won't be resolved within a discussion of Smurfette. Why society values certain looks and styles is complicated: Smurfette is not perpetuating lookism simply because she wears dresses and has blond hair. Simply put, it is not Hanna Barbera's job to provide a "pantsuit versus dresses" analytical debate on a Saturday morning cartoon aimed at children.

Regardless of what the original intent of the author was, Smurfette did not end up a sexist character. A silly character, a funny character - yes, but also a caring, compassionate and friendly character as well. Smurfette's creation story does tell the story of Smurfette both literally and figuratively - she may have started out one way in the eyes of her creator, but she certainly transfromed into her own woman in the end.

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