Monday, September 04, 2006

Abby Cadabby: Liberated Muppet

Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it.

I like lesbians. A lot.

I don't mean that I like porn flick bisexual demi-lesbians--you know, the ones who indulge in a little girl-girl action while waiting for the pizza boy to show up. No, I mean that I like good, old-fashioned, short-haired, comfy-shod, straight-talking (no pun intended), real-life lesbians. I like

the ones who wear jeans and toolbelts, and I like the ones who wear tailored suits and rock the whole Annie Hall (or Annie Lennox) look. I even like the ones who wear makeup, carry purses, and go in for the girly vibe. I like lesbians in a house, I like lesbians with a mouse, I like lesbians here and there, I like lesbians anywhere...

Never mind that some of the more radical sisters consider every expression of my sexuality to be a form of rape. Never mind that they don't mythologize the male sex organ. I don't care. I like the culture that they've developed, I like their literature, I like their music, and I even like their movies.

I just like lesbians.

In some ways--don't tell anybody about this; it's just between us--I sometimes feel a little bit...proprietary towards lesbian culture. You see, I got in on the ground floor. Back in the mid '80's, I used to go to ABA book shows with my family. These conventions featured almost every publisher in the country, and there was always a section where the lesbian publishers would stake out their territory. They tended to sneer at me, a man-cub, but were pretty friendly to my sister Jen. So, anyway, I would drag Jen through Lesbian Land, where they would give her free copies of all their books, catalogs, calendars, etc. Using this method, I got an early introduction to Alison Bechdel and a few others. Later, I would dive into Susie Bright, Diane DiMassa (Hothead Paison is god), Ann Bannon, Valerie Taylor, and everyone else I could get my hands on. I even got into Judith Butler and Eve Sedgwick, who told me all about how gender is individually derived (who knew?). As I read further, I came to realize a few key truths:

1. Not all lesbians dress like men. Some of them dress like women. Some dress like college students. The important thing is, most of them are proud of being women, and enjoy expressing their individuality in a wide variety of ways.

2. Not all women who dress like men are lesbians (I was really happy to discover this, as I think women with short hair--or even shaved heads--are pretty gorgeous).

3. The goal is not to turn all women into lesbians; rather, the goal is to create a space where everyone can express her sexuality in a way that makes her comfortable. At least, that was always my reading of the available literature.

Having more or less established my lesbian ally bona fides, I gotta tell you that I've got a problem here. Recently, Sesame Street introduced a new
character, Abby Cadabby, who is a full-on girly girl. She's pink, carries a sparkly wand, and wears a gossamer blue dress. She indulges in girly behavior, flirts with Elmo, and tends to be shy. In other words, she flies in the face of a few decades of feminist dogma. While the lesbian community hasn't really weighed in yet (let's face it; they probably have better things to do), baby boomer "liberal" reactionaries (see future post) across the country have already started criticizing the poor little fairy. Let's take a peek at a few quotes:

Susan Linn, cofounder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood writes:
"The last thing little girls need is one more pink fairy...I'm concerned that now even the Sesame Workshop has bought into the girly, girly commercialized image of what it is to be feminine. They could have had an Asian girl; they could have had a girl who's really good at math. They could have had someone who's just more complex."

First off, who said that Asian girls are not girly? No, never mind about asking this: why can't girly girls be good at math? Why can't girly-girls be complex? Who's buying into stereotypes here, Susan?

Here's another one. Lenore Skenazy of the New York Daily News referred to Abby as "the Gisele Bundchen of the preschool set -- exactly the kind of sugar and spice stereotype you'd hope 'Sesame Street' wouldn't stoop to."

Okay, Lenore, my response to this little screed is sponsored by the number 3, the letter Q, and the phrase "slippery slope." Why does a girly girl have to be a supermodel? For that matter, why does a supermodel have to be girly? Did you learn nothing from Gia Carangi?

Lenore goes on to write "But think of what Sesame Street has represented for almost two whole generations; an earnest effort to teach kids not just to read, but to respect everyone's differences."

I couldn't agree more, Lenore. For years, Sesame Street has prominently featured tomboys, arguably to the exclusion of more mainstream female characters. In Abby Cadabby, they have tried to balance the equation. They have offered a character who is different, if only because she is more traditional.

Lesbian culture has taught me one more key truth: external style isn't the point. External style is window-dressing. The point is liberation, and liberation is about empowerment--the power to be the person that you want to be, dress the way you want to dress, and love the people you want to love. If we condemn Abby because she wants to be girly, how is that different from condemning K.D. Lang because she wants to have short hair?

Try this idea on for size: loving toolbelts and trucker wallets doesn't make you a lesbian; loving women does.

Or, to put it another way, Liberation sometimes wears a skirt.


  • Wouldn't a "pink fairy" be a lesbian? Maybe she is a lesbian magician?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At September 6, 2006 at 4:25 PM  

  • You know, it's funny that you went there. A couple of people on the internet have made the same suggestion.

    Also, AC's supposedly good at math.

    Somehow, it feels wrong to talk about a muppet as if it's a real person.

    By Blogger Crankster, At September 6, 2006 at 9:10 PM  

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