Kim Possible: Subverting Gender Roles While Saving the World

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As a 90s baby, I feel like I’ve grow up with access to a lot of animated female characters that influenced me greatly, and one of my absolute favorites was Kim Possible.

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Kim Possible is probably one of my absolute favorite animated series. It’s one of those shows that still holds up on a re-watch as hilarious, adorable, and generally well-crafted. One of the things I’ve noticed as I catch KP reruns over Christmas break is that it subverts gender roles in a really interesting way through its two central characters: Kim and Ron.

On another show, Ron would be the hero and Kim would be our damsel in distress, but here, a wonderful swap occurs: Kim is our heroine who saves the day, and Ron is her sidekick (and sometimes dude in distress). Kim and Ron are also fleshed out in a way that subverts stereotypes about masculinity and femininity, and makes them both very compelling characters.

So before we start, let’s tackle masculinity, femininity, and gender roles in general. What defines someone as masculine? What defines someone as feminine? And what are gender roles?

Masculinity, Femininity, and Gender Roles in General

Masculinity is traits and behaviors that we associate with men, while femininity is traits and behaviors we associate with women. Gender roles are the way men and women act in our society. They’re our expectations for men and women. They vary from place to place, but every society has them. They’re not always easy to spot, but once they’re pointed out, they’re glaringly obvious.

One example is the notion that women are nurturers and mothers, while men are providers and moneymakers. It’s wholly unfair considering many women work very hard to balance a career plus family life, and many fathers do, too. Another, smaller example would be colors. There’s often an association with girls wearing pink and boys wearing blue. A lot of gender roles place people in boxes, but a majority of people do not fit into those boxes, and when they stand out because of it, it disrupts the status quo.

One of the main things I want to cover today is how Kim and Ron don’t quite fit into the box of traits that go along with femininity and masculinity, and how their gender roles are often reversed throughout the show. So let’s start with the role reversal and work from there.

Kimberly Anne Possible: The Heroine

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Kim is really interesting because unlike a lot of female leads, Kim saves the world and doesn’t sacrifice her femininity to do it. Let’s face it: there aren’t a ton of badass feminine characters out there. When a female character kicks ass, she’s often written as more masculine and tends to reject her femininity. (Some prevelant examples of this would be Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones, Lizbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Katniss from The Hunger Games.)  This isn’t the case with Kim.

Like a lot of girls, Kim has traditionally feminine interests: she likes shopping, make-up, and dressing up/being fashionable (as evidenced by the vast wardrobe we’re subjected to throughout the show). She’s a cheerleader, and she’s damn proud of it.

Let’s take a second and talk about Kim’s cheerleading. One of the best things about this show is the fact that cheerleading isn’t disparaged. In fact, cheerleading is one of the reasons that Kim is so adept at her job.

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According to the creators, they wanted Kim’s “[effectiveness] in the action world” to be realistic, so her strength lies in “gymnastics, cheerleading, physical activity, something that any kid, any girl, in the world could do” (Schooley & McCorkle). Her expertise in gymnastic, cheerleading and martial arts are all things that boost Kim’s credibility as a world-saving teenager.

Cheerleading and gymnastics are both things that would help Kim build strength and increase her agility, and martial arts would explain her hand to hand combat skills. Despite the lack of realism the show often illustrates, the creators paid a lot of attention to realism when it came to crafting Kim and her character, and it really shows.

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We’ve established now that Kim is feminine, and that she’s also a strong character. Now let’s take a look at some traits commonly associated with femininity, and see if they remotely match our little Kimmie Cub.

When I decided to talk about femininity and masculinity, I decided to do some research on common traits associated with both. Thanks to Planned Parenthood, I came up with a list of 9 words associated with femininity:

• emotional
• passive
• sensitive
• quiet
• graceful
• weak
• nurturing
• self-critical
• accepting (Parenthood)

Now, let’s take a look at Kim in terms of those nine words.

I think we can agree right off the bat that Kim is not weak or passive. Kim is an incredibly strong character, both mentally and physically. Weak isn’t a word in her vocabulary. And she’s definitely not passive: if she was, would she be out there saving the world? Would she be constantly fighting to balance school and work and extracurriculars, too? I think not.

Is Kim emotional? Definitely. Kim’s someone who doesn’t hide who she is. She’s very upfront about how she’s feeling, and she’s never been good at hiding her emotions, especially if she’s jealous or angry about something. She also finds it hard to keep her emotions in check at times, which ties in with the sensitivity. Sometimes, Kim can be a little… brash and blunt. Take a look at some of the fights she’s gotten in with Ron. Kim speaks without thinking, which can get her into trouble at times. I think Kim’s a very empathetic character, especially when it comes to saving the world and helping people out, but is she sensitive? Not really.

Quiet? Kim is the opposite of quiet. Kim is loud and bold and speaks her mind, and she doesn’t let anyone silence her. She calls out bullies who harass Ron. She calls out Bonnie for being rude. She calls out villains for their schemes…the list goes on and on. Kim is an extravert, and she’s definitely not a quiet one.

Accepting? I think so, but sometimes it’s something she struggles with, just like all of us. She gets jealous of people spending time with Ron, like when Ron starts hanging around Felix and Yori, because she’s not used to sharing her best friend. But aren’t we all a little jealous when our besties make new friends and suddenly we see them less and feel out of the loop when they make private jokes? So I think for the most part, Kim is very accepting, it just isn’t always easy for her to accept new people into her circle, especially if she’s not fond of them at the start.

Nurturing? I’m not really sure I’d consider Kim nurturing. There’s often this association with women as nurturers and mothers, but I don’t necessarily think this fits Kim. For one, she’s still in high school, so I really doubt she’s thinking about kids at this point. There’s also the fact that I’ve never really seen her as very motherly. She nags Ron at times about schoolwork, but we all nag our procrastinating friends to get their crap together. That doesn’t make us nurturing.

Graceful? Well, when you’re a cheerleader and a gymnast who saves the world, I think graceful is a very fitting description.

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Kim does some pretty intricate choreography for cheer practice, and she’s also pretty graceful on her missions as well. Well, as graceful as you can be on missions, when there are always things tripping you up.

Is she self-critical? Definitely. One of Kim’s most realistic issues is being self-critical. She wars with herself over things. She lets people get to her. Bonnie’s “dump Stoppable” speeches have affected her more than once in the past, and she often gets down on herself if she fails a mission or can’t accomplish something. But Kim is also a very confident character. She’s confident in herself, her abilities, and her appearance.

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It’s one of the traits I admire most about her. Everyone has bouts of self-doubt or criticalness, and Kim is no exception. She bounces right back from those though, and always manages to work past her inner critic to get done what she needs to get done, whether it’s saving the world or some smaller sitch.

Now that we’ve tackled Kim, let’s move onto the yin to her yang: Ron Stoppable.

 

Ron Stoppable: The Sidekick

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Ron is the Robin to Kim’s Batman. He’s her sidekick, and how many shows do we get with a male sidekick to a female heroine? Not many. So Ron is truly unique in that regard. Ron is also not traditionally masculine in the way that many male leads are.

First, let’s look at Ron’s interests: video games, arts and crafts (Camp Wannaweep, anyone?), cooking and food (he’s an exemplary chef and frequents Bueno Nacho), and television (some examples include American Star-Maker and Agony County). Ron’s always been a fun character to me, because his interests are varied. He loves playing video games, but he also loves cooking. He does arts and crafts. He’s interested in a variety of TV shows, just like most of us are. His hobbies may not be super masculine, but that’s what makes him great: he breaks out of the box of what society labels as masculine by having hobbies and traits that contradict that.

Let’s take a look at some words typically associated with masculinity, according to Planned Parenthood:

• non-emotional
• aggressive
• tough-skinned
• competitive
• clumsy
• strong
• active
• self-confident
• rebellious (Parenthood)

The three that stuck out as truly Ron Stoppable-worthy to me were “competitive, active, and clumsy.” Part of the humor of Ron’s character is his clumsiness: he loses his pants, he trips over things, he bumbles his way through missions at times… but his clumsiness is also an advantage. How many times has Ron taken down some ‘take over the world’ invention simply by accidentally ripping off a piece of it, or bumping into the off switch, or some other Ron-worthy antic? Many times. Ron’s “essential Ronness” is one of the things that helps Kim out on her missions. In his own way, his clumsiness is one of his strengths.

Is Ron competitive? Heck yes. Just look at him playing video games. 😉

Is Ron active? In a way, yes. Ron’s actually a very lazy character at times. He procrastinates. He’d rather sit in front of the TV or play video games than write a paper.

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But if you think about the way he globetrots with Kim on her missions, he’s not really lazy. He’s actually pretty active to keep up with Kim the way that he does. He may not be as athletic as her, but he’s definitely part athlete. He was Middleton’s Mad Dog Mascot, after all, and that requires coordination and hard work. In season four, he becomes Middleton’s running back, thanks to all his mission experience. He also holds various jobs. He works at Bueno Nacho at one point (which is a great fit), and later works at Smarty Mart, where he excels working in retail. So yes, he’s active, just not always in an athletic way.

Now let’s tackle the other six, which don’t quite fit Ron as well.

Is Ron tough-skinned and non-emotional? Does he abide by conceal, don’t feel?

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No, not really. There’s plenty of times when Ron is disappointed or upset about things, and although he sometimes tries to bury his emotions, he’s always been more of a ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’ kind of guy. He and Kim are both very emotional characters, and they sometimes clash over that. Ron gets his feelings hurt easily, especially around Kim, because home girl doesn’t always think before she speaks. I’ve always thought Ron being emotional made him very real: he doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not, and when he has in the past, it’s gone pretty horribly, because he feels awkward not being himself.

Is Ron aggressive? Not often. The only real times when we see Ron being aggressive are brought on by exceeding circumstances, such as when he finds out about Shego’s plot to break up their friendship in A Sitch in Time, or when his Mystical Monkey powers come out. There was also that brief stint as Zorpox the Conqueror, but that was Ron minus his good side, which… is pretty rare. So Ron’s not often aggressive, unless the circumstances push him over the edge.

Rebellious? Definitely not. The few times Ron has tried to be “a bad boy” or “rebellious,” it usually ends badly, because neither of those personas fit Ron whatsoever.

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Ron is a pretty sweet guy (despite bluntness and cluelessness that rival Ron Weasley), and he’s not really much of a rebel. That said, if he has to break some rules to save the world, he’ll do it. World saving comes before everything else.

And now we come to the last two traits: strength and self-confidence, which are the two things Ron struggles with most throughout the show. Ron is a character that isn’t physically strong in the way that Kim is. Kim is agile and graceful and can hold her own in a fight. Ron, on the other hand, tends to be a bit clumsy, and often spends more of a fight improvising and deflecting rather than engaging in hand to hand combat the way Kim does. However, despite that, he’s incredibly valuable on missions.

Like I mentioned earlier, his essential Ronness (his ability to be a spanner in the works, which basically means he causes mayhem and foils plots just by being his awesome self) is incredibly helpful to Kim. And although he’s often freaking out on missions, the fact that he engages on them week after week shows that he’s courageous enough to accomplish them. The proof lies in the show’s creators, who “tried to highlight from time to time in the show that even though Ron is not a great action hero the way Kim is an action heroine, he goes along and puts himself in this danger, so he’s still very courageous” (Schooley & McCorkle). In Kim and Ron, the show shows us two very different kinds of courage: the confident kind of courage is shown with Kim, who charges into a situation believing that they can handle it (“So not the drama”). The other kind of courage is shown by Ron, who isn’t always confident in himself and doesn’t always know what he’s doing, but he does it anyway, because he wants to do what’s right.

There’s also the fact that Ron himself has saved the world before. So Not the Drama is a great example of this. Ron is the one who uncovers Drakken’s plot. Ron is the one who steps in, gets Kim free, and knocks some sense into her when she’s tricked by Eric and feeling like there’s nothing else she can do to save the day. Ron’s strength is in his optimism: he motivates Kim, and he refuses to give up when it comes to things like saving the world, because he knows that that can do it.

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One of Ron’s main issues though is that while he’s confident in Kim’s ability to get things done, he often underestimates himself. We often deal with female characters that are self-conscious or lacking in self-confidence, but on the show, Kim is often the confident one, while Ron is the one struggling to be confident in himself and his own abilities. He worries that Kim will upgrade and move on from him, because he’s not popular the way that she is. He doesn’t always know what to do without her. He isn’t sure if she would like him, and so much of the struggle of So Not the Drama is Ron’s insecurity when it comes to his and Kim’s relationship: whether he wants to take the risk of telling her how he feels, even if it means losing out on their friendship. But one of the great things about the show is that Ron gains confidence in himself over time. He finds his strengths, and a lot of season four is about Ron coming into his own. Ron and Kim are equals: they both have their own strengths, and together, they make a great team. That’s also part of why they work so well as a couple: they balance each other out in a wonderful way.

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(And they’re super cute together as well.)

Without Ron, Kim wouldn’t be quite as successful at world saving and vice versa. Kim being the heroine while Ron is the sidekick is a great example of gender role subversion, and the fact that both have their strengthens and weaknesses makes them a great, fleshed-out duo. The creators set out to establish a show where “the girl is… the action lead and the guy is… funny”, and what that resulted in was a brilliant show that subverted gender stereotypes and showed us two fully-fleshed out teens, ready to take on the world (Schooley & McCorkle). As animation diversifies and we get more female-led creations, I hope to see more shows tackle gender roles, femininity and masculinity in a creative and clever way just as Kim Possible has. I guess we’ll see what lies ahead.

Who are your favorite animated heroines? What animated shows or movies do you guys love that toy around with gender roles? Let us know in the comments!

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Have an excellent Tuesday!

Cheers,

M&M!

Works Cited
Parenthood, P. (n.d.). Gender & Gender Identity. Retrieved 12 21, 2014, from Planned Parenthood: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-info/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity
Schooley, R., & McCorkle, M. (n.d.). “Kim Possible. She can do anything.” Retrieved from Televizion: http://www.br-online.de/jugend/izi/english/publication/televizion/21_2008_E/schooley_eng.pdf

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