Let’s talk about Tina: Bob’s Burgers as a feminist cartoon // Samantha Christopher
I have to admit, I was slow to the BB bandwagon. I saw this animated comedy pop up on my Netflix and thought to myself, “I can’t possibly handle another South Park or Family Guy.” Those shows make me feel gross. The sexism, homophobia, and racism are woven throughout those shows and sometimes the entire story arch of an episode is dependent on stereotypical characters or grounded in humor that generalizes people. However, one night I decided to try out Bob’s Burgers (so I didn’t watch Broad City for the hundredth time). Wow…
I have to tell you all – the characters on this show are so dynamic. Each character is an individual in their own right that isn’t limited by their gender, race, ability or religion. How refreshing. The characters aren’t the stereotypes that we expect when we watch animated comedies nowadays.
Although there are several points of analysis for this show (including the main family’s purposefully ambiguous racial/ethnic background), gender is one of the most prominent aspects of this show – on many levels. Women on this show aren’t there to be mocked or to simply be a placeholder to indulge men’s fantasies and desires. The men on this show challenge hegemonic masculinity… and the women challenge traditional femininity. It is nothing like I’ve seen from a “mainstream” animated comedy.
My favorite character – by far – has to be Tina Belcher. A young woman going through puberty and unabashedly open about her sexual awakening. Like Lacy Green notes, she “comes through as a sexual subject instead of a sexual object.” Tina owns her sexuality in a way that we NEVER see with young women on TV – particularly in animated comedies. Often, all we see is the trope of young boys going through puberty who are horny and constantly infatuated with their love interests’ (i.e., which we almost exclusively see as women’s) bodies.
Tina breaks that mold by her HERSELF (the subject) being the horny teenager constantly infatuated with boys.
At the same time, she is embedded within the experience of being a child moving into adolescence where she still enjoys fantasy/make-believe play, her room is unapologetically decorated in a way to demonstrate her interests – which includes celebrities as well as her affinity for horses. With no shame she indulges her sexuality by writing erotic fiction (or, “friend-fiction” where people she knows are the characters in her erotica).
Tina is fascinating model for young women (and men). She is a young woman who is not afraid to be her complicated, multifaceted (and naturally horny) self. Also, she writes erotic fiction and is supported by her parents. How cool is that?
Gender behind the scenes is fascinating as well. All of the core characters are actually voiced by men (which includes 2 female characters – both Tina Belcher and Linda, the nuclear family’s mother), with the exception of Louise (the youngest child), who is voiced by Kristen Schaal
Now, don’t let my enthusiasm fool you. I’m not saying that this show is without its problems. For example, I wonder how Bob’s limited emotional expression and resistance for relational intimacy directly maps on to larger concerns regarding men’s limited emotional expression. Additionally, women are underrepresented in comedy and are often not taken seriously when they are. I would love to see more shows like Bob’s Burgers that is inclusive of more women voice actors, particularly for female characters. And, obviously, I would love love love to see more characters that model Tina Belcher.
Overall, it’s worth a watch, my feminist friends. Enjoy yourself. Take a break. The academic year is drawing to an end. To leave you with one of my favorite Tina Belcher quotes: