He-Man Power: The 15 Worst Things To Happen To Women In Classic Cartoons

worst things that happened to women in classic cartoons

Classic cartoons have the ability to transport us back to a simpler, happier time, when our greatest responsibility was making sure we got up early on Saturday morning to pour an entire box of coco puffs into a salad bowl and live out our greatest fantasies through the television. We saved the day with He-Man, fought alongside the ThunderCats, joked along with Donatello and the gang, and never once gave a thought to any of the controversial content we were absorbing. We were kids and our minds were void from all the terrible things going on in the world. 

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We grew up thinking nothing of Smurfette being the only girl in a village of 100 dude Smurfs. Or that there was only one female pilot on Voltron because hey, at least there was one at all. Or that pretty much any trait to do with femininity was exploited and used to reinforce damsel in distress tropes, and that ALL of the storylines were completely male-centric. CBR takes a look at 15 offensive moments in your favorite classic cartoons to make you reevaluate your perception of those things. We're not trying to change your mind about these shows, just pointing out that the times, they are a changed.

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teela he-man

If you’re going to kick it with He-Man, he likes his women humorless and wearing clothing that looks like it’s painted on. Enter Teela, a stoic vegetarian that can’t take a joke and still doesn’t get that Prince Adam is He-Man, even though literally the only difference between them is that He-Man wears a slightly more revealing costume.

During the series, one of the kingdoms beyond Eternia’s borders is ruled by an equally humorless queen who hates all men and imprisons them beneath the kingdom in a series of underground mines. When Prince Adam gets himself captured, it’s a good old fashioned cat fight over him. Teela doesn’t have any other female friends, her only job is to protect Prince Adam, and of course, there’s always a lot of sexual tension.


thunercats cheetara

While all the other members of the ThunderCats crew have amazing abilities, skills, and powers, Cheetara’s was the only Thunderian whose abilities made her weaker to a point where she rendered almost completely useless. She could run fast, but not for very long because, of course. And her greatest ability, her “sixth sense” was really just a stand-in for a “woman’s intuition”.

When she uses this odd sense of hers, she would be incapacitated for DAYS, being weak, disoriented, and helpless. Her contributions to the ThunderCats team seemed to directly reflect her gender as female. She also has few female friends and is used as a romantic placeholder girlfriend for Tyga and Lion-O, and was always on the hunt for "useless" metal gold because she was obviously a gold digger.


janine ghostbusters

One of the most memorable and popular characters from the movie Ghostbusters was Janine, portrayed by Annie Potts as a sarcastic, funny, gum-chewing, wise-talking woman of the city who was often a voice of clarity. She had her everything together and got what she needed to do, done. She’s still the same in the The Real Ghostbusters animated series, until along comes a fairy ghostmother and gives her some sort of makeover.

Suddenly she’s got some more feminine curves and a softer look about her, and her glasses and hair become more rounded along with other assets. She goes from standing out as a character and having aspects about her that give her a distinct and very charming personality, to looking like a standard femmebot secretary.



Gadget Hackwrench may have been an inventor and she may not have been reduced to wearing some revealing outfit while she suggestively held a torque wrench, but a lot of her accomplishments were overshadowed by the fact that she was often a romantic foil for Chip and Dale. Both had crushes on her, and throughout the series competed for her affections.

They do this by trying to impress her with their own skills, not by complementing hers or being dazzled by her own abilities. Even the villainous Rat Capone wants her for himself and is always pestering her to sign up with his crew. She doesn’t get to know she’s a babe, she has to be oblivious to that. Even in the episode “Double O’Chipmunk”, where she goes undercover in a tight red dress, heels, and a blonde wig, she’s just there for the enjoyment of the guys.



The way a Joe gets their name is based on their occupational specialty . Which is cool if you get to be a G.I. Joe like Snakes Eyes, Storm Shadow, or even Rip Cord. But imagine the sad state of affairs when you get to be referred to as...Cover Girl Joe. Cover Girl Joe used to be a supermodel, and finding that world full of sexism, she decided that being grunted at by a bunch of women-deprived men would be a much better idea.

And because she’s one of only a handful of women that consort with the rest of the Joes, and therefore has to know all about makeup, she is recruited for all the assignments involving it. In the G.I. Joe episode "Glamour Girls", she and Lady Jaye use their “inherent skill” with makeup and accessories to infiltrate a modeling shoot put on by Baroness.


Webbigail Ducktales

Webbigail “Webby” Vanderquack is one of the only female characters on the show, but rather than be considered one of the gang by Huey, Dewey, and Louie, she’s considered some sort of pink parasite. She has all the tropes of classic femininity of being kind, caring, compassionate, and cheerful (right down to the giant pink bow on her head), but these traits are all met with derision and disgust.

Donald’s nephews barely tolerate her presence, because all they think that she does is like girly stuff and that her only purpose in life is to force them to attend her tea parties. The only one that actually seems to care about her is her uncle Scrooge, and their relationship is more of a “daddy’s girl” situation.



While the majority of Voltron’s sections are piloted by astronauts, the one and only female part of the team just happens to be a princess. And her jumpsuit is pink because of course it is. She’s technically Commander Keith’s superior, what with being the ruler of the Kingdom of Arus, commander-in-chief, head of state, and sort of the ruler of the entire planet.

In "Yurak Gets His Pink Slip", the evil Prince Lotor meets Allura and becomes super obsessed. Many of the attacks he leads against Arus are because she won’t consent to marrying him. Her queenly accomplishments seem to be narrowed down to not wanting to marry a complete and total psychopath, and just deferring to Commander Keith during battle engagements even though she completely outranks him.


jane jetson

Though set in the amazingly high tech world of tomorrow, with a future of jetpacks, flying cars, and robot maids, some tropes just never change. Having more in common with shows like The Honeymooners, George Jetson was the breadwinner of the family, while his daughter Judy was fashion obsessed and Jane did nothing but maintain a nice space home.

She literally had every gadget at her convenience, and still didn’t make a career for herself, or seem to have any interesting use for her free time other than catering to the whims of her family. In fact, in the episode "S.M.A.S.H", when she borrows Mr. Spacely’s car to go shopping, she crashes it because she’s “not experienced driving such a high-powered machine”, and receives a lecture from George about it.



Smurfette was created by the main villain, Gargamel specifically to disrupt the Smurf community, because dozens of Smurf guys hanging out together in a village doing Smurf guy things would get pretty old, pretty fast. Since she didn’t want to be evil and do Gargamel’s dirty work, Papa Smurf made her a “real Smurf”, whereby she was transformed by magic from a dark-haired, barefoot, bag lady into a blonde with a lace-trimmed dress and high heels.

That didn’t stop her from causing discord in Smurf Village, since now she was more appealing than ever, so she was still a femme fatale. She also became the lone damsel in distress, since Gargamel would often kidnap her. Rarely was Smurfette given anything useful to do, except stand around and look pretty for all the guys, and her worth was derived from her relationships with them, since she didn’t interact with any women.



Though called the “Modern Stone Age Family”, there was nothing modern about the mode of thought on the show, which was still grounded in the Stone Age of gender roles. Wilma was a housewife with no career ambition and rarely did anything outside of the home, and her only female friend Betty was two-dimensional and had no role besides being Barney’s wife.

In The Flinstones: Wind Up Wilma, Wilma actually gets a shot pitching in the big leagues because she nails a fleeing robber in the head with a melon and gets her great arm noticed. Fred actually goes on a tirade about her joining a major baseball team, as well as the trend of more women working and having rights equal to men. If they left the home, who would cook the men meals and do the cleaning? Maybe all the talking dinosaurs.



Tara is the matriarch of the caveman family, who spends most of her time getting captured. Her husband Zandor gets knocked out by the Laser Lancers, and Magoth takes Tara hostage. When Volton and his Electrode Men show up, the Herculoids make quick work of them until they take Tara prisoner.

The Priest of Trax kidnaps Tara to be sacrificed.  A band of pirates kidnap Tara for their enjoyment. The Reptons capture her and implant a mind control device in her to make her an evil queen. When a meteor crash lands on Quasar, Zandor gets to explore the crystals inside it while Tara just gets locked in a crystalline cell. Tara’s entire identity is tied up in being a damsel, when her awesome slingshot skills could be put to better use.



In the series there’s a long running joke that Daphne’s nickname, “Danger Prone Daphne” comes from constantly getting herself into precarious situations. Given the fact that she is constantly kidnapped and bound nearly every episode no matter what she does, that’s about as likely as Scoob eating a carrot stick.

In "Hassle in the Castle", she falls down a trap door and gets kidnapped by the Phantom. In "Decoy for a Dognapper", an Indian Witch Doctor kidnaps her and ties her to a post. In "Go Away Ghost Ship", the ghost of Redbeard kidnaps her and chains her to a mast. In "Which Witch is Which", a zombie and witch kidnap her and tie her up. Daphne is always minding her own business when she’s abducted to enhance the plot, because the hot chick is pretty but not too aware (and Thelma is just a nerd who isn’t hot enough).


TMNT april cat

Every woman on the show was some sort of hideous monster or a major dork (Irma Langinstein). There was only room for one hot babe, and that was April. And though she’s supposed to be a hard-hitting journalist that does whatever it takes to get the real talk exclusive on a story, she’s the only reporter that would appear on television in a cleavage-bursting jumpsuit.

When she’s not getting kidnapped, bound, and gagged by Shredder every other episode, she’s going undercover as a belly dancer. Even when she undergoes animorphism and turns into a cat, she’s still depicted with curves in all the right places. And if you’re her best friend, Irma, you’re a boy-crazed cat lady obsessed with landing a boyfriend, especially if he’s a humanoid turtle with the mind of a prepubescent.



Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice...Wonder Woman was made the romantic fixation of Darkseid. As he is taking over the universe, like Darkseid does, he’s obsessed with marrying Wonder Woman and making her his dark queen (much to her dismay) in the "Bride of Darkseid". Though she was able to use his laser focus on her as a means to foil his evil plots several times, the same situation never happened to her male counterparts.

In the episode "Darkseid Deception", Darkseid even tried to impersonate Steve Trevor to get in Wonder Woman’s pants. She was also subject to lots of kidnapping and brainwashing scenarios, such as in "The Mind Maidens", and in "The Baffles Puzzle" and "The Menace of the White Dwarf Superman" had to rescue her.



There weren’t many humans in the Transformers series because, well, they were never going to be as cool as robots in disguise. When they appeared, they only served to convey how epic the Transformers’ abilities were next to their puny lack of them. In season 3 of the series, Astoria Carlton-Ritz, head of Hybrid Technologies after her father passes, is a rich heiress who is portrayed as an annoying ditz who only likes partying and spending lots of money.

When the Decepticons capture her for a secret formula her father bequeathed her, they get so frustrated with her airheaded ways that they actually destroy the mindprobe they were using on her out of frustration. It should be noted that this was after it computed that the “subject’s mind was completely empty".

Did we miss out on any other moments from '80s cartoons that were horrible to women? Let us know in the comments!

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