My Little Pony: Racist? Homophobic? Smart-Shaming?

Recently this article appeared on Ms. Blog, which is a blog for Ms. Magazine, a feminist blog that critiqued the popular kids show My Little Ponys: Friendship is Magic. Not long after Lauren Faust the creator of My Little Pony wrote a rebuttal to the above mentioned article defending her work.

The first article is written by Kathleen Richter who laid these charges at the hooves of My Little Ponys:

So overall, these are the lessons My Little Pony teaches girls:

  • Magical white ponies are suited for leadership; black ponies are suited to be servants.
  • Stop learning! You will overcome any obstacle by resorting to strength in numbers (of friends).
  • Girls that wear rainbows are butch.
  • You need the government (ideally a monarch invested with supreme ultimate power and a phallic symbol strapped to her forehead) to tell you what to do with your life.

Many people came to the defense of the show and soon Faust responded on behalf of her little ponies.

A surprising amount of commenters rose in defense of the show, and for that I am extremely grateful. Without repeating their retorts too extensively, here is my defense against the accusations.

  • Color has never, ever been depicted as a race indicator for the ponies. When your characters are purple, blue, orange, yellow, black, white, red, green and pink, who’s to say which is supposed to signify a white person, a black person, an Asian person? The only races in My Little Pony are Earth Pony, Pegasus and Unicorn, and they are all treated equally, ruled by a leader who embodies the traits of all three  This leader is white only to signify day, and she co-rules with her sister, who is purple to signify night. Additionally, I’d just like to assure anyone who might still question the guards at the foot of the Princess’s throne that their colors were picked arbitrarily–and they are paid for their service.
  • In the first episode, the lead character, Twilight, is depicted as a pony so wrapped up in her studies that she has no interest in socializing. But since socializing and making friends is an important, healthy aspect of anyone’s life, her mentor encouraged her to, essentially, go out and play. In the end, the character goes on to lead a more balanced life, maintaining both relationships and her studies. In subsequent episodes she is frequently seen reading, referencing books to help solve problems and even living in a library.
  • Rainbow Dash has rainbow-striped hair because of her name and because she is very interested in sports, specifically flying. She is a tomboy, but nowhere in the show is her sexual orientation ever referenced. As we all know, there are plenty of straight tomboys in the world, and assuming they are lesbians is extremely unfair to both straight and lesbian tomboys.
  • The Princess is depicted as the main character’s mentor, her teacher. She’s an authority figure and even a bit of a surrogate parent. The Princess gave Twilight her instructions as someone who knows her and is personally involved in her upbringing. And though there is historical speculation that unicorn horns were indeed phallic symbols, I doubt that is making its way into anyone’s subconscious.

It surprised me that she responded at all considering that similar charges have been raised against the show. Even here at Lady Geek Girl and Friends (though we doubt Faust even knows we exist) we have discussed some episodes that come off as potentially racist (see: the episode with the Buffalo and the episode with Zecora the zebra).

But despite some of its problems, I think it’s fairly obvious that many of us love My Little Pony. It’s not without its flaws, but I never thought the problems as bad as Richter makes them out to be. Despite my own criticisms of the show, I realized that many children might not pick up on the problems I’m seeing. That’s not to say that those problems don’t matter or that kids might not be learning something from them subconsciously, but I personally don’t think that the current problems in My Little Pony isn’t anything that good parenting can’t fix.

I find many of the charges Richter raises ridiculous. Faust defends her work much better than I ever will so I won’t try to counter Richter’s argument. Though I would like to say one thing about her criticisms.

Rainbow Dash being thought of as a lesbian simply because she is a tomboy with a rainbow mane is just as ridiculous to me as hating her because people think she is a lesbian. Just because someone is a tomboy–which by the way I hate that term because it immediately says that any girl that doesn’t like stereotypical girly things is somehow “mannish” or less of a woman–doesn’t mean they are a lesbian. Furthermore, someone liking rainbows doesn’t mean that they are a lesbian (Rainbow Dash has, I assume, a natural rainbow mane. She didn’t dye it to show her gay pride. And just to be perfectly clear none of these things mean she isn’t a lesbian either). Putting girls and members of the LGBTQ community–hell, putting anyone in a box, defining specific things that make someone a girl or a lesbian is far more damaging than anything My Little Pony has done.

What do you think?

37 thoughts on “My Little Pony: Racist? Homophobic? Smart-Shaming?

  1. one person will read the ingredients of a cereal box and see a simple list of the boxes contents, another person will read it and unlock the secrets of the universe. personally I think that by associating such traits makes you racist. How very ironic!

    • It is true that people will greatly look into something and see what ever they want in it. Whether it’s something as complex as the Bible or something as simple as My Little Pony. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t analyze things though. Richter missed the mark this time I think, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t analyze the show. I’m sure Faust analyzed her own work and tried to figure out the message she was sending. Again, Richter really missed the mark this time but I love that now thanks to her and Faust people are taking about these important issues in children’s television.

  2. Seriously people… It’s a freaking TV show, you should really just relax! If my memory serves me right, Faust did state that RD is not a lesbian mainly because she wants to stop stereo-typing. I wish I could remember where I read that, sorry for lack of source.

    • People get very emotional especially about children’s tv shows because they worry about how it’s effecting their kids. I don’t like what Richter said but I understand why she would worry about it and analyze it. I don’t know if Faust said anything in particular about Rainbow Dash’s sexuality, but I do hate that people infer her sexuality because she’s a tomboy and is rainbow colored. That is stereotyping! What makes someone a lesbian is if they are a woman that likes other women, but what they wear or how they act. Rainbow Dash could be a lesbian. She could also be straight, or asexual, or any number of other things. What bothers me is people try to infer her sexuality based on stereotypical things and not because they have any real evidence.

  3. Wow. Gosh.. I am a tomboy but am I interested in girls? No. I watch my little pony and enjoy rainbows but am I interested in girls? No. People should just chill out. It’s a show teaching kids, teens, toddlers and adults alike the magic of friendship. I cop a lot of slack at school for liking a ‘baby’s show’ but really.. c’mon.. My so called quote on quote ‘best friend’ is saying that I am merely but an idiot if I love this show.

    What I am really trying to say here is that.. well.. this show is freaking awesome and that Princess Celestia doesn’t signify white people with a lot of power ruling. It symbolizes day. Day is light so therefore, she is a white…ish.. pony. Princess Luna is a darker colour as she symbolizes night. Night is not bright like day so..

    Zecora coming in the show merely signified that you shouldn’t just jump to conclusions and hate someone just because they merely look a bit queer. (In saying that if a new kid came to my school and she/he seemed a bit.. strange.. silent.. scary etc doesn’t mean that you should hate them and stay away. Listen to what they have to say and try and socialize) Same with the episode with the buffalo in it. It doesn’t symbolize another race to me. It symbolizes a group of people that you haven’t met and are a bit tetchy about.

    This is merely my opinion and I hope you keep an open mind about this.

    -FangFang Whooves, age 11 and 8 months. (Twelvie soon! Yays!)

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  5. While I like the new version of My Little Pony….. I miss the Original cartoon. But I will say this cartoon isnt racist or biased, Rainbow Dash isnt butch shes a tomboy, andI love the Princess as she is.

  6. As of 2013 Richter was ultimately correct warning about subtext, even if the ones she singled out went nowhere. Independent empowerment and equality are cunningly undermined in MLP:FIM.

    However, too many alienated, impressionable people would rather get emotionally high off the show than recognize the frequent off-messages hidden in sentimentality that are internalized, whether its ‘the Aboriginals never deserved their land’, or ‘taking orders (from a monarch) is empowering’. Its never been explained why Celestia’s guards are uniformly white and grey male caste.

    It wouldn’t be so bad if it were just another forgettable cartoon, but the con is sold so well as a popular ‘feminist’ triumph, feminism will have been set back two generations in its fans..

  7. I too have always thought that the term tomboy is kind of weird. ‘Tom’ is slang for male (tomcat means a male cat), so this word sometimes trips me up a little. My brain sees it as ‘male-male’. What?! If anything, it sounds like an adjective that would be applied to a male!

    • It did.

      ” According to the Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, the noun “tomboy” (formed by joining the male name Tom and the word “boy”) was coined sometime before 1553, and meant a boy who was rude or boisterous. The Oxford Dictionary of Etymology says it was related to the terms “tom-fool” (a buffoon) and later “tomfoolery.” And according to the Ayto Dictionary of Word Origins, since “Thomas” was the archetypal male name, the word “tom” was often used in the 16th century to indicate maleness (hence “tomcat”) and male aggression.

      In 1579 the word “tomboy” was applied to a bold or immodest woman. By 1592 it was applied to a girl who acted like a spirited or boisterous boy, and that’s been its meaning ever since.”

  8. I’ve been watching my little pony since i was seven and not once did I ever think that this show was anything Ritcher said it was. I’m 13 now and love my little pony and I still can’t see how somebody could think that, and really why would someone try to beat up a childrens show about the importance of friendship? I personally don’t get that at all. (-.-)

    • Richter probably thought it was important to tell the truth, and believed MLP:FIM was not telling the best, honest truth about friendship the best way it could.

      Sometimes seeing someone tell a big lie that can fool everyone, feels just as bad as doing the wrong thing oneself. Telling the truth is often the only way to make things better and find out what really is true.

      It can be hard to be honest without hurting other people’s feelings, even when protecting them from a more hurtful lie.

  9. Ok i dont think rainbow dash is a lesbian but who cares if your a lesbian or not some girls like horses others like dogs just because they like simething different disnt make them bad ir wierd it just makes them new and different witch is ok new and different is good you learn new things then.

  10. I am shocked to here all this controversy. When I saw Zecora the Zebra I didn’t see it as racist, I thought she was wise. And Rainbow Dash, I’ve never really saw her as a tomboy, I saw her as competitive and a little cocky. She’s like this because before the show, there was a line of toys called My Little Pony and And Rainbow Dash was like the star. I do believe that there was playsets where she would do tricks simular to what she does on the show years later.

    • Um, competitive and cocky is tomboyish behavior. See my response to the origins of the word ‘tomboy’ in this thread.

      In advertising, product placement is the placing of a soft drink or other commercial item so that audiences see it and reminded to buy one. Behavior placement is the next step up; audiences are shown behaviors that encourage them to act a certain way. For example, everyone ‘knows’ soft drinks (or beers) and eating snack foods on game day is expected, as is rowdy cheering when a goal is scored. Watching sports on TV, or a movie or TV in general wouldn’t be the same without a drink and snack.

      A ‘Zecora’ scenario is a ‘yellow caution flag’ in the sense that a positive stereotype isn’t necessarily bad; who wouldn’t want to be seen as wise and tolerant? On the flip side, who likes to be tested on that? Its still a stereotype that could easily weaponize into ‘red flag’ of offense under the right conditions. The stereotyped person answers to what someone else wants, not as a genuine ‘just another person’. Since African Americans don’t usually apply stereotypes to their racial peers, they usually recognize a raw deal in a social exchange when its offered.

      Zecora is behavior placement; African Americans are wise with exotic knowledge and so should be respected, and in return they share that knowledge to any takers and will tolerate any clumsy offense. Its not really a choice; its an expected entitlement of non-blacks towards blacks. The flipside, black people are only respectable if they are wise, have exotic knowledge to share, and are generous and tolerant. Being ordinary and/or minding their own business isn’t good enough.

      In S.1, Ep.9, “Bridle Gossip”, Ponyville shunned Zecora as an evil witch and the Mane 6 totally smashed Zecora’s home and accused her of witchcraft (casting curses). Zecora was expected to totally let it go and be nice. When Spike smashed Ponyville in S.2, Ep.10, “Secret of my Excess”, he at least had some social capital as a friend of the townspeople and presumably Twilight and Princess Celestia are good for the damages. Also, Zecora regularly came to town and was perceived as a threat, but the Royal Guards were never alerted and never resolved the issue? The episode is clumsy and expecting to be forgiven, a carricature of well-meaning condescension, and had just enough social capital with most viewers to be forgiven.

      If you are nice, expecting people to be extra extra nice in return is not fair reciprocation; its cutting a deal, not being nice. Entitlement is confused as fair dealing. It only works in a bigoted environment, where normal prosocial behavior is exceptional, and might even risk retaliation for siding with a minority.

      Being civil without expecting extras or taking offense at indifference is the definition of being civil. Entitlement is a one-way advantage for the holder and benefactor of a stereotype prejudice; they have the option of being nice or not and are owed extra if they are. This deal wouldn’t hold between genuine peers one feels equal or even subordinate to, in society where good behavior and due respect is a normal expectation.

      Consider how blonde women aren’t supposed to be smart, or a pretty women must always be nice even in the face of offense, or in Ranbow Dash’s case, a woman must be laddette to do stuff guys consider ‘theirs’, like doing sports. In each case, a cultural expectation is imposed against a more rational reciprocal outcome.

      Why can’t a blonde woman who is smart be accepted on being smart first? Why shouldn’t nice behavior only reward nice behavior? Why does Rainbow Dash have to competitive and cocky – and more to the point, reject affectations of femininity many women appreciate was well as men, to be more acceptable as an athlete?

      When guys are athletes, being competitive and cocky is optional and guys don’t have to reject being ‘gentlemen’. It’s classy for men to be rough on the field but have social polish off the field. Its an option women don’t necessarily have among some males, because femininity isn’t as respected as masculinity, and then, only a certain arrogant masculinity is rewarded.

  11. The only people who find racism and homophobia all around them are the ones so caught up and overly sensitive about those subjects that everything appears tainted to them. People need to relax and enjoy the stories and simple messages that they portray and stop looking for deep, dark meanings behind every character and every story line. I am amazed at how many college age boys that are Bronies. They just enjoy the message. That is all that is necessary.

    • Your statement does not preclude people sensitive to racism, sexism, and homophobia being right, only that everyone should turn their critical thinking skills off. That in itself should serve as a warning of ill-intent. MLP:FIM is similarly deceptive, with several episodes appearing to say one thing while leaving a less positive interpretation possible, particularly in season 4 which is just about a whole different show from season’s 1-3.

      Bronies advertised themselves as God’s gift to feminism and sensitive malehood for liking a little girls show and TAKING IT OVER. Watch a few episodes, and its fairly obvious that male ponies are in all the traditional guy jobs; soldiers, construction workers, doctors, professors. Women, even as business owners or leaders, are in traditional occupations and symbolic positions of power that in real life, may speak for power but rarely have real power. Real world sexism is stealthed in MLP.

      Google Bronies, furries, and zoophilia and you will find a connection most people not furry-inclined find disturbing. Yet, this is the demographic Hasbro catered to in the ‘Equestria Girls’ movie, when the humanform versions of the Mane 6 ponies morphed into ‘furries’ during the final magical battle.

      Furries and zoophilia will fly under the radar of most parents, and attract kids at a time when immaturity, lack of real experience, and desire to rebel are the strongest, along with the inclination to keeps secrets and hide problems from their parents being a dangerous part of growing up.

      When Chinese New Year entered the Year of the Horse, a perfect Asian marketing opportunity, Hasbro mocked the Asian holidays with the first-aired episode of that week, making a hazing game as the Chinese Unicorn (qilin)/Draconiquis Discord got sick and made ponies sick with the flu. It so happens, Asia is dealing with very deadly Avian flu and illness is ‘bad luck’.

      Discord’s voice actor is John DeLancie, a clear pop reference to Star Trek’s ‘Q'; most people will love the reference. However, bringing in outside-the-show references means promoting material outside the show kids will become curious about.

      When MLP:FIM brings in other guest actors, their real-life work is referenced for the show. Many know Star Trek: The Next Generation and ‘Q’ are cool because we’ve read the stories or watched the episodes. The work of other more unfamiliar ‘famous’ guest performers should be also checked because assuming safety and good taste for kids won’t work. Do not assume Hasbro is careful, tasteful and considerate with what it exposes kids to directly or indirectly. Don’t assume kids will never find out. Its best at this point to just drop the show for children.

      In Season 4 “Bats”, Twilight smoothly dodges responsibility for turning Fluttershy into a vampire bat; how is that a positive role model for children, to learn how to lie like that?

      Since MLP:FIM is officially directed at 2-11 year-olds, people just learning the rules of right and wrong, playing head games with them and parents who are too hard working to know everything is just wrong. Unfortunately, being alert for problems and aware with the issues surrounding My Little Pony is needed given the disturbing level of sophistication in the show’s double-meaning references, pranks and games.

      • You know you are very convincing, but I have to say why are you arguing? It just does not seem right to argue over a kids show that has some flaws like the rest of the fucking real world does. I mean for me i watch the show to relax it gets my mind off things and lets me think. When I watch the show, I am not thinking about racism or any other touchy subjects, I am thinking about how I will do in my college classes tomorrow or will I even get a job because the way jobs are today. That is what I think about and also why even pick on Star Trek it is a good show. I mean yes there is violence, but Q’s role in the Next Generation was to test humanity and to see if they were like their past selves…. savages. That show I say taught me a lot about having morals that you stand up to and I just see no problem why a child could not watch this show, My Little Pony, or Star Trek. Another thing is more of the type of “I will raise my children my way and you can raise your children your way. If you don’t like it the leave the neighborhood!” honestly if someone is showing their children something and they flip the channel, most parents are flipping to something that will get their child’s attention, so that they can go work. That is not a bad thing it is NOT bad parenting it is just normal. Something about the show it was written so that people have a sense of humor. I mean if you have to watch your kids all day and watch a kids show would you want it to be very boring? I will just leave it at that.

  12. Mlp fim is a inasent show that is teaching kids it’s ok to be different so just shut your face this show is harmless what is wrong with you

  13. My little pony shows it is okay to be different and every pony has different hair and fur which makes them diverse and diversity is good.Also every pony is treated the same except royalty and that is just going to have to be like that just like in real life

    • I agree with Sirius black they are all different but treated the same way who really cares if some are darker than others we are all treated equaly

  14. Hmmm lets see which side of the argument won. For mlp:1,000,000,000. Against mlp:2-3
    Maybe if the people who don’t like mlp take too much time to say lies about harmless tv shows can’t do math I will just tell them now. YOU LOST THE ARGUMENT VERY BADLY!!!!!!!!!

  15. “A phallic symbol strapped to her head”? Take away the wings and Princess Celestia is a unicorn…and they have horns. That really is just picking complaints out of nowhere, and it’s a very adult thing to say, too. It’s a kid’s show. Why would something so subliminal be put in a kids’ show? It wouldn’t. Similar complaints have been brought against Disney–the presence of inappropriate hidden messages in certain movies, but those are just as silly as the so-called “phallic symbol” on Celestia’s forehead.
    And bringing up Richter’s argument about racism–does she really know what it’s like to have racism directed towards her? It’s hard for someone to understand what it’s like to be discriminated against unless they’ve experienced something personally. The ponies aren’t people. And why did Richter forget that there are white-furred ponies also serving as Celestia’s guards? Several people have said this and I think it’s likely to be true: that Richter hasn’t watched the show.

    I think the most important thing to do here is to ask children if they see anything wrong with the show. If Richter is worried about the children who watch Friendship is Magic, then talk to them and see if anything has upset them. I think that’s one of the best ways to find out if there is a problem or not. Kids are much smarter than they’re given credit for.

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