Gender and The Rugrats

I’ve always been a fan of Klasky and Csupo’s “Rugrats“. I recently subscribed to Netflix and have been going through old episodes. To my surprise, I have reaped much more enjoyment from this than initially anticipated, as I quickly caught on to a brilliant subtext undetected by my 8-year-old eye.

One of my favorite (and…well, relevant) of these statements came to life in the relationship of Betty and Howie DeVille, an aggressively gender-bending couple.

In the show, Betty, Howie’s wife, is often portrayed playing traditionally masculine roles in the relationship, while Howie resembles something closer to the expectations of females. Using the swap as leverage, the Rugrats writers make various–and seemingly inconsistent–statements about gender, our expression of it, and its role in our relationships. That Betty is commonly thought to be a lesbian is a nice example of the [problematic] conflation between gender expression and sexual orientation.

Do you have a favorite character that pushes the limits? Maybe I’ll write about them next. Spill it below.

55 thoughts on “Gender and The Rugrats

  1. There are so many negitive gender stereotypes in children’s cartoons, it is always awesome when you find a positive one.
    I really think children’s television needs to be looked at much more closely by adults (the ones with brains, not the ones who create these stereotypes in the first place).
    This is a really good post. I had actually completely forgot about Betty and Howie. It made me smile =)

  2. I do have a bit of a guilty conscience. But I am a “live for the moment” kind of person, and prefer to have disposable income today, because I don’t know if I’ll even be alive 5-10 years from now, let alone 50.

  3. I refuse to construct a dominant persona for you to adore. Instead, I want you to pity my lonliness and admire my tenderness. I do not want you to admire me for being strong; I want you to coddle me because I am broken.
    I am a heterosexual man. I wrote this in my dairy last night. Does that sound like it was written by a woman? I once asked a coworker why some people think I am gay. She said “It`s because I don`t act like a guy but I don`t act like a girl either but most people just think I don`t act like a guy and stop there.” I told her that I took that as a huge compliment. Gay guys hit on me more than girls (in both cases it`s close to never). I tried to “make lemonaide” and make myself bi by masturbating to gay porn. I sort of got into it after a while but once I watched a video of a naked woman it felt like I had resumed breathing after holding my breath for a minute. I joke that this experience makes me more heterosexual than a homophobe because rather than desperately avoiding gay thoughts I sought them out and was dissapointed.
    Being masculine is lonely work. It involves depriving yourself of hugs and keeping you feelings to yourself.

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  6. Took me sometimes to read all the comments, but I actually enjoyed the post. It proved to be quite beneficial to me and I am positive to all the commenters right here! It’s always good when you can not only be informed, but also entertained!

  7. I always noticed this! Which makes me feel kinda bad. I’m more of a “traditional,” if you will, type, and do somewhat stick to the “Man is the man, woman is the woman.” mentality, but for me. I always loved Betty and Howie for who they were and their compatibility. That’s really all that matters is compatibility, and anyone who judged Howie for being a “Girl” and Betty for being a “Man” just doesn’t get it.

    I have a disturbing story about the mentality we contain about sexuality. I once was in a class about sex. It was the stupidest class ever. They acted like we were 5 years old. We were 12. By that point, there isn’t much to teach. But we covered sexuality for a day (Yes a DAY. I was pissed.) and we had to do this exercise. The counselor passed out a piece of paper to each table which contained a story of a boy named Sam who liked to play baseball, take care of his little siblings, and build trucks, and do gardening with his mom, and so on and so forth. At the end it asked to list three things we thought Sam should be when he grows up. There were three people in my group, and we agreed that we could each decide on one. I thought to myself, “Huh. I wonder how the teacher will react if we put in baseball player, mechanic, and DAYCARE WORKER. The horror it will ensue, I am sure.” Then i looked over to the other side of the class, and it hit me. “Sam. How conveniently androgynous. Their papers have the exact same story, but I bet their Sam is a girl.”
    In the end I was right. The school was making a statement of femininity and masculinity, and the teacher was utterly STUNNED that I had figured this all out, and was even more shocked when I announced that I thought the male Sam would make a good daycare worker, and added in that I thought he had the qualities it would take to be a good nurse. What shocked me was that I was the ONLY one who had figured it out, and that I was the ONLY one who insisted on daycare worker, nurse, or any other “Feminine” role. It took me awhile to get my group to comply with it even. I mentioned that I am more old fashioned, but only for me. I am a tiny little girly girl, but I went through a tom boy phase, and I was perfectly fine with the sexuality and the sexuality preference in a partner either way. I wish the rest of the world could be too. It would be a better and happier place.

    • I’m glad I filtered through the vague spam comments and found your response. With the background I had as a 12-year-old, I wouldn’t have seen what you saw in the story about Sam. I’m glad your teacher made a point with the exercise and I hope that your classmates were better off after the experience. (I would have been.)

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  12. I did notice this relationship between Betty and Howie when I was younger. The sad thing is that I thought it was weird and maybe wrong. I really do wonder where I got that from…

  13. As far as me being a member here, I didnt even know that I was a member here. When the article was published I received a username and password, so that I could participate in the discussion of the post, That would explain me stumbuling upon this post. But we’re certainly all intellectuals.

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  16. on rugrats “all grown up” howie fights angelica or her mom for FEMALE part in their off,off broadway show at camp, i think they lean way more tward making howie look gay than betty looking lez…. i think they put her out that way just to emphasize howie’s fruti-ness lol i love all gays so dont take this the wrong way but i thought it was pretty funny how they do stuff like this in a childs show

  17. I watch a lot of anime which has a lot of gender bending. some examples that challenge gender roles:

    1) Isabella Yamamoto from Paradise Kiss (transgender)
    2) Yachiru from Bleach (she’s cute and adorable but highly acclaimed for fighting abilities0
    3) Yoruichi from Bleach (pretends to be male for a good portion of the series but becomes MORE powerful when revealed as a woman.)

    i’m not sure if this is what the artist intended but it’s still something :D

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