Why The Women Of The Simpsons Are TV's Most Inspiring Characters
The Debrief: Plus, why Lisa Simpson is my all-time hero
I am sentimental in a way that is currently very unfashionable. Warmth and kindness touch me. I want to be a better person - I fail at this daily, every time I’m too slow to help someone with a baby on the bus, or get grumpy with the DPS person who wants me to sign for and store a neighbour’s delivery – but I aspire to be better, kinder, wiser, and more patient. And this is why I love The Simpsons so much. There’s a sweetness at the heart of Springfield that slays me – yes, it’s full of people who are funny, ridiculous and not real – but I get emotional thinking about the way the town works. The inexhaustible supply of forgiveness and tenderness extended towards Homer, the gentleness with which Ralph Wiggum is treated, the fact that even though Moe’s complaints of constant loneliness and Barney’s on again/off again alcoholism would render them town outcasts anywhere else, they can experience support and even love in The Simpson universe.
Tragically Sam Simon, one of the first writers to work on the show, died from cancer yesterday. And the more I read about him, the more I realise that he was at the heart of that heart. The obituaries talk about a man who wasn’t just extraordinarily talented, but incredibly kind too. An ardent supporter of animal rights, he gave away most of his money away to various charities – this interview about his work should be heartbreaking, but it’s a total joy to read.
The spirit of Simon will live on forever in his work – particularly within my heroine, Lisa Simpson. Lisa has the same values – she’s a vegetarian, she does all she can to protect the Earth and as a Buddhist, understand it too. Lisa is also, arguably, the smartest person on the show – even when Stephen Hawking makes a cameo. I think the genius of The Simpsons lies in the fact that Springfield is populated by an amazing range of women – some are clever, some are kind, some are cool and some are crazy cat collectors.
Take Marge Simpson. She’s not, at first glance, an obvious feminist heroine. Many references are made to the fact that she’s put her dreams on hold to make a home for Homer, who gets to have all the fun. But she’s a relentless cheerleader for her two girls. She experiments in the workplace - she’s been a cop, a realtor, a pretzel vendor, a counsellor, a gym chain mogul and a nuclear plant worker. She loves having sex with her husband, she’s openly insecure enough about her body to get a little surgery – and then decide she doesn’t like the results – and more to the point, she chooses her choices. She’s the cartoon embodiment of Amy Poehler’s ‘good for her, not for me.’ Compared with her judgemental, gossipy neighbours – the Helen Lovejoys and Maude Flanderses, RIP – she’s the definition of open mindedness.
Another weird woman who inspires me as a feminist is Agnes Skinner. There’s a lot of sadness in her story, but when women are supposed to aspire to a photogenic, soft focus, soap scented ideal of motherhood, it’s refreshing to hear her tell her adult son, repeatedly, that she wishes she’d never been born. She reminds us of an era where women didn’t have much choice, and makes me feel that I must never take our progressive era for granted. Also, she doesn’t do a whole lot in terms of fashion or personal grooming, but her unassailable confidence and self knowledge has the men of Springfield falling at her feet anyway.
There’s Manjula, trying to work out how to make sense of husband Apu’s affair, and Edna Krabapple, accessorising with a cigarette and a smirk and satirising our weird, dated fear of the single woman in her thirties. Patty, attempting to explore her sexuality and liberate herself, and Selma, who considered independent, single motherhood and put the idea of sperm donors on prime time TV. The women of Springfield are flawed. They struggle, they feel frustrated, they question their choices - it might not feel especially exciting now that we’re seeing more nuanced women on screen, but I’m confident that, in their way, Lisa and Marge paved the path for Hannah Horvath and her friends.
Because they live in Springfield, these fictional cartoon women are, for the most part, kind and encouraging of each other. It doesn’t always pan out, but they support each other’s choices, and talk each other through death, divorce and in the case of Bart, delinquency. Sam Simon helped to build a universe in which women can feel a little safer and stronger – even if they’re only viewers. What a magnificent yellow legacy.
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