I’ve been well aware of the existence of My Little Pony for decades. I was a kid in the eighties with three older sisters, so inevitably the colorful figures found their way into my surplus hand-me-down toy collection. Aside for their fruity scratch & sniff flanks, I never found myself especially drawn into the franchise. They were ponies. I had much cooler Ninja Turtles I could play with.
The only time I recall even thinking about the silly Hasbro toys before the reboot was when, in college, I saw a couch being put out to the dump. My girlfriend and I needed one, and so I sniffed it to ensure it wasn’t soiled… and it smelled inexplicably and magically like My Little Pony butts. It was delightful, so of course I snatched that thing up. When I explained my decision to my girlfriend, she fully supported me. That girlfriend is now my wife, incidentally. A woman who respects a man dumpster-diving for a couch because it smells like My Little Pony butts is a woman worth hanging on to.
Where was I? Right—ponies. I never cared about them as a kid, but recently, as a 6-foot tall, well-educated man pushing thirty, I found myself openly admitting that I’m a fan of Friendship is Magic, and explaining its virtues—to my boss of all people. Here’s why.
Friendship Is Magic is ridiculous. It’s a kids’ show with pony, pegasus, and unicorn characters who live in the mythical land of “Equestria” in a town called “Ponyville.” It’s absurd, and it knows it’s absurd, and yet… it is one of the first programs really written for girls. I don’t mean that it is written to be girly, because Lord knows countless pink frilly characters and overly-enunciated educational “girl shows” have been cranked out to appeal to the stereotypes of what a girl is supposed to be. I mean that, for once, a program came out that was written for real girls. Girls, as in well-rounded human beings.
MLP FIM didn’t play dumb to make itself more accessible to young kids, and it didn’t stoop to countless romantic tropes as if a girl’s sole purpose was to be pretty and fall in love with boys. It featured a cast of dynamically different girls who were not afraid to enjoy feminine things, but weren’t limited to them, either. The show didn’t pander.
There are a lot of good TV shows featuring male casts with a token girl or two. The girls are usually thrown in as love interests or mother-figures (Ninja Turtles has April O’Neil, Winnie The Pooh has Kanga, Peter Pan has Wendy). Girls have been enjoying these male-centric programs for generations, because until now they have been better than the “girl shows” alternatives. MLP has done the opposite, and done it well. (As a father of a toddler, I’ve watched enough drivel to feel qualified to judge.) My son now enjoys Ninja Turtles and My Little Ponies with equal enthusiasm, and I am right there with him.
More impressive than all that, MLP took a chunk out of the gender dichotomy wall. It’s been done before—after all, women can now enjoy many previously “masculine” things without criticism, from trousers to touchdowns—but rarely have groups of men openly enjoyed something feminine without fear of social ridicule. I worked on a US military base in Okinawa, where I saw manly, muscular men with guns strapped to their hips—men in the most macho profession with extreme pressure to conform—who had added MLP patches to their uniforms or carried a BRONY wallet with pride. It’s an amazing and preposterous phenomenon, and I love it.
Now, once a week, my classroom become a boisterous crowd of “Bronies” and “Pegasisters” as the school’s newest club holds session. As a staff adviser, I listen with no little fascination as students describe “coming out” as a Brony, and the various responses of their families.
In the end, it is a silly cartoon, but it is also a moment in history. Girls are being given more varied role models and more options for their identities. Boys are being given a chance to be brave through love and tolerance, rather than brave exclusively through fists and fury. The old expectations about what boys and girls should be are shifting, and I like being a small part of that.
Oh, and the music. It’s got some pretty catchy tunes.