From a daddy of a little girl:
My daughter loves cartoons. Like most 3.5 year olds. I try not to pigeonhole what she's allowed to watch unless it's something flagrantly inappropriate. She likes Bratz Babyz. I cringe every time she asks for it. Baby character models wearing the equivalent of lingerie is not something I personally promote. This cartoon is considered completely acceptable by the majority of parents. It's a major backstep from Barbie in my opinion. They both focus on fashion and self image = beauty to the exclusion of much else. Barbie if you can believe it is less overt about sexuality.
She likes Ninja Turtles now too. This made me extremely happy. Not that I want her running around kicking things but I want her to know it's ok to be interested in martial arts or toy guns if she wants. Or more simply put:
It's ok to like things targeted for boys. Every person I mention this too replies that I must like it because it's what I grew up with. The implication is immediately that the show somehow makes my daughter and I relate to each other better since it's my daughter watching a "boy thing." I admit I don't "Have a passion for fashion" (Bratz tagline) but that doesn't mean I won't relate to my daughter (or try to anyway) if she doesn't love Ninja Turtles.
A few months ago it was Powerpuff girls. I also tend to approve of this show. The females are generally portrayed as powerful. While they portray stereotypes there's options shown if you're a girl. You can be intelligent and a leader. You can love playing in the dirt and mud and be "the toughest fighter." And if you want, it's ok to love stuffed animals, lace and tea parties. They're all good options. The key being "options." There's one episode that still bothers me though.
The RowdyRuff boys episode where male counterparts are made and are of course the villains. In usual storytelling mode the villain takes an early lead. After regrouping, our heroes save the day. Here's the problem.....they win with sex in this episode. I know that's exaggerating to some degree but the only way to beat the RowdyRuff boys is to smooch them since little boys think romance is "icky" while of course little girls should already be thinking about it. It's an old message. From an early age, girls should start worrying about boys. Boys should continue playing.
To say this has no effect is short sighted. My daughter loves this episode and has insisted we watch it many many times. After a few viewings I noticed she stopped pretending to be Buttercup (the Toughest Fighter). Instead, she wanted to be "Boy Buttercup." Whenever she played Powerpuff Girls she'd say, "Daddy, I'm Boy Buttercup."
Why did she suddenly change who she loved? She always liked Buttercup's style which is why I think she also loves Ninja Turtles and Adventure Time. So why Boy Buttercup? He's supposed to be the same concept as the female just a boy. What's the difference?
Buttercup ISN'T the toughest fighter. They never beat the RowdyRuff boys in a fight. They had to compromise. They didn't win the fight. They changed the rules. To romance. My daughter wants to be the tough one. The boys beat the girls in the fight. Boy Buttercup is the toughest via personality. Hence, now she loves Boy Buttercup. It doesn't matter that her gender isn't the same as his. It doesn't matter that he's the villain. She values toughness. He has the most. She values him. She's willing to ignore her gender to be more like him. That's great now, she can pretend to be any gender at three while she's playing pretend. But what about when she gets to school? Is it going to be ok for her to pretend she's "Boy Buttercup" then? What about High School? Etc. etc.
From a very early age she's being told all things being equal, girls beat boys through romance, not because they can be tougher.
So for anyone who doubts the impact of these messages just remember: It only took one episode of one cartoon for my daughter to internalize that "boys are tougher."