TV Time: What we Really Take Away

Moses Feldman, Sidwell Friends '16

As a member of Sidwell’s history elective, Gender Studies, a senior reflects on an early childhood activity that shaped his outlook on gender. (Published: 2016)

Photo by Stefan Morgan, Sidwell Friends '17

Reflecting on the Saturday morning TV shows I regularly watched as a child, I now understand they had a deeper impact on me than I realized. Of all the shows I watched, Power Rangers sticks out in my mind as the one that had the greatest socializing influence. The Power Rangers TV show, in how it cast and portrayed its five main characters, presented rigid gender binaries that taught me what it meant to be a “man” or “woman”.

Although there have been several installments featuring different characters, I watched the original Power Rangers TV show from the 90s: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. A few of the other installments were better in how they presented gender, so, to be fair, I would like to establish that I am just focusing on the Mighty Morphin series. This series had five main characters, the Red Ranger, the Blue Ranger, the Pink Ranger, the Yellow Ranger, and the Black Ranger. The first impact the show had on me was connecting gender to a color. Most children, at some point in their life, are told that girls like pink; for me, this message was clearly conveyed by watching Power Rangers.

The Pink Ranger was one of two girls on the team. By socialization, a person believes certain behaviors and attitudes (including likes and dislikes) are just how things naturally are. “Girls simply must like pink,” seems to be a harmless conclusion, but I remember how deeply this affected my relationship to the color pink. In pre-school, my friends and I often played by


pretending to be the Power Rangers. In a group of boys, choosing who would be the Pink Ranger was always difficult. I refused to take the color because it was a “girl” color. In the end, we would always go find a girl in the class to play the part. The color of Power Rangers served to reinforce gender expectations and stereotypes before I even knew what that meant. Worse, it then ordered those expectations and created a hierarchy that influenced how I thought about sex, gender, race and sexuality.

From the beginning, Power Rangers established a clear hierarchy between the sexes based on leadership versus supporting roles. The Red Ranger is always the leader of the team. Always has been; always will be. In Mighty Morphin, the Red Ranger is a man. The Pink and Yellow Rangers, the two women on the team, are subordinates. This hierarchy is also racial. The Yellow and Black Rangers, an Asian woman and a black man, are subordinate to the Red Ranger, a white man. The women and the minorities support the white man. Finally, the only romance on the show is heterosexual between the Pink Ranger and the Green Ranger, who joins the team in later episodes. A lack of homosexual relationships in a children’s show from the 1990s is perhaps to be expected, but it is still worth pointing out.

The gender hierarchy, the racial hierarchy, and the heteronormativity of Power Rangers all influenced me as a child and still affect me subconsciously today. I do notice when the leader of a team is a person of color or a woman, or when there is a homosexual relationship. I notice because it is still unusual to see minorities and women represented on TV or in movies in positions of power. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers told me as a child what is “normal.” Having made this realization, I begin to notice other socializing factors in my life. Much of today’s television and movies reinforce the same harmful expectations and stereotypes. Young children are still being exposed to the same ideas. As a member of a society that learns and teaches these societal norms generation after generation, I am forced to question how I can do my part to end the cycle. I love filmmaking. If I become a part of the entertainment industry, how can I use the movies and Saturday morning shows I produce to perpetuate norms that promote equality and tolerance in my society? The smallest change can shape an entire generation.