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The Quiet Feminism of “Clarissa”

June 2, 2014

I’ve been watching a lot of old Nick shows recently (thanks Amazon Prime!), and the one that has consistently surprised and impressed me is “Clarissa Explains It All.” I was totally obsessed as six-to-nine-year-old kid, but it’s only in watching it now as an adult that I am struck with how awesomely feminist it is.

Here are some reasons why Clarissa is totally a feminist icon:

She was a trailblazer. “Clarissa” was the first Nickelodeon show that featured a female lead. It was so popular that it busted the myth that boys won’t watch a show about girls (which in turn has been busted again and again by The Power Puff Girls, Dora the Explorer, and Doc McStuffins, to name a few).

She had a male best friend who wasn’t her boyfriend. This fact is almost always brought up in articles about “Clarissa,” because it’s still a rarity in, frankly, all of television. Unlike other shows with a male/female best friend duo (Lizzie McGuire springs to mind here), there was absolutely no flirtation between Sam and Clarissa, and the one episode where they attempted to be more than friends ended in disaster.

She wasn’t stuck in gender stereotypes. Clarissa was a well-rounded character who had a range of interests not specific to males or females. She obviously loved clothes and fashion, but she also programmed her own computer games, hated cheerleading, and loved rock and roll (the early-90s band name dropping on this show is INSANE – she and Sam went backstage at a Nirvana concert!!!). Above all, she wanted a chance to get behind the wheel of a car. In short, she was a real person, not a super girly-girl but not an against-the-grain tomboy either.

She had career aptitude and aspirations. Though she may not have been aware of it all the time, this girl was born to be a journalist. Her constant reports, updates, and news flashes about the seemingly mundane were all practice for her future career. Not all kids show interest or talent in the fields that they end up in as adults, but some of them do, and I can’t think of another show that showcases this like “Clarissa” does. (And as a point of comparison, Ferguson was obviously on his way to being an investment banker).

She didn’t want a boyfriend. There is an absolutely amazing episode where Clarissa thinks the guy she’s been dating, Clifford, wants to go steady, AND SHE DOESN’T WANT TO. She wants to keep her options open and see what’s out there, and not be tied to one person. And in the end, she’s relieved that Clifford doesn’t want to go steady either. This is practically unheard of in television, especially in today’s kid shows, where having a boyfriend or girlfriend is the ultimate goal (and at increasingly younger ages). It’s also probably the healthiest approach to teenage dating ever represented onscreen.

She was a non-conformist. Though this isn’t specific to feminist issues, Clarissa was artistic, creative, and proud of being different. There was an entire episode based around a guidance counselor trying to get her to be “normal” while she (and her parents) championed the virtues of being weird (with a cheer, no less). Many kids shows today are about exceptional (i.e. famous) kids who are just trying to fit in and have a normal life (Hannah Montana, etc.). “Clarissa” was a show about a pretty typical kid, but one who wasn’t afraid to break the mold and express every part of herself. For every kid who feels like an outsider (and that’s pretty much every kid, at one time or another), this makes Clarissa an icon and a hero, feminist and otherwise.

Clarissa

Clarissa

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Showing Revisions Some Love

March 12, 2014

It’s a stereotype that writers hate revisions. The consensus on revisions is that they are tedious and painful and often mean that you have to kill your darlings (assuming it’s not something you’re “married to” – I love expressions that only writers use). 

But, I personally love revising. First of all, it means I actually finished something, which is AWESOME. Even if it’s something that’s obviously not completely finished, there’s something really rewarding about coming back to a scene or paragraph or whatever and tweaking it until it’s right, and not feeling dragged down by everything else you know you still have to write.

In the same vein, it feels so amazing to really work and work at a joke or a tiny moment and improve it until you know you’ve found the exact right thing. There’s a discovery to it that’s really exciting, and not something you always hit on in a first draft (or second, or third). Being able to take the time to do that feels so great after you’ve nailed down the broad strokes of a piece. 

Finally, I love revising because I often feel plagued with ideas about what I want to change while I’m still trying to push through and finish the thing. I’ve made lists of things I want to change in earlier pages that I think of as I move forward. The only thing that stops me from thinking about them is, of course, to finish writing, and then go back and address them. Although, I’ve heard of some writers who DO go back and fix things as they are writing (and I’ll change something myself if it’s a quick fix). This is why I also love discussing the process!

The Joys of Brainstorming

October 6, 2013

In preparing to pitch a project, I’m going through everything I have ever written about this one idea, and I just came across a brainstorming sheet about “Things that are Scary” which includes “being alone at night brainstorming about scary things.”

I love being a writer.

Mash Ups are the Best

September 5, 2013

Mash Ups are the Best

A combination of my two favorite things.

An Amazing Resource – Sesame Tool Kits

July 17, 2013

I love the Sesame Street Tool Kits created for their Little Children, Big Challenges project. My favorite one I think is about incarceration, more specifically about helping children cope with parents who are incarcerated. The tool kit has come up a lot recently in the press (a lot of it talking about how it’s sad that content like this is needed), but I think that press isn’t looking at how wonderful the tool kit is.

The videos and activities are so great and aimed at just the right level for kids. But I think the most incredible part of this is the resources they have for parents. These resources don’t just help caregivers talk to their kids about incarceration. It’s a safe space for them to come to explore their own feelings and concerns. When Alex (a puppet) learns it’s okay to express his feelings about his parent being incarcerated, and that it’s actually really important that he does so, it’s not just kids getting that message – it’s their own parents and caregivers. Even the message that “we can be like our parents in some ways and different from them in others” is something that a lot of adults need to hear!

There are plenty of other great topics too! (The military families one is also close to my heart!) Check them out!

Rubber Duckie, AKA My Jam

January 16, 2013

Happy (belated) New Year! One of my resolutions is to keep this website a bit more updated, so get ready for more blog posts! Hurray!

I really enjoyed this article from Sesame Workshop about the Rubber Duckie song, a personal favorite of mine from the Sesame canon. I especially love the quote at the end: “All of us have a great deal of child left in us” (Jeff Moss). While I think this is true, it’s most true of those who work in children’s media. Agree?

New job!

October 1, 2012

News! I recently started a  job as a research assistant on a brand-new show for Nick Preschool! I’ve been there a month and so far the team is great and the show is super fun. I love the characters already! Details about the show are mostly under wraps for now, but it will premiere in 2014 (wow, that feels like a long time away). Premiere party at my place – mark your calendars!