Contributed by Lady Bast.
He-Man revolves mostly around bestial relationships rather than sexuality (although it’s there), hence all the human/animal crossovers (e.g. Beastor, King Hiss, Cobra Khan, even the Sorceress). Some are even cybernetic, brandishing nasty little built-in devices (e.g. Trap-jaw and Hordak if you want to cross into She-Ra). Most of these are the bad guys because we want to underline their bestial natures, but some, like the Sorceress, are good guys. The difference is that good guys get to “bond” with animals that are admired and not feared.
Again, this is a Medieval-type society even though technology also seems to be at a high. Most people seem to have mechanical equipment of sorts and many use blasters though He-Man uses a sword to underline his sexuality. Skeletor also uses a sword (it is supposedly the “other half” of He-Man’s) to mirror the hero, but this happens rarely. Usually, Skeletor uses a magical staff with a ram’s skull on it. This is probably meant to represent evil (i.e. horns of the devil – bestiality).
In keeping with this theme, He-Man (as He-Man) is a big, hulking, Mr. Universe kind of guy with a California tan and blond hair (really big with the girls at this time). Adam, though pale, is also a big, hulking, Mr. Universe kinda guy. The difference is that He-man wears reds and browns and golds (and no shirt) because he’s a manly man whereas Adam wears pink and lavender. In the 80s, He-Man equalled a “real” man. Adam was a pasty-faced, pastel-wearing pansy.
He-man rides this big cat, right? Looks like a tiger. Green. Why doesn’t he ride a lion? Only male lions are really associated with masculinity, most other cats are associated with the female persuasion, as is the colour green which is usually a symbol of fertility. This one’s tough to prove, because the colour might just have looked good on the background. And tigers are rather ambiguous sexually: they are not directly associated with the male, but they are muscularly powerful and this one does have a male voice, and they’re not directly associated with the female, though most cats are by default. The nitty gritty details are just something else to think about. Male or female, a cat was used because the cat symbolism was big in the 80s. Especially the big cats because they had the power of the beast and the sleekness of the sexual.
And She-Ra rides a horse. The unicorn horn had nothing to do with She-Ra’s sexuality (or lack thereof), it was there because unicorns would sell. The key here is that She-Ra rode a male horse and we all know what a woman riding a mustang represents, yes?
A word on stereotypes: women are always wimps and/or ditzes in He-Man. Teela is supposed to be this great fighter, right?, but she’s always the one who gets to sound like a total idiot with that whiny “Adam, where’s He-Man?” (or vice versa) thing that she does. And if the Sorceress is so powerful, how come she spends so much time moaning and groaning about this and that and needing He-man to rescue or “help” her (as in he does all the work)?
The only exception to this, as far as I can tell, is Evilyn. She’s one of Skeletor’s lackeys and I can’t remember a single sucky thing she might have done. Mind you, I may be wrong. I don’t remember too much about her because they didn’t use her nearly enough, probably because the presence of a female in the bad guys’ camp removes their illusion of “sexlessness” (i.e. they’re all beast).
This applies to She-Ra as well. The “evil Adora” was much more effective than the “good Adora”. When she was working for evil, Adora was respected as a general in Hordak’s army. As a good guy, she’s a wimp and needs to transform into She-ra to do anything effectively. Notice that She-Ra’s voice is deeper than Adora’s, probably to make her sound more masculine. Female heroes (I don’t use the word “heroine”, a hero is a hero no matter what the sex) are often portrayed as “men with breasts,” a sad affliction that still surfaces occasionally. In fact, the only way to make her seem feminine is to give her these empathic/telepathic animal communication and healing powers. Like a woman absolutely has to be nurturing and healing. I think that all these extra powers succeeded in doing was to make her look weaker than her brother (she needs more power to do the same job). Although I’ve often thought that He-man got the short end of the stick because his sword doesn’t change into other things (Sword to Shield!). That’s like the ultimate Swiss Army Knife.
Other aspects of this stereotype manipulation are all the supposedly strong females in She-Ra who swoon over the male ones (as Glimmer did with He-man in “Secret of the Sword”) and let them take over, or who surrender/run away when confronted with a male opponent (e.g. Catra of the Horde who wimps out every time she loses her mask). Again, only Shadoweaver is of any interest although why she doesn’t just kill off Hordak (who’s too stupid to have been Skeletor’s mentor, I don’t care what the movie says) and take over is a mystery to me. The only really great female characters Filmation comes up with are almost never used… such a pity.
As you can see, He-Man and She-Ra don’t walk the sexual/bestial barrier that Thundercats does. It does use a greater amount of stereotypes, though I’m sure they thought they were quite advanced in using female fighters and lead characters.
Again, I don’t want to imply that the animation companies were trying to project these messages or used such symbols on purpose because they didn’t. And it certainly isn’t what us children picked up on either. The creators of these shows just used the images that were popular at the time, symbols that were created and used by advertisers/designers to represent the facts that already existed and those facts were that people in the 80s really, really wanted sex and bestial imagery and that, in this case, we haven’t yet obliterated all the stereotypes.