When I wrote my Twilight review earlier this year, I compared the weak and helpless Bella to Ms. Piggy, who, in my opinion, is an icon for feminism. Some of the commenters disagreed with me so I thought I would try to apply some skepticism to my theory. I thought more about it while writing my review for the new Muppet movie.
As you all probably know, I have a bit of a Muppet bias. As far as I am concerned, Ms. Piggy is one of the strongest female characters in popular culture in the past 50-odd years. Piggy proves, time and again, that she is a strong, confident woman who can go toe-to-toe.. or snout-to-snout with anyone else. But I might be wrong. Let’s analyze a little, shall we?
(SPOILER ALERT: Minor spoilers below for the new Muppet movie)
Why Ms. Piggy is an Icon for Feminism:
1. She trucks no bullshit
Time and again, in the Muppet movies, we see Piggy as a strong, no-nonsense woman who will fight for what she wants.
Whether it’s taking on cat burglars in the Great Muppet Caper or scaring off cat-calling construction workers in the Muppets take Manhattan, Piggy is strong and powerful. And if her friends are in danger or need help, she has no problem taking over and leading the gang, even if her methods aren’t always the most … peaceable. (I’m getting to that, I promise).
2. She is a career woman
In the original Muppet movie, there’s a scene where, after rescuing Kermit from frognappers, Piggy gets a call from her agent with a part in a commercial and drops Kermit like a hot potato to take the role.
In the most recent Muppet movie, Piggy is arguably the most successful of the Muppets who have gone their separate ways for several years. When we finally track her down, Piggy is in Paris and their Paris plus-sized editor.
She is confident in her abilities too. Yes, she is a prima donna. But she knows what she wants and knows she is the best at what she does. In the Muppets, she says to Kermit ‘Remember, I am irreplaceable” and it’s impossible to disagree with her.
3. She is comfortable with her body
Piggy’s size is the.. butt of many jokes. But at the end of the day, Piggy never doubts herself. I’m willing to bet Kermit has never been asked “Does this dress make me look fat?”
Piggy is gorgeous and she knows it. She revels in her own body and her beauty.
4. She wants it all
Go back and listen to Piggy’s “I’m Gonna Always Love You” song in the Muppets Take Manhattan. It’s nothing less than an anthem for feminism.
Gonna climb the Matterhorn.
But only after all my children are born.
‘Coz I want to be a good Mommy too
And I’m going to always love you
Pretty compelling stuff. But, of course, nobody is perfect. Here are the reasons that Piggy fails as a good role model:
1. The Violence
Poor Piggy. She really just wants things her way and when she doesn’t get them, well, she has a bit of a temper. And an unfortunate habit of using violence to solve problems. And we can all agree that in the real world, violence is not the way to solve problems.
But… this isn’t the real world. Piggy lives in a world that is encompassed in violence as the natural order. Time and again, we see the Swedish Chef going after animals with rolling pins and hatchets, the Great Gonzo blowing himself out of cannons in stunts that would kill in the real world. Lew Zealand‘s whole bit is that he THROWS FISH AT PEOPLE. And seriously, if this was the real world, Crazy Harry would be in Guantanamo for terrorism.
Muppet world is one where violence is a way of life and it’s all done for humor. Piggy isn’t any better or worse than any of the male characters in her life in that respect so I don’t think we can judge her on this point at all.
2. The Competitiveness
Whether it’s competition for a role or a rival love interest for the Frog, time and again, Piggy stamps out any competition, sometimes literally. Some would call this dysfunctional. But again, let’s examine what is going on here. With the exception of Camilla the Chicken, and Janice, the guitarist for the Electric Mayhem, both of whom are really side characters, Piggy is the ONLY regular female Muppet.
From a 1979 People magazine article: “According to [Frank] Oz, Miss Piggy’s father chased after other sows, and her mother had so many piglets she never found time to develop her mind. ‘I’ll die before I live like that!’ Miss Piggy screamed, and ran away to the city. Life was hard at first. People got all the jobs; pigs had to take what was left. To keep going, Miss Piggy walked a sandwich board for a barbecue stand. Desperate, she took a stage name, Laverne, and entered a beauty contest. She won and got her big break: a bacon commercial. This led to a season as mascot for a local TV sportscast called Pigskin Parade — and then on to The Muppet Show.”
Ms. Piggy worked her way up from nothing and knows how competitive show business is. So she fights to protect what she has worked for. I think it’s just ambition that is driving her competitiveness, and her desire to be able to maintain the lifestyle she has grown accustomed to.
Even I have to admit that Piggy acts irrationally when it comes to Kermit. She’s almost bipolar with him – one minute smothering him with kissy-kisses, the next karate chopping him across the room.
Kermit seems to bring out the best and the worst in Piggy and that, in my opinion, is why her character is so powerful. Piggy shows us that even the strongest, most confident people falter sometimes, particularly when it comes to love. And, if you ask me, Piggy knows full well that Kermit has this effect on her but embraces the madness nonetheless.
So maybe Piggy isn’t the Ideal Feminist Icon. But maybe her imperfections are what make her a really great role model. She’s strong, smart and flawed. It makes for a compelling character. I, for one, would be thrilled to be Ms. Piggy when I grow up.