Image: Lisa Simpson / John O'Shea / Flickr
Like most 90’s kids, I was – and still am – a fan of The Simpsons. But unlike my peers, out of all the (many) characters and caricatures, Lisa was the one I could relate to the most. She’s the show’s moral anchor, propelled into unlikely scenarios by her conscience and driven by a desire to change the world, even at great personal cost. After re-watching much of the series as a not-so-little kid, I realised that Lisa is more of a feminist than I first gave her credit for. Fast forward into adulthood, and her journey of self-discovery is still my favourite thing about The Simpsons – and here’s why.
1. She’s struggled with her image – repeatedly.
Haven’t we all been there? Over the seasons, Lisa has asserted her individuality in a variety of ways in a bid to find herself. After her throne as the smart one in the family is usurped in "Smart and Smarter", she dons fishnets and raccoon make up as Ravencrow Neversmiles. When that fails, she tries out cheerleading, rapping and stand-up comedy, all without success. Never change, Lisa.
2. She’s a vegetarian Buddhist in a meat-eating Christian family.
In “Lisa the Vegetarian”, Lisa bonds with one of the residents of a petting zoo, and subsequently swears off meat, earning the ridicule of her classmates and family. Then in “She of Little Faith”, she once again veers away from her upbringing to embrace the fundamental tenets of Buddhism. In both episodes, she learns to reconcile her beliefs with how others choose to live, and not shove her own choices down other people’s throats. Growing up as an atheistic vegetarian in a Catholic clan of carnivores, I’m on Lisa’s level here. Like her, it took me a while to learn to stop torturing my parents over their lifestyle choices. In the words of Apu, "You can influence people without badgering them always.”
3. She’s a fierce conservationist and environmental advocate.
This kind of goes hand in hand with being a veggo. She proves her devotion to saving the planet in “Lisa the Tree Hugger” by joining a radical protest group filled with likeminded activists. When loggers threaten to carve a swathe through the woodland to build an amusement park, she camps out on the bough of an ancient redwood tree, risking her life to protect the ecological integrity of the forest. Because she’s a badass, obviously.
4. She met the First Lady… who’s a total fan.
Remember that time Michelle Obama descended on Springfield, accompanied by secret service agents and a swarm of helicopters, to confess that she was a dedicated reader of Lisa’s organic gardening blog? Yeah, that happened.
5. She’s the first straight, female president of the United States.
Clearly inspired by her encounter with Obama, it’s revealed in “Bart to the Future” that Lisa would grow up to be the first straight, female POTUS. What I love about this description is that it implies we’ve had other madam presidents in office who were on the LGBTI spectrum. Epic.
6. She takes her mother’s maiden name instead of her dad’s surname.
To be fair, she only does this because she’s mad at Homer – hence the title of the episode, “Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words” – but points for subverting gendered expectations.
7. She campaigned against unrealistic beauty standards.
When Lisa’s worried about the misogynistic messages conveyed by the new talking Malibu Stacy doll (which includes such gems as, “Don’t ask me, I’m just a girl!” and, “Let’s bake some cookies for the boys!”) she decides to design, package and sell her own doll, one that’ll empower little girls everywhere. Not only does the aptly named Lisa Lionheart rock a killer ponytail, but she spouts inspirational catchphrases like, "Trust in yourself and you can achieve anything." Heck, I’m a grown-ass adult and I’d still shell out for one of these.
8. She goes undercover at a boys’ school to prove girls can be just as good at math.
After Springfield Elementary is separated into male and female under the regime of a new principal in “Girls Just Want to Have Sums,” Lisa laments the state of education on the female side of the school, where she’s deprived of practical subjects like math because – duh – girls don’t do numbers. Consequently, she pulls a Gloria Steinem and infiltrates enemy territory under the alias Jake Boyman, quickly topping her math class. And at the awards ceremony, she rips off her disguise and reveals that the best math student was – gasp! – a girl all along. Lisa: 1. Gender norms: 0.
9. She’s the queen of her own magical kingdom.
In “Lisa the Drama Queen,” Lisa presides over a lush paradisal realm populated by fairies, gnomes, ogres and unicorns. In Equalia, everyone is treated equally – except not really, because Lisa’s the queen of all the things. Naturally.
10. She used her platform as pageant queen to call out capitalist bullshit – even though it cost her her crown.
As a real queen – or at least Little Miss Springfield – Lisa is a benevolent ruler. After she learns her image is being used to market cigarettes to minors in “Lisa the Beauty Queen”, she hits back at her corporate sponsors, upon which she’s stripped of her title. We see this same devotion to her subjects when she’s elected school president in “The President Wore Pearls”. She’s adored by the student body, pampered by staff and regularly breaks into song, but once again throws it all away when she realises she’s become exactly what she despises.
Only as a grown-up have I been able to fully appreciate the magnificence that is Lisa Simpson, a vegetarian feminist who goes out of her way to dismantle the capitalist patriarchy in every way she can. She’s not perfect, but that’s part of her allure: she acknowledges her shortcomings but doesn’t let that deter her from what she knows is right. Massive props to Matt Groening and the writers for somehow sneaking a character like that into a piece of primetime television – and on FOX, no less.