The recent Gravity Falls episode may have been one of my favorites to date. A lot happened in it but even as the show was dropping plot bombs between Dipper and Ford, the real show stealer was Mabel as she ventures out with her gal pals on a quest that can only be described as a metaphorical adventure into feminism.
At least, that’s how it felt.
If you have seen Gravity Falls before (or if you haven’t) Mabel Pines is a young girl who joins her twin brother Dipper on supernatural adventures. She plays opposite of her brother’s brainiac personality by being goofy and carefree in the face of Gravity Fall’s strange happenings. Her attitude has helped solve mysteries and defeat monsters in the past but for the most part Mabel is a character who accentuates her girlyness to her advantage.
In this episode Mabel volunteers to go off and find Unicorn hair to help protect her family. As a young girl who loves sparkles, stickers and boys it is only reasonable that a quest to find a unicorn is right up Mabel’s alley. Even in the face of Mabel’s excitement her Uncle Ford seems hesitant, admitting that Unicorns are… frustrating.
Throughout the episode I couldn’t help but think the Unicorn as a whole represented a sense of Girlhood that is both mystical and yes… frustrating is a good term to describe it. The Unicorn shown in Gravity Falls, later named Celestabellebethabelle the most ridiculously unicorny name I have ever heard. Celestabelle a psychical manifestation of ideas that girls are expected to bend to. It’s brilliant that the creators of Gravity Falls use the Unicorn for such a device considering the history of the magical creature.
As a renown Unicorn expert and enthusiast let me help. The Unicorn is a creature of legend that only appears to young girls “pure of heart.” Some legends associate this with young virgins. The peak age of unicorn lore also corresponds with a time when women were expected to be a certain thing. They were expected to be lady like, polite, perfect, and of course- virgins until marriage. Oddly enough this obsession society has with putting a perfectionist expectation on girls is still present today. Girls are often criticized by the clothes they wear, the hobbies they take on, and yes- if they are or are not virgins.
It’s as if society still believes that if a girl doesn’t fulfill these expectations she won’t be able to be gifted by a unicorn. The idea of a Virgin and Pure Heart are synonymous considering they are both social constructs and generally associated with women. In The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti she points out, “It is this inextricable relationship between sexual purity and women– how we’re either virgins or not virgins that make the very concept of virginity so dangerous and so necessary to do away with.” Valenti’s argument mainly focuses on the sexual side of purity but the same argument can be applied to the morality of young girls.
Another interesting thing about the unicorn is that most young girls like Mabel go through a Unicorn-Phase. There’s something fascinating about how artists and media develop the Unicorn as a symbol for Girlhood innocence and market to that age group. Almost every girl I knew growing up had a Unicorn-Phase. Heck, I personally lead a Unicorn Fan Club, and still hold Unicorns close to my heart. That scene in Dodgeball where Vince Vaughn walks into the house full of ceramic unicorn figures… my husband went through the same thing with me.
My point is that Mabel’s obsession with finding a Unicorn is a want girls watching the show can immediately relate to. This is even shown in the fact that Mabel doesn’t hog the quest for herself but invites her gang of Gal-Pals along to experience the greatness of a real live Unicorn. Candy and Grenda seem just as focused on finding the unicorn as Mabel, while the older Wendy is a nonbeliever.
Mabel prides herself on being a “good girl” and from the very beginning of the episode, side characters make it a point to declare she is one of the most pure of heart people in Gravity Falls. All of this builds up to the fact that Mabel is probably the perfect person to win herself some Unicorn hair. There is nothing wrong with Mabel’s label of being a “good girl”, but it is definitely a label that is often used to put pressure on young girls. It is the good girl who people praise, being a good girl means you won’t get in trouble. They are sweet, quiet, polite and most definitely hanging on to that V-Card until marriage. The same traits we use to label girls Good and Bad are still those arbitrary traits used when deeming a girl pure of heart in the medieval ages.
The pressure to be Good Girls comes from the need to appear favorably to society. In the case of Mabel she takes pride in the fact that everyone knows she is pure. When the magical unicorn declares that she isn’t pure of heart it is a huge disappointment. She starts counting every little sin she’s ever committed and works hard to make herself desirable in the eyes of the unicorn.
When she accomplishes a full day of good deeds Celestabelle still claims Mabel isn’t pure enough. For Mabel it is time to go back to the drawing board as she tries to come up with more ways she can prove herself a pure maiden. Wendy calls baloney on the whole thing, taking Candy and Grenda aside to put her own plan into action. Taking the Unicorn hair by force. She gives a particularly moving speech stating, “We need to embrace who we are. We’re crazed, angry, sweaty animals. We’re not Unicorns, We’re Women and we take what we want!”
While Mabel continues to travel down the route of the good girl, Wendy takes action leading the other girls on a stealth mission to steal unicorn hair. It may sound like Wendy is the real feminist here but don’t forget I told you this episode represented a young girl’s journey. Right before Wendy can steal the hair Mabel jumps in trying to stop them. Celestabelle wakes up to interpret the scene as Mabel stealing from her. She loudly proclaims that she will never have a pure heart.
Of course this would be the moment when two other unicorns show up and call Celestabelle out on her scamming humans with that “Pure heart bull crap.” That’s right folks it turns out society-I mean unicorns, can’t really determine if a girl is pure of heart or not. The “Good Girl” is just a concept upheld by certain people. The moment we as women realize this, that is the moment we can overcome the obstacles standing in our way.
After Mabel learns the truth she’s understandably angry and the first thing she does is something that is the exact opposite of what a “nice girl” would do. She punches a unicorn. Wendy and I both cheered a little at this moment, because this was the moment Mabel became her own feminist.
As a girl who grew up in a strict Catholic family and a girl obsessed with unicorns, I fell for the “good girl” ideas that were feed to me. Good girls go to church, good girls don’t party, good girls don’t wear revealing clothes, and they most certainly don’t have sex. If that happened, the chances of me being whisked away to a magical kingdom by a unicorn was zero and I wasn’t willing to risk it.
It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how ridiculous the notion of the “good girl” was. Not unicorns though, those are totally real and I think I still have a shot at seeing one.
I realized that I was still a good person even if I went to parties and did things that girls typically weren’t supposed to do, this moment was my first step into Feminism. The “Good Girl” is an idea pushed on young girls by others and because of that it can be bent to manipulate and keep girls in a very small box. The only way to break it is for girls to define for themselves what they want to be.
In the end Mabel nabs herself some unicorn hair and her Uncle Ford congratulates her on a job well done. She has protected her family and is deemed a “good girl.” At this Mabel looks pleased because the action of going after the unicorn was a decision she alone made, even when her family didn’t think she could do it. It isn’t simply Ford’s praise that makes her happy, Mabel is a girl who sincerely enjoys filling people’s lives with happiness and she knows her efforts have greatly helped the family. Mabel isn’t a good girl she’s just a good person, and one who has learned an important lesson about what it means to be a woman.
Morality is relative, especially when we’re talking about the actions of young girls. Also… Unicorns are jerks, but some of us already knew that.
Senshi Study is where Cara Averna looks at anime, fanculture, and movies with squinty eyes and tries to gleam the deeper meaning. These articles are her own opinions based of self-research.