Strong Female Character: Wendy of South Park
Written by AJ Dent, GeekGirlCon Staff Copy Writer
When most people think of South Park, I doubt that feminism comes to mind. For years, the satirical show has been best known for its crude humor and irreverent catchphrases. To me, though, one of the most impressive elements of its ongoing eighteen-year run is the development of Wendy Testaburger’s character.
In the often male-dominated world of South Park, Wendy is an absolute gem. The four main protagonists—Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny—constantly face wild circumstances, obscene townspeople, and legendary figures, yet Wendy remains one of their toughest challengers. At just ten years old, she identifies as a feminist, and her altruistic political ambitions rival that of any adult. Rather than acting as a token female character, she’s well-rounded and dynamic. For instance, in the midst of fighting to have the city’s racist flag changed (“Chef Goes Nanners”), she experiences sexual tension for the first time. By confiding in her good friend Bebe, continuing her civil quest, and ultimately owning up to her feelings (giving Cartman a big ol’ kiss for his support), she successfully nails her goal and learns about her own identity.
Wendy is ever-stellar at using her intelligence for good. For example, she’s volunteered for breast cancer research programs (“Breast Cancer Show Ever”), and written reports on topics such as protecting endangered bottlenose dolphins (“Weight Gain 4000”). Time has also been devoted to her roles on the student council and as class president. Don’t let this philanthropy trick you into thinking you can mess with her, though. Her smarts mean she’s quick to outwit anyone who stands in her way. Over the years, she’s prevented assassinations. She’s outed plagiarists. She’s spoken Arabic fluently. And yes, she’s kicked the crap out of Cartman during a schoolyard fight. Rather than portraying her as a two-dimensional goody-two-shoes, show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have given her strength and edge.
Another of my favorite aspects of this young activist is her independence. Her boyfriend is Stan Marsch, and while several episodes revolve around their romance, she’s never depicted as only existing to fill the role of a girlfriend or sexual object. In fact, at one point she cleanly breaks up with him because she’s attracted to Token instead, and only gets back together with him down the road after she detects true personal growth within him (“The List”). When she goes in for a kiss to seal the deal, he unintentionally vomits on her face out of nervousness—and she still takes him back. Is it odd that I find that really admirable?
As a couple in the middle of South Park’s zaniness, Wendy and Stan frequently push each other to do the right thing for their community at large. Pretty impressive for a pair of fourth graders. I’m curious to see their next step after a recent episode, though. In this season’s “The Cissy”, Cartman pretends to be transgender in order to demand his own bathroom at school. Recognizing his awful ploy, Wendy comes to school as “Wendell”, trading her long locks for a short ‘do, and donning a denim vest rather than her signature purple coat. She turns Cartman’s antics around on him, eventually helping secure equal rights and respect for transgender students. However, we last see Stan in a state of confusion over her purported change, and the two never talk within the episode. The effect this may or may not have on their relationship remains to be seen.
Overall, Wendy’s high IQ, strong will, humanitarian efforts, and autonomy are always inspiring to witness on the small screen. South Park may never appeal to everyone’s tastes, but it’s come a long way since the pilot aired in 1997, and I genuinely believe Wendy Testaburger is proof. I’m excited to see how the show continues to take on social issues through her personality and progress.
Do you have a favorite South Park character? Which strong female characters on TV today make an entire series more enjoyable to you?