There was a phrase used in the 1980s for the intangible barrier that prevented women (and minorities) from reaching the upper echelons of corporate America: "the glass ceiling." But while real women were unfortunately battling for the positions of power they deserved, cartoon women were breaking the glass ceiling and bursting through, standing equal to their animated male counterparts, or — in many cases — far above. Here are the 10 '80s cartoon heroines who taught girls and boys alike exactly how badass women could be.
1) Teela, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
For a show about a character named He-Man, the Masters of the Universe cartoon actually did all right by its (admittedly few) female characters. The person in charge of Castle Grayskull was the Sorceress, Skeletor's only competent minion was Evil-Lyn, but Teela was the show's real stand-out. As the adopted daughter of Man-at-Arms, she was a formidable warrior; she was brave albeit a bit reckless; and she was the only person in the cartoon with the balls to give Prince Adam shit for being worthless, cowardly and laying about all the time (sure, it was his ruse to prevent people from discovering he was He-Man, but calling your Prince a lazy asshole is still quite impressive). And her mother was the Sorceress, so she was eventually going to be in charge of Grayskull, a theoretically far more important task than being He-Man. Sure, Teela often had to stand around until He-Man came to save the day, but so did all the male Masters of the Universe, and Teela kicked far more ass than they did without any special powers.
2) Lady Jaye/Scarlett, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
Forgive me for including both of G.I. Joe: A Real American Heroes' two main female soldiers in one entry, but the truth is that they were pretty much the same character. They were both sergeants, they both specialized in counterintelligence, they both used unique projectile weapons (Scarlett had a crossbow, Lady Jaye threw javelins), and they both had no problem kicking Cobra's butt. Scarlett has led the entire Joe team on more than one occasion, and she and Lady Jaye pretty much saved the world when the Baroness found a conch shell that enslaved men when she blew through it (don't ask). And they both got captured a hell of a lot less than Duke did.
3) Firestar, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
Because of the same weird rights situation that forced Marvel to swap out the Human Torch with the robot H.E.R.B.I.E. in the Fantastic Four cartoon, Firestar was created to be the "fire" component of Spider-Man's extremely odd "fire and ice"-themed partners in the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon. With her heat and flame powers, she was arguably the most powerful of the Amazing Friends — she seemingly sets the Green Goblin on fire in the cartoon's intro, which would have saved everybody in the Marvel U. a lot of trouble — and eventually made her was to Marvel comics. She served in the New Warriors and the Avengers, and once singlehandedly handed Emma Frost her lingerie'd ass. In the Marvel Divas series, Firestar was diagnosed with cancer; her friend Hellcat agreed to marry Damian Hellstrom (the Son of Satan) if he would heal Firestar. When Firestar learned of this, she went to hell to rescue Hellcat and told the Son of Satan to shove his healing powers up his ass (metaphorically speaking). And then she beat cancer on her own. This is 100% more badass than how Spidey handled his last deal with the devil.
4) Jem, Jem and the Holograms
Most people remember Jem as a pop star who occasionally got into adventures — or at least put in constant danger by the band of sociopaths called the Misfits — but she was a hero as well, mostly because she was the only person stopping the aforementioned band of sociopaths called the Misfits from putting other people in danger. She saved a cruise liner the Misfits sabotaged from sinking and killing everyone on board; she prevent the Misfits from turning a sea lion habitat into a recording studio; and she kept the Misfits from helping ovethrow a monarchy and replacing it with a less benevolent monarchy, in case you thought Jem hated democracy or something. Oh, and she also thwarted somebody from stealing the President of the United States. Let's see Carly Rae Jepsen do that.
5) Steelheart, Silverhawks
Steelheart, a.k.a. Sgt. Emily Hart, is the only female member of the Silverhawks, and acted as the team's mechanic. She's Steelwill's twin sister, and can psychically communicate with her brother over vast distances. Like her brother, her heart rejected the initial Silverhawk transformation, so she actually received a stainless steel heart, which is totally awesome. Before you go thinking she's the dainty one, she actually outwrestled Mumbo Jumbo, the giant mecha-minotaur who served as Mon*Star's chief enforcer, something her massive brother had trouble doing.
6) Cheetara, ThunderCats
The lovely cartoon character who introduced an entire generation of boys to furry-dom, Cheetara was an able warrior who used her incredible speed and extending bo staff to fight Mumm-Ra and the forces of evil. Wikipedia says she "once clocked at 120 m.p.h. on a morning jog" (which I find hilariously specific for some reason), and she has a sixth sense/precognition power, which tired her immensely. She's also the only ThunderCat who isn't afraid of the water. Cheetara saves Lion-O and all the ThunderCats on more than one occasion during the original series, including from the Doom Gaze (which she was impervious to), from the vacuum of space, and various Mumm-Ra-directed mutant attacks. She is also, without a doubt, the smartest and most levelheaded of all the ThunderCats by an extremely large margin.
7) Gloria Baker, M.A.S.K.
The Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (M.A.S.K.) was admittedly a bit of a sausage fest (also they didn't know how to spell "command"). The sole exception was Gloria Baker, who was likely all the woman M.A.S.K. could handle, as she was both a champion race car driver and a black belt in kung fu. She had two vehicles: the Shark, a Porsche that transformed into a submarine, and the Stiletto, a Lamborghini that turned into a helicopter. This made her the person with the most driving skills and the best, most expensive vehicles in the secret organization whose main function was to combat evil via wheeled vehicles –- which arguably makes her M.A.S.K.‘s best and most trusted agent, too. Although here co-workers included a toy designer, an exotic pet store owner and a pizza cook, so the bar wasn't exactly high. But it's not like they were going to give the pizza delivery guy a Lamborghini.
8) Arcee, Transformers
Although she wasn't the first female Transformer (look it up), Arcee was certainly the most famous. Originally transforming into a pink, futuristic car, Arcee was actually a superior marksman markswoman marksbot and gunner, meaning she was a frequent member of many Autobot missions. She helped transform Autobot City into its fortress mode during Transformers: The Movie, preventing the Autobots from being annihilated; she rescued several Transformers from the Quintessons; she fought a zombie Optimus Prime, and somehow kept Daniel Witwicky alive despite the fact he was constantly, almost ceaselessly in danger. She cares about humans and her fellow Transformers, but she's more than strong enough to protect them on her own. It's worth noting that in the later IDW comic she's basically the Transformers equivalent of River Tam, a terrifying, emotionless killer who singlehandedly beats all five Combaticons. As for her appearance in the live-action Revenge of the Fallen movie, the less said the better.
9) Penny, Inspector Gadget
Do you realize that without Penny, the entire world would be under the control of Dr. Klaw? Seriously, this 10-year-old little girl almost singlehandedly fought an entire criminal organization for years, and here's just a few of the things she's achieved:
• Stopped the annihilation of Metro City
• Prevented the creation of an army of evil robots
• Kept Dr. Claw from making a death laser
• Stopped the mental enslavement of all humanity
…and all this despite the fact that her cyborg uncle is a complete imbecile. Admittedly, as often as Penny's saved the world, her dog Brain has had to save her — Penny got captured more than April O'Neil did in TMNT — but she's only 10 years old. Cut her some slack.
10) She-Ra, She-Ra: Princess of Power
Let me explain to you why She-Ra was infinitely cooler than He-Man. She had a better back-story than He-Man, because she was raised by the evil Hordak and grew up in a place called the Fright Zone, while He-Man lived a pampered existence as Prince Adam in the Eternian Royal Palace. She was more powerful than He-Man –- she was just as insanely strong as her brother, but she could heal people with her touch, communicate with animals and other creatures, and her sword could also transform into a multitude of tools and shoot energy beams. And while He-Man continued to lead a cushy life, occasionally thwarting Skeletor's half-assed schemes, She-Ra was busy fighting a Rebellion against the evil empire that ruled her entire planet. Plus, she had to deal with Kowl, Madame Razz and Loo-Kee, which was like having three Orkos –- hasn't her life been difficult enough?