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Was ‘Totally Spies’ Totally Feminist?

Did Totally Spies! age well? Is it still the crème de la crème of positive female and female friendship representation? Is it feminist?

Final shot from the Totally Spies theme song.
Totally Spies!/YouTube

Totally Spies; I’m sure that name unlocks 3 million terabytes of memory for many. But how well does the show jive with modern day feminism? Does it even pass the Bechdel test? With spy gadgets that doubled as girlie accessories, fresh and fun outfits every episode, and the thick-as-thieves dynamic of our valley-girl spies, it is no surprise why so many found the show appealing.

If you were part of the shows target demographic, especially towards the lower end, you were unlikely to be familiar with the term ‘feminism.’ Though you likely some feminist figures resonate with you regardless. For many girls, these were Sam, Clover and Alex.

As part of an industry trend, Totally Spies is due a reboot in 2024. With that in mind, I wanted to revisit the show and see if it was still the most kitschy and girl-power infused TV show to date, or if it soured over the decades.

The ‘Feminist’ Test/ The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel test is a formula for testing female agency in a story created by the illustrator Alison Bechdel. The formula consists of three parts.

  1. The story has to include at least two female characters.(What? That’s setting the bar kind of high, no?)
  2. Those two female characters have to talk to each other. (Are you joking? Grow up and stop fooling around with these sky-high parameters)
  3. Those two female characters have to talk about something other than a man. (There is a line between ambition and delusion, and it has just been crossed).

The Bechdel test is not the end-all when determining whether a story is feminist or not. Many movies fail the Bechdel test even though their female protagonists are inspirational heroes. One example is 2013’s Gravity. Another is, arguably, Mulan. And I’m sure the opposite could also be found, where the criteria of the Bechdel test are met, but the blanket sentiment towards women is negative.

However, the Bechdel test is a place to start.

Does Totally Spies Pass The Bechdel Test?

Totally Spies accomplishes quite a feat when it comes to the Bechdel test in its pilot. Why? Because it manages to pass it despite the premise of the first episode being a villain subliminally mind-controlling the general public into worshipping a young male musician. Their very first interaction passes the test in a glamorous way.

Clover asks if she can borrow Sam’s cashmere belly sweater. Sam follows with the expositional line: ‘Sure, that’s what best friends are for.’ Alex gets momentarily disgruntled. She asks, ‘What about me?’

Clover retorts with the dry joke – ‘we can’t possibly both wear Sam’s sweater at the same time; we’ll totally stretch it out.’ Alex then asks if Clover considers her a best friend too. Clover hugs Alex and says: ‘Well, of course you are, silly. And that’s why I’m going to borrow your leopard print sandals tomorrow’.

How much deeper can that conversation get?

Overall, the conversation is simultaneously frivolous and sentimental. It’s girly galore. And that’s the beauty of it. When we learn that the girls are secretly spies, it juxtaposes with this initial depiction of them. We are shown how they can exist as girly girls and kick-ass world-saving agents without one canceling out the other. Their competency is never questioned by virtue of just being young women. Jerry, their middle-aged boss, never talks down to the girls. Too many young women would find that hard to relate to.

And that’s an important message which Totally Spies was totally right in promoting. The discourse surrounding women altering parts of their personalities to compete in predominantly male spheres has been around forever. Well, maybe not forever…but maybe since Margaret Thatcher. (Margaret Thatcher was a politician who trained her voice to sound more masculine).

So cheers! Let’s raze out non-fat lattes (not Vesper martinis) to Totally Spies for passing the Bechdel test! For encouraging young girls to embrace their multi-faceted natures! And for depicting a non-hostile working environment! (Excluding the missions and those WOOHP tunnels). Totally Spies is still iconic.

If you liked this article, here’s some more you could enjoy:

Pearl Davis: The Anti-Feminist Influencer Who’s Replacing Andrew Tate

“Stay-At-Home Girlfriend” Trend Sparks Feminist Debate Online

Written By

Cardiff Uni student who'd exchange a kidney for a lifetime supply of cappuccinos.

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