The thought of middle school brings about uncomfortable and cringe worthy memories most people prefer to forget about. Between the drastic physical, emotional, and social changes, this period of adolescence is more realistically referred to as, ‘the awkward stage’. Marked by the struggle to fit in with peers while managing to keep your cool when in the presence of a your secret crush, this stage is anything but smooth. Tina, the geeky oldest child of the Belcher Family on Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, is deep into this socially awkward time. Although she is boy crazy and just trying to fit in, Tina is anything but the typical teenage girl. From her unusual hobbies to her over-shared sexual fantasies, her personality and open sexuality are extremely different from the norm at her age. Tina’s character is unique because of the way she embraces her sexuality and feminist ideals, and challenges the normative understandings of girlhood in a post feminist society.
The animated sitcom, Bob’s Burgers, tells the story of a blue-collar family which consists of parents, Linda and Bob, and their three children, Tina, Gene, and Louise. The entire Belcher family is a pretty awkward and odd, but Tina definitely takes the cake for most unique character. Voiced by male stand up comedian Dan Mintz, Tina’s voice comes off as unemotional, low pitched, and monotone. This attribute helps explain why she contributes so much of the show’s humor, as her voice is anything but that imagined of a young teen girl. Her character can be summed up as quirky, geeky, creative, and very sexually frustrated. She fantasizes about having a boyfriend and spends the majority of her time writing erotic ‘friend fiction’. Tina has a love for horses, gushy romance, and zombies, but her true obsession lies on starring at the butts of her male peers, especially that of her crush, Jimmy Pesto Jr.
In a society deemed post-feminist, where men and women are considered socially equal, Tina sparks conversation. Although Tina has constant immature sexual fantasies, she also fantasizes about the independent, self-supported women she will one day become. She continually expresses characteristics throughout the series that position her to reject gender norms and act unlike typical middle school girls. The idea of post feminism suggests that the feminist movement was successful enough to warrant it’s own irrelevance. Meaning, women can make the choice to be sexual objects and this is not due to pressure from their male peers (Zimdars, 2014). This idea proposes that there is gender equality, however the normative ideas of girlhood today suggest different, and Tina represents this opposition to this norm.
From a young age, children are socialized to fit into strict gender expectations. Young girls are brought up to like pink, Disney princesses, shopping, makeup, and other things that entail being a ‘girly girl’. They are taught to be polite and not talk about sexual desires publicly, as these behaviors are only socially appropriate for boys (Pierce, 1990). Playing the role of the girly girl and suppressing sexual desires is what is socially acceptable and preferred by males. Regardless of what post feminism suggest, females (especially young) are typically still the object of the male gaze and less assertive than the normative male (McRobbie, 2007). Tina, on the other hand, embodies a unique outlook and personality towards sexuality that embraces the ideas of feminism. She is open and honest about her body and sexuality, has unexpected and hidden confidence, and believes in herself to become an independent, strong women.
Tina’s openness and honesty about her sexuality makes her unlike any other character on TV today. Instead of suppressing her wants and being embarrassed by her desires, she embraces them and makes them known. She consistently talks about her body’s changes while simultaneously fantasizing about all of the butts around her. From a quick look, it may seem Tina is just a representation of the typical adolescent discovering their sexuality. When analyzing this in more depth, it becomes apparent that Tina is a representation of the ongoing dialogue about sex-positive feminism and the real life experiences of young girls (Valerie, 2014). In “The Frond Files” (Originally aired March 9, 2014), the principle reprimands Tina because she wrote a story about Zombie football players, who all happened to be in love with her. Tina reacted by saying, “Well I had a dream I was being attacked by zombies who all wanted to make out with me, so I screamed, then made out with them”. She was completely comfortable speaking her mind and channeling her inner desires. Instead of agreeing with the principle, Tina’s parents praised her honesty and attributed it to a completely normal behavior of a teen. The Belcher’s openness and acceptance to Tina’s sexuality is not common for parents of young teens girls, especially their fathers (Vesey, 2012). Their relationship is unique and encourages sexual expression as a means of exploration for their daughter.
Although she is sometimes quiet spoken, Tina has an inner confidence that can unexpectedly shine through. She knows what she wants and goes after it. In “Two For Tina” (Originally aired March 17, 2013), Tina decides to take control of her own destiny and ask her crush Jimmy Jr. to the school dance. Her parents encourage her to do so and think it’s a great idea. Although Jimmy ends up rejecting Tina, she does not see this as a failure. She realizes that adolescence is a difficult time and does not take this personally, the opposite reaction of most teen girls who would overanalyze all interactions with boys. Time and again Tina takes the initiative with boys, surprising viewers as she comes out of her shy shell. Tina admits, “You gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince”, eluding to the idea that she is in control of who she falls in love with, and will not wait around for attention from boys.
Her appearance does not guide her behavior and rarely does the show focus on it. Tina is not conventionally pretty or sexualized. She has big black square glasses, bad posture, limp arms, and wears knee high white socks with long skirts. However, she still gets the attention of boys and has them fighting over her without changing her appearance to conform to hegemonic norms (Zimdars, 2014). Instead of giving in to be the object of the male gaze, she makes males the object of her gaze. TV critic Jon Christian writes, “She is preoccupied with their specific physical attributes, subverting gender expectations (Christian, 2014). This preoccupation is apparent when she often sneaks in lines about butts when it is completely unrelated to the conversation. Tina says things like, “Tell them to push their butts together”, “I had no idea there was so many butts touching in baseball”, and “Just when I think I’m out, his cheeks pull me right back in”. Rather than concentrating on her appearance, she is drawn to boys by their physical assets, playing the opposite gender role.
Aside from her outward and sometimes uncomfortable sexual demeanor, Tina’s personality is one of kindness, morals, and belief in inner beauty. Because she is in the ‘awkward stage’, she often daydreams about her aspirations to become a grown independent woman. She does this when talking about her alter ego Dina; a restless, hardworking, self-supported, food truck worker (“Food Trucker” Originally aired April 15, 2012). Tina also dressed up as a ‘Mummy Mommy’ in “Full Bars” (Originally aired October 7, 2012) and explained herself as a single mother that is struggling to make ends meet working two jobs.. but she’s making it work. Tina verbally reminds herself that she is a “Strong, smart, sensual women”, and gives the advice to her father, “Dad if you believe you are beautiful, you will be, just as I did” (“Two for Tina”). Even though her life is heavily filled with erotic daydreaming, Tina knows who she is and strives to follow her passions to be independent. When looking past her sexual fantasies, she emerges as a mature girl for her 13 years, whose feminist ideals reject hegemonic masculinity.
The awkward stage of middle school was once described by Brittany Spears as, ‘Not a girl, not yet a women”, and Tina is stuck right in the middle of it. Even though she can be painfully uncomfortable at times, Tina remains true to herself and does not give into the cultural and societal pressures of middle school. She is an individual that challenges the normative understandings of girlhood in today’s society and represents the social freedom women should have in this ‘post feminist’ age. Although today’s culture is viewed as progressive, young kids are socialized into gender norms that restrict freedom of expression and desires. Girls are continually consumed by image and males initiate relationships. Tina’s character on Bob’s Burgers goes against behaviors of typical girls and sets an example of what positive sexual expression looks like, in the most comedic and exaggerated way possible.
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Valerie, L. (2012). Seriously, though: tina belcher is my new best friend. Retrieved from: http://strawberry-toothpaste.com/2012/12/04/seriously-though-tina-belcher-is-my-new-best-friend/
Vesey, A. (2012). “Uhhh…”:negotiating tina belcher’s sexuality. Retrieved from: http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/08/29/uhhh-negotiating-tina-belchers-sexuality/
Zimdars, M. (2014). Representing women. Personal Collection of M. Zimdars, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa