The springs of Springfield: Janey

Janey is Lisa’s black friend often seen with Lisa at slumber parties or on the playground and she seems like a normal child. She likes to tease other children, only to befriend them minutes later. She likes to play with toys, read books and fantasize about being a grownup.

But is there more to this seemingly normal girl? No, and that is the point. She is a stereotypical girl, fulfilling all of her prescribed gender roles, and she represents everything that Lisa is not. In other words, she emphasizes Lisa’s independence and big-picture thinking by contrasting it with her narrow-minded subservience.

Let’s examine the evidence. In “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,” Lisa rejects the talking Malibu Stacy doll on the grounds that the doll perpetuates stereotypes and convinces girls that “that they can never be more than vacuous ninnies whose only goal is to look pretty, land a rich husband, and spend all day on the phone with their equally vacuous friends talking about how damn terrific it is to look pretty and have a rich husband.” She confronts other girls about this, Janey included, and they see nothing wrong with the doll. This is one example of Janey’s complacence. In another episode, at a slumber party, the girls drip candle wax into a bowl to determine what their future husband’s career is going to be. It is Janey who outlines the rules of the game, indicating that this was her idea. It seems that Janey ties a woman’s personal identity with her husband’s career, and influences the other girls to do so as well.

On numerous occasions, Lisa displays behaviour quite the opposite of Janey. She fights corruption in Washington, advocates a more liberal and ambitious girl’s doll to combat Malibu Stacy and, as mentioned earlier in the “Springs of Springfield” series, exposes Springfield’s hero as a fraud. These are but a few examples of Lisa’s being anything but complacent.

There are a couple of examples where Janey and Lisa are directly contrasted. In “My Sister, My Sitter,” Janey and Lisa discuss the Babysitter Twins books. Both girls are attracted to babysitting, a stereotypical activity for girls, but for different reasons. Lisa likes “the responsibility, the obligations, the pressure” while Janey likes “full refrigerator privileges.” It seems that Janey misses the point entirely. She is materialistic and, as shown above, perfectly fine with doing the things that girls are “supposed” to do. Lisa also wants to do these stereotypical activities, but only to develop certain skills or, if she disagrees with the fundamentals of these activities, to reinvent them.

The direct contrast most evident between Janey and Lisa occurs in “Lisa the Iconoclast.” During Lisa’s vision, George Washington, disappointed in Lisa, asks for Janey’s phone number so he can make her President of the United States instead. Lisa says “No, not Janey! She’ll pack the Supreme Court with boys!” Janey thinks not of the possible accomplishments of women, nor the good of the nation, but whatever serves her immediate interests.

Despite her subservience and complacence, Janey can have positive results in Springfield though. George Washington’s half-serious suggestion that Janey be president motivates Lisa. Janey’s lack of interest in Lisa’s anger at Malibu Stacy motivates her to create a new doll who is a more suitable role model for girls. In other words, Lisa strives to be anything but what a girl is told to be by the media, while this is something that Janey buys wholeheartedly. Perhaps there is such a thing as being too “normal.”