From the developmental stage, Power Rangers was intended to feature strong female characters to show boys as well as girls that a girl could be a hero too, and not just some token chick. The girls often went toe to toe with the guys both on the battlefield and off. Kimberly Hart, the original Pink Ranger and by far the most traditionally girly character of the first several seasons, had a pretty solid record of taking on the monsters of the week solo and effectively kicking their asses.
The empowerment of girls was such a core element of the show that the producers didn’t let the stock footage hold them back. Zyuranger, the first Super Sentai series Power Rangers borrowed footage from, featured a team with only one girl. Her uniform was pink and featured a skirt, just in case Japanese kids had any doubts about the femininity of a woman warrior. Saban wasn’t satisfied with that and made the Yellow Ranger a girl as well, which (while it did cause some confusion about the flat chest and rather conspicuous package she boasted in her morphed form) added another female role model to inspire young girls to stand up and save themselves instead of waiting around for boys to do it for them.
True, there has never been a male Pink Ranger – which is something of a tragedy, because I think some muscle-bound, 6’5” guy in the pink uniform would be just awesome on multiple levels. But even within the constraints of the color assignments provided in the source footage, Power Rangers has played with the expectation that the cuter/sweeter/girlier of the two girls should be the one in the pink uniform. What’s more, Power Rangers flat out rejected the notion that girls have to be one thing. The first and one of the most notable examples of this would be in the fifth season, Power Rangers Turbo.
For all its flaws, and there are many, Turbo gave us Cassie Chan, a Pink Ranger in a leather jacket with dyed stripes in her hair, who wanted to start her own rock band. At the same time, she got the strongest romantic subplot of that season, showing that girls can be edgy and hardcore without denying their feelings. The other girl on the team, Ashley Hammond, was shown to have remarkable courage and integrity, tending to her fellow citizens during a crisis without the aid of any superpowers and standing up to a boy she really liked when he started acting like a dick. Ashley was an artist, interested in fashion design, but that didn’t stop her from taking auto shop and getting her hands dirty until she got it right. Shaking up the “Tomboy/Girly Girl” dichotomy is something a lot of adult shows still struggle with, but Power Rangers managed to subvert that trope with Cassie and Ashley in a very natural, organic way.
Another refreshing shake up of convention came along in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy when Kendrix Morgan provided us with a brand new kind of Pink Ranger by turning out to be the brainy one on the team, and not just some supermodel with a big vocabulary. Kendrix was portrayed as a nerdy science officer, glasses and all, who kept her hair up, showed very little skin, and was still considered to be attractive and charming. She also became the first Power Ranger ever to nobly sacrifice herself in the line of duty onscreen. How’s that for a positive role model?
By the ninth season, Power Rangers Time Force, the team was being led by Pink Ranger Jen Scotts, and do the guys have any issue with taking orders from her? Nope. In Power Rangers, women aren’t strong on a different scale, segregated and compared only to each other; women can stand side by side with men and hold their own. In the very first episode of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, the two girls in the group are harassed by a pair of unwanted admirers, and not only do they decline their male friend’s offer to take care of the situation, they handle it themselves, verbally and physically pwning the jerks who aren’t getting the message that no means no.
This is not to say that sexism doesn’t exist in the Power Rangers universe. Some of the more subtle aspects are so pervasive in our culture that they undoubtedly manifest onscreen at points, but whenever sexism is openly addressed, it’s never depicted favorably. Probably the most aggressive in tackling this issue was Power Rangers S.P.D. (Season 13 for those keeping count). Blue Ranger Sky Tate was openly sexist. While his arrogance certainly showed no gender bias, and he was a schmuck to everybody, there was clearly an added element of dismissal at the idea of taking orders from a woman, even one at the command level. This is presented to the audience as an obvious flaw in Sky’s thinking that is holding back his career. Learning that the leader of A-Squad, the elite ranger team he idolizes, was a woman was a major turning point in Sky’s arc, which was all about learning humility and respect.
While it certainly hasn’t been a flawless effort, feminism has been in the DNA of Power Rangers from its inception, providing its audience with a refreshing vision of heroism that not only crosses but serves to bridge the gender gap.