Betty DeVille has always been a lesbian icon. The mom of tearaway twins Phil and Lil on Rugrats, there was always something that set her apart from the other parents. Sporty and straight-shooting, Betty’s tough demeanour and backslapping good cheer were unique – not only among the Rugrats mothers, but any maternal figure on children’s TV in the early ‘90s. And now the Rugrats reboot has confirmed what fans have long suspected: Betty is a lesbian.
The signs have always been there. In the original series, Betty wore a lavender t-shirt emblazoned with a sign of Venus. With her short hair and sweatbands, she was quite clearly coded as gay. Betty was even a professional wrestler, which is why she lived in leggings and trainers.
That might not seem like much to go on. But Rugrats began nearly 30 years ago, at a time when lesbian representation in children’s TV was still very much taboo. And costumes were always used to reveal something about the Rugrats characters.
For example, CEO Charlotte Pickles was always wore a suit with padded shoulders and matching heels. Her cell phone – which she used to blast her assistant, Jonathan – was practically glued to her hand. Charlotte’s clothes were a symbol of her corporate priorities. Similarly, earth mother DeeDee wore a flowing red dress and chunky jewellery that cemented her new age vibe. Therefore it’s significant that the original Rugrats team used the sign of Venus to tell viewers about who Betty was and what her interests were.
Natalie Morales, the new voice of Betty, agrees: “Anyone who watched the original show may have had an inkling Betty was a member of the alphabet mafia.”
Beforehand Betty had a beard husband, Howard. This time around she is out and proud. For Morales, it’s a definite step in the right direction:
“Betty is a single mom with her own business who has twins and still has time to hang out with her friends and her community, and I think it’s just so great, because examples of living your life happily and healthily as an out queer person is just such a beacon for young queer people – who may not have examples of that.”
Lesbian representation isn’t the only way in which Rugrats has modernised. The cult classic cartoon is now made using CGI. And Betty’s image has had an update too. Her iconic lavender sweater now shows the Gemini symbol, because everybody knows that lesbians love astrology. She’s also a football fan, and – get this – runs a café called Betty’s Beans.
Morales is glad to be part of this positive lesbian representation: “Betty is a fictional cartoon, but even cartoons were hugely influential for me as a kid, and if I’d been watching Rugrats and seen Betty casually talking about her ex-girlfriend, I think at least a part of me would have felt like things might be OK in the future.”
On this we are agreed. I spent many happy hours watching the Rugrats with my lesbian mother. But not once did I see a family like ours reflected in any of the cartoons that I saw. For much of my childhood, spent at Catholic school and going to church on Sundays, I was taught that families like ours were “pretend;” a pale imitation of the heteronuclear model.
Even after legislation that stopped schools teaching anything positive about gay people was scrapped, it took a long time for me to unlearn the damaging messages it sent about having a gay single parent. So, I’m glad that a new generation of children will grow up seeing an out and proud lesbian mom in the Rugrats reboot. They deserve to be shown that their families are valid.
The new series of Rugrats launches on Paramount+ today