What about violence?

In my post about “Tom and Jerry,” I wrote about the exclusion and stereotyping of female characters. I didn’t write about the extreme violence in the cartoon. If I blogged about other animated male duos who relentlessly, brutally attack each other–  Sylvester and Tweetie or Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd– I’d also complain not about the violence, but that the girls have gone missing as well. In fact, on my blog that rates kids’ media on how appropriate it is, I’ve hardly written about violence at all. Why?

I’m no fan of tons of blood and gore, but I also believe that violence is a crucial part of fantasy play. I don’t take the violence in fairy tales, myths, or stories literally. That is, I think of the violence in narratives mostly as a metaphor. For example, you could look at the story of David and Goliath as primarily a violent one (along with many stories in the Bible.) David kills Goliath.  Or you can look at as story about the little guy going after the big one and winning: Erin Brockovitch taking on a corrupt power company. We all look at the story that way, right? So much so that the characters have become part of our language when we describe contemporary battles.

What happens when that language leave girls out?

Everyone slays dragons. In myths, in our dreams, in movies, we see it happen visually and literally on huge scales. In our own lives, we do it every day, in ways that are smaller and less dramatic, but can seem enormous in the moment: getting a project in on deadline, winning a debate, or organizing a messy closet.

I also think the violence in narratives provide useful metaphors and imagery for kids to experience emotions in a healthy way. Little kids live dramatic lives. They don’t get to go to a movie and they feel like their whole world is caving in. Narratives are a safe way to practice experiencing intense emotions: they actually see a world cave in.

Just in case you’re missing my point: I’m not advocating for violence where the males are always the heroes and the females are the victims. Violence shown as men hurting women in kids’ media, the way it is in the adult world of “entertainment,” is not my goal. I’d like to see female heroes acting bravely. If we had more female heroes, it wouldn’t be weird to show female victims as well.

If my opinions on violence sound too loopy for you, here’s what Peggy Orenstein wrote about it in Cinderella Ate My Daughter:

“Violent play is not by definition bad or harmful for kids. Any child shrink worth her sand table will tell you it can help them learn about impulse control, work out the difference between fantasy and reality, and cope with fear….Children of both sexes crave larger than life heroes. They need fantasy. They also, it seems, need a certain amount of violent play…something that allows them to triumph in their own way over this thing we call death, to work out their day-to-day frustrations; to feel large, powerful, and safe.”

Click here to see Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Kids Movies in 2011.

See statistics on the lack of females in animated films from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media.

9 thoughts on “What about violence?

  1. Hello Aninha !

    I literally took the pain to watch this video (I succeeded up until 6 minutes then I had to quit …)

    I´d like to comment: Business as usual: it´s all women´s and feminism´s fault, one cannot possibly expect men to change their life … Full stop.

    Well, maybe something different happened after those 6 minutes – as the video last 9:48, but I doubt it.


    • Thanks for your reply, you need to see some of the comments:

      Women, know your role.

      The biggest tragedy is that Nature’s biggest parasite lives in our homes and sleeps with us on our beds. There is only one final solution – redundant alternatives for a woman’s vagina! That’ll take care of the procreation of male life and finish off the parasite for once and for all.

      • Well, as if women could ever forget their role 🙁

        Aren´t they already on the way to get rid of us ? Plastic women with vaginas etc. and procreation – it will not take very much longer, I guess.

        If one takes a look at our earth it isn´t very hard to see who is the real parasite …

        Kind regards, Trip

    • I sent the guy who commented that some atrocities against females, and told him to open his eyes, I’m not sure he actually will of course, but it’s worth a try, I have been posting a lot in this video, pointing out the stupidity of other comments.

  2. I think we have to be careful when we use the term “little kids”. How old is old enough to see slapstick or otherwise violence? Really, sometimes we forget that the number of kids who have parents that consciously try to set an example of how human interaction is, is not that big, they don’t make the majority even.

    So I guess that for many kids, the cartoons and programmes directed at them will be their first experience of the world and its rules, and how interaction should work. A very small kid may not notice they’re seeing stylised characters in stylised world, they may absorb that this is how you act…

    And given they don’t have the information to know the consequences of violent behavior in real life, they would learn it the worst way, by hurting a friend, or suffering under the label of “a demonic” kid. You know, the type of kid people around think has a certain inner evil in them, biasing their opinions enough to treat and perhaps actively telling the kid about how they’re “dangerous, simply evil”; turning it, in the end, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the kid’s perception of themselves has been deformed.

    That said, this means there should be separate channels for under 3, or 4; and 4+. I think kids 4+ years old may already have separated the reality from the fiction just enough to not mimic violence and take advantage of the metaphoric side of it.

    • Bull. Those programs directed towards kids under four stymie development. Tom & Jerry is much better for a 2 year old than Dora or Little Einsteins.

      • Would you care to elaborate on “bull”? I gave a few arguments as to why I think what I think, except if you for some misterious reason simply “know better” than anyone else, qualifying “bull” out of your mouth as a valid counter to an argument, you’re trolling me.

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