My seven year old daughter was home sick last week, and we watched “Polar Express.” I’d just complained to a parent about how my 10 yr old no longer believes in Santa Claus, and she recommended this film. Wrong daughter, but I was curious, because this mom was so excited about the movie. So we watched and the animation was gorgeous, but there was only one female character. All the dancing waiters, the guys on the top of the train, the kid that missed the train, Tom Hanks, and the protagonist– all male. And no matter how good the movie is, I get bored when it’s all boys.
I was already thinking about the Christmas special dilemma, because I just wrote about my first blog on Reel Girl which was all about Christmas. That was 4 years ago, my first holiday season where I had three daughters, and we all watched “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” together. I was so excited, I made a fire and hot chocolate. We all got under the blankets. It was fun, but there are NO girl reindeers who fly. There’s an important scene in the movie where the boy reindeers compete and learn how to fly (“playing reindeer games”) Clarisse, the girl, doesn’t aspire to fly; she gets the role of cheerleader; she supports Rudolph. Herbie, the dentist, is also male. There are no girl elves with speaking parts. The movie is really, really sexist. It may be ruined for me because I hate having my kids watch females with no voices who can’t fly. But, I think I can keep showing it to them, if I can balance it out with some other movies with strong female protagonists. I haven’t done my research yet. I’m going to you, right away, to make a list.
We start out with a challenge: Santa mythology is rooted in a traditional marriage– Santa is the guy with the big job and his wife is known to all by the moniker: Mrs. Claus. Also, the reindeer are all known to be male, with Rudolph as the star. But I’m hoping this radical imbalance has been overcome in some good films or TV shows. Please let me know your suggestions, and I’ll put together a list.
Working List (I’ll add as you send me names)
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Olive the Other Reindeer
Eloise at Chrismastime
It Happened One Christmas
Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus
Pippi Goes on Board
A House Without a Christmas Tree
Thank you for this. I’m having a virtual holiday movie night with our Girl Scout troop, and I wanted a film that featured a girl.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is another good one – features a girl narrating, and the major characters include her mom, several female schoolmates, and the Herdman girl (a raucous family whose kids decide to participate in the annual Christmas pageant).
We are also really looking forward to the upcoming Christmas episode of “Peg Plus Cat,” a pbs kids show about math. It is supposed to air on Wednesday the 17th. Peg is an awesome character who loves math. The songs are so catchy that we all sing them.
I would also recommend Meet Me in St Louis for this list although some grinchy folks don’t consider it a Christmas movie. Haha
Little Women! Any little house on the prairie specials!
Older kids might like Hogfather, Terry Pratchett’s Yule themed Discworld novel, adapted into a 4 hour British miniseries. The heroine is a no-no sense governess who dispatches real monsters from under the children’s beds. It’s mostly funny and has a lot of Christmas tropes in it, including a brilliant satirical department store Santa scene that’s my favorite thing in the entire Discworld. However, as is typical of Pratchett, the evil is also quite real, in a creepy character and some violence, so it’s probably not for anyone much under age 10.
I was never into Christmas films so I don’t have any in my collection.But today there was Call Me Claus with Whoopi Goldberg on TV.It was much better than I expected.
Hey I just spent hours reading your blog: awesome work! I wish I had found it sooner.
I was born in 1991 and only lately I have realized how many behaviors I picked up from the pinkification of girls that really started with my generation. I remember as a kid wanting to play with Action Man and cars and basket balls(!) and not having the courage to ask my parents.. I just wanted to blend in with society and so do all the millions of girls that decide they should play with barbies and make up rather than other toys.
And sure I know girls who did not comply and girls who complied way more than I did. At least I had my love for computers, while many of my female friends are completely clueless about them. My whole generation has been brainwashed into compliance. As a 15 year old I regarded Paris Hilton as a role model because she is a business woman. That’s how few my choices for female role models were.
I think the resistance with feminism of my generation has to do with a feeling of shame that comes with admitting we weren’t courageous enough to say ‘no’ and to choose for ourselves. That’s why so many girls and women millennials say they love heels and princesses. But at the end of the day kids should not have to say no to social engineering; there should just be no sexist social engineering. Marketers have figured out they can give girls and then women a sense of belonging like creating team colors and merchandise as for sport teams, and boys and men the same sense of belonging by virtue of being anything-but-pink, and we will defend them to death just like a sports fan, no matter how irrational and self-defeating.
Now by all this I don’t mean to victimize myself: I am a middle class white woman in the Western world and that makes me incredibly lucky. I am also confident that now that I have realized the short comings of my youth and how they influenced me, I can follow my passions right to the top and be a real role model for the women to come. I have always wanted to lead and I am not going to stop just because I finally was able to see the sexism in my world. If anything it will fuel me pass the hurdles.
But I think it is so important what you are doing because sexist roles in the children world create a mental blockade and self esteem issues (I am not even talking about body image- just the idea that a woman succeeding is the exception). How many girls out there are picking up make up instead of computers or science kits or cars because they are taught it’s the appropriate thing to do?
I was and am a rebel but many kids are not, so if it affected me in profound ways, what about those kids? how many of those girls see fashion as the only appropriate industry for them?
Again thank you for your work.
The world sucks but we can change it. And the biggest tool of sexism is letting us forget what we are capable of, even in a sexist world.
Thanks so much for your comment and I love your name!
Another recommendation: Max & Ruby’s Christmas (not really one long film – a set of 6 shorts, but 4 of the 6 are titled for Ruby, and the two bunnies star equally. It’s cute. 🙂
When I first read your question, Miracle on 34th Street is the first thing that came to mind. Not really a feminist movie, though it does star a professional woman who is also a divorcee. I suppose the guy who thinks he’s Santa is officially the protagonist, but in my memory a lot of it has to do with the skeptical little girl whom he wins over. She is also in all the promotional posters and whatnot.
Just this phrase kind of bums me out, shows how far we have to go: “though it does star a professional woman who is also a divorcee.” Can you imagine: “though it stars a professional man who is divorced”
No, but for a film made in 1947 that was pretty big. Note that, per wikipedia, “The movie was given a ‘B’ rating, signifying that it was morally objectionable in part, by the Catholic Legion of Decency for its portrayal of the mother as being divorced. The B category was eventually merged into the O category causing the movie to appear on the List of films Condemned by the Legion of Decency.”
Awww! Prancer was my favorite Christmas movie when I was young!!!
That’s great to hear, Ive never heard of it before today.
I’m not sure if this went through.
Not the 1999 live action version, though, which is about the newspaper man more than Virginia.
However, not the 1999 live action version, which is about the newspaper man, not Virginia.
Film: The House Without a Christmas Tree. Addie Mills is the protagonist, and she’s a very strong character. Her best friend, her grandmother, and her teacher are all prominent figures, as is her father.
Books: The Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett. Teeka, the female protag, is tasked with getting Santa’s reindeer ready to fly after they’ve been in the pasture (i.e. running wild) all summer. About half of the reindeer are female. You only see Santa at the end of the story, and he doesn’t really even have any lines. It’s wonderful! Jan Brett’s illustrations are amazing (as with all her books) – the reindeer look really authentic. I’ll plunder my bookshelf for more recommendations later, but that’s what came to mind offhand. 🙂
I just looked up House Without a Christmas Tree and I remember it frome when I was a kid (because of the girl) I love that movie. Thank you!
A nice Christmas movie my family and I watched this year on Netflix was “Christmas Angel” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2228450/?ref_=nv_sr_1
It’s not a fantasy with Santa, reindeer, and elves, but it does star a young female character with other great female and male characters. If there was anything sexist or racist in this movie I certainly didn’t pick any up, it was heart warming and sweet. The two main characters are female and fantastic, although younger kids may not find it as enjoyable because it’s not as magically exciting like some Christmas shows.
Just looked it up, and it actually looks like it has 2 women of color protags. Adding!
Olive the other reindeer
Great, adding thank you
I like the Eloise Christmas movie
Thank you, adding. I’m not a huge fan of Eloise but I do like the original book, and she is a female protag for use. Have you seen the movie?
I don’t watch a lot of Christmas movies as I’m not very religious and a lot of the movies tend to be made on the cheap so they end up being poorly written or acted or just crushingly sentimental and cliche-ridden. I think there are actually quite a few films with female characters about Christmas but they’re all Hallmark/ABC Family films and so most of them are romances. You’ll find a ton of them i you just search “Christmas” on Netflix. While I’m sure a good number of them would still be appropriate for a 10-year-old I don’t know if she’d find them interesting and I tend to find the gender dynamics problematic.
We watched Rudolph last night too, and I had forgotten just how sexist the language was, but since it was made in ’64, that’s not surprising. My husband pointed out that all the girl elves look alike. 😛 Trivia (via wikipedia): “old males’ antlers fall off in December, young males’ fall off in the early spring, and females’ fall off in the summer.” That means at Christmastime, if you see a mature antlered reindeer, it’s female.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of good suggestions. There was an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy where “Nancy Claus” was a vampire, and has a larger role in the episode than Santa. It’s entertaining, but not sure how young kid-appropriate the show is. (Personally, I think Mandy is awesome.)