I guess Disney was right to be so terrified of creating a strong, BRAVE, female protagonist (along with Pixar studios which hadn’t had ANY female protags before “Brave.”) It looks like Merida could be turning Disney’s franchise on it’s head. That’s pretty damn heroic.
Another mistake Disney made with “Brave?” They hired a female director. They fired her, but it was too late. Brenda Chapman wrote “Brave” based on her daughter. She was furious with the character’s transformation and wrote publicly about Disney’s terrible mistake.
That’s right: Although Merida was created by a woman as a role model for girls, the male-dominated consumer product division at Disney has ignored the character’s intended benefits for young girls, sexualizing her for profit. Compared with her film counterpart, this new Merida is slimmer and bustier. She wears makeup, and her hair’s characteristic wildness is gone: It has been volumized and restyled with a texture more traditionally “pretty.” Furthermore, she is missing her signature bow, arrow, and quiver; instead, she wears a fashionable sash around her sparkly, off-the-shoulder gown. (As Peggy Orenstein noted when she broke the news of the redesign, “Moms tell me all the time that their preschool daughters are pitching fits and destroying their t-shirts because ‘princesses don’t cover their shoulders.’” I’ve heard the same from parents, as well.)
Is the sexualized image of Merida gone for good? Has Disney learned a lesson? Or will that lesson be: No more strong female characters leading a film! No more female directors writing about their daughters! Keep the females weak and quiet!
Objectifying and sexualizing girls is dangerous. A first step to abuse is always dehumanizing the victim. Propaganda, in the form of images and narratives, effectively dehumanizes on a mass scale.
Images/ narratives of Jews circa 1938
Africans circa 1931
Females circa 2013
It’s easy to look back on history and wonder: How did people ever put up with that? I’d never buy into it, not to mention expose my child to it. But what are you participating in right now that is completely accepted, not to mention celebrated, by our culture?
Be part of the solution. Demand narratives with strong female characters for your kids.
Update: New Merida may be off Disney’s site but she’s showing up all over the place including Target. Below is Target’s web page.
Since his daughter, Princess Merida, made national headlines with her makeover– she’s skinnier with tamed curls, a new off the shoulder gown, and the belt that once held her quiver has morphed into a fashion sash– King Fergus wants to know: “Where’s my makeover?”
Fergus says, “It’s not fair. I’m the King! Why are princesses always the ones who get to look pretty? Some would call me fat, hairy, and I’m missing a leg for goodness sake. Where’s my stylist?” Throughout DunBroch, Fergus has posted these before and after pics of Merida:
Now, King Fergus wants to know: “Artists, what can you do for me?”
Before I write about Reel Girl’s pick of the week, I’ll come clean on two issues: I never do this feature once a week, and I have not read The Doll People in full. I have read enough to know the book is charming and stars no less than three adventurous female characters. My six year old daughter is obsessed with the book, and finished it without me. I just bought her the two sequels. I’m inspired to tell you about now, because I just looked at her book report and it looks like a report made for Reel Girl. Here it Alice’s homework verbatim, worksheet questions in bold.
Title: The Doll People
Author: Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin
How many pages? 256
Main characters? Anabelle, Tiffany, Auntie Sarah
The Best Part: is when they found Auntie Sarah. She was in the attic but her dress was stuck under a suite case. So Tiffany and Annabelle had to try to get her dress unstuck.
Did you enjoy the story? Yes
Why? Annabelle and Tiffany. They were brave a lot. They were very smart and read a lot of books.
Because I am one to judge a book by its cover, I probably wouldn’t have chosen this one. It’s about dolls and the one shown here has a pink skirt and a pink bow. This book came into our house because my older daughter’s friend, Calvin, gave it to her for her birthday when she was in first grade. I’m glad it found a way in past my prejudice.
What I love most about this book is that Auntie Sarah disappeared because she was so adventurous, she couldn’t stay safe, confined in her dollshouse home. Sarah’s niece, Annabelle, has the same spirit and this story is about how she gets the courage to follow her heart and how her family also comes to accept and admire her rebellious nature.
Based on Alice’s review along with sections I read, Reel Girl rates The Doll People ***HHH***
Someone commented on Reel Girl’s Facebook page: please note what age books are appropriate for. My daughter is almost seven. She loved it. It’s a chapter book. I think 6 – 10 would be ideal. Let me know if your kids have read it.
Women writers, have you ever been told that your female protagonist isn’t “likeable”? Ever been told that after you wrote an autobiographical novel? When my agent sent mine out, that was the response we got. The editors said, “Great writing, but that character, she’s not nice enough.” That response reminds me of strangers on the street, shouting out at me to me to smile. (I’m 44, when will that stop?) Author Ayelet Waldman said at a reading that she gets that same comment about likeability almost every time she writes. It was on Waldman’s Facebook page today that I saw this link to an excerpt from an interview with novelist Claire Messud in Publishers Weekly. Here’s to characters that are ALIVE.
I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim.
For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”
Intrigued and excited, I interviewed co-founder Carey Albertine.
Why did you create In This Together Media?
We started In This Together Media to publish better quality books for and
about girls– stories where the main character’s whole reason for being
isn’t to be kissed, or the other extreme, to be some kind of superchick. We
wanted to broaden the narrative possibilities, and that comes from more
layered, nuanced characters.
What is the mission of ITTM?
First and foremost, we publish GREAT stories. And we strive to show the
girls’ and women in our books– and their relationships with each other– in
an authentic way. Organizations like Miss Representation and The Geena Davis Institute are doing fantastic work to raise awareness on the issue of gender
representation in the media. We see our part as putting out better content.
How many books are available now?
We have three books out right now– Soccer Sisters: Lily Out of Bounds, Mrs.
Claus and the School of Christmas Spirit, and Playing Nice. We have another
10-15 in development for 2013-2014. Most are for Middle-Grade and Young
Adult audiences but we also have an Early Chapter book series in
Where can you buy them?
Both the print and digital versions are available on Amazon. Very soon, you
will be able to get them on all the major platforms. Plus, supporting local
libraries and independent bookstores is very important to us and we are
broadening our presence in both.
How are they selling?
We are thrilled (and humbled) by how well things are going so far. Soccer
Sisters is a middle-grade series that is catching on with soccer playing and
non-soccer playing readers alike. The author and the series’ spokesperson,
Brandi Chastain, were on The Today Show not long ago promoting the book and
we get emails regularly begging for the next installment. Mrs. Claus was
the #1 Christmas Kids’ Books on Amazon for most of December. And Playing
Nice has over 70 reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Teenagers love it but so
do 30 somethings who can relate to the travails of high school!
Do your books have a consistent theme or characteristics?
We like all kinds of stories from Adventure to Contemporary Fiction to
Fantasy. But I think the one thing that ties all of our books together,
besides the female characters, is humor. We like books and writers who make
How did you and your partner come up with the idea for he company? You both had several other jobs in media. Did your previous professional experience help you to see the need for ITTM and is ITTM your full time job now?
It all started when Saira asked me to meet up for drinks to discuss
conceiving of the next Dora the Explorer. Yes, we realize how hubristic
that must sound! One year and a thousand iterations later, In This Together
Media was born. It is hard to imagine anything more fun than sitting around
and coming up with stories with one of your oldest and dearest friends.
We’ve both had a few different careers on the way to figuring out what we
wanted to be when we grow up from stand-up comedienne to lawyer to
television news producer to published author. Strangely enough, these
different experiences have given us the tools we needed to be successful.
And being mothers hasn’t hurt either. We share a deep love for reading and
writing and stories.
Where do you see ITTM in 5 years? Do you plan to expand beyond books into TV, movies, toys, apps, clothing?
World domination. Just kidding. But seriously, we create stories that we
think can live and grow on a lot of different platforms. So, yes, we expect
to expand into movies and TV, toys and maybe things we can’t even dream
about today. We think BIG. We could definitely be accused of having
delusions of grandeur!
Do you see a lack of strong female protagonists in MG and YA books?
I think YA and MG books have more female protagonists than television or
movies. And there are great examples of interesting, strong girls in some of
these books. But I am troubled by the YA trend of innocent naif meets
worldy-beyond-his-years young man made famous by a certain Vampire series. I
don’t think Romance has to be THE driving plot of every YA book. I also find
that the way female relationships are portrayed is not authentic to my own
experience. I have met few mean girls– mostly, my friends have been the
most important support system in my life. We don’t want to whitewash or show
perfect girls and relationships. We just want them to feel real.
I love this question and response from your site: “Do I have to be a girl to read your books or a woman to write with/for you? Absolutely not! Our stories are compelling thrill rides that appeal to girls and boys alike. And we welcome writers with a Y Chromosome to join our team.” One challenge with the “girl empowerment” community, on line and elsewhere, is that many parents assume it’s not about boys at all. But until parents read their sons books with girls and take them to movies aboutgirls, gender segregation will continue and so will stereotyping, along with myths that girls will watch movies about boys but boys won’t watch movies about girls etc. How do you market ITTM and what is your plan, if any, to deal with the gender segregation challenge so intensely aimed at kids today?
Thank you thank you for bringing this up! It is very important to us to
challenge this notion that boys are not interested in stories about girls.
How absurd! It would be a sad world if half the population is not interested
in the other half. We refuse to accept it. My son loves “boy” stuff but also
adores My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake. We hope we can help
dismantle the whole notion of “girl” stuff and “boy” stuff.
What are your favorite YA and MG books?
The classics– Roald Dahl and Madeleine L’Engle for Middle-Grade. “Proud
Taste of Scarlet and Miniver” by E.L. Konigsberg was one of my favorite
books as a girl. And Rick Riordan and the Percy Jackson series deserves
every bit of accolades it has received– so good! We have a book club of 4th
and 5th graders and they tell me what to read. They are on top of it. I just
started S.S. Taylor’s “The Expenditioners” and it is great. For Young Adult,
I am about to start “The Fault in Our Stars”. John Green is the man.
When Tavi Gevinson was 11 years old, she founded the fashion blog, Style Rookie. Soon Style Rookie was drawing 30,000 visitors a day, got featured in the New York Times, and Gevinson was invited to Fashion Week.
Gevinson started blogging because, she was trying to “reconcile all these differences that you are told you can’t be when you’re growing up as a girl. You can’t be smart and pretty. You can’t be a feminist who is also interested in fashion. You can’t care about clothes if it’s not for the sake of what other people, usually men, will think of you.”
I am so impressed that a pre-teen had the courage to express herself like this. Wow. Her words hit the nail on the head, too. I am so psyched that she calls out the smart or pretty choice foisted on girls and women. It’s bullshit, just a way to keep females down and frightened of power, and teen girls need to know that.
Three years after creating Style Rookie, Gevinson decided to move on from fashion, founding a new feminist site for teen girls, Rookie Magazine, featuring content almost entirely by them.
Gevinson introduced her venture in a TED talk. She begins with the words: “I am a feminist.” Take that Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Gevinson’s talk is awesome and focused on the theme of female characters in TV and movies. She says that her generation sees few female characters to admire.
“We get these two dimensional superwomen who maybe have one quality that’s played up a lot, like, you know, a Catwoman type who plays up her sexuality a lot and it’s seen as power. But they’re not strong characters who happen to be female, they’re completely flat and they’re basically cardboard characters. The problem with this is is that then people expect women to be that easy to understand… In actuality, women are complicated. Women are multifaceted. Not because women are crazy, but because people are crazy and women happen to be people.”
First grade is amazing. My six year old daughter, Alice, began this school year slowly sounding out words in picture books. Now, she saves those to read aloud to her enraptured little sister and then reads Harry Potter to herself.
That said, after spending her entire life in picture books, Alice was tentative to make the transition to chapter books. It wasn’t about skill but familiarity. Here’s the good and the bad history in books of how she did it:
Rainbow Magic Series ***S***
This was the first chapter book my daughter picked up. I thought I purged the house after my older one grew out of this series, but apparently I did not.
There are so many damn books in this series that I missed about 10. How did my older daughter acquire so many? All I can say is it happened before I knew better. Generally, I don’t forbid books. I may roll my eyes at a selection. I did refuse to let my eight year old read Twilight but mostly, I “highly encourage” books that I think would be great for them, and they would love and try to ignore the rest. So what did my six year old daughter do when I told her for one too many times she was ready to start chapter books? She picked up Lucy, the Diamond Fairy and brought it to be, beaming, knowing I would cringe. I caved. She read.
To learn more about how and why I hate this series and a few things that are OK about it, read here.
Junie B. Jones ***HH***
I’m not a fan of Junie B. either. She is super annoying and talks baby talk. I hate baby talk.
But the print is big, the stories are simple, and my daughter felt accomplished finishing the book. Parts of it are funny. Alice liked it okay. And, I’d rather her read about a brat than a navel baring Fairy who goes on about her outfit for pages. My daughter got through three of this series and then she went on to…
Judy Moody ***HH***
Judy Moody has a similar lay out of print size, book length, and illustration as Junie B.
I like Judy more than Junie. Thankfully, so does my daughter. I was kind of bored by these books, I like more drama. Alice also read a couple and then moved on to…
Magic Tree House ***HH***
If your new reader likes Magic Tree House, you’re in luck. There are so many of these books, and the kids always travel to a different place and time.
There is a lot of history woven into the stories, and of course, magic. I like these books a lot, though being me, it does bum me out that it is always “Jack and Annie” and never “Annie and Jack.” I mean, we’re talking hundreds of stories, can’t the girl come first at least half the time? When my older daughter got into this series, I was overjoyed and blogged about it here.
Ramona the Pest ***HHH***
I love Ramona.
The writing is great and the characters are awesome. This series is a jump from the previous 4: smaller print, longer, and more complex, IMO.
I think the only think I don’t like about this series is that Ramona thinks her brown hair and brown eyes are boring. If this was one book of many that had that theme, I wouldn’t have an issue, but dark haired girls don’t fare well in children’s media, from Rapunzel who literally loses her magic and power when her hair turns brown, to Ramona. Alice has two blue-eyed, blonde sisters, so its even more of a bummer to read about how Ramona is obsessed with other peoples hair. And no, it’s not something my daughter relates to, because she’s never felt like there is anything less good about brown hair. So that’s my tirade about hair. Otherwise, great series, read what I wrote about it here.
The Magic Half **HHH***
After Ramona, my daughter made the jump to The Magic Half.
This is a full on next level book and she plowed through it. I did not read it, but here is the synopsis from Amazon:
Miri is the non-twin child in a family with two sets of them–older brothers and younger sisters. The family has just moved to an old farmhouse in a new town, where the only good thing seems to be Miri’s ten-sided attic bedroom. But when Miri gets sent to her room after accidentally bashing her big brother on the head with a shovel, she finds herself in the same room . . . only not quite.
Without meaning to, she has found a way to travel back in time to 1935 where she discovers Molly, a girl her own age very much in need of a loving family. A highly satisfying classic-in-the-making full of spine-tingling moments, this is a delightful time-travel novel for the whole family.
Based on the rec of Alice and Lucy, I rated it 3 Hs
And that brings us to…
Harry Potter, the Sorcerer’s Stone ***H***
YAY. If you want to know how I feel about the series, begin here. My daughter loves the book so far, especially the way Hagrid talks.
My sister, Kim Magowan, has an excellent short story in the Gettysburg Review. “Nothing In My Mouth” follows a young woman in Amsterdam who tries to redeem herself after making a heartbreaking mistake. Order the Winter issue here.