Why ’13 Reasons Why’ is Vital to a Teenage Girl

Clarissa Bird is a high school junior from Austin, Texas who is frustrated by the lack of female protagonists in the media and annoyed by the negative reaction from teens and adults to ’13 Reasons Why.’ She wrote this post defending the show for Reel Girl.

It’s not hard to find a reason to hate the show “13 Reasons Why.” I’ve gotten lengthy emails from my school principal and counselor on how dangerous the show is without proper adult supervision. I’ve had a friend tell me her parents wouldn’t let her watch the show after reading an article on how it glamorizes and simplifies suicide. I’ve seen the headlines on how the show neglects the underlying causes of self-harm and how the entire plot is driven by petty teen drama. And to an extent, all of these reactions are valid. The show has major faults ranging from the over-the-top stunning actors who are just a little too hunky to play teenagers to the unbelievable teen fantasy of getting a new car for homecoming to more serious issues like subtle victim shaming and simplification of a female protagonist.


But for all of its missteps, there is something about watching one of the main characters, Clay, roll around on his crummy bike trying to uncover Hannah’s story that had my eyes glued to the screen. There was some innate pleasure I took from watching this tragic, teenage girl’s life spiral out of control as love interests and friends continually pulled the rug out from under her. In fact I liked it so much I watched all 13 episodes.

But, upon hearing people in my math class condemn the show and all those who enjoyed it, I seriously started to wonder what the heck was wrong with me for watching it. I never even seriously considered how horrible the show was before hearing classmates rail on it. Am I a terrible, selfish, psychopath because I liked this show about teen suicide? Was I really that ignorant about mental health and suicide that I thought this girl’s actions weren’t so irrational? What made this show that turned my once down to earth, sensible, classmates into condescending, drama critics so addicting to me?

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Hannah Baker’s relationship with her parents

Although the show is criticized for the fact that Hannah’s parents seem to be completely out of touch with their own daughter’s mental state, I found their relationship to be refreshingly relatable and not too far off base. One of my friends said that her main problem with their relationship was that the parents weren’t supportive enough, but it’s hard to support someone when they’re not really telling the whole truth. In “13 Reasons Why,” Hannah faces the familiar question of how much she’s really supposed to be sharing with her parents. Most high schoolers, including myself, tend to bend the truth or offer vague explanations in an attempt to satisfy the endless stream of parental inquiries. It’s a natural part of growing up to become more independent and this includes becoming more secretive and maybe not telling my parents exactly where I was last Saturday night or why I spend so much time “out with friends”.

A girl’s reality

“13 Reasons Why” does a great job of exposing all too common high school boy’s behaviors such as sharing non-consensual photos, objectifying girls through “best” and “worst” lists, and harassing and sometimes even assaulting girls. I loved watching it for this exact reason and from the moment I heard about the show I was excited to finally have a complicated, raw view of the teenage girl. As an audience we feel bad for Hannah when Justin shares intimate photos leading students to believe he had sex with her. We feel worse for Hannah when she kisses her friend on a dare and the rumor spreads she’s bisexual. We feel the deepest, gut-wrenching pain for Hannah when she’s raped. However, the show also reveals its moral universe as somewhere that Hannah’s rape can be labelled “worse” than her friend’s rape by the same boy, because in Hannah’s case she wasn’t drinking, smoking or flirting with the guy. And although I enjoyed the realistic portrait of a girl who can’t and won’t be pinned down or labelled as one thing, I was frustrated by Clay’s simplification of Hannah. He ultimately sees her as the victim of the school’s jocks, stalkers and petty girls and continually boxes her into the wholesome, girl-next-door character trope.

Inseparable from own life

One thing this show does painstakingly well is define a clear chain of events that leads to Hannah Baker taking her own life. From the first episode of the show, Hannah is portrayed as a normal, highschool girl who just wants to fit in at a new school. Although I knew the show ended with her suicide, I couldn’t help but root for Hannah hoping that maybe there was a twist ending and she was somehow alive. But, by the final episode I was in the same mental state as Hannah which I think is the major red flag for most people because the show seems to simplify suicide and blame other people for an ultimately self-inflicted act. I understood why Hannah couldn’t see a way to keep going. I could trace back all the horrible things that had contributed to Hannah’s current state from her being called the school slut, to her friends deserting her, to her going to a party and seeing her friend get raped, and later being raped herself. If this could all happen to the sweet, naive, painfully trusting girl then it could really happen to anyone. This contradicts the standard that only mentally ill people commit suicide and instead offers up the idea that maybe our own actions have a long-lasting result on other people’s mental state.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clay’s revenge

In “13 Reasons Why” we hear Hannah’s thirteen tapes through her charmingly innocent friend and love interest, Clay. Devastated, confused and overwhelmed by Hannah’s suicide, Clay listens to each tape and stews in the wrongdoings of his classmates. His anger gets the best of him in several scenes, like when he confronts Hannah’s stalker and when he gets in fights with the school jocks for tormenting and harassing Hannah. I couldn’t help but cheer as Clay brought justice to each perpetrator and I completely lost it when Clay went to Bryce’s (Hannah’s rapist) house to sneakily work a confession out of him. Episode to episode I couldn’t wait to see what Clay did next to somehow try and avenge Hannah’s death.

Answers

Ultimately, the main reason anyone picks up the show is try to figure why this girl killed herself. This show attempts to answer a question that may be impossible to answer over why anyone commits suicide. “13 Reasons Why” does this to the best of it abilities and although it has caused mass controversy, the show answers the burning question. Similar to murder mysteries like “Twin Peaks,” each episode clues the audience in on what really happened to Laura Palmer or in “13 Reasons Why,” why Hannah kills herself. While there’s a million problems with how the show portrays mental illness, female protagonists and suicide, I’ve got to admit every episode left me on the edge of my seat wanting more. It tells us that all these moments of Hannah finding out she has a stalker to being deserted by her best friends to being labelled as “easy” by every guy in school have led to her final decision to end her life. The show sucks you in by promising a concrete cause for suicide but the answer it gives seems simplistic, threatening and too widely applicable. Probably the biggest reason people have gotten so up in arms against the show is due the fact that they couldn’t help but watch the entire thing. I may be a drama-hungry teenager obsessed with answering every question I can, but it seems to me so is everyone else who watched the show no matter if they loved or hated it.

Are you on Team Pussy or Team Trump? Show your support and get a shirt!

“I will totally accept the results… if I win,” Donald Trump told a cheering crowd, reaching a new misogynistic low. Yes, it keeps being possible. By questioning the legitimacy of any victory but his own, Trump acts as if the glass ceiling Hillary Clinton busted just by being the nominee was somehow rigged for her all along.

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Like many of you, I feel stunned and sickened watching our country race backwards under the rubric “make America great again.” From #Repealthe19th (a sentiment you can only call fringe if Trump is fringe) to his hopes for mass deportation (“we have some bad hombres here and we need to get them out”) Trump’s effort to whip his angry, white, male voters into such a frenzy, they’ll stampede to the polls, terrifies me.

Team Pussy is a movement to get out the vote. It was created to mobilize and inspire women and men, young and old, to show up at the polls on November 8 to support women’s rights, that is human rights. Team Pussy comes at a unique moment in history. We’re on the verge of electing America’s first female president, a candidate who has worked tirelessly for thirty years to support women’s rights. Even Trump concedes she’s a fighter. We’re also in the midst of a national conversation about pussy. And it’s conversation that hasn’t always gone the way I’d like it to.

When the video leaked where Trump bragged to Billy Bush about grabbing women, pundits and politicians seemed more offended by the word “pussy” than “grab.” Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who’ve spent careers blocking or dismantling policies that empower women (reproductive rights, paid family leave, coverage for contraception, higher minimum wage, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) reacted to Trump’s “vulgarity “or “lewdness” while taking no action to stop sexual assaults.

On CNN, when Ana Navarro quoted Trump, noted his misogyny, and demanded Republicans do more for women, Trump apologist Scottie Nell Hughes responded: “Will you please stop saying that word? My daughter is listening.”

Pussy isn’t the problem, it’s the solution. By shining a spotlight on sexism in the USA, Trump has done this country a warped kind of service. His personal, overt disdain for women is exposing America’s national, covert disdain. Misogyny is so ubiquitous in our country that, ironically, it’s become invisible to so many citizens; it’s so normal and reflexive that we’re lulled into colluding with a system of sexism we hardly notice anymore. Don’t look away now. Instead, let’s ignore Scottie Nell Hughes and talk about pussy.

I first researched and wrote about “pussy” in 2001 after a male friend used the word to insult a guy who backed out of a business deal. Of course, I’d heard it before, possibly said it myself, but suddenly, it struck me as wrong to use it to imply cowardice or ineffectiveness. Why must we equate weakness with the female sex organ?  Why have we for so long?

On Salon, I wrote:

I began to wonder how one — how we — might take the wussy out of pussy.

Is it possible to change the meaning of the word, to restore to “pussy” its deserved glory? Could we use pussy as a compliment? Could pussy denote someone or something as cool or heroic or impressive? “Rosa Parks — what a pussy!”…

Pussy has so much potential, it’s a shame to limit it to the immature and derisive mocking of weak boys. Let’s give it a shot in the arm! I envision hit songs featuring “pussy” — “Who Let the Pussies Out?” or “The Real Slim Pussy” or “The Real Shady Pussy.” Hallmark-type cards that read “Thanks for being such a pussy!” Colloquial expressions: “You da pussy!” “Stand up and fight like a pussy!”…

And when, and if, Joe consummates his next business deal, I’ll be there to toast him, saying, “You’re so pussy.”

Flattered, he’ll smile.

I wrote the post before social media and “going viral” were phrases we all used, but I created a bunch of “Team Pussy” T shirts  (at that time, just black with “Team Pussy” written in pink cursive) which sold out through my email in a few days. Though I was passionate about Team Pussy, I didn’t have the time or resources to dedicate to it, so I went on with life, trying to interject the word when I could. Fast forward to Trump’s video. People on social media started messaging me they were wearing their shirts or looking for their shirts. And then I watched the last debate and heard Trump asked if he would accept the results of the election, and heard him reply “I will look at it at the time.”

Let’s give the guy something to look at.The sides are so clear. You’re either on Team Pussy or Team Trump. Here’s a chance to make your choice loud and proud and inspire everyone who sees you. All merchandise features our cat and is available at our Team Pussy shop.  Our favorite shirt looks just like the art posted here. Its reverse sides reads: “Vote Nov 8.” All shirts are high quality, 100% cotton with a navy blue background and come in fitted or straight cut. We also have gorgeous, durable white totes with red handles showing the same art and “I’m with her” on the reverse side. The T shirt with just the cat will be available soon. I saved 4 XL vintage “Team Pussy” shirts from 2001 and I’m making those available now at the store.

Feel free to use our Team Pussy art as your profile pic which we urge you to do at least until November 8! This image below is sized perfectly for your Twitter profile. Suggested intro Tweet: “Joined #TeamPussy to GOTV on Nov. 8. I’m with her.”

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If you see a news story about someone doing something brave or cool, for example as Ijust did: Salma Hayek Claims Trump Leaked a False Story After Turning Him Down, then Tweet the story: “Salma Hayek is so pussy! #TeamPussy.” Nominate a #Pussyoftheday or give a shout out to one of your evergreen favorites: “Jessica Jones is so pussy! #GoTeamPussy.”

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For Instagram, here’s art sized perfectly if you want to switch up your profile pic.

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Post photos of you wearing #TeamPussy gear and our goal is to send you a free button or magnet once we get those in.

Our Team Pussy cat is worn out and pissed off, but she’s a fighter. She’s going to be out there every day with all of you, working hard to make sure Hillary Clinton wins big on November 8 with results that even Donald Trump won’t dare contest. Please join her. Thanks, pussies! Go team!

Follow #TeamPussy on Instagram @team.pussies.unite and Twitter @Pussiesvote

Visit our Team Pussy store now!

Can’t wait til November 8!!!!!!!!

 

Join artist-warriors at the Bay Area Book Festival June 4 – 5

Are you coming to the Bay Area Book Festival June 4 – 5?

Here’s the poster my 9 year old daughter’s cartooning teacher, Aaron Southerland, made for the event. I love how it shows my daughter, her best friend, and her teacher wielding writing tools instead of weapons, because, truly, when it comes to changing the world, is there anything more powerful than art?

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To learn more about Alice’s book or to buy it click here.

Sick of sexism in cartoons? Inspiring course teaches girls to create and publish comics

 

In revolutionary new ad, Target shows girls and boys playing “Star Wars” together

Just weeks after getting rid of gender-segregated toy aisles, Target put out an inspiring new ad showing girl and boy “Star Wars” fans playing together. Check it out.

YAY Target! THANK YOU. I did all of my back to school shopping at your store and will continue to shop the hell out of your chain whenever I need supplies for my children. I’ve got to admit, part of me can’t believe this blog post has to be written at all, that I feel the need to congratulate Target and express my gratitude, that my headline isn’t satire that belongs on The Onion. But sadly, as the mom of 3 daughters, I speak from endless personal experience of the rampant sexism in kidworld where gender equality is hardly allowed to exist even in our imaginations. Here’s a video where my youngest child, like many kids in America, was teased at preschool for wearing “boy shoes” in her case, “Star Wars” sneakers.

It’s kids like her who Target is helping now, because in spite of my daughter’s promise to keep wearing those shoes, and in spite of having a feminist mom, she was “choosing” “gender appropriate” footwear by kindergarten.

In May, I went on Fox News to support Amazon’s similar decision to drop gender categories from its toys. After I was intro-ed by an annoying gender police siren, I was told, as I’m so often told, that children just “pick “the toys they want. I’ve been repeatedly “informed” that girls are just born obsessed with how they look while boys who are denied toy weapons will bite their toast into the shapes of guns. That’s just how we are. As I told Fox News, in nicer words, we don’t have a fucking clue how we are.  Our brains are wired up based on actions we engage in, and these connections are never made more rapidly or elaborately than when we’re little kids. Why wouldn’t we want to expose our children to more stories, more experiences, more colors than pink?

When we live in a world dominated by sexist mass marketing, driven by male dominated narratives from the Bible to most of Hollywood’s movies to “great” literature and art mostly by men, where men and boys create and star the shows while females, if they exist at all, are usually sexualized and on the sidelines, there isn’t much free choice, especially not for kids. Women are half of the human population but make up just 15% of protagonists in Hollywood movies, 29% of all major characters, and 30% of all speaking characters. Outlets that sell toys like Target or Amazon still have a major stumbling block: Girls and women gone missing from most of the epics being marketed. We’ve got a long road ahead to create gender equality in the fantasy world and in the real one. I commend Target and Amazon on the important steps taken so far. I look forward to witnessing many more and hopefully the great day when Reel Girl becomes obsolete.

Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2014

See Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013

Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2012

Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2011

‘Inside Out’ and the brilliance of our emotions

Proceed immediately to the theater and go see “Inside Out” even if you have no children. Pixar’s latest may be my favorite animated movie EVER. Powerful female protagonist CHECK. Complex female characters in supporting roles CHECK meaning “Inside Out” does NOT feature Minority Feisty!!!! Spectacular animation and compelling story telling CHECK and CHECK.

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I am not alone in loving “Inside Out.” I don’t think I’ve read a negative review. My daughters and I had fascinating conversations after the movie: My six year old said she was Joy and my eight year old picked Disgust to describe herself. They talked about which emotions their friends are and different members of their family. But then they also had a talk about how they are– and all people are– all of the emotions. Other emotions personified in the movie are Sadness, Anger, and Fear. My kids talked about what emotions they didn’t see in the story– Embarrassment and Meditation which I interpreted as Serenity or Calm. We talked about which emotions branch off of others, and that all emotions need to be valued and felt which happens to be the point of the movie. That conversation began in the  backseat of the car going home and is still going on today.

Riley, the star and the setting for the movie (most of it takes place in her head) is an 11 year ice hockey star from Minnesota who moves to San Francisco. I appreciated the depiction of the city, where I happen to live, as foggy-gloomy and infested with broccoli covered pizza. While I have grown to love my home, I understood Riley’s experience of it as gray and depressing. I totally had those moments as a kid and still do. Riley longs for seasons that included snow. Depicting Riley as an ice hockey fan not only highlighted her aggression, joy, and skill but cleverly showed how alienated she feels in California. There is another (another!) cool female character in the movie, Riley’s BFF from home.

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The two emotions with the biggest parts in the film– Joy and Sadness– are also female. Disgust is female too. Riley’s mom is also an ice hockey fan and player, though they do make the move for the busy dad’s job.

Amy Poehler who plays Joy said she was proud to be in this movie and that it makes the world a better place. I agree.

Reel Girl rates “Inside Out” ***HHH***

‘Tomorrowland’ inspiring and feminist, take your kids to this movie!

“Tomorrowland” stars not one, but two, brilliant female characters supported by (yes, supported by) the fabulous George Clooney. Frank Walker, the innovator played by Clooney, admires, respects, and loves these girls, Athena and Casey. Casey (played by Britt Robertson) is the scientist-dreamer who saves the world, but not before Athena (played by Raffey Cassidy) recruits and saves her in multiple bad-ass scenes. Just watching Athena drive the getaway truck is awesome.

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“Tomorrowland” is the movie I’ve been waiting for, the narrative I’ve been dying to show to my kids. Not only is it feminist, beyond featuring only one strong female character (the typical Minority Feisty scenario) but Casey, the protagonist, is “special” not just because of her extreme intelligence but because she’s a dreamer. Casey sees the potential for the world to be different than it is. Her courage to be optimistic, to use her world view to change the future, is depicted in multiple ways that children can easily understand. In the beginning of the movie, when Casey is arguing with her father who is worried about losing his job and becoming useless, she tells him a story he always tells her: There are two wolves who are fighting. One wolf is darkness and despair, the other wolf is light and hope. “Who wins?” Casey asks her father. He answers, “The one you feed.” At which point in the movie, I elbowed my middle daughter whose go to response when I ask her to try something new is usually: “I can’t do it. ” She will then repeat that phrase about ten times as she tries (or stops trying) to throw a bean bag into a hole, or whatever the task may be. I always tell her, “Say you can, your body believes what it hears,” and she rolls her eyes. But watching “Tomorrowland” she understood what I’ve tried to teach her, and that is seriously worth the $10 I paid for her ticket. I am totally getting her the Casey action figure. (That hat Casey is wearing is RED though it looks a little pink in this photo and the emblem reads “NASA.”)

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I don’t want to spoil the movie, because you must see it and you must take your kids– but I will say I looked at the narrative as a metaphor for gender equality. The message of the movie is: If you can’t imagine it, you can’t create it. It’s really a story about the power of imagination to transform who you are and the world you live in. The evil in the film is not so much a villain but pessimism and cynicism, the idea that everything, if not already known, is knowable. One of the ways the skepticism is communicated is by broadcasting  narratives– images of starvation, drought, the world exploding, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is exactly what I believe happens with girls and boys in the world today– we show them stories and toys about how different genders are, re-create sexism, and call it “natural” and fixed.

Another thing I really liked about the movie is that Casey and Athena are never put down for being girls. Sexism is not something they must overcome. In this movie, sexism doesn’t exist, my kids just got to see girls be strong and brave. I’ve blogged a lot that I obviously understand why the story of seeing a girl fight against sexism– whether its dressing up as a boy i.e. “Mulan” or giving a lecture i.e. Colette in “Ratatouille”– is important, but I’d like kids to experience an imaginary world, much more often, where gender equality exists.

I didn’t know “Tomorrowland”  would feature two incredible female characters. I saw the preview, where Casey picks up a pin that transports her to another world, but I knew nothing of Athena. It is truly rare to see two girls dominate the screen as these characters do. So why didn’t I know “Tomorrowland” would be so special? Today, before we saw the movie, I took this pic as we entered the Metreon and Tweeted:

Thought ‘Tomorrowland’ had a female protagonist so why are my 3 daughters the only girls in this picture?

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I am SO sick of this bullshit sexist advertising, but this is why I created Reel Girl, so I could tell you to take your kids to this inspiring, feminist movie.

Reel Girl rates Tomorrowland ***HHH***

 

Tucker Carlson, Jerry Garcia, and me

After I was on Fox News Saturday morning to discuss Amazon dropping its girl/ boy filters for toys and gameshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8E0WegL8asmany of you asked me about Tucker Carlson’s intro of me as his high school classmate. (I can’t figure out how to embed the video here, so if you’re more tech saavy than me, please post the link.)

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Yes, it’s true! Tucker and I went the same boarding school, though I was expelled sophomore year. Tucker, on the other hand, went on to marry the headmaster’s daughter in the school chapel.

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Here’s a blurry pic from the 80’s at a Grateful Dead show. I’m in the front and Tucker is to the left wearing glasses. Jerry Garcia, young, skinny, and two dimensional, is a cardboard cut out.

I don’t know if Tucker was better behaved than me at St. George’s –I was suspended for smoking a cigarette in the dorm and then kicked out the following year for drinking alcohol— or if he, like a lot of boarding school kids who made it to graduation, was just more skilled at appearing to following all those rules (including, for boys, wearing a tie daily.)

If you watch the  Fox video, you can see I vehemently disagree with Tucker on Amazon’s decision– and most issues along with probably all of the other hosts on Fox News. Still, at least the network had me on to speak. I got a national platform to address about an issue I care about which is more than CNN or MSNBC has offered me recently.

I’ll leave one with one more nugget of prep school trivia. Julie Bowen, then known as Julie Luetkemeyer, the actress from “Modern Family” (and from kidworld “Planes: Fire and Rescue”) was in our class as well. As brilliant and beautiful then as now, she was probably the smartest kid in our class.

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Finally, I didn’t get a chance to mention it in the 3.5 minutes I was on TV, but Amazon didn’t fully drop its filters. Read the details in my update on sexism at Amazon here.

 

 

 

Berkeley High students, and their moms, launch campaign to stop school sexual harassment

After male students at Berkeley High started “slut accounts” on Instagram, featuring photos of their female classmates along with misogynistic captions, they were suspended. A group of students felt this punishment was a pretty useless way to deal with the systemic sexism they encounter every day at school. These girls took action, creating T-shirts that read “Stop blaming my body for your harassment” and raising money on a GoFundMe page. So far, they’ve collected over $5,000. They hope to fund education and training for students, teachers, and administrators on sexual harassment and how to stop it.

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Students were pushed into action by clueless administrators who held a series of assemblies on harassment that focused on how female students were dressed. Girls were actually warned to think about whether their mothers would allow them to leave the house wearing a certain outfit. But these Berkeley moms were not the type who schooled their daughters on how not to look “cheap” (as opposed to expensive?) or “fast” or “loose.” Refusing to pass sexism on to their kids, the mothers did get pissed at the school. Two of them, Heidi Goldstein and Rebecca Levenson, who is also policy analyst working to stop sexual violence with the nonprofit Futures Without Violence, wrote an op-ed for the Berkeleyside, laying out their daughters rights. Berkeleyside reports:

The student group plans eventually to challenge what they understand to be violations of Title IX. This includes reactive versus preventive measures, insufficient security, unsatisfactory long-term protection for assault survivors, as well as a lack of staff training.

 

Training is obviously desperately needed. When the slut pages came out, the security guards didn’t seem to get it at all. Sami Kuderna-Reeve, a senior and target of the slut accounts told Berkeleyside:

“It was all male security guards and all male police officers, and to a certain degree they can’t understand or relate,” Kuderna-Reeves said. “They were trying to help but what they kept getting at was, ‘Well is that true? Did you do blank?’”

 

While administrators are still slow to respond, teachers say they would like training on how to handle situations where students are sexually harassed and to give students guidance on how to handle those issues as well. History teacher Hasmig Minassian tells Berkeleyside she’d like to know “how to help adolescents navigate some pretty tumultuous social dynamics.” Right now, teachers at Berkeley High– and most high schools across the country– get no training in how to help kids in this area. It is shocking to me that students and their moms need to be the ones to get funding to teach administrators what to do about sexual harassment in schools. Part of these kids’s motivation for acting now is that they believe the measures finally being taken to stop sexual assaults on college campuses nationally are happening way too late in students’ lives. I could not agree more.

Maya Siskin-Lavine, a junior, tells Berkeleyside: “One of our main goals is to teach people. I know for a fact that a lot of the guys that I respect as my peers just don’t know that a lot of things are sexual harassment. They think catcalling is flattering and that what I wear should affect how guys treat me.”

I am so impressed with these girls and their mothers. I would love to see more moms speak out loudly and publicly for their daughters rights.

I just donated to this awesome campaign, and I hope that you do as well.

‘Letter to Momo’ is a girl-centered masterpiece

Yesterday, two of my kids, ages 11 and 8, and I saw the new animated movie by Hiroyuki Okiura, “Letter to Momo.” From the first scene to the last, we were riveted by the gorgeous animation and the fantastical story about how a young girl finds her courage.

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When the movie opens, Momo’s father has just died in a boating accident, and she moves with her mother from Tokyo to a small village. Lonely, frightened, and displaced, Momo tries to cope with solitude while her mother spends her days in seminars training to be a caretaker so that she can be the breadwinner for the family. It is during these long days alone that Momo encounters three creepy, terrifying, and constantly starving goblins. These three creatures who only Momo can see play a key role in the story, and what I loved about them is that they are not cute, but grotesque. As Momo comes to love them, so do we. It is a rare and special narrative– and the polar opposite of Disney, not to mention Roald Dahl– where “ugly” beings are not only good, but also become beautiful to the viewer. This alone, is a crucial lesson for kids, and I was so happy my kids experienced it. My only complaint about them is that all three goblins are male.

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The last few scenes of the movie are so stunning, I got chills. At one part, thousands of creatures create a tunnel out of their bodies to protect Momo. In another scene, the villagers set straw boats with lanterns out onto the sea. There are several thunderstorm scenes where the animation of the rain and lightning is mesmerizing. I read that “Momo” took seven years to make and that does not surprise me at all. I love Momo’s look too, her expressive eyes and messy hair, though she’s almost always in pink which I found kind of annoying.

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Still, Momo is not a Minority Feisty. There are female characters throughout the story. Momo’s mother and great grandmother are main characters, and so is another young girl, Umi who  is the only other character also able to see the goblins. Umi’s older brother, Yota, hangs out with a gang of kids that includes a girl and Momo becomes good friends with him, no romance.

I almost didn’t see this movie. It was not on my radar at all, and not only am I obsessed with children’s media, I am a huge fan of Hiyao Miyazaki to the point that I actually cried when I heard he was retiring. Yet, “Letter to Momo” did not make it on Reel Girl’s annual list of children’s movies coming out in 2014. The only reason I heard of “Momo” is because when I picked my daughter up at school on Friday, we went to get her a bagel, and while she was gobbling it up, I perused the left over free local newspaper. There, I saw the picture of a girl–a girl!– and then read the review. The next day I packed two kids in the car, planning to have my husband drop off the third. That was when I discovered the movie had subtitles. Never have my kids sat through or even attempted to sit through subtitles. I was also nervous because once I learned about the movie, I read a few reviews that it is bloated, should have been 20 minutes, and needs an editor. Though I sent the 5 year old home with her dad because she can’t read, the two older ones and I proceeded to the theater, an art house with a screen not much bigger than a TV. But my American kids who get way too bored way too easily IMO, could not disagree more with those reviewers. They did not even finish their popcorn. I can’t imagine one scene being cut. There is a dubbed version out too, and I’m going to take my 5 year old back to see that one.

Reel Girl rates “Letter to Momo” ***HHH***