‘Catching Fire’ torches Hollywood’s gender stereotypes

I could not have loved ‘Catching Fire’ more. It’s even better than ‘Hunger Games.’ I want to see this movie again, and I never see a movie a second time when it’s still in theaters. It’s that good.


I saw ‘Catching Fire’ yesterday with my 10 year old daughter at an IMAX. I’ve never been to an IMAX before, and I felt like I was in the movie. I was stunned by the whole thing. In this installment, all the characters get more depth including two-dimensional ones from Part One like Effie, Katiniss’s mom, and Prim. It was great to see Prim grow up and use her medical skills in a crisis and also, fascinating to see Effie finally getting that the Capitol is evil.


The deadly arena design is one of my favorite parts of Catching Fire, and the movie’s rendition of it does not disappoint. My favorite scene was watching the poisonous fog creep towards Katniss. It’s hypnotizing and terrifying and gorgeous.

There are so many great female characters in ‘Catching Fire.’ Besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, tributes include Mags, who is older and courageous, Wiress, a tech-wizard, and Joanna, who is even angrier than Katniss.


Watching Joanna and Katniss walk off together, two skilled warriors, I felt like I was viewing something revolutionary in film. I was thrilled that my daughter got to witness this scene as well.



Even details of this movie, like the male tributes and the female tributes wear the same costume, black and gray– no frills, exposed midriffs, or cleavage for my kid to have to see. And still, without all that “feminine” bullshit, Katniss has two men in love with her. Those heroes love Katniss for her brain and courage, not as separate from her beauty, but they find that beautiful.

Jennifer Lawrence’s acting is top-notch, as always. All her quotes on her PR tour, about how she wasn’t going to starve herself to play Katniss , not to mention her short hair cut, make me even more grateful she’s playing this part. I could not have imagined a better role or actress to play her. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Emma Watson, who plays Hermione, also makes empowering statements about female characters and young women. If an actress gets to play someone strong, it’s easier for her to become a role model in public. How many actresses get that chance?)

The male characters are also great. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is as believable as he always is. Lenny Karvitz’s Cinna is one of my favorite characters.

As with ‘Hunger Games,’ the violent scenes in “Catching Fire’ are brief. There is no lingering over blood, assaults, and death. Same with the kissing scenes. With this kind of stuff, as far as deciding whether its OK for younger kids, it really matters how long the camera spends on it.

“Catching Fire’ burns through gender stereotypes but not in a way that seems contrived or forced. Watching this movie, all you feel is captivated by the story of a brave girl saving the world. The narrative is a metaphor, about a protagonist facing her deepest fears and triumphing, something kids hardly get to see a girl do. My daughter is afraid of elevators, and after the movie, when she stalled in front of of one, we talked about Katniss in the arena, and she jumped right in.

Reel Girl rates ‘Catching Fire’ ***HHH****



Women pilots of WW2 gone missing: ‘They took our records and sealed them.’

So right after I post that a 3 yr old girl at my daughter’s preschool told a teacher she couldn’t be a pilot but a pilot’s wife, I see on Facebook info about the upcoming documentary “We Served Too: The Story of Women Air Force Pilots of World War II.”  So, of course I watched the trailer. My mouth dropped open.

These women flew over 60 million miles within a 2 year period…However, after a nasty and aggressive campaign by male pilots who wanted the WASPs jobs, they were the only wartime unit that was denied military status by congress…For many years the WASPs kept their achievements quiet. Their service in World War II would only be known by a few. They are not mentioned in our history books, nor is their story taught in schools.Their accomplishments of being the first women to fly in the military would even be forgotten.


One pilot says, “Such a shame that when we disbanded, they took all of our records and they sealed them, and they were stamped either classified or secret and filed away in the government archives.”


Sealed records. WTF? Male accomplishments are celebrated and honored and women’s are hidden. ARGH. Sexist decisions of the past are affecting our kids TODAY. More stories about women’s real lives, repressed. Thank God for Jill Bond who made this film. Do you see how reality creates fiction creates reality? Do you see why we need women writers, artists, filmmakers, and on and on? Do you see who goes missing and how distorted reality and our perception of reality becomes when, for thousands of years, women have been existing in stories written by men?

Please, show this picture to your kids.


I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I hope it’s good for children. Wouldn’t it be great to make a children’s version? A book to go along with it? A computer game? An app? A LEGO set? What do you think the chances are we’ll see any of that? They are low, because still, in 2013, we live in a world where women’s stories go missing.


‘I’m not a pilot, I’m a pilot’s wife,’ says 3 yr old girl

Yesterday, a teacher at my daughter’s preschool told me that she saw two boys and a girl spinning the knobs of a play oven. Boy #1 says: “I’m a pilot! I’m flying a plane.’ Boy #2 says: “Me too!” The girl is quiet, so the teacher says to her: “What about you, are you a pilot?” The 3 year old girl replies: “I can’t be a pilot. I’m a pilot’s wife.”

So what do you think has happened in this little girl’s short life to make her believe it’s more likely that she would be a pilot’s wife than a pilot?

Could it be that in her world, those are the gender roles she sees? While books, movies, and TV shows for children are full of images of boys riding magical creatures into the sky– from “ET” to “How to Train Your Dragon” to Harry Potter — girls are stuck in the passenger seat if they get to soar at all. Here are three images repeated endlessly in the media.




I’m always on the look out for images in children’s media of girls flying, and they are few and far between. If I seek them out, I can find them, but these pictures rarely cross my children’s path, not in movies, or posters for those movies, or on most of the book covers they come across when we’re shopping at a local store. Here’s a picture from The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches that I photographed a while ago, because it’s so rare.


Today, on Facebook feed I saw that Toward the Stars is celebrating Female Flying Daredevils week, posting “We wave enthusiastically to all our girls and boys that aspire to travel above the clouds.”

Toward the Stars recommends You Can’t Do That, Amelia, Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of World War II, Fly High, the Story of Bessie Coleman, Zephyr Takes Flight, and Violet the Pilot.




We also have Angela’s Airplane which my 4 year old daughter loves.


You may not have seen these books around. They may not have been made into major motion pictures for kids or toys or LEGO sets, but, please click on the links. Stock your libraries. Read these books to your kids, and that includes your sons. All children need to see far more female daredevils.

Keep watching Toward the Stars all week for more recommendations of fearless females flying the skies.

Update: So right after I post this, I see on Facebook info about the documentary:”We Served Too: The Story of Women Air Force Pilots of World War II.” You’ve got to watch this trailer.

These women flew over 60 million miles within a 2 year period…However, after a nasty and aggressive campaign by male pilots who wanted the WASPs jobs, they were the only wartime unit that was denied military status by congress…For many years the WASPs kept their achievements quiet. Their service in World War II would only be known by a few. They are not mentioned in our history books, nor is their story taught in schools.Their accomplishments of being the first women to fly in the military would even be forgotten.

One pilot says, “Such a shame that when we disbanded, they took all of our records and they sealed them, and they were stamped either classified or secret and filed away in the government archives.”


Sealed records! I am so mad about this. Again, women’s stories are repressed and hidden, affecting a new generation of kids. I haven’t seen the film yet, so don’t know if it’s good for young kids. Wouldn’t it be great to make a children’s version? A book to go along with it? A computer game? App? A LEGO set? What do you think the chances are we’ll see any of that? They’re low, because in 2013, we still live in a world where women’s stories go missing.


‘A Wrinkle in Time’ rarer than unicorn: 5 females mentor female protag

I just finished A Wrinkle in Time, and I have chills. This is the book I have been waiting to read. Not only do I love the story and the characters, but it’s beautifully written.



The protagonist, Meg, is not a Minority Feisty.

So many books I love with strong female protagonists like The Wizard of Oz, Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice and Wonderland, The Golden Compass, surround the girl with males, males, males. So many writers seem comfortable allowing a female be powerful as long as her gender is resresented by a minority of characters in the book. Not so with Wrinkle. Not only do we have Meg, but also Meg’s mother, a scientist. Wrinkle is, in fact, all about science. How cool is that?

Besides Meg’s mother, there is a trio of powerful and magical females: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. That’s not all. Near the end of the book we meet another amazing female, the incredible Aunt Beast. In Wrinkle in Time, readers see five powerful females mentor a female protagonist. Does anyone know of another narrative on earth where we see this? If so, please tell me, because from my experience, this scenario is like seeing a unicorn in the real world.

Here’s the passage where Aunt Beast names herself for Meg:

“What should I call you, please?” Meg asked.


“Well, now. First, try not to say any words for a moment. Think within your own mind. Think of all the things you call people, different kinds of people.”


While Meg thought, the beast murmured to her gently. “No, mother is a special,a one-name; and a father you have here. Not just friend, nor teacher, nor brother, nor sister. What is acquaintance? What a funny, hard word. Aunt. Maybe. Yes, perhaps that will do. And you think of such odd words about me. Thing, and monster! Monster, what a horrid sort of word. I really do not think I a am a monster. Beast. That will do. Aunt Beast.

Part of what I love about this passage is that every writer goes through a similar process as she thinks of how to name a character. So often, a writer will assign this kind of powerful character the male gender, but the character could be any gender as this writing shows.

For much of Wrinkle, there is the typical one female (Meg) to two male (Charles Wallace and Calvin) trio. But given all the female characters in the book, Meg is still, not a Minority Feisty.

Meg saves the world alone.

Every hero gets to a point where she realizes that she, and only she, can save the world and she must do it alone. (That premise was hilariously mocked by the ‘one man’ video. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should. What I liked about the video was how clearly it demonstrated the repetition of one MAN.)

Narratives mimic real life and real life mimics narratives, it’s all the same thing really. If we are willing to recognize it, we all get to the point where we realize we must do it alone. Sometimes that thing is dramatic,  when we give birth or it could be when we write a novel or when we confront someone we’ve been afraid to. But it can also be something like cleaning your house or making your bed. If you live your life heroically, realizing only you can do it, happens all the time, without resentment but with a sense of destiny. It is this revelation upon which endless narratives are based, but so often, in fiction, this human situation is assigned to males. I just wrote about an exception to this rule in Land of Stories. Here it is in Wrinkle the whole sequence: Someone else do it, I can’t; okay, I will. I must be me, here I go. Resistance, choice, action:

Meg could no longer stand it,and she cried out desparingly, “Then what are you going to do? Are you just going to throw Charles Wallace away?”


Mrs Which’s voice rolled formidably across the hall. “Ssilencce cchilldd.”


But Meg could not be silent. She pressed closely against Aunt Beast, but Aunt Beast did not put the protecting tentacles around her. “I can’t go!” Meg cried. “I can’t! You know I can’t.”


“Did annybbodyy ask yyou ttoo?” The grim voice made Meg’s skin prickle into gooseflesh.


She burst into tears. She started beating at Aunt Beast like a small child having a tantrum. Her tears rained down her face and spattered Aunt Beast’s fur. Aunt Beast stood quietly against the assault.


“All right, I’ll go!” Meg sobbed. “I know you want me to go!”

“We want nothing from you that you do without grace,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “or that you do without understanding.”

Meg’s tears stopped as abruptly as they had started. “But I do understand.” She felt tired and unexpectedly peaceful. Now the coldness that, under Aunt Beast’s ministrations, had left her body had also left her mind. She looked toward her father and her confused anger was gone and she felt only love and pride. She smiled at him, asking forgiveness, and then pressed up against Aunt Beast. This time Aunt Beast’s arms  went around her.


Mrs. Which’s voice was grave. “Whatt ddoo yyou unnnddersstanndd?”


“That it has to be me. It can’t be anyone else. I don’t understand Charles, but he understands me. I’m the one who’s closets to him. Father’s been away for so long, since Charles Wallace was a baby. They don’t know each other. And Calvin’s only known Charles for such a little time. If it had been longer, then he would have been the one, but–oh, I see, I understand. It has to be me. There isn’t anyone else.”


In the passage where Meg fights IT, just as Harry Potter with Voledemort, she wins by using love over hate. This is the scene I was longing for in kidlit while reading all 7 of the Harry Potter series. Reading ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ felt, to me, like a starving person getting food.

Though Wrinkle is not without sexism. Here’s a scene from the planet Camazotz:

She walked along the quiet street. It was dark and the street was deserted. No children playing ball or skipping rope. No mother figures at the doors. No father figures returning from work.

There are other instances like that one, but there is so much positive here. Wrinkle is a writer’s book, too. I’ll leave you with one last passage that is one of the most beautiful metaphors for creativity, God, raising children, life, that I’ve ever read. Here’s Mrs Whatsit explaining a sonnet to Calvin.


“It is a very strict form of poetry, is it not?”


“There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That’s a very strict rhythm or meter, yes?”

“Yes,” Calvin nodded.

“And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it?”


“But within this strict form, the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn’t he?”

“Yes,” Calvin nodded again.

The trick here, for me anyway, is figuring out what the form is. Sometimes, we believe that the “rules” are the rule, that they are “natural.” For example, in so many narratives for kids, not to mention adults, like Ratatouille, have seen a Minority Feisty complain about sexism, instead of getting to see a female hero. That is “rule” that desperately needs to be broken. The resistance, choice, action is a rule I believe in.

Many of you have asked me to clarify what ages books are appropriate for. It’s hard for me to say that.  We get different things about books at different times.

When I look at books or movies for my kids, the number one offensive thing is sexism. I would rather my kids hear swear words than see Cinderella any day. I’ve also written quite a lot of Reel Girl about violence. I don’t like gore, but much of violence in stories is metaphorical, it raises the stakes to depict visually what we, as humans, feel. Can you imagine dreams without violence? My daughter whipped through Wrinkle in Time. She just turned 7.  I’m 44 and I’m blogging about it. I could tell my daughter really liked it, and she read a lot of it by herself.  I’m not sure what she ‘got.’ I remember being confused by parts of this book as a kid. I do know that while reading this book, my daughter saw many females being brave and heroic, respected, admired, and loved my the males in their lives.

Reel Girl rates Wrinkle in Time  ***HHH***





Reel Girl’s pick of the week: The Doll People

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.

Who is Julia Morgan?

My daughter’s fourth grade poster and oral report on the first female architect certified in California, Julia Morgan.


“Hello, girls and boys. I am the one and only Julia Morgan. Now, let’s start at the beginning. I was born on January 20, 1872 right here in San Francisco. As a child, I wanted to know how everything worked. I loved mechanical stuff.


I went to high school in 1890. Instead of marrying, I tried to get into the University of California. They made me take the test three times even though I passed every time. Finally, they let me in. The men teased me, pulling all kinds of pranks, because I was the only woman there.


I won my first medal in a fancy palace decorated with characters from Greek mythology. I was so proud of myself.

There was a giant earthquake in San Francisco. I helped rebuild the whole city. I made it even better. I designed the wonderful Mills College


and the Fairmont hotel, but my masterpiece is the amazing Hearst castle.


It has an outdoor pool and an indoor pool, and did I mention I also built the Women’s City Club building? I also helped design the YWCA.

One thing I admit, I was a very big perfectionist. I loved architecture. Now here, I have to say good-bye. Today is a sad day. On February 2, 1957, I died. Still, even in my dreams, I love architecture.”


It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…Reel Girl!

Finally, Reel Girl is here! Her mission: to liberate the imaginations of children and grown-ups everywhere.


This blog’s new banner was drawn by the artist, Cynthia Rodgers, AKA Theamat. I first saw her work on the internet when I came across the fabulous “If I don’t get pants, nobody gets pants.”


Theamat created Reel Girl’s face from these images of my daughters. Before taking the pics, I asked them to imagine they were up against something powerful; it was up to them to save the world.

In creating Reel Girl, Theamat used Lucy’s intense eyes,


Alice’s speck of a smile,



and Rose’s wild curls.



Feminism, King Arthur, and Disney come together in ‘Avalon High’

If you are a feminist and love the King Arthur legend, you will be a fan of “Avalon High.” I am so into this Disney made for TV movie. Yes, I just wrote that. I can’t believe it myself. Oh yeah, your kids will love the movie too.


This weekend, my nine year old daughter had a playdate, and it was her friend recommended the movie. This particular friend recommended “A Wrinkle in Time” during the last playdate, so I trusted her opinion. My daughter loved “Avalon High” so much, she begged me to watch it with her again the next day.

The protagonist is female. Allie Pennington is smart, brave, beautiful, kind, and athletic. She has just moved to a new area because her parents, scholars of Medieval literature and experts on King Arthur, got jobs at the local university. Allie is studying the King Arthur legend in her high school class as well, and it is there that she and her friend Miles first learn about a prophecy on the reincarnation of King Arthur: The Order of the Bear. Soon, they identify their friend and star quarterback, Will Wagner, as the new King Arthur. He is “perfect” so it seems obvious that her is the famous king. The danger in the story is that there is also an incarnation of the evil Mordred who Will must be protected from. After mysteries and adventures, it turns out that it is Allie, herself, who is the reincarnation of King Arthur. I knew that only because my daughter gleefully told me in order to convince me to watch. If I had not been warned, I never would have guessed. Your kids won’t. How many times in your life have you seen a Disney  movie and not figured out the fabulous end? That, alone, makes “Avalon High” worth showing your kids.

Here are some more aspects I admired about the show:

Allie Though from my description– smart, beautiful, athletic, kind– may seem too perfect, Allie is a hero. Heroes are idealized. Too often, we don’t get to see idealized females except when the perfection revolves around beauty. Allie is super fast. She is a track star, ambitious, dedicated, and she knows she is good. There are several scenes in the movie where you see her running. I like that she was not cast as “plain” or an outcast/ nerd or as someone that gets a makeover in the end. Allie’s character defies the “smart” “pretty” split seen so often with female protagonists and hardly ever with male ones.


No mean girls There are no mean girls in this movie! YAY. Mean girls can be well done when kids relate by sympathizing with the protag who is victorious in the end; the lesson learned is “be kind.” But we’ve seen that so many times. I’m sick of it. “Avalon High” is original. Allie is disappointed when she meets Will’s girlfriend just after meeting him, but Jen is nice to her and she is nice back, throughout the whole movie. I was so surprised seeing this kind female relationship depicted that after Allie and Jen met on screen, I turned to my daughter,  and said, “She’s nice?” My daughter said, “Yeah, she’s complicated.” She’s complicated, in a Disney movie. Hallelujah!

Action scenes We see Allie running, as I mentioned. We also see scenes of her galloping on a horse and battling in brutal sword fights. That said, I can’t find any pics on Google images of Allie fighting, running, or riding, while I can of Will. ARGH.

Cross-gender friendships Allie is good friends with Miles (who turns out to be the reincarnated Merlin.) Though she has a crush on Will, they are also shown as good friends.

Scenes of Allie admired by male characters for her skill There are several of these including when Allie beats Will in a race and when Will stops to watch her run, awed. Here, we see the equation we so often get with male protagonists but rarely with female ones: skill + talent = attractive

The only thing that slightly bugged me about this movie is that there are cheerleaders and Jen is one. But, then again, that casting clearly shows that Allie, our hero, is not one.

This movie made me long for an Middle Grade book that is a feminist version of King Arthur, sort of a Mists of Avalon, but for kids. Does this exist? I know its problematic because of the Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere triangle (which is in Avalon High and well done.) This film is based on a book by Meg Cabot.

I have not liked a movie of this genre as much since “Escape to Witch Mountain.” Reel Girl rates Avalon High ***HHH***

Reel Girl game of the week: Bella’s Mystery Deck

My nine year old daughter found Bella’s Mystery Deck in her Christmas stocking.


Today, we broke it out and played all morning. The deck consists of 52 cards, each with a story that describes a mystery to solve. The game revolves around Bella, a 13 year old Mexican-American girl who lives in Tucson with her family and black lab, Noche. If you follow Reel Girl, you know I love games that center on a female protagonist who is smart and brave. Bella is all that.

Besides Bella, the stories are full of colorful characters in Bella’s community. My six year old and three year old, while too young to solve the mysteries, were entertained just by listening to the nine year old read these entertaining narratives out loud. To check your answer, or find it if you’re stumped, the package comes with a mirror to decipher the backwards writing at the bottom of each card. All of my kids loved that.

We had at least an hour of utopia playtime for everyone in the family with this game, no tears, no board upsets.

Reel Girl rates Bella’s Mystery Deck ***HHH***

Check out these awesome female action figures

My daughter, Rose, with her new Christmas friends: Catwoman, Buffy, Serafina Pekkala, Hawkgirl, Lyra Silvertongue, and Coraline.


My favorite is Coraline. She belongs to Rose’s older sister, Alice, who loved the book.

These characters are so much better than the ones photographed above for Reel Girl’s header just after Christmas, three years ago, when I started this blog. I took that photo because, as the mother of three young daughters, I was so freaked out and disgusted by the grinning plastic strewn around our living room.

I’m going to post a photo of the whole new crew soon. There are about 15, and I think, seriously, if this group doesn’t comprise all of the non-sexualized female action figures out there, it’s most of them.

Thank you to A Mighty Girl and Toward the Stars. It is on these new sites that I found all of my daughters’s Christmas presents this year. Let’s just say the figures above are not aggressively marketed or found in my neighborhood Walgreens along side the Barbies, stacks of princess coloring books, or Monster High dolls. Cool, inspiring female figures do exist and can be found in targeted searches. But for the most part, they are not mainstream. Coraline costs $100.

We need more figures to be more accessible to more people. Before we can have more female action figures made or mass marketed– featured in games or embossed on clothing sold at Target– we need more movies, TV programs, and books with strong female protagonists. Since the beginning of time, stories have always been the best marketing tool.

When heroic females go missing from stories, they go missing everywhere.