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.
It’s Academy Awards week and the ballots are closed. While we don’t know the winners yet, one thing we know for sure is that no women have again been nominated for best director.This is one of the only times of the year when the world is paying attention to the film business, not just movies. The entire industry is on display this weekend and it is still extremely imbalanced.
This is the second year we have created a video to help make people think about the gender imbalance in Hollywood, especially in the area of directing.
I’ve been avoiding writing this post. I knew that female characters in children’s movies were not faring well in 2012. Not in number and not in stature. But I kept hoping. Hoping that somehow, before January, something would change, a slew of movies were going to appear from nowhere, stats would magically shift.
Yes, we got “Brave” this year. Thank you director Brenda Chapman for making Pixar’s first movie ever with a female protagonist. I’m sorry that you, one of the only women to direct animated movies produced by a major studio, were fired half way through production and replaced with a male director.
But “Brave” is just one movie. The exception proves the rule. It’s December now, and sadly, it’s time for me to admit that once again, in the movies made for children in 2012, girls go missing. In staggering proportions, males are consistently front and center; females are mostly sidelined or not there at all.
If you look at the gender placement in the images on the movie posters below, the meaning of “marginalized” couldn’t be more clear. Remember, these are movie for kids. So when your children go to the movies, they are learning, time and time again, that boys are more important than girls.
For those of you who say there are alternative posters that I didn’t put in Reel Girl’s Gallery, you may find them on Google images, but these are the ones I saw all around San Francisco. Even if you find a poster on Google featuring, say, Tooth, the one female Guardian out of five (a typical gender ratio, by the way) that’s a pretty pathetic argument for her relevance.
For those of you who say the posters below do not reflect the movie, that the movie has a strong female in it, maybe even two, maybe three, you are, most likely, referring to the Minority Feisty. No matter how many Minority Feisty there are in an animated film, they are represented as a minority. The irony is, of course, that females are not a minority, not a special interest, not even a fringe group. Females are, in fact, half of the population. Girls are half of the kid population. Why aren’t they represented that way in movies made for children?
I call the Minority Feisty “Feisty” because that is, invariably, the adjective reviewers use to describe the “strong” female character in an animated film. “Feisty” is diminutive. It is what you call someone who plays at being powerful, not someone who is actually powerful. Would you ever call Superman “feisty?” How would he feel if you did?
The role of the Minority Feisty, like a cheerleader or First Lady, is to help the male star along on his important quest. Children need to see females front and center, as protagonists, as the heroes of their own stories.
Finally, even apart from the movie, these posters– and ads– are their own media. Whether or not your kid goes to the movie, she sees these posters everywhere. The movie poster is one of the reasons that I was so thrilled about “Brave.” Finally, San Francisco was papered with an image a daring girl, an image marketed to kids. Obviously, the biggest impact of a narrative is made when kids get to know the character through the movie and then see that character on clothing, food packaging, and toys.
As you look at these posters, imagine the reverse, the gender ratio and the character placement, switched; the movie’s title reflecting the female star. Would you do a double take? How many of us grown-ups don’t even notice the dominance of male characters anymore? How many of us experience the annihilation of females as totally normal, not to mention adorable and child-appropriate?
There is no good reason for the imaginary world to be sexist. Or is there?
Only 16% of protagonists in movies are female; only 16% of women make it into power positions in almost all professions across America. Children’s movie posters, and of course the movies themselves, are an effective way that we acclimate a new generation to expect and accept a world where females go missing.
Out of the 16 posters for children’s movies in 2012 pictured below, just 4 represent movies starring females: “Mirror, Mirror,” “Brave,” “Secret World of Arietty” and “Big Miracle.” The “Big Miracle” poster diminishes Drew Barrymore pretty effectively. I loved “Arrietty,” as I love every Studio Ghibli film, but was surprised to see the boy so big on the poster.
The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”
Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped binary/ boy-girl opposites: soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas, lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows. I waited for her to explore any reasons why our culture promotes this symbology. Unfortunately, I waited for the whole article.
Why are princesses considered to be the epitome of femininity? Could it, perhaps, have little do with with genes and everything to do with the fact that perpetuating the image of a passive, “pretty” female is popular in a patriarchal culture? Just maybe?
A few more sentences down:
Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man.
Most kids on Planet Earth would paint their fingernails if they weren’t told and shown by grown-ups that it’s a “girl thing.” Nail polish has nothing to do with penises or vulvas or genes, or even anything as deep and profound as “”gender fluidity.” To kids, nail polish is art play, brushes and paint. That’s it. Oh, right, art is for girls. Unless you’re a famous artist whose paintings sell for the most possible amount of money. Then art is for boys.
On an email that Alex’s parents sent to his school:
Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.
What? Does this writer have young daughters? Has Padawer heard about the boy’s baseball team from Our Lady of Sorrows that recently forfeited rather than play a girl? Or what about Katie, the girl who was bullied just because she brought her Star Wars lunch box, a “boy thing,” to school? Does Padawer know Katie’s experience isn’t unusual? How rare it is to find a girl today who isn’t concerned that a Spider-Man shirt (or any superhero shirt or outfit) is boyish and that she’ll be teased if she wears it? My whole blog, Reel Girl, is about that “raised eyebrow.” Has Padawer seen summer’s blockbuster movie “The Avengers” with just one female to five male superheroes? The typical female/ male ratio? Or how “The Avengers” movie poster features the female’s ass? Think that might have something to do with why females care more than males about how their asses are going to look? You can see the poster here along with the pantless Wonder Woman. Does Padawer get or care that our kids are surrounded by these kinds of images in movies and toys and diapers and posters every day? How can Padawer practically leave sexism out of a New York Times piece 8 pages long on gender?
First sentence of paragraph 3: (Yes, we’re only there.)
There have always been people who defy gender norms.
No way! You’re kidding me. Like women who wanted to vote? Women who didn’t faint in the street?
Moving on to page 2:
Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted.
Um, wrong again. Been to a clothing store for little kids recently? Ever tried to buy a onesie for a girl with a female pilot on it? Or a female doing anything adventurous? Check out Pigtail Pals, one of the few companies that dares to stray from “pervasive and accepted” femininity. One of the few. And we’re talking toddlers here.
The studies that do exist indicate that tomboys are somewhat more likely than gender-typical girls to become bisexual, lesbian or male-identified, but most become heterosexual women.
Is the writer really writing a piece on gender fluid kids and using the word “tomboy” without irony?
Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?
Hard not to wonder. Exactly! Finally, the writer wonders. But, not for long. Here’s the next sentence:
Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical?
Once again, I’ve got to ask: Does Padawer have a young daughter? Legions of young girls “insist on dresses” because like all kids, they want attention. Sadly, girls get a tremendous amount of attention from grown-ups for how they look. Today, my three year old daughter wanted to wear a princess dress to preschool, because she knew that if she did, the parents and teachers would say, “Wow, you’re so pretty! I love your dress.” And if it’s not a girl’s dress everyone focuses on, it could be her hair, or perhaps her shoes which are probably glittery or shiny or have giant flowers on them because that’s what they sell at Target and Stride Rite. Unfortunately, focusing on appearance is how most adults today make small talk with three year old girls.
The next two graphs are the best in the article so I will paste them in full, though notice the use of “tomboy” again with no irony.
Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.
Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.
The piece is riddled with more gender assumptions that aren’t questioned.
When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.”
But why is beauty shop feminine? We all know beauty toys and products are marketed to girls, but why? Here’s that Avengers ass poster again. In a male dominated world, women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are taught to focus on how they look and that if they do so they can get power and prestige. Appearance is the area where girls are trained to channel their ambition and competition. Oh, sorry, girls aren’t competitive or ambitious. That’s a boy thing.
On gender fluid child, P.J., the author writes:
Most of the time, he chooses pants that are pink or purple.
Wait a minute, didn’t she write a few pages back about Jo Poletti’s book Pink and Blue? Remember, pink used to be a “boy” color; it’s only recently that it’s perceived as a “girl” color?
Here might be the most fucked up quote:
When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?
My daughter is home sick today and she’s in my bed, playing with my ipad. She pushed a button, showed me this app (RacePenguin) and asked me to get her the one that flies. She’s only three and hopefully cannot recognize the awful male/ female distinction in this game yet.
Can you see these options for kids to choose from?
If not, here they are:
(1) Kids mode: Flying becomes easier No bear behind you
(2) Super Penguin: Go Higher, Go faster, Have more control
(3) Penguinette: Unlock a cute penguin girl
(4) Magic penguin: Teleport uphill: Get a magic boost for every perfect slide.
Who in God’s name is going to want to be Penguinette? Look at her! Her blonde hair and red bow? WTF? While the other penguins go higher, faster, and have more control, she gets to be cute? This is a fucking game for little kids and “cute” is what the female does? Do you think she’s going to win the race? Does she even care about winning it?
This kind of sexism is programmed and marketed to kids everywhere, constantly, through games, toys, TV and movies. (I let my eight year old download this game because it was free. Free sexism, what a bargain!)
Gender stereotyping in kidworld is so ubiquitous that, ironically, it’s become practically invisible. It’s so normal that too many parents have stopped noticing it at all.
Parents, please be aware of this kind of sexism aimed at children; it’s not fair to our kids and their growing brains.
Reel Girl rates Race Penguin ***SSS*** for triple gender stereotyping, not suitable for children.
Here’s a question I can’t wait for my daughter to hear: “If you can’t celebrate finding a leopard print bag on sale at Kohl’s, what CAN you celebrate?” I mean, really, what else is there? Especially for someone as decorated and lauded as sensational athlete and gold medal soccer player Mia Hamm. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Xl5aP_fKBo Kohl’s new “Shop to Win” campaign features Mia, Lindsey Vonn (Olympic gold medalist and world class skier) and Dara Torres (Olympic gold medalist and international swimmer), describing the intensity and thrill of competition. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAOSB3jtz7k&feature=relmfu In the sport of… shopping. In 31 seconds all of their hard work and successes have been cheapened.
Ladies, you have become conspirators in advertising’s new sexist low. Girls around the world who worship these symbols of incredible sacrifice in making a dream come true can now shoot for the grand goal of: scoring a killer deal shopping? Is that the message they really want to send to younger girls? And how does this campaign help their athlete sisters, fighting for recognition from men, when their message is effectively, “Thank God all that sporty stuff is done so we can get down to what we REALLY want to do – SHOP!” The ad campaign must have been conceived at Sterling Cooper Draper Price. Right?
Wrong – Lindsey loves the campaign. Check out her interview with Bloomberg TV telling the interviewer Kohl’s fits with her image because, you know, we girls have GOALS when we shop and like to feel like we are WINNING! http://mobile.bloomberg.com/video/88881222/ If you are still unconvinced that this is the real Lindsey Vonn, her explanation of sponsor choice reveals her true colors. It’s not all about the money apparently–I mean, Red Bull provides a trainer and a massage therapist that travel with her, and Vail Resorts has a training camp named after her. And, y’know, like, that’s what matters.
Heaven help us when a smart real female role model comes along and says I like myself for who I am and screw anyone who wants to paint me into a dumb pretty girl corner.
And I am getting reports that it is deleting them. Please let me know if this is true. Post a link to my post, take a screen shot, and post the screen shot on Reel Girl. I am technically challenged and took a photo with my camera. THANK YOU
to show she’s naked? That’s what commenters are saying. What do you think? She’s holding her skin? This has got to be the worst ad campaign EVER. I have seriously lost my appetite for M & Ms. So gross. Yuk.
To anyone who thinks this S & M-M & M is outdated because it’s from a few years back:
Here is Ms. Brown on back cover of the 2012 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue:
To anyone who thinks that I just have a dirty mind and there’s nothing sexualized about M & Ms for God’s sake, here is how Sports Illustrated promotes the ad on its own Facebook page: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: “Did you see the sexy Ms. Brown made the cover of the Swimsuit issue again!? Welllll, the back cover; Check her out.”
Keep in mind that Ms. Brown is the new female, that before her debut on TV during this year’s Superbowl, even Time Magazine called the animated M & M characters “male-centric.” Ms. Brown has since been called the feminist M & M (as opposed to the boy-crazy Ms. Green.) Brown wears glasses (that means she’s smart!) and tweets empowering messages about women’s issues.
So why is our token feminist character peeking out the window with kissy-lips waving a towel (implying she’d naked, I guess?) on the back cover of SI, so in full view of any kid whose parents have this magazine at home?
Why does M & Ms have to sexualize its female cartoon characters? Before Ms. Brown, there was only one female out of five; now there are 2 out of 6, and this is what M & Ms does to them? These cartoon characters appear in toys, games, and in full size at CVS and Party City stores.
Why are we allowing these stereotypes to sell sexism to kids in any available blank space? If M & Ms promoted racial stereotypes, there would outrage. Parents, this is not OK.
Please go to M & Ms Facebook page and tell the company to stop sexualizing females. As I posted earlier, the M &Ms marketing strategy is just as sick as using a cartoon camel to sell cigarettes to kids.
Update: I am getting comments that the M & M pictured above is actually Ms. Green, that green thing she’s waving? It’s her shell which she has stripped off and is waving to show that she’s naked. I have seriously lost my appetite for M & Ms. Gross. Thoughts?
This letter was inspired by Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals. You can read her letter here. Please write to Lego as well.
Here’s an ad for Legos from 1981:
Here’s a photo of the new Friends Legos created in 2011:
LEGO Systems, Inc.
555 Taylor Road
P.O. Box 1138
Enfield, CT 06083-1138
Legos were special. They were unique and creative and helped kids to build. Legos inspired kids’ imaginations. Boys and girls could play Legos together. But with your new product, Lego Friends created for girls, I can no longer tell the difference between Lego toys and the ubiquitous Disney princess products or Barbies. Is that the point? Because if it is, your copy cat strategy abandons the very qualities that made your toy great.
I have a blog Reel Girl where I rate kids’ media and products. Toys can get 1 – 3 Ss for stereotyping and 1 – 3 Gs for Girlpower. So recently I went to hear women architects talk about the new Architect Barbie. I have three daughters ages 2 – 8, and I asked the architects if I should buy this new Barbie for my kids. They all emphatically said no. Buy them blocks, they said. Buy them Legos. The architects loved Legos as kids. I blogged about their advice and spoke about it, I put it out it on Facebook and Twitter. I am sad and surprised to say that now Reel Girl gives Legos new Friends for girls an SSS rating.
I know Lego didn’t start all this gender stereotyping in kids’ toys. I get that you’re jumping on the bandwagon because you need to sell products. You’re worried because sales are down. But you’re making a mistake.
I know you spent a lot of money on market research. But all you’ve really researched is the effect that mass marketing has on kids. Look at your 1981 girl and your 2011 Kim Kardashian wannabe lounging in her hot tub with a drink. All that you’ve researched is how to help turn our daughters from the beautiful kid into the plastic one. Lego is better than this. That’s why we love your toy. That’s why we buy it. But now, instead of helping kids grow, you’re stunting them.
We’ve all moved beyond the nature versus nurture debate. Now we understand babies brains come into the world full of potential. The experiences they have help to determine how those brains develop. For example, babies are born able to mimic and make all kinds of sounds, but as they learn a particular language, their brains start to wire up to produce particular intonations; they lose their ability to make many other sounds. Kids who learn to speak other languages early retain that ability to make different sounds for a lifetime. Limiting kids’ early experiences limits their brain growth. That’s why gender stereotyping is so dangerous.
Pink is just one color. Girls are not born with a pink gene. Pink used to be a boy color, the pastel version of red. Blue was for girls, the color of the Virgin Mary. Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella wore blue. Sleeping Beauty was switched to pink to differentiate her from Cinderella. This kind of information is what you should be spending your market research budget on because paying experts to ‘observe’ that girls choose pink is only studying the effects of multinational companies. Or maybe that is what you want to know?
The more you split kids and adults into tiny categories, the easier it is to market and sell products. The concept of ‘toddler’ was developed by clothing manufacturers in the 1930s as a stepping stone between infants and older kids to sell clothing. ‘Tween’ was coined in the 1980s.
I know asking you not to mimic what’s out there is challenging. Some of your best selling Lego sets ‘for boys’ like Star Wars and Indiana Jones come from million dollar movies franchises that don’t exactly have many females in them. But I wish you would use your research and marketing money to figure out how to help develop kids brains, the way Lego used to do.
Please consider bringing back the 1981 ad and creating the kinds of toys that the cool kid in the picture would love.
Update: People are going to Lego’s Facebook page and posting the 1981 pic asking them to bring beautiful back. If you agree and want to post it, go to Lego’s FB page, click like, and then you can post the pic.