This poster for “The Hobbit” is all over downtown San Francisco where I just was with my 9 year old daughter and her entire class on a field trip. What’s missing here?
I know, I know, it’s not Hollywood’s fault. I should blame J. R. R. Tolkein instead. He created the series around mostly male characters. But before I go into Tolkein, I want to know: Have you ever seen an ad for a major motion picture featuring 13 female characters? Ever? Do you think all the other people passing by noticed that this poster is all male? Or is it so similar to all of the other all male, mostly male, front-and center male posters that no one notices that females go missing? It’s just a “normal” annihilation, kind of like a board room meeting at Facebook.
Here’s why J. R. R. Tolkein can’t shoulder the responsibility of sexism in 2012 USA:
(1) The gender imbalance is not just this movie, it is representative of a pattern, a gender matrix that Hollywood rarely breaks out of.
(2) Everything is derivative. Are we going to be reproducing sexism thousands of years from now because the Bible, the Greek myths, the classics, and DC comics are narratives created by men?
(3) Even when Hollywood makes a movie from a spin off of a character in a classic, time and time again, a male is picked as the new main character i.e. “Shrek 3″ led to “Puss In Boots.” The latest?
“Oz The Great and Powerful.” The life story of Oz, the fake ruler, the imposter. He gets his own movie. I’m sure it humanizes him very nicely.
The real ruler of Oz? That would be Ozma. When I was a kid, she was my favorite character in the L. Frank Baum series, because she was the real ruler of Oz, the rightful ruler, and also because she had dark hair like me.
Anyone ever heard of her? Do your children know who she is? There is a book about her. Where is her movie? I didn’t see the preview.
You’d think a blogger who scrutinizes movie and book titles would be diligent about acquiring her own domain name. Sadly, I’m tech-challenged. Still, I’m determined to get over my disability and also believe in the power of growth and change. Thankfully, a couple of angels helped me out: Jim Nemerovski of Girls Play Basball who got me “Reel Girl” before I even understood the kindness, and PrincessJenn who took no time at all to move my blog to its new home. Now, Reel Girl has a brand new address…reelgirl.com! You shouldn’t have to do or change anything to keep receiving or locating posts, all due to background wizardry, but I thought I’d announce the address switch because it’s supercool. Now for that logo…
I emailed the owner again asking for guidance. Why were some reviews making it onto the web and not others? I got my answer in the form of an email that is so shocking, it seems to come from another galaxy, an evil one. What dark void produced what you are about to read is anyone’s guess. What causes a male human being to so rigidly hate the opposite sex that he fears not only the power of women, but also the power of movies…Below is the email I received, exactly as written. It came after a series of phone calls and emails in which I was seeking answers. The initial email in this series was sent by me with the subject line: “Actually, I need direction for Saturday.” The spelling and spacing and punctuation are exactly as written to me by the publisher. In his email, he references the films “Snow White And The Huntsman” and “Headhunters,” which he calls “Headhunter.” Here’s the email:
Michael; I know you are committed to writing your reviews, and put a lot of effort into them. it is important for you to have the right publisher. i may not be it. i have a deep moral objection to publishing reviews of films that offend me. snow white and the huntsman is such a film. when my boys were young i would never have allowed them to go to such a film for i believe it would injure their developing manhood. if i would not let my own sons see it, why would i want to publish anything about it?
snow white and the huntsman is trash. moral garbage. a lot of fuzzy feminist thinking and pandering to creepy hollywood mores produced by metrosexual imbeciles.
I don’t want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta.
where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.
i believe in manliness.
not even on the web would i want to attach my name to snow white and the huntsman except to deconstruct its moral rot and its appeal to unmanly perfidious creeps.
i’m not sure what headhunter has to offer either but of what I read about it it sounds kind of creepy and morally repugnant.
with all the publications in the world who glorify what i find offensive, it should not be hard for you to publish your reviews with any number of these.
they seem to like critiques from an artistic standpoint without a word about the moral turpitude seeping into the consciousness of young people who go to watch such things as snow white and get indoctrinated to the hollywood agenda of glorifying degenerate power women and promoting as natural the weakling, hyena -like men, cum eunuchs.
the male as lesser in courage strength and power than the female.
it may be ok for some but it is not my kind of manliness.
If you care to write reviews where men act like good strong men and have a heroic inspiring influence on young people to build up their character (if there are such movies being made) i will be glad to publish these.
i am not interested in supporting the reversing of traditional gender roles.
i don’t want to associate the Niagara Falls Reporter with the trash of Hollywood and their ilk.
it is my opinion that hollywood has robbed america of its manliness and made us a nation of eunuchs who lacking all manliness welcome in the coming police state.
now i realize that you have a relationship with the studios etc. and i would have been glad to have discussed this in person with you to help you segue into another relationship with a publication but inasmuch as we spent 50 minutes on the phone from paris i did not want to take up more of your time.
In short i don’t care to publish reviews of films that offend me.
if you care to condemn the filmmakers as the pandering weasels that they are…. true hyenas.
i would be interested in that….
I feel about Frank kind of the same way I felt about Paul Ryan during the VP debate. Sickened but also relieved. At least the guy is honest. There it is in a nutshell.
I don’t want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta.
where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.
The more I think about this one line describing the building toy created to appeal to girls, the more it gets to me. The Atlantic reports:
“Sterling’s basic conceit — that by playing to girls’ inclination to help and imbuing their designs with practical purpose she can get them designing and building.”
So the stereotype here is that girls are kind and sweet and just want to help people, or lambs, whatever; there is something uniquely feminine about “helping.” By the way, I would have absolutely no problem with this view of girls if it were true. My issue here, and my obsession with feminism in general, isn’t driven by a need for justice or even compassion for women. It’s that these stereotypes are bullshit. They are not true. And, personally, I don’t think basing entire civilizations on bullshit is, ultimately, good for anyone.
An “inclination to help” is a rescue fantasy. Different words, same thing. There is no gender split.
Rescue fantasies have existed in stories since the beginning of time. When stories are mostly written by males, it is often the case that females become the subject (or one could say, no doubt, object) to be rescued. What is brilliant about GoldieBlox is that instead of creating the story so that the female identifies with the little lambs who need saving, she gets to be the rescuer.
Ever heard of a prince with “an inclination to help” a maiden in distress? It sounds ridiculous, right?
There is no need, except for a sexist one, to use tamer words for narratives starring girls. All humans want to be actors, people who act, the main actors in our own lives; all humans have fantasies about being heroes. The gender difference is that far more often, males get to express and act on those fantasies.
At the center of Sterling’s creation are several strategies for getting girls to build: engage them with a story, challenge them to build with a problem-solving purpose, use materials that are warm or soft to the touch (no metal) and have shapes with curved edges, and presented in colors that American girls in the year 2012 tend to be attracted to. The toy set includes the story of its heroine, “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine” (available as a book or iOS app), five character figurines (Goldie’s “friends”), and building kit that includes plastic elements and a ribbon…
Sterling’s basic conceit — that by playing to girls’ inclination to help and imbuing their designs with practical purpose she can get them designing and building — is echoed in the work of Christine Cunningham, a vice president of the Museum of Science in Boston and director of the Engineering is Elementary program. Like Sterling, Cunningham has found that if you embed an engineering dilemma in a story, girls will have more interest in figuring out the challenge. For example, she says, kids’ kits for electrical engineering, which is one of the most heavily male of the different kinds of engineering, tend to ask kids to build circuits to make a light turn on or a fan blow air. When Cunningham set about to redesign an electrical-engineering activity with girls in mind, she and her team embedded it in a story about a girl living on a ranch who needs to keep a trough filled with water for the baby lambs…
Does it somehow undermine the goals of gender equality and girls’ empowerment to engage them in engineering by buying into and relying on so many stereotypes about girls in the first place? Cunningham says we need to keep in mind, by the time they’ve reached the age of five (the youngest age GoldieBlox is recommended for), many girls will already have well developed gender identities, and oftentimes that identity will be quite, for lack of a better word, girly. “How can we take the places that girls are and develop the same kinds of innovative problem-solving skills? … We’re very much based in, ‘what is the reality of the now?’ And how do you work with that? Are there small ways you can push the meter to bring in these kinds of skills?”
I want to address the issue of gender stereotypes in more detail, because in my last post, I only made one reference in parentheses:
One thing I LOVE about this toy is that Sterling created a narrative with a female protagonist around the activity of building. While I don’t necessarily agree with her reason for this tactic (“Boys like to build, girls like to read”) I do think that there are not enough stories starring females that revolve around action, adventure, and building.
So to go further with this. The whole stereotype that girls are verbal and boys like math is bullshit. That is not to say it doesn’t exist, but that it is both culturally created and more myth than reality.
By the way, Sterling doesn’t dispute this. She doesn’t seem much concerned with why the gender gap exists. She just wants to bridge it.
A couple things I want to say about this female verbal/ male spatial skills. Number one: sexism is passed down generation to generation. I just had my parent-teacher conference. My daughter’s fourth grade teacher told me that her writing skills are great. “Now lets talk about her math,” she said. “I’m sure you’ve seen this.” She then pointed to a series of questions about “mode” and “median” that my daughter had answered incorrectly. Actually, I hadn’t seen it. Not really. I went on to tell the teacher that I write, I like to write. I go over my daughter’s writing, I teach her about topic sentences and paragraph structure. When she writes a story, I tell her it’s got to have a problem, called the plot. I’ve taught her that her main character has to go through some kind of transition. But when it comes to math, all I do is see if she’s filled in the blank. I have no interest in math. I don’t like math. My first reaction when my daughter’s teacher showed us that she wasn’t “getting it” was to turn it over to my husband. He can do that. That’s what I did with soccer. And that’s not a bad option, but it’s not really overcoming the sexism.
My second point about this gender dichotomy is that it only exists, like all feminine skills, when it’s relegated to low status. Girls are artsy when it’s about construction paper and Elmer’s glue. But what about art as an occupation? Making big money, shows at the MOMA? Suddenly, art is for men. “Great” literature is predominantly by men and prizes awarded to writers are won by men. So how is that possible if women are the verbal ones? The same gender split is true with cooking, a girly activity for a child, but give it some status– a great restaurant in France, master chef on a TV show, males dominate again. My theory: calling girls artsy and readers is just another way we reinforce well-behaved, quiet girls.
Now for those little lambs girls want to save. Girls are no more kind-hearted or sweet than boys are. Girls do need a purpose and a narrative but boys do too. The gender difference is that boys pick up that narrative from the world around them, everywhere they look, males solve problems, save the world, act, and get to be heroes. Girls don’t see that story.
The reason I love Goldieblox is not the soft toys or the little lambs, but that Sterling creates a narrative with a female protagonist around a building toy. All of us– boys and girls, children and adults– frame our actions in stories.
I once took a class on forgiveness at Stanford, and the teacher, Fred Luskin, told us that in order to forgive, we must rewrite our story so that we are the heroes. Holding grudges happens when you are the victim in the story, and you repeat and repeat that same narrative in your head.
We are all creating narratives in our heads all the time, constantly. Unfortunately, way too many stories out there show females as victims and stuck on the sidelines. Thank you to Debbie Sterling for being innovative and changing the narrative.
There is a lot to love and admire about “Wreck-It Ralph.” In many ways, both conspicuously and more subversively, the movie challenges gender stereotypes. That said, the gender matrix– a sexist framework that dominates animated films made for children– remains intact. Watching “Wreck-It Ralph,” for me, is like reading the Greek Myths; there are strong, complex females to admire but they are only permitted to demonstrate their power within a firmly established patriarchy.
Vanellope von Schweetz is such a cool Minority Feisty. She is smart, funny, daring, talented, compassionate, and vulnerable. She kicks ass but also has a huge heart. Vanellope is voiced by one of my favorite comedians, Sarah Silverman, and let’s just say, those two have a lot in common. Icing on the cake: Vanellope saves Ralph’s life with her speed and smarts. The cross-gender friendship between Vanellope and Ralph is the heart of the movie.
Vanellope is not the only Minority Feisty to love in “Ralph.” Sargeant Calhoun, voiced by Jane Lynch, also plays a complex and cool role. She is a fierce military woman but also passionate with a strong moral fiber.
A third Minority Feisty is Moppet Girl who hangs out at the arcade. Though her gender is a minority in the arcade crowd (I know, I know, that’s how it is is the “real world”) she is there and delivers the key line in the plot. Moppet Girl tells the arcade owner that the Fix-It Felix game is broken. She is also the character who provides the plot bookend, giving a fist bump to Vanellope at the end of the movie when she returns to her rightful position as ruler. It is a rare scene in animation to see two females interacting with each other, expressing power and victory. To put that scene in perspective, the awesome Minority Feisty of “Puss in Boots,” Kitty Softpaws, never meets any of the other 4 females in the movie.
More coolness: One of the crowd scenes– in Vanellope’s game, Sugar Rush– is female dominated. The trio of girls who actually get to speak in that crowd are a stereotype, the trifecta, of mean girls: one bitchy leader flanked by a pair of followers (as seen in “Mean Girls,” “Heathers” “Never Been Kissed,” and many more “chick flicks”.)
But still, females dominating a crowd scene– a crowd scene of race car drivers, no less– is nothing to sneeze at. Those cars may be made out of cookies and candy, the drivers may have names like Taffyta, reminiscent of “My Little Pony” but, still, progress noted.
There are still more depictions of female power in “Ralph.” A few weeks ago, I posted about “riding bitch:” how whether a female in kidworld is on a magic carpet (“Aladdin”) a dragon (“How to Train Your Dragon”) or a hippogriff (Harry Potter), she’s is almost always found behind the male. The message is: the boy leads, the girl is along for the ride. Not in this movie. In “Wreck-It Ralph” Sargeant Calhoun piloted some kind of motorized, flying surfboard and a space ship while Fix-it Felix rode shotgun. Not only was Felix in the passenger seat, but he gazed, admiringly at Calhoun as he watched her do her stuff. Calhoun was shown as attractive and powerful simultaneously. That, my friend, is almost never depicted. Vanellope, herself, becomes a race car driver. She is also shown in the driver’s seat with Ralph behind her. Ralph does teach her how to drive (when he doesn’t know how either) but her skills surpass his and he is shown admiring her for her talent. (I cannot find images on the web of Calhoun piloting with Fix-It Felix by her side or Vanellope driving with Ralph in the back. If you do, please send me the link.)
But here’s the gender matrix. Even breaking all these sexist barriers, Ralph is clearly the protagonist. The movie is named for him. He’s the hero. Fix-It Felix is the “good guy” to Ralph’s “bad guy.” The real bad guy, the villain of the movie, Turbo, is also male. Turbo masquerades as King Candy but when Vanellope is restored to her rightful role as ruler, she is “princess,” not “queen.” In an often used cliche in children’s movies trying to straddle the princess-empowerment image, Vanellope tears off her puffy, pink dress. Later, in the movie, when she has to wear the dress to attend a wedding, she is uncomfortable and scratches her neck. (I actually appreciated that detail much more than the overused “rip off your princess-dress/ corset” cliche. Another awesome factor: the toys from the movie. As far as I can see, the Vanellope figure is shown in her regular clothes or driving her car, not wearing the princess outfit she hates in the movie, which is, unfortunately, how Disney sells Mulan.)
The Bad Guy Anon meetings were hilarious and creative. I was cracking up watching them but these scenes fortify the sexist matrix.
The whole thesis of the movie is about being a bad “guy.” There was only one female in the bad “guy” group and she didn’t get a single line. It is mostly that cast of characters that made the poster that is all over San Francisco.
The bad female is not on this poster, nor is Vanellope, Calhoun, and Moppet Girl. When I posted earlier about the sexist poster, “Wreck-It Ralph” fans responded with hundreds of angry comments on Reel Girl and all over the web. Their first complaint was that the movie features strong female characters. It does. But the male is still the lead. That is what this poster clearly shows. That is why the poster was created to look this way and why the film is titled for Ralph.
Also, the poster is its own media. Even if you don’t see the movie, your kids see the poster on buses and looming over them on the sides of buildings. And again, if 50% of posters around town featured females, there would be no problem with “Wreck-It Ralph.” But, “Wreck it Ralph” fits a pattern, echoed and repeated, where males star and females are sidelined or missing.
Commenters on that blog post also told me the movie is called “Sugar Rush” in Japan. I think that’s pretty cool, but it’s still not called “The Racer, Vanellope” and it’s the U.S. version that sets the cultural standards here. Also, once again, Ralph narrates, the movie is Ralph’s story. Vanellope is his friend.
Why is the gender of the protagonist so crucial? We are all the heroes in our own lives. Again and again, with these films, girls see that there is a limit, a ceiling, to their potential, and it is marked with a male. No matter how important they are or how big a role they get to play, there is a guy who gets more.
Reel Girl rates “Wreck-It Ralph ***HH*** Take your kids to see this movie!
Update: A commenter tells me one of the 3 mean girls is, in fact, a boy. The one on the left. Beggars can’t be choosers, and I claimed claimed RF in spite of evil ways, but she is a he.
So sick of people saying I should be grateful for crumbs and the Minority Feisty. If all goes well, My nine year daughter and I are going to see “Wreck-It Ralph” today. I’ll try to review Saturday morning.
Last year’s post:
Thanksgiving movies a feast for boys, girls go hungry
November 23, 2011
Let’s see, no school today and my daughters want to see a movie.
Is it too much to ask for one holiday movie to put a female character front and center as it does for male characters in all 5 holiday movies?
What about a mother-daughter saga instead of father-son one as in “Arthur” (Santa’s incompetent son) and “Happy Feet” (Mumble’s son can’t dance like he can)?
Or a girl buddy movie as in “Puss In Boots” (Puss and Humpty dream, go on adventures, and finally, transition)?
I don’t know what “Hugo” is about but something tells me not a girl.
Stanford educated engineer, Debbie Sterling, was always bothered by how few women were in her program. (Of 181 students in her program, she was the lone female.) It’s not that she didn’t understand why the gender gap existed. She related. As a child, her parents didn’t play LEGO or Lincoln Logs with her. It never occurred to them– or to her– to encourage exploration in building toys. Sterling didn’t get interested in engineering until high school. Now, she’s found a way to get more girls into building earlier. And guess what? Her tactic doesn’t involve turning a toy pink.
Sterling created Goldieblox. She describes it as “a book and a construction toy combined. It stars Goldie, the girl inventor and her motley crew of friends who go on adventures and solve problems by building simple machines.”
One thing I LOVE about this toy is that Sterling created a narrative with a female protagonist around the activity of building. While I don’t necessarily agree with her reason for this tactic (“Boys like to build, girls like to read”) I do think that there are not enough stories starring females that revolve around action, adventure, and building. Most action toys– Batman, Star Wars figures, Superman on and on– have stories that go with them. If you gave a kid a Darth Vader figure without a billion dollar marketing movie machine, let’s just say that toy wouldn’t sell so well. While there is no Goldieblox blockbuster in theaters, helping children to create a story around a character is key to inciting interest and play. I create stories in order to get my kids dressed in the morning or into the bath. Narratives are the most powerful tools we have. Sterling uses narrative brilliantly to sell her toy, not only in the product itself but in the video she created to raise the money she needed to get it in production.
Here’s the video she made for Kickstarter. Please watch, it’s so inspiring.
After this went around the web, Sterling surpassed her goal of 5,000 orders. Goldieblox is in production. Not only that, the company has already started receiving orders from toystores. Goldieblox.com was just launched and you can order your toys there.
Sterling says, “The thing is 89% of engineers are male, so we literally live in a man’s world. Yet 50% of the population is female. So if we want to live in a better world, we need girls building these things too, We need girls solving these problems.”
I started Reel Girl just after Christmas almost three years ago, so freaked out by the pile of pink toys my three daughters received, most involving some form of dressing dolls: paper, wooden, plastic, magnetic, tiny, large, soft, and hard. I have to say, this year, with sites like A Mighty Girl’s and Toward the Stars, new toys like Goldieblox, books and DVDs I’ve sought out (Reel Girl recommends) this is the first year since I had children that I am actually excited about Christmas shopping.
I can’t wait until Christmas and my kids get Serafina together with Merida and Katniss, there will be an army of archers.
But, I’m kind of bummed about Hawkgirl.
Is it me or are her breasts seriously distracting?
Her head is cool, her wings are cool, but I don’t know if I can get past that bright yellow cleavage. The whole point of buying these toys is to give kids an alternative so why the torpedo breasts? I get that my kids were not foremost in the toy designer or comic book artist’s mind, but I wish they were. They should be, right? I have 3 girls, but I don’t think I’d be psyched to give this toy to my son either.
But tell me what you think. And what you think a kid would think. Just don’t compare big breasts to big muscles. If you feel tempted, read this post.
Update: So I showed Hawkgirl to my husband: “What do you think of her?” He said: “First she blinds them with her boobs, then she attacks!”
Basically, he thinks she’s fine as long as she’s one of many, diversity is key. He reminded me of a castle the girls had filled with all kinds of magical creatures. Barbie was there, but she was just one of so many different figures. I think I agree. So at this point, it looks like Hawgirl will make it under the tree. I’ll update you on the post-Xmas reaction.