Memo to ‘best of’ listmakers: Narratives with powerful female protagonists are FOR EVERYONE

When Cate Blanchett accepted her Oscar a couple weeks ago, she told the world that movies with women at the center are not a niche market, that those movies make money. I couldn’t agree more. And it’s not just my opinion, or Blanchett’s, of course. “Catching Fire” starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is the highest grossing movie of 2013 while “Frozen,” starring sisters Elsa and Anna, just crossed the billion dollar mark in worldwide ticket sales.

So why do we still think of women and girls, one half of the human population, like some kind of special interest group? As the mom of three young daughters, I am particularly frustrated by how this gender myth– that boys won’t engage in media about female protagonists– is perpetuated in kidworld, where stores like Target or Toys R Us divide merchandise into generalized and stereotyped boy/ girl aisles and On Demand categorizes TV shows starring girls into a separate group.

There’s another place we really need to stop segregating kids and that’s in the girl empowerment community. There are so many great “best of” lists that go around the internet featuring media with strong girls, but too often, there’s a persistent preposition problem: books about girls are promoted as for girls. Books about girls are for everyone.


New York Public Library’s site just put out a great list featuring books like Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, and Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, among others. Typically, this is how the list is headed:

Girl Power: Books for Bold Women.


The listmaker goes on to introduce her amazing books with this qualifier:

Smart, strong women deserve books filled with smart, strong female characters. Luckily, there are many books with protagonists who speak out for justice, make courageous choices, and know that womanhood is beautiful. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of recommendations for the woman who expects her fiction to be as bold as she is. From Haitian short fiction to literature of the southern immigrant experience, these books will make you believe in girl power.


Smart, strong people deserve books filled with smart, strong female characters.

If I didn’t see this happen so many times, I wouldn’t blog about it, but here’s the thing: I’m grateful dedicated people are making these lists, but as long as we keep segregating the fiction world, we’ll segregate the real one. Please, keep an eye out for how often you see media about women and girls marketed as for women and girls. If you’re a parent, please seek out books, movies, games, and apps featuring powerful female protagonists for your sons as well as your daughters.

Update: Please sign the petition from Let Toys Be Toys For Girls and Boys asking publishers of children’s books to stop marketing to books to girls or boys.


Titles like “The Beautiful Girls’ Book of Colouring” or “Illustrated Classics for Boys” send the message that certain books are off-limits for girls or for boys, and promote limiting gender stereotypes.


How can a story or a colouring page be only for a girl or only for a boy? A good book should be open to anyone, and children should feel free to choose books that interest them. It’s time to Let Books Be Books.


Sexist MTV Movie Awards excludes females from hero category

How backwards is this? In the year 2014, when you’d hope we’d all be beyond this degree of sexism, the MTV Movie Awards completely excludes females from its “Best Hero” category.


That’s right, Katniss Everdeen is not among MTV’s nominees for “Best Hero,” an all male round up that incudes Superman, Iron Man, Bilbo, Thor, and Jon Kale. Don’t know who John Kale is? Neither did I. He’s played by Channing Tatum in “White House Down,” a movie no one liked or watched. Ok, that may be an exaggeration, but “Catching Fire,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, was the top-grossing movie of 2013. Katniss is a household name, the protagonist of a top selling book series, she’s got her own doll, not to mention, she kicks ass in an amazing movie. Would MTV ever ignore a male hero from a top-grossing, critically acclaimed film like this? Isn’t MTV supposed to be cool and hip and appeal to young people? How can they be so clueless? MTV, your sexism is shocking and unacceptable.

Sophie Azran has started a petition against MTV. On the, she writes:

There is not a single woman in the Hero Category. Don’t let a strong woman like Katniss be overlooked!


Please sign and share this petition before April 13 to demand that MTV add Katniss Everdeen to the “Best Hero” category at the MTV Movie Awards.


Young women already have too few female heroes represented in film and television. We’re constantly shown by the entertainment industry that men are brave, powerful, or successful, while women are often given supporting roles and weak characters.


I loved The Hunger Games, not just because it was a thrilling story, but because I admired the courage, intelligence, and persistence of Katniss Everdeen. Teen girls and young women everywhere need to see that courageous, principled women can be rewarded just like men.


The MTV Movie Awards are widely watched by a young adult audience. It’s appalling to me that the event’s producers are ignoring this female hero, especially since this film beat out all the others at the box office. But unlike the Oscars, the MTV Movie awards encourages public involvement, allowing the public to vote on winners. If enough of us ask for Katniss to be added, I’m confident that MTV will listen.


Sign this petition before April 13 to demand that MTV add Katniss Everdeen to the “Best Hero” category.


I couldn’t agree more with everything Azran writes. Please go to this link and sign her petition.

Every dog needs a boy: ‘Mr. Peabody and Sherman’ continues pattern of sexism in kids’ movies

“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” repeats the same old sexist pattern of so many kids’ movies where male characters get to star while females are stuck on the sidelines, in supporting roles.

Let’s start with the title of the movie: “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” Note this title features the name of not one, but two, male stars. That’s right– “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is yet another father-son story. While movie studios strategically switched the title of “Rapunzel” to “Tangled” and “Snow Queen to “Frozen” to hide female stars, the marketing for “Peabody” showcases males, and I’m not only referring to the movie title. I live in San Francisco, and here’s the poster that my three daughters and I see all around town:


Major close up of two male stars. Compare that to “Frozen,” one of the rare children’s movies to feature not one but two female protagonists. Anna and Elsa get buried in the snow. The marketing implies that Olaf, the snowman, is the star of the movie.


A major problem with this sexist marketing is that even if your children don’t see the movies, they see the posters. From this media, kids see that boys get to be front and center while females get sidelined or are invisible all together. The repetition of these gendered images teaches all children that boys are more important and get to do more things that girls.

Like most children’s movies, “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” features a Minority Feisty. The Minority Feisty is “a strong female character” (or two or three) who plays a crucial role in helping the male star achieve his quest. There may be more than one Minority Feisty in a movie, but there are always a minority of female roles compared to male roles, even though girls are one half of the kid population. The purpose of the Minority Feisty is to make parents overlook the lack of female protagonists, because, hey, at least there’s a strong female in the narrative. To really get how sexist this gender ratio is, imagine gender flipping the characters. How likely is a it that a studio would put out a movie called “Ms. Peabody and Sharon” with a close-up of the two female stars on the poster? When is the last time you saw a children’s movie advertised with two female stars in the title and a just two females in the poster all around your town or city?

I blog a lot about a particular trope in children’s media that makes me crazy called “riding bitch.” While male characters often soar through the sky on all kinds of magical creatures, from dragons to hippogriffs, female characters usually are put in the passenger seat, not steering or deciding where to go, just along for the ride. Even though I’ve noted this trope endless times, I was shocked by how sexist it is in “Mr. Sherman.” Here’s what happens in the movie. Mr. Peabody, Sherman, and Penny go back in time to visit Leonardo da Vinci. Penny sees da Vinci’s flying machine and, as the Minority Feisty is wont to do, she hops on. Sherman is afraid but follows. Penny flies through the sky and whoops in delight while Sherman shrieks. My 7 year old daughter saw this scene in the preview and told me about it, she was so excited. But here’s the bummer:

Yes, Penny starts out flying the machine, but then she encourages Sherman to try. He refuses and she repeatedly tells him that he can do it. When Sherman continues to shy away, Penny lets go of the steering wheel, and they almost crash before Sherman finally takes control. This is the length the female character goes to put the male back in the driver’s seat. Sherman flies and he’s great at it, until Mr. Peabody sees him and says. “Sherman! You can’t fly!” reinforcing that all Sherman needed was a good girl to believe in him. When Sherman crashes, da Vinci runs up to Sherman, who is with Penny in a pile of debris, and says, “You are the first man to fly!” At no point does Sherman say, “No, actually Penny is the first woman to fly.” ARGH. What do my kids– and all kids– learn from this narrative? The same thing they learn from the whole goddam movie: it is the role of the female to help the male, to make him feel good and secure in his role as star, while she is happy and content as the sidekick; that’s where she belongs.

Lean In and Girl Scouts just started a “ban bossy” campaign which I love. But how much hope do these organizations have of getting a different message across when narratives like Penny’s are mass-marketed to little kids?


There’s a lot more I didn’t like about gender in “Mr. Peabody.” Penny goes back in time, not to meet a suffragist or Joan of Arc or Queen Elizabeth, but to be the child bride of King Tut. That narrative is all about her wedding. UGH. If they wanted to do ancient Egypt, couldn’t she at least have encountered Cleopatra? Time and time again, Penny is a damsel in distress/ Minority Feisty who gets to play a small– but crucial role– in her own rescues, and is ultimately saved by Sherman again and again.

The last line of the movie pretty much sums up how males are front and center while girls go missing. Mr. Peabody, watching Sherman go off to school, says, “Every dog needs a boy.” What about a girl? What about at least saying “kid” or “child”? Instead, females don’t exist at all.

I get that this movie is a remake but that’s no excuse to recycle sexism for a new generation of kids. We had three Shrek movies (the first, of course, based on an original story) and in each one, Fiona, a Minority Feisty, gets a smaller part. This is a typical interpretation of “remake.” By the last Shrek movie, the narrative devolves into another father-son story (co-starring Justin Timberlake.) There was a spin off, and still, it was not Fiona, but Puss In Boots who got his own solo movie, featuring the Minority Feisty Kitty Softpaws. When will Kitty get her own movie? Ever? Do your kids even know who she is? The other problem with remakes is that when girls star, in each new incarnation characters like Strawberry Shortcake, Dora, the Powerpuff Girls, get “makeovers” where they get less powerful and more sexualized.

Once again, I write this: I would not have a problem with “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” if it were just one narrative. The problem is the repeated pattern of sexism that kids see again and again and again. Children learn through repetition, and I am beyond sick of this sexism marketed to kids. If you want a refresher of how many movies for kids star males versus how many star females take a look at Reel Girl’s Galleries of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies:





Reel Girl rates “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” ***H***




Dear Barbie

Dear Barbie,

Thank you for your letter explaining the decision to put you in Sports Illustrated wearing your zebra stripe bathing suit.


As the mother of three young daughters, I have some issues with your letter I want to address.

You write:

My bathing suit now hangs beside a Presidential power suit, Pastry Chef hat, and Astronaut gear in a wardrobe reflecting the more than 150 careers I’ve pursued to illustrate for girls that they can achieve anything for which they aim. And yet, I am still seen as just a pretty face. It’s simpler to keep me in a box—and since I am a doll—chances are that’s where I’ll stay.

The problem is that while my daughters, in their short lives, have already seen thousands of women celebrated in magazines for how “beautiful” they look in a bathing suit, they have yet to see a woman grace the cover– or “promotional overlap”– of a magazine for being president of the USA. Of course, that’s because there has never been a female president in this country.

As far as the pastry chef hat, celebrating great female cooks in the media is also lacking. Just one recent example, in Time Magazine’s recent “Gods of Food” story, there are zero women.

Female astronauts? The Mars Explorer Barbie is described:

Mars Explorer Barbie® doll launches the first “one-doll” mission to Mars. Ready to add her signature pink splash to the “red planet,” Barbie® doll is outfitted in a stylish space suit with pink reflective accents, helmet, space pack and signature pink space boots.

Do you think “adding a signature pink splash” is the best way to inspire our daughters to become astronauts? Barbie’s professions aren’t defined by much more than what she wears. The emphasis is still on her outfit. The message to girls is that how they look is the most important thing about them.

Next in your letter, you write:

Every year, Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit drums up conversation and controversy. Upon the launch of this year’s 50th anniversary issue, there will again be buzz and debate over the validity of the women in the magazine, questioning if posing in it is a blow to female equality and self-image. In 2014, does any woman in the issue seriously need permission to appear there?


A woman doesn’t need permission to be in SI, but you, as the opening sentence of your letter states, are a doll, a doll made “for girls.” So when you’re in a magazine created for adults, and girls see your picture, they’ll think that this magazine is for them. They’ll want to flip through the pages, and if they do, they’ll see picture after picture of mostly naked adult women in sexual poses. When I blogged about Barbie in SI earlier, someone made this comment:

To me this just proves Barbies are NOT really children’s toys at all! Maybe that’s what they are “unapologetic” about? As in “Haha, suckers! You’ve been buying your daughters miniature sex dolls for 50+ years!”


If you’re coming out a sex doll, that’s Mattel’s choice, but the rest of the company’s advertising should reflect a consistent message. Stop trying to appeal to children, because that’s confusing, and confusing kids and sex is dangerous: one out five girls is sexually abused. When a culture is accustomed to seeing girls sexualized, we stay apathetic towards identifying it and taking action towards stopping this epidemic. In case you’re not familiar with sexualization, it’s different that healthy sexuality. Sexualization is when girls understand sexuality as performance, when its not connected to real feelings or desire. Sexualization happens when girls are exposed to adult sexuality too early. Here’s the definition of sexualization from the the American Psychological Association:

There are several components to sexualization, and these set it apart from healthy sexuality. Sexualization occurs when

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  • sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization. The fourth condition (the inappropriate imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children. Anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not sexualization by our definition, nor is age-appropriate exposure to information about sexuality.


In your letter, you go on to defend models as more than pretty faces, claiming you want them to be recognized for their other achievements as authors, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists. But if you want more recognition for these professions, why showcase Barbie in her bathing suit?

You write:

Models choosing to pose in a bikini aren’t the problem.

How much “choice” is really involved when modeling is one of the only professions where women outearn men? How much choice is involved when ever since women were girls, they’ve seen women repeatedly celebrated on the cover of magazines– not so much for being authors, entrepreneurs or philanthropists– but for how they look in bathing suits? When female writers are relegated to chicklit, when the female CEO of General Motors earns half of her male predecessor’s salary, and when women hold 1% of the world’s wealth, making the “choice” to be a model may seem like the best way to success among such limited, sexist options.

There’s nothing innovative about Barbie in Sports Illustrated. This magazine has let a woman on the cover of a non-swimsuit issue only 66 times. That’s about once a year. These pictures are the same old, same old except for one thing: Barbie is taking the sexualizing of girlhood to an offensive and dangerous new low.


Margot Magowan



Sexualizing toys hits new low: Barbie makes cover of SI’s swimsuit issue

Sports Illustrated announced Barbie will be on the cover of the magazine’s 50th anniversary swimsuit issue.


Sports Illustrated, do you realize every time my 4 year old or 7 year old daughter sees the cover of your magazine, she will think that it’s made for her? About her?

I guess you do, because Target will be selling a limited edition of the SI Barbie to coincide with this issue of the magazine.

So grown-ups, once again, are teaching kids that females are valued for how their bodies look while males are valued for what their bodies can do. I am so fucking disgusted. I cannot believe the sexualization of girls is this mainstream, accepted, normal, and OK.

The Atlantic reports:

In the 57 years since Sports Illustrated‘s founding, a woman has appeared on a (non-swimsuit issue) cover 66 times—on average, just over once a year.


Your tagline for the campaign is #unapologetic. So you’re not sorry– proud rather– that you are contributing to a culture where we are all so used to girls being sexualized? Do you get the damage you are helping to create?

The American Psychological Association reports:

There are several components to sexualization, and these set it apart from healthy sexuality. Sexualization occurs when

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  • sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization. The fourth condition (the inappropriate imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children. Anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not sexualization by our definition, nor is age-appropriate exposure to information about sexuality.


Statistics on sexual abuse show 1 in 5 girls is sexually abused.

Sports Illustrated, how can you be #unapologetic?

Update: Love this comment on Reel Girl’s Facebook page from RG fan Sarah Schiebel:

To me this just proves Barbies are NOT really children’s toys at all! Maybe that’s what they are “unapologetic” about? As in “Haha, suckers! You’ve been buying your daughters miniature sex dolls for 50+ years!”


‘Lego Movie’ builds on gender stereotypes, pieces together sexist cliches

Though my kids and I saw “The Lego Movie” last week, I’ve been avoiding blogging about it.


Contrary to what some commenters claim, I don’t relish seeing yet another movie for kids with the same old sexist pattern that’s been done so many times my head spins. I’m so fucking sick of the Minority Feisty, I could scream. I cannot believe Hollywood keeps churning out this shit. And, yet…

The last line of the movie, the finale, is all you really need to know to understand the sexist stereotyping throughout. Batman (a major character, while Wonder Woman gets two lines) urges his girlfriend, Lucy, to go off with, the movie’s protagonist, saying: “No, Lucy. He’s the hero you deserve.” The girl– and she is the girl– is the prize to be won. Literally. Why can’t a girl be the fucking hero? Really, LEGO, why?

Here’s what drives me crazy about this film. “The Lego Movie” is all about prizing creativity above all, yet,  when it comes to gender, innovation flies right out the window and cliche dominates the imaginary world. It’s just like how in “Turbo” the movie’s message is that a snail can win the Indy 500, follow your dreams, be anything you want to be…unless you happen to be a girl. Same with “Planes:” anyone can become a champion, even a crop duster, except for…females. What are children supposed to think about possibility and potential when in narrative after narrative girls are stuck in supporting roles if they get to exist at all?

The bad guy (yes, bad guy) in “The Lego Movie,” Mr. Business, is evil because he wants all the LEGO sets to stay only with their intended pieces. He wants to build impenetrable boundaries to make sure nothing too creative goes on. His deadly weapon, the kragle, is superglue. To Mr. Business, LEGO is not about process and creativity, but a static, finished, perfect product.

This is a brilliant message to teach kids. Art is about process (not to mention, life.) LEGO’s self-awareness about its toy surprised and impressed me. The movie’s narrative illustrates the problem I have with LEGO sets (besides their sexism, of course.) Every time I struggle through yet another 1,000 piece project with my kids, I wonder: What is the point here? What are we learning, how to follow directions?

Near the end of the movie, Will Ferrell, who voices Mr. Business appears in human form. He’s angry with his son (yep, his son) who’s in the basement, playing with Ferrell’s completed LEGO sets. The kid has put a dragon on top of a building, where it’s not supposed to be. Ferrell gets mad, and the kid says, “But it’s a toy! See the box? For 8 to 14 year olds.” Ferrell says, “That’s just a suggestion!”

At this point, like so many other times in the movie, I cracked up. The villain is my husband. While I lie there wondering what the point of LEGO is, he’s snatching up pieces, trying to finish the set himself, do it all perfectly, and once it’s done, he puts it somewhere high up where no one can reach it. So, this is what I want to know: LEGO, how can you be so creative, smart, and funny but then fall into tropes when it comes to gender roles? Why can’t you break through the impenetrable boundary of your own sexism?

There’s one Minority Feisty gleam of hope that comes at the end of the father son scene. After an epiphany, Farrell lets his kid enjoy the LEGO and says, “Now that you’re allowed down here, we’ll have to let your sister play too.” Cue the scary music. Could this be the next movie? Girls are allowed to play, front and center? And what if those girls are actually seen having an adventure, not shopping or eating at a cafe or taking care of sick puppies or whatever LEGO Friends allows them to do? LEGO’s world would change. Not to mention ours. That would be an adventure.

Reel Girl rates “The Lego Movie” ***H***

Update: For those of you who don’t know about LEGO’s history of sexism, here are some posts you should read:

A father recently wrote about the sexism his son is learning from LEGO

There is a lot I’ve written here on Reel Girl, here’s one on shopping with my daughter

If you want to see how male protagonists dominate children’s movies while female characters are continually sidelines or go missing all together, check out Reel Girl’s Galleries:

Here are the children’s movies from 2011




Bay Area’s Camp Reel Stories teaches girls to make movies

Last year, Esther Pearl and Zoe Boxer founded Camp Reel Stories, a media camp in the Bay Area for girls ages 13 – 18. Excited by the concept and curious about how the camp helps girls turn big dreams into practical action, I interviewed Pearl. Her responses are below. I cannot wait until my kids are old enough to experience this magical place.

What inspired you to found Camp Reel Stories?


I have worked in film and media production for 15 years, and though I really loved my work I was often disappointed in the lack of female characters on the projects I worked on and how few female colleagues I had.  When I became a parent to a little girl I dug deeper into this inequity and what I found was astonishing.


From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, law, politics, or as a business leader. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce[1]. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946. These statistics are enormously detrimental to young women’s impressions of themselves and their perceived value in the world. While this is disheartening, this also means there is a vast untapped market for both talent and products that represent the diversity of our society.


I look at this as a great opportunity to create change in not only the lack of equity in the industry, but a creative opportunity to create new filmmakers and producers that are excited about creating characters and storylines that interest them.

My partner and I created Camp Reel Stories (CRS) as a fun way to connect young women with professional mentors, give them story telling and production skills to tell stories that reflect their unique point of view, while incorporating media literacy and leadership workshops. CRS believes that when women and girls are better reflected behind the scenes they will be better reflected on the screen. 

What do you teach the girls during the sessions? What do you think they get out of their time at the camp?


Our campers get a lot!  They learn filmmaking and production from leaders in the field, they take media literacy and leadership workshops. The girls work in small teams and have an adult producer that guides them the process and in just one week they write, shoot and edit a short film.  Last year we had six films completed and this year we will have even more! They also have the collaboration and creative skill building process mirrored for them as they see they professional mentors work together to create not only great short films, but a fun camp experience.

How many campers attend?

In 2013 we held our inaugural camp and we had 32 campers.  This year we will have 2 summer camps and can take up to 90 girls, and those spaces are filling fast.  You can apply at

What do the alumni go on to do?

Thus far we have 50% of of campers signed up again this year.  We have elected 2 student board members from our first cohort to the CRS board to help grow our organization.  Two of CRS films were accepted into a local film festival and were screened for a huge audience just this past Friday night and other festivals have asked me to submit their work.  100% of attendees surveyed from the CRS pilot camp said through CRS they learned how gender equity in the media affects the way women are perceived in the media, 85% now view the media more critically and 92% felt more comfortable in their leadership ability, felt their skills as filmmakers improved and plan to continue making films. 20% of our campers have made changes or created an educational plan for a career in the media.


Also many of our campers have used what they learned in camp to speak to their classes and schools about gender inequity in the media, sharing knowledge about the Bechdel test and to organize screenings of films with strong female characters.

What are some examples of media that you think promotes positive images or girls and women?

This is a tough one, because as an adult and a parent of young children I have a different lens than our campers about what a positive image is.  The media has made it harder and harder to decipher between a celebrity and a role model.  This is something I talk about a lot with my own kids and with our campers.  There is a difference between a Kardashian and an actress, it’s important to acknowledge that.

Personally I have seen a lot of films that have really interesting characters and relationships that wouldn’t always be appropriate for a younger audience and I like complicated characters.  Recently I saw and loved, Enough Said, Short Term 12, The Bling Ring, Philomena and Frances Ha.

With my daughter and son I find it so hard to find interesting characters in films that we all can enjoy.  We all really like the Miyazaki films and we are introducing films from awhile ago since the pickings are slim currently.  Some of those are Bend it like Beckham, Black Stallion, Mary Poppins. And everyone loved Brave and Despicable Me.

The campers also seem to be able to access to Netflix, Hulu and other online resources to search out media that they can relate to.  I was surprised that so many teenagers were familiar with some 80 and 90s classics, such as Breakfast Club, Harold and Maude, Amelie since they can’t find a lot of current media they can relate to.

What do you do during the rest of the year? Do you plan to expand? What are your goals for the camp?

The rest of the year is spent planning the future of Camp Reel Stories.  This year we will triple in size, we will offer 2 summer camps and an afterschool program in the fall. 40% of our campers are on financial aid so I am always fundraising to make sure that anyone that wants to attend can. The films from last year have been entered in several film festivals and now are being selected and screened.  I also try to collaborate with as many like minded organizations as possible.

We hope to offer camps in other locations the just the Bay Area in 2015 and we are researching those opportunities now.

What is a typical day at camp like?

Each day is a little different, but we incorporate icebreaking and leadership activities into every morning.  The girls are on an accelerated schedule, so they have to get to know one another AND learn filmmaking quickly so that they can get to creating their films.  Everyday they learn about some part of the creative process and immediately get hands on experience in that area.  On Monday morning 30-40 girls who don’t know one another walk into a room, but the end of the day the have formed a small team and have an idea of what they want to make. That process is impressive and we are amazed at how quickly the girls can set aside their differences to get on to the creative process.

Tuesday they learn storyboarding, audio and video and work with their team to finalize their story.  They also take a media literacy workshop so that they can see the direct correlation to the lack of representation both behind and in front of the camera. Wednesday they shoot, Thursday they learn to edit, and they edit a rough cut of their project and then at the end of the day show it to their fellow campers and get creative feedback.  Friday they fix, by either reshooting or reediting, anything that they want and on Saturday they screen it at a Camp Reel Stories film festival which 250 people attend.

It is amazing to see these young women come out of their shell in the course of the week and I can’t wait to see what this year brings.  We are restructuring a bit since we got requests for both more time to shoot and more media literacy.

It sounds like a lot of work, but we also have a lot of fun. In the end we are so proud of the work that the campers have done and the community created, not only with the campers, but with our volunteers, professional mentors and families.  It’s quite exciting to see everyone fired up to create media that is more interesting and reflects the diverse fabric of our lives.


Visit Camp Reel Stories here.



All facts are supported by research conducted by Dr. Stacy Smith, Ph.D. at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism

Woody Allen’s op-ed shows disregard for child abuse

When I heard that The New York Times was going to publish an op-ed by Woody Allen refuting Dyan Farrow’s account of his sexual abuse, I thought he would write about how serious child abuse is and that he had been wrongly accused of this terrible crime. Instead, he uses his word count to trivialize sex abuse, repeatedly implying that any rational person ought to automatically believe his story of innocence. Otherwise, Allen uses his word count to go off on tangents characterizing Farrow as a vindictive and scorned woman.

In one of many attacks on Farrow, referring to Justice Wilk’s opinion about his relationship with Soon-Yi, Allen writes:

He thought of me as an older man exploiting a much younger woman, which outraged Mia as improper despite the fact she had dated a much older Frank Sinatra when she was 19.


So Allen’s point is that Mia is a liar and hypocrite because she also had an experience with a much older man? Could it be that she knows, first hand, about power imbalance? Obviously, Woody still sees nothing wrong with the relationship.

For his entire op-ed, Allen writes nothing to indicate that he gets child abuse is epidemic. Here’s his opening sentence:

TWENTY-ONE years ago, when I first heard Mia Farrow had accused me of child molestation, I found the idea so ludicrous I didn’t give it a second thought.


Accusations of child molestation are not “ludicrous” and actually do deserve “a second thought.” It’s disturbing that Allen just assumes the charge is no big deal and thinks that everyone ought to know how idiotic such a claim is. What if we all shared Allen’s views about how to react to claims of sexual abuse? How would children fare?

Allen makes the same point again and again.

I naïvely thought the accusation would be dismissed out of hand because of course, I hadn’t molested Dylan and any rational person would see the ploy for what it was.


Why would “any rational person” see this “ploy”? Unless we all automatically bought in to all the stereotypes about vindictive, lying women and credible, powerful men, one would hope accusations of child abuse would be taken seriously. Statistics show the chances of being sexually assaulted is 1 in 3-to-4 for girls (before they turn 18), 1 in 5-to-7 for boys (before they turn 18), 1 in 5 for women, 1 in 77 for men.

In Rolereboot, Soraya Chemaly writes:

That everyone “knows” girls and women lie about sexual assault is a dangerous and enduring myth. A survey of college students revealed that the majority believed up to 50% of their female peers lie when they allege rape, despite wide-scale evidence and multi-country studies that show the incidence of false rape reports to be in the 2%-8% range. Yes, there are false claims, but they occur in roughly the same numbers as false claims for other crimes. As the Equality for Women’s Charles Clymer pointed out recently, based on FBI and Department of Justice information, “The odds of the average straight man (the target group overwhelmingly concerned with this) in the U.S. being accused of rape are 2.7 million to 1.”


Yet, Allen goes on, continuing to describe the ludicrousness of the charges:

Now, suddenly, when I had driven up to her house in Connecticut one afternoon to visit the kids for a few hours, when I would be on my raging adversary’s home turf, with half a dozen people present, when I was in the blissful early stages of a happy new relationship with the woman I’d go on to marry — that I would pick this moment in time to embark on a career as a child molester should seem to the most skeptical mind highly unlikely.

Allen’s sarcasm is offensive. If he wishes for anyone to take his defense seriously, he ought to at least attempt to express some recognition of the seriousness of Dylan’s charges. Instead, he comes off as narcissistic at best and delusional at worst.

Celebrities wash hands of Dylan’s abuse, call it private matter

Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter to Woody Allen in the New York Times, documenting his sexual abuse. It’s the first time Dylan has written publicly about the event.

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies…


Last week, Woody Allen was nominated for his latest Oscar. But this time, I refuse to fall apart. For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away. But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me – to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories – have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either…


What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?…

Today, Cate Blanchett washes her hands of the accusations, responding:

It’s obviously been a long and painful situation for the family and I hope they find some sort of resolution and peace

Alec Baldwin, in his typical aggressive style, also claims this mess is none of his business, Tweeting:

What the f&@% is wrong w u that u think we all need to b commenting on this family’s personal struggle?

So the sexual abuse of a seven year old child is a family matter? Funny, that’s the same claim people make about domestic violence. It’s private. Don’t get involved. Stay out. This is none of your business. I’m just curious: Whose business is it when children are sexually abused?

On Twitter, I follow Wall Street Journal writer Rachel Dodes Wortman. She ReTweeted this from Mark Harris, a journalist for EW:

A) “Innocent until proven guilty” and “All accusations are true” don’t go well together. B) I don’t know. C) YOU don’t know. So don’t guess?

To which I responded:

Do you know what happened during that trial? ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ when justice system doesnt protect?

Harris Tweets me back:

There was no trial. There was no charge.

My response:

presiding judge found evidence inconclusive, and felt that

their report had been “sanitized”and “colored by their loyalty to Mr. Allen.

I’ve received more Tweets, like these:

There’s a time that finally the world needs to step back because we can’t be helpful. We just complicate matters

If you can solve this, if you know the truth, you personally, it is your business. Otherwise you are intruding.

That you don’t see that this is not our business is your issue, not mine.

How long are we going to look the other way when children are sexually abused? Dylan’s letter is in a blog by New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof. Kristof is also the author, with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, of Half the Sky. In that book, they write:

When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn’t even consider it news.

What happened to Dylan Farrow, and girls everywhere, around the world matters. It isn’t just our business, it’s our moral imperative to listen.

Lena Dunham, creator and star of the TV show “Girls,” feels differently than Blanchett and Baldwin, Tweeting:

“To share in this way is courageous, powerful and generous.” She adds: “Grateful my timeline is full of so much love and respect for Dylan.


For generations, kids have longed for more stories about girls

When you’ve got three kids and one husband home sick, there’s not much you can do, except mindless tasks like folding laundry and cleaning out drawers. It was when I was organizing the children’s bookshelves that I came across Corrie and the Yankee by Mimi Cooper Levy.


I have this book because it was written by a teacher of my mother’s back in 1959. I hadn’t looked at it a long time and completely forgot about the back cover. Here’s what it reads. My mother is Jill.

Mimi Cooper Levy lives in New York City and has taught almost every grade in the public schools from first through junior high. For the last few years she has been a teacher at the famous Little Red Schoolhouse.


While she was teaching a fifth-grade class Jill, one of her pupils, complained that in books of adventure it was almost always a boy who did anything of importance. Miss Levy promised Jill that she would write a story about a girl doing “lots of brave and stirring things.”


It was some time before the promise could be realized, because Miss Levy was then deeply absorbed in research to find material for young readers on Negro history. However, during this research she came across stories about slave families like Corrie’s, and Corrie and the Yankee began to take shape in her mind.


Mimi Levy says, “As soon as I was able, I set to work to write it down–for Jill, and John too, and all the children who used to enjoy listening to my stories. I hope other children will like Corrie too.

It’s remarkable to me that so many years ago– when editors described a female writer as “Miss” and used “Negro” for African-Americans– my mother was complaining about the same thing I’m blogging about right now, that my own fifth grade daughter is experiencing today. How many girls have sat in classrooms over how many years and wondered why female heroes go missing? How many spoke up to their teachers? How many teachers wrote about it? How many girls grew up to write their own stories?

It drives me crazy when I hear people say that girls are totally willing to see movies and read stories about boys, while boys supposedly aren’t interested in seeing movies or reading stories about girls. The truth is that all kids are trained, from birth, that stories about boys are important and for everyone, while stories about girls are trivial and only for girls.

The year is 2014. All kids need to experience narratives where girls do “lots of brave and stirring things.” Can we all help them to that? Parents, please seek out books and movies, apps and games that feature female characters with power and agency. Miss Representation has taught the world, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” but if you can’t even imagine it, that’s the worst of all.