Are there imaginary worlds where sexism doesn’t exist?

I’m reading The Golden Compass and I absolutely love it. The main character is Lyra. She is fierce, smart, and brave. The villain is also female: Mrs. Coulter. She’s brilliant, beautiful, and wicked.

There are several indirect references to sexism in the book. When Lyra first meets Mrs. Coulter she is shocked that the woman is a scholar because female scholars are few and dowdy. Lyra notes many times that the male scholars get access to special rooms. Just like in the real world, right? We all know real life Oxford is sexist as hell. So what’s wrong with referencing that sexism in the story?

There are further parts of the story that make note of sexism. Only the male gyptians are allowed on the boat to recover the children. The female gyptians argue they should be included, not to battle, but because someone will need to be there to look after the children once they are rescued.

Of course Lyra, just a child, goes and battles and is the heroine of the story. But I’m wondering as I read, are there imaginary worlds where there is no sexism? I would love girls and boys to be exposed to this fantasy much more than they currently are. Before we can realize it, we’ve got to be able to imagine it. We get to that surprisingly little if at all.

Obviously, the challenge is that writers exist in real life sexist worlds so as Luce Irigaray wrote, even creating a “female imaginary” can be practically impossible to fantasize about. Though, honestly, it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard. Remember, battles are symbolic and metaphorical as are magical powers.

Just put a female front and center. Have some other females helping her out, they don’t have to be human, just female. That’s a start. Maybe the Oz series would fit? It had Glinda but a lot of makes around Dorothy. Alice in Wonderland? Same thing, but I think that would fit, at least the movie version with the White Queen. Is she in the book? There is the Red Queen, though she’s evil. I like evil female characters but I like good ones as well.  The only thing that bums me out about Tim Burton’s Alice, which I loved, was that the story was bookended with a wedding scene. Like so many modern day feminist heroines, Alice’s independent act is that she refuses to marry who she is supposed to. But why mention marriage at all?

Update: Commenters and  I agree on these: Oz, Wonderland, and Miyazaki’s imagination

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland ***GGG***

“Alice in Wonderland” is one of the best children’s movies I’ve ever seen. I loved it, as did my kids and their cousins, ages seven to three.



Full disclosure: I’ve always been partial to Alice. I named my second daughter after the heroine (and also after my smart and brave mother-in law.)

There are a few things straight up that are rare and remarkable about Tim Burton’s movie.

1) There is a girl in the title that is not a princess

2) There are 4 major female roles: Alice, the Red Queen, the White Queen, and the Doormouse

3) Spoiler alert: the movie doesn’t end in a happy romance. Even though it begins with an engagement party, it finishes with Alice off on her own, pursuing her brilliant idea to improve her late father’s business.

White QueenDisney 

White Queen

The movie is beautiful and exciting to watch. I especially loved Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Unlike “Coraline,” which I also loved, “Alice” has scary parts, but was not too scary for my kids. (Ok, one cousin fled briefly, but she came right back in.) All the children were mesmerized by one of the last scenes, another spoiler alert coming, when Alice slays the Jabberwocky, the dragon like creature/pet of the evil Red Queen.

Which brings me to angry criticism I’ve read of “Alice” all over the internet: the movie is unfaithful to the original books. Some react to Burton’s interpretation as if it’s a personal betrayal, unable to see anything positive in this rebellious movie. For example, in the original Through the Looking Glass, there is a poem where a brave boy kills the Jabberwocky. Now it’s Alice. Horrors!

Red QueenDisney 

Red Queen

Re-interpretation is what keeps stories alive across generations. They’re basically just a few myths out there (haven’t these guys read their Joseph Campbell?) that keep getting recycled. Mostly, these days, people don’t believe in privileging the author’s interpretation anyway; it’s a limited idea. Why get so pissed off that Tim Burton has his way with a story, transforming “Alice” into an exciting tale about girl empowerment, instead of staying loyal to the writer, Lewis Carroll, who was a well know as a pedophile or at least a passionate collector of erotic images of little girls?



When I saw the commercials I was worried Tim Burton wasn’t going to make this kind of brave film. As I wrote about in other posts on my blog, most of the advertisements around San Francisco didn’t show Alice, but Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. I worried he would be the star. A couple ads showed Helena Boham Carter as the Red Queen. Her make up is fabulous, but where was Alice?

Also, the commercials on TV showed Alice being proposed to at an engagement party, so I thought it might somehow be another girls’ movie about a wedding. I was wrong on both counts, and now I feel like if that kind of advertising gets people to see this great movie– who cares? “Alice” does feature a stellar ensemble cast, but everyone, even Johnny Depp, is clearly in a supporting role to Alice. And watching the shy Alice transform into an entrepreneur at the end of the move is pretty cool.

We didn’t watch it in 3D; we’re all kind of sick of 3D, the gimmickiness of it and wearing the annoying glasses. Those special effects are not needed to make this movie visually fabulous.

I am really impressed Tim Burton pulled this off. “Alice in Wonderland” gets a ***GGG*** rating.

Pink and Blue Project

Pink was not always the color of girlie girls. Once upon a time, pink was associated with boys because of its closeness to red, considered a hyper-masculine, power color. Blue was feminine and the color of the role model for all good girls: the Virgin Mary. Animated girl icons Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland were always shown in blue.

Here is some great art work by JeongMee Yoon.

He writes: “The saccharine, confectionary pink objects that fill my images of little girls and their accessories reveal a pervasive and culturally manipulated expression of femininity and a desire to be seen. To make these images, I arrange and display the cotton – candy colored belongings of several children in their rooms.”


Still Looking for Alice…

This week’s People Magazine has a “sneak peak” at Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Johnny Depp, as usual, pictured front and center as the Mad Hatter. To his left, a Dodo, to his right, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. At least there’s one female, but where is Alice in this promo for her movie???

Please check out the comments I got under my last blog entry about Alice, also mentioning Up and Fantastic Mr. Fox and the lack of females. The commetator thought these movies were not sexist, because there was a Mrs. Fox and in that movie, a kid also had a love interest who was a girl. Can you imagine a movie called Fantastic Ms. Fox where all three villians were female as was Ms. Fox’s whole possy? It would be some crazy feminist movie.