The kick-ass Governess of ‘Wildwood’ is a brilliant character

My seven year old daughter and I are reading Wildwood. I was psyched by the description on the back of the book, which is all about a girl, Prue, rescuing her kidnapped brother. Unfortunately, early on, Prue partners up on her mission with a boy, Curtis. The story then alternates between Prue’s POV and Curtis’s, and, as my daughter pointed out, the Curtis parts are much better. While Prue is stuck in a town of boring politicians who speak about issues that Prue (and my daughter) don’t understand, Curtis gallops on a horse through the wilderness with a mysterious woman who lives with coyotes, the Governess.

If you read Reel Girl, you know that I track images in children’s media of females shown riding creatures, many of which are magical. While males are seen in this situation all the time, and the magical creature itself is often male, females, if they are get to do this at all, are relegated to a secondary position, aptly termed “riding bitch.”

Here is a beautiful illustration of the Governess and Curtis.


So far, she kind of reminds me of the latest incarnation of Women Who Run With Wolves.

We are only about one third through the book, so I am hoping that

(1) Prue’s role gets more exciting

(2) The Governess continues to play an important role

(3) Prue is the one to rescue her brother

I’ll keep you posted.


Riding Bitch: new images

More than any other pattern of sexist imagery in the fantasy worlds created for children, I hate the girl on the back of the bike, dragon, or hippogriff. Recently, I posted:

This image of male driving and the girl along for the ride is ubiquitous in the imaginary world. You almost never see a girl in front and a boy behind, or even a girl alone, and also, it’s extremely rare to see a girl on a female magical creature.

After my post, Orlando wrote in this comment:

Shall I share with you the moment when I learned to loathe Kerouac? This is it (from “On the Road”):
“In the empty Houston streets of four o’clock in the morning a motorcycle kid suddenly roared through, all bespangled and bedecked with glittering buttons, visor, slick black jacket, a Texas poet of the night, girl gripped on his back like a papoose, hair flying, onward-going, singing.”
Familiar image? What happened was two people went past; what they saw was one person plus accessories.

The Kerouac quote pretty much epitomizes the poetic subjugation of women in that repetitive image (coupled with the the adventurous title of the book, of course.) Kerouac is such a good writer and he does this image so well. And again, the image/ narrative would not be a problem if it were one of many; it is its dominance over our imaginations, the way other narratives have become restricted and repressed, even in fantasy, that is the tragedy.

I’m going to keep a running tally on Reel Girl of images normalizing what I learned is called “riding bitch.” Please let me know if you see any and PLEASE let me know if you see the reverse gender positions.

Two recent disappointments:


I was very bummed to see the usually feminist Studio Ghibli put out this image to promote “From Up on Poppy Hill”