“Book of Life” is so retro-sexist, if I weren’t with my kids, I would’ve walked out. Instead, I sat there in the theater with my mouth hanging open, trying to focus on the movie’s dazzling animation instead of the cliched plot.
Manolo, the protagonist of the movie is a bullfighter/ musician. He competes with his rival, Joaquin, a war hero, to marry Maria who is the prize to be won. That’s right, in 2014 children are shown a movie where the female’s role in the narrative is to be a trophy. Typically, as in most contemporary animation, “the girl” actually has a personality! Maria is educated, she likes to read and she likes art. Isn’t that great, parents? Maria is a smart prize. She can fence too, which she gets to do for about 2 minutes of the movie.
“Book of Life” is inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead, art I love and used to collect. The characters and scenery are so gorgeously colorful, I tried hard to overlook the sexism. The point where I didn’t think I could take anymore came when Joaquin is at a party with Maria by his side. He is going on and on about himself and Maria mocks him, “I bet you want a wife who can just cook and clean.” She walks away in a huff. At this point, Joaquin’s buddy comments: “Oh, she’s a feisty one!” If you read Reel Girl, you know I use the term “Minority Feisty” to describe the fake feminism that crops up in almost every animated movie made for kids:
If you see an animated film today, it’s likely to include a token strong female character or two who reviewers will call “feisty.” In “How to Train Your Dragon,” Astrid; in “Toy Story,” Jessie; in “Ratatouille,” Colette. She’s supposed to make us feel like the movie is contemporary and feminist, unlike those sexist films of yesteryear.
The problem is that because Pixar or Disney has so magnanimously thrown in this “feisty” female (who may even have some commentary about sexism or male domination) we’re no longer supposed to care that almost all of the other characters in the film are male, including the star who the movie is often titled for and usually his best buddy as well. The crowd scenes in the film are also made up of mostly males.
“Feisty” isn’t a word that describes someone with real power, but someone who plays at being powerful. Would you ever call Superman “feisty?” How would he feel if you did?
The Smurfette Principle has evolved into the Minority Feisty. Now instead of a “token” female in a children’s movie, we may see a few females sprinkled around, a “minority” of them. Parents, the next time you watch a children’s movie, try not to let the Minority Feisty population distract you from the limitations female characters are almost always forced into. Ask yourself: Is the female the protagonist in this film? Does the narrative revolve around her quest? Or is she there to (play a crucial role in) helping the male star achieve his goal/ dream?
At the end of the movie, there is a wedding. I’m not going to call that information a spoiler. After the ceremony, Maria is referred to as “Mrs Sanchez.” She has no quest. Instead, “Book of Life” ticks off gender tropes to become the most sexist children’s movie of 2014.
Susan Schrivjer, the Florida mom who started the petition against Toys R Us for selling “Breaking Bad” toys to adults, tells CNN, “Kids mimic their action figures, if you will. Do you want your child in an orange jumpsuit?”
Toys R Us banned the toy almost immediately after Schrivjer started her protest, so I want to know: Do we all finally agree that kids imitate their toys? And if we do, why are toy stores selling half-dressed, belly-baring, high heel wearing sexualized figures to little kids?
When Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals saw this backpack on a first grader, she blogged:
Try this test: If the image can be lifted from the child’s toy/backpack/t-shirt and placed on the billboard for a strip club and not look out of place, then things are seriously fucked.
Wardy, myself, organizations like Let Toys Be Toys for Girls and Boys, and parents have created and signed petition after petition about sexism, only to be ignored in the USA. After shopping at Toys R Us, one mom wanted to know why Slave Leia was the only available Leia. Jezebel reports:
Over the weekend we received a tip from a concerned mother who had come across something very disconcerting while perusing the aisles of Toys R Us. Apparently the only available toy or figurine of the Star Wars character Princess Leia is of her in the “Slave Outfit” from Return of the Jedi. Bikini? Check. Loin cloth? Check. Chain around the neck? Check. And in case you were wondering if it was actually geared towards children, it’s listed for kids ages 4+….This is a perfect and heart-breaking example of how ingrained sexism is in geek culture. It’s not like there’s a Chewbacca toy in a banana hammock.
Wait, so @ToysRUs pulled all of the Breaking Bad figures from their shelves and still sells Barbie? Hmmmm…I wonder what is more damaging
The more we all rail against “Breaking Bad” toys, the more we ignore the sexism and affirm it as normal. It is shocking to me, as a mom of 3 young daughters, that sexism in kidworld is accepted so completely. And this acceptance goes beyond toys to media, which of course loops back to inpsire more toys. In Disney’s movie “Planes,” the fast plane, the hero of the movie, mocks the slower planes for being girly.
Plane One: What’s taking this guy so long? Is he really as good as he says he is?
Plane Two: No, better.
Plane One: Whoa! Who was that?
Plane Three: (Descending fast on top of the other two) Well, hello ladies. Ready to lose?
Plane Three goes on to leave the “ladies” in the dust.
As with the toys, this kind of sexism in movies for children is typical. In “Madagascar 3″ a scene features a male penguin mocking other male penguins, “You pillow fight like a bunch of little girls.”
As with “Planes” this sexist scene is so hysterical, it’s the one chosen for the preview.
“When the worst thing we say to a boy in sports is that he throws ‘like a girl,’ we teach boys to disrespect the feminine and disrespect women. That’s the cultural undercurrent of rape…It’s not DNA we’re up against; it’s movies, manners and a set of mores, magnified in the worlds of the military and sports, that assign different roles and different worth to men and women. Fix that culture and we can keep women a whole lot safer.
I want Toys R Us– and parents– to know that it is far more damaging to sell sexist toys to kids than to sell Jesse to adults. The Florida mom asked CNN if we’d prefer our kids in orange jumpsuits. I’d like to reply with this story. A while back my 4 year old daughter was looking through a magazine, and she saw an ad for “Orange is the New Black.” She cried out, grinning, “Look Mama, so many girls!” It’s that rare for her to see an image of a group of women together in the media, no belly buttons, no cleavage, and also, by the way, not all white. She was so excited, she wanted to be in a picture with them, so I took this.
Does my daughter know these women are playing convicts? Nope. Would I allow her to watch the show? Of course not. If I saw “Orange is the New Black” action figures sold at “Toys R Us” would I buy them for her? Absolutely, because Florida mom, I’d rather see my 4 year old in an orange jumpsuit than thigh high boots.
From the first time I saw FCKH8’s video, I really liked it. Perhaps, I’m a fan because of bias. When I started my blog, Reel Girl, I wrote on my “About” page:
One more reason I started Reel Girl– our movie rating system, and the values associated with that rating system, is totally messed up. So many G movies perpetuate the absolute worst kinds of gender stereotypes, yet they are supposedly “for kids.” In my opinion, this kind of repetitive imagery is way more dangerous for children than hearing the word “shit.”
“Cinderella” and all of its endless, infinite adaptations and reincarnations, in my opinion is bad for kids. “Whale Rider” in spite of swearing and drug use is good for kids. Simple concept, yet so hard to convince people of it, that I write and write and write. When I watched the FCKH8 video, I felt like: YES, this is the point I’ve been trying to make: Pay inequity is way more offensive than the word fuck. The video shows what I’ve been trying to tell. It is art. And unlike many writers out there, I am THRILLED when I see my idea coming from someone else as well because it makes me feel like I’m not crazy, like people ‘get it.’ Furthermore, I realize that in order for the world to change, people other than me have to ‘get it.’ If it’s just me with my ‘original’ idea that I’m going for, all I have is my ego, and that is a lonely, static, boring place to be plus nothing much changes at all.
So perhaps, I thought, when I read comments against the FCKH8 video by my brilliant colleagues including founder of Pigtail Pals Melissa Wardy, author of The Princess ProblemRebecca Hains, and author of Her Next Chapter Lori Day, I’m just being selfish here. I’m not thinking about the kids having no idea what they’re saying (and I do believe these girls are too young to understand what they’re talking about.) Perhaps I’m so happy not be so isolated with my vision, I’m blind to the exploitation, hypocritically exploitation I’m trying to prevent.
But after thinking this through, I still like the video. As I wrote, I agree the kids don’t understand what they are saying, this is a job for them. I never thought the kids in the ad were not acting or not reciting lines, and I don’t think the video’s intention is to make viewers assume that. So the question is: Does the ignorance of the kids make the video exploitative? My answer is still no, unless all child actors from the ones in sitcoms who speak in language far beyond their years to any commercial, all who often don’t understand what they are saying, are exploited.
The next question I asked myself: Is the FCKH8 ad exploiting girls because it’s using them to sell a product?
During the World Series last night and the night before, my family and I saw teen baseball star Mo’ne Davis in a Chevy ad. I thought the ad was beautiful. In the ad, Mo’ne says, “I throw 70 miles an hour. That’s throwing like a girl.” Millions of families saw her throw in a mini-movie and heard that line while watching the World Series. We also saw a Mazda ad with Mia Hamm, and my 11 year old, who is a fan of Hamm, said, “Why is she selling cars?” To which I responded, “It’s either her or a male athlete. I’d rather see Mia.” I want to see the images of powerful girls used to sell things, from toys to movies to clothing. These kids are not being exploited because they are being used to sell a product.
The slogans found on the FCKH8 t-shirts were appropriated from other feminist nonprofits. For example, the Feminist Majority Foundation has been selling “This is what a feminist looks like” tees since at least the mid-1990s. So despite their promises to support charities with their t-shirt sales, FCKH8 is actually siphoning money away from feminist charities by stealing their ideas.
Furthermore, quality charities have refused to take FCKH8’s money in the past, because FCKH8 is incredibly problematic. They’ve been accused widely of being transphobic (as a quick google search will show), and their anti-racist work is of dubious merit. For example, their response to Ferguson raised so much ire in the anti-racist community that Race Forward—one of the charities originally listed on FCKH8’s page—announced publicly that they were refusing donations from the company.
So to those who are saying that FCKH8 is a company that’s doing it’s best to promote social justice, and we should cut them some slack? No FCKHing way.
I agree stealing a slogan from non-profits is not ethical. I also didn’t know about using the Ferguson tragedy to sell T shirts. FCKH8 sounds like a company with a bad history. But learning this history doesn’t change how I feel about the video. I still like the video. I still like that the video is going viral and, just like the Mo’ne ad, spreading important slogans out into the world:
* Pay inequality. Women are paid 23% less than men for the exact same fucking work.
*Women who graduate university with straight A’s get paid only as much as men who graduated with C’s.
* 1 out of every 5 women will be sexually assaulted or raped by a man
* Stop telling girls how to dress and start teaching boys not to fucking rape
*We’re glad a women’s right to vote is here, but equality is messed up. It’s walking to the car without fear.
* Pretty is a compliment but here’s how the focus works to girls detriment. Society teaching girls that our body, boobs, and butt are more important than our brains leads us to thinking our worth comes from our waistline. My aspirations in life should not be worrying about the shape of my ass so fuck focusing on how I look and give me a book.
*Instead of cleaning these girls mouths out with soap, maybe society should clean up its act.
*Near the end of the ad, there is a boy in a dress. “When you tell a boy it’s bad to act like a girl it’s because you think its bad to be a girl.”
These are messages I work hard every day to promote, and I believe the ideas are presented in this video in a simple, convincing way, easy for adults– yes, adults– to understand.
Rebecca posts comments on her blog from people who are offended that these young girls spoke of rape and assault. I agree that part is disconcerting, and it is for this reason, I chose not to show the video to my 11 year old daughter who I have yet to tell about rape. That said, I’ve blogged about books for kids that deal with rape, incest, and assault wondering what age is appropriate for these stories. The answer I always get is that it depends on the kid. I want to be the first one to tell my kid about rape, sexual assault, pornography, incest, drugs etc. I don’t want her learning about these issues for the first time from books or movies or other kids. When I’ve written about these kinds of books on my blog, kids and parents have written back that their young kid does know about porn or rape based on experiences that they’ve had– talking to other kids, what they’ve seen, or instances in their own life. Now that they do know, it is important and beneficial for the kid to be able to read literature about it. Here’s one comment that I got when I wrote about Graceling:
Based on the brief snippets of content she saw, I had to not only have “the talk”, but also explain a LOT of things I never thought I’d have to address at that age. Because of this, conversely, she is now very educated on both sex, misogyny, and rape/assault/child abuse. Therefore, I think these books that are written about very serious issues — but in the comprehension style of a young person who can find the characters identifiable — is a great source of information…I have not read these books to endorse them, but now I am interested and will be checking them out at the library. Thank you.
My point is that I don’t think it’s fair to make a blanket statement that little kids should not refer to rape or assault in a video when in the real world, kids see and experience these things every day.
One more thing: As far as the video not having a trigger warning, I don’t post trigger warnings on my blog ever. My whole blog is a trigger. Everyone is unique, and I think it’s impossible to make some kind of assumption about what will trigger readers.
If for some reason you haven’t come across the video, you can watch it here.
This afternoon, my daughter and I opted for “Hocus Pocus” which was on Reel Girl’s list, but I hadn’t seen it yet. The good news is “Hocus Pocus” has more females than males. The witches are played by Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Penny Marshall is in the movie too, which was a nice surprise for me. Vinessa Shaw plays a smart, brave girl and Thora Birch is the 8 year old little sister who gets into trouble. (My daughter really liked seeing a movie with a kid the same age as she is.)
The not-so-good is that the 3 witches are obsessed with being young and beautiful. I am so over this cliche. Recently, I saw it in “Tangled” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” both stories obviously recycled fairy tales with this tired theme (not to mention any women’s magazine you open, full of ads for potions, spells of eternal youth.) What these women are after is not beauty but power, which is what beauty has represented and signified for women in narratives for thousands of years. I wish writers today could be a little more creative in depicting stories where women are seeking power without relying on the dull and done youth and beauty cliche.
Another thing that annoyed me about “Hocus Pocus” is that in order for a spell to work, a candle had to be lit by a virgin. While I appreciated that the virgin was a boy, the word came up again and again with my daughter wanting to know its meaning. I told her it’s another word for child, but I was irritated the movie put me in that position for no important reason as far as the plot is concerned.
Finally, while there are many girls and women in this movie, the protagonist is a boy. He’s just moved to Salem from LA, and he doesn’t believe in witches. Vinessa Shaw plays his girlfriend and Thora Birch plays his little sister. It is this guy that goes through the transition of coming to believe. Still, he is a Minority Feisty of sorts, and I can’t actually recall another movie where I have seen a gender flip where the male plays this role.
Reel Girl’s list of Monster Movies Starring Females is short. It is almost the same as last year’s list, except I’ve added the wonderful “Maleficent.” My list is so pathetically short that I have included movies just recommended to me, that I have not seen myself. Those are “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Series of Unfortunate Events” (which I may watch today with my daughter….) We complain, rightly so, about how sexist Halloween costumes are for girl. It would sure help things out if there were more scary stories starring cool or evil powerful females. Of course, we’d still have the problem of Hermione morphing into the sexy school girl. But I digress. As I asked you in 2013, if you have any monster movies for little kids starring females, to add to my list. please let me know. Here’s the list of 10 movies. Please try to watch girl-centered films with your daughters and sons.
“Gone Girl” makes violence against women into a punchline, and does this so well that even I laughed at the jokes.
Just as the book “Gone Girl” is well written and well plotted, the movie version is well acted, directed, and produced. Watching the movie, even more than reading the book, I felt like I was having a meta experience: watching a movie about storytelling while being manipulated by the story I was being told. “Gone Girl” is the story of a woman who lies about being raped by three different men.
There are a few core beliefs women’s rights advocates have worked hard to get the culture to understand:
(1) Women don’t want to be raped
(2) A woman who is raped did not bring the violence on herself
(3) The #1 killer of pregnant women is homicide
In “Gone Girl”‘ each of these beliefs becomes a mockery, perfectly executed with comic timing, plot points, and good acting to seem ridiculous. I’m going to summarize a few instances below though its from memory, so the quotes may not be precisely accurate, and you’ve got to see it yourself to experience the reaction, I don’t think the typed words on the page will do it.
When Nick Dunne seeks out another guy that his wife, Amy, falsely accused of rape, the guy says,”That’s Amy! She’s graduated from rape to murder.” I chuckled.
When it becomes public that Amy was pregnant (a faked pregnancy by the way) media and townspeople nod and knowingly say, “The #1 way pregnant women die is murder.” The scene is so cartoonish and Nick is so clearly a victim, that when hearing the line, even I rolled my eyes.
When Amy spins the story of how she never should have let another guy she accused of rape into her house, an FBI guy steps in with a concerned face and says, “Don’t blame yourself!” When I heard that line, I snorted.
At the end of the book, Nick falls back in love with Amy and you’re left with feeling that these two deserve each other. At the end of the movie, Nick is still angry. Like all heroes, his experience led him to go through a transition, and you’re left feeling sorry for he guy who only wants to be a good dad to his son.
Describing her book, author Gillian Flynn says:
“It’s a story about storytelling, and in the 24-hour media world, no matter what the content, the media has a disproportionate voice in all our lives. I wanted it to be a third character in a way — Nick, Amy, but also the media. We all weigh in on everybody’s life no matter what. And there seems to be a constant audience monitoring our lives.”
No question that “Gone Girl” is a movie about story-telling. Maybe Flynn isn’t perpetuating misogyny here but being doing something quite brilliant. The joke is on us, the audience. Look how easily we’re manipulated, at this particular moment by beautiful people and great acting into, once again, believing the story that scorned women lie about about rape while its men who are the real victims.
I haven’t seen the movie “Gone Girl,” and neither have you as it’s hitting theaters on October 3, though I did read the book this summer. I was horrified by the misogyny woven through the narrative. Perhaps I was so surprised by the sexism because the only controversy I’d heard of before I read the book was that people didn’t like the ending. I did like the ending. I’ll tell you why, and also go into the plot points of “Gone Girl” but before I do, consider yourself warned: spoilers will be in this post. If you’re going to read Gone Girl– and it is, like so many sexist books I critique, well written and well plotted, I’m talking about technique here– you may not want to proceed much further, except, perhaps, to take a look at this cover of Entertainment Weekly. There you see Amy, the protagonist of “Gone Girl,” shown as a “beautiful” female corpse, a trope Anita Sarkeesian dissects in her latest video: Women as Background Decoration: Part 2 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This image of the dead, sexualized female body is, quite literally, everywhere in popular culture. After you check out this cover, I want you to know just one more thing.
For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”
Get that, people? Is this character alive?
OK, moving on to spoilers, if you don’t want them, it’s time to leave.
It turns out that the protagonist of Gone Girl, Amy Dunne (played in the movie by Rosemund Pike) fakes her own rape, pregnancy, stalking, beatings, and murder. That’s right, Amy goes through a veritable list of practically every act/ crime that a wicked and conniving (are men ever conniving?) woman can manipulate. While Amy fakes her victimhood, her husband, Nick, played in the movie by Ben Affleck, is falsely accused of killing his pregnant wife. Why, you ask, is Amy motivated to be so awful? She’s a woman scorned, of course, who discovered her husband’s affair with his student.
Here’s one passage describing Amy’s fakery:
I took a wine bottle, and I abused myself with it every day, so the inside of my vagina looked…right. Right for a rape victim. Then today I let him have sex with me so I had his semen…
That particular scene, by the way, refers to another man Amy is setting up, not her husband.
Here’s the problem, and once again, it’s not that Amy is a villain or unlikeable.
But Gone Girl is fiction not fact, you say. Why am I listing stats here? Am I trying, once again, to censor artists with my PC beliefs? Surely Amy’s story can fall into the 1- 2% of women who falsely accuse men of rape. This is a free country.
This is also a country where Washington Post columnist George Will, a man known as the “most powerful journalist in America” recently wrote that being a rape survivor is “a coveted status.” When others challenged Will that rape is not, in fact, something women want, the conservative group, Women’s Independent Forum called a conference “Rape Culture and Sexual Assault,” putting out this press release:
The White House has embraced the statistic that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college…The White House has released its “first ever report” on the issue and are using it to push their policy agenda…But many question the validity of the White House’s one-in-five statistic, even as those who challenge this figure are silenced as being uncaring about women…The IWF takes any accusation of sexual assault very seriously. But we are concerned that there is a potentially harmful hysteria developing about this issue. Where does this come from? Where is it going? And who will be harmed?
Lucky for us, Gone Girl answers every single one of the IWF’s (hysterical) questions: Where does it come from? In Gone Girl, overachieving Harvard grad, Amy Dunne, was used but never truly loved by her egotistical writer parents. They penned a best-selling YA series based on their daughter. Where is it going? Female anger and, yes, hysteria, not to mention jealousy, vindictiveness, and aging, leads to violence. Who will be harmed? Nick, of course, innocent men in America who are falsely accused, lied to, manipulated, and victimized by the scorned, bitter women in their lives.
Yes, Of course Gillian Flynn can write about whatever she pleases, but I find it sadly ironic that when I argue for more diverse stories to permeate our popular culture, a culture where people believe that 50% of rape accusations are false, a culture where stories of rape remain secret to the point that the media hides names and identities of survivors, a media dominated by the same old trope ridden narrative, that I am the one who’s accused of stifling creativity. Gone Girl is a best-selling book about to be blockbuster movie that will help to perpetuate the myth/ story that rape and violence against women is not epidemic but mostly exists in our imagination.
By the way, the end of the book, you know why people don’t like it? Because Amy ends up OK. She and Nick get back together, they’re going to have a baby. (Pregnant for real this time, she stole his sperm.) Apparently, the no punishment-for-Amy-finale is so unpopular that the director changed the ending to make it more of crowdpleaser.
“Actually that comment I made jokingly,” he said. “It’s not that I said that it wasn’t Link. It’s that I never said that it was Link. It’s not really the same thing, but I can understand how it could be taken that way.
“It seems like it has kind of taken off where people are saying ‘oh it’s a female character’ and it just kind of grew. But my intent in saying that was humour. You know, you have to show Link when you create a trailer for a Zelda announcement.”
Because who would ever think that a game titled “Zelda” and a show titled “Zelda” would actually feature a female protagonist making the moves, taking the risks, and calling the shots at the center of the action? I, myself, made this same mistake when I let my 5 year old daughter watch “Zelda” because I thought it was a female based spin off of the Mario Brothers. Silly me! Here’s her pissed off reaction:
Here’s the diamond she’s talking about:
I’m holding out from seeing the show or playing the game, or letting my kids do either again, until Zelda is actually in charge.
Over the weekend we received a tip from a concerned mother who had come across something very disconcerting while perusing the aisles of Toys R Us. Apparently the only available toy or figurine of the Star Wars character Princess Leia is of her in the “Slave Outfit” from Return of the Jedi. Bikini? Check. Loin cloth? Check. Chain around the neck? Check. And in case you were wondering if it was actually geared towards children, it’s listed for kids ages 4+….This is a perfect and heart-breaking example of how ingrained sexism is in geek culture. It’s not like there’s a Chewbacca toy in a banana hammock
This makes me so mad. It’s so twisted. Taking the heroic Leia, one of the few females in the Star Wars franchise at all, certainly the most famous one, then showing her chained and in a bikini again and again and again.
Yesterday, I posted this picture of a LEGO set I bought for my daughter. I chose it because the salesperson told me it was the only one in the store that includes Leia. I regretted the purchase as soon as I saw this mini-fig. Now, I know to check more carefully.
I also posted yet another picture of an illustration from Vader’s Little Princess, where the distorted narrative depicts the slave outfit as Leia’s independent, rebellious choice:
The book has another illustration with the same message:
Desperate for female superheroes to show my kids, I purchased the DVD set of the Wonder Woman TV series starring Lynda Carter. My 5 year old daughter wanted to know: “Why is she in her underwear?” Here’s Wonder Woman as a LEGO minifig (not easy to find at a toy store or Target, even half dressed.)
When Pigtail Pals founder Melissa Wardy dropped her kids off at school, they were walking behind a first grader with a Winx backpack:
On her blog, Wardy writes:
Try this test: If the image can be lifted from the child’s toy/backpack/t-shirt and placed on the billboard for a strip club and not look out of place, then things are seriously fucked.
I’m not saying that 4 year old kids know what being half naked has to do with adult sexuality, but these repeated images teach all children that it’s normal to sexualize girls. Sexualization is very different from sexuality. In her best-selling book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein quotes Stephen Hinshaw from his book The Triple Bind:
“Girls pushed to be sexy too soon can’t really understand what they’re doing…they may never learn to connect their performance to erotic feelings or intimacy. They learn how to act desirable, but not to desire, undermining, rather than promoting, healthy sexuality.
In short: sexualization is performance; it’s all about being desirable to others. Sexuality is understanding and connecting to your own desire.
At the reading, Orenstein shared this passage from Cinderella Ate My Daughter:
Let me be clear here: I object– strenuously– to the sexualization of girls but not necessarily to girls having sex. I expect and want my daughter to have a healthy, joyous erotic life before marriage. Long, long, long before marriage. I do, however, want her to understand why she’s doing it: not for someone else’s enjoyment, not to keep a boyfriend from leaving, not because everyone else is. I want her to explore and understand her body’s responses, her own pleasure, her own desire. I want her to be able to express her needs in a relationship, to say no when she needs to, to value reciprocity, and to experience true intimacy. The virgin/ whore cycle of the pop princesses, like so much of the girlie girl culture, pushes in the opposite direction, encouraging girls to view self-objectification as a feminist rite of passage.
That last sentence is again, exactly how Leia is presented in Vader’s Little Princess.
Older girls and women can choose to wear a bikini, or a even chain around their necks if they want, but girls and women should not feel like they have to be “attractive” to men all the time, 24 hours a day. Or even 12 hours a day. Or 6. Or any hours at all. Nor should they feel like they have to be attractive to all men. It’s this kind of fucked up mentality– be attractive to all men, all the time, that leads to men feeling entitled to women’s bodies. I could go on here about the legal ramifications of this as far reproductive rights, coverage for contraception etc, but that’s another post. The point of this one is that 4 year old girls should not be trained that it’s completely normal to be half naked most of the time. The females in kidworld should not be constantly baring their bellies. Please stop selling kids toys and media where females are half dressed. Parents, please stop buying these kinds of toys for your children. They set a dangerous precedent. That’s no slut-shaming but protecting childhood from adult sexuality.
I’d like to collect some images of Princess Leia here that you all think would be good for Disney to base its merchandise on. Here’s a couple to start:
More great posts on this issue from around the web:
Today, we had Captain Crunch with crunch berries for breakfast. (Not the healthiest choice, I know, blaming my husband who loved the “food” as a kid.) There are no female mascots on children’s cereal. That’s right, zero. You may not think that’s a big deal but it’s one more space in kidworld where girls go missing. Children spend hours studying these cereal boxes and playing the games on them. They’re like newspapers for children, and just like newspapers for adults, males dominate the stories. What if there were no male mascots on children’s cereal? Do you think anyone would notice that?
A while back, in an effort to help my kids learn not to take missing females for granted, as something expected and normal, we invented a new game: Find the Girls on the Cereal Box. It’s actually fun because it’s challenging, and you can have some great discussions about what makes a boy a boy and a girl a girl, according to cereal box creators.
Try it yourself. Here’s my 5 year old daughter with the back of a box of Captain Crunch.
The answer is: 4 girls and 9 boys including Captain Crunch on this box. The photo is not great, and details are key so don’t be too hard on yourself if you got it wrong.
Here’s a close up of the girls we found.
Girl #1 is a girl because her hair is pink, has long curls, and she has eyelashes.
Would it be construed as trespass, therefore, to state that Johansson looks tellingly radiant in the flesh? Mind you, she rarely looks unradiant, so it’s hard to say whether her condition [pregnancy] has made a difference.
Johansson was, indeed, gilded to behold. She seemed to be made from champagne.
Then came the laugh: dry and dirty, as if this were a drama class and her task was to play a Martini.
Johansson’s backside, barely veiled in peach-colored underwear …
… using nothing but the honey of her voice …
What the fuck? This is The New Yorker. I write this whole blog about gender equality in the fantasy world, and how are we ever going to get anywhere when the “best” writers for our “best” magazines repeatedly reduce actresses to objects? This guy’s job title is film critic. As Esther Breger writes in The New Republic: “Try to imagine The New Yorker running this about Matthew McConaughey, or Michael Fassbender.”
Perhaps, it won’t surprise you that Lane, though the most prestigious, is not near the first interviewer to comment on Johansson’s underwear.
In another earlier interview, after Robert Downey Jr comments on the sexist questions directed at Johansson, she says to him: “How come you get the really interesting existential question and I get the, like, rabbit food question?”
Even at the Oscars, where we celebrate the highest artistic achievements in film, reporters often focus more on a woman’s appearance than what she has accomplished. This Sunday night we’re encouraging the media to #AskHerMore!
Part of the inspiration for the hashtag was Cate Blanchett’s irritated response at a previous awards show when the camera panned her body up and down. Blanchett asked: “Do you do that to the guys?” PolyMic reported: “Blanchett’s reaction shows yet another subtle moment of sexism that even the most successful women have to deal with.”
It’s kind of sad that these moments are considered “subtle.” Enough already. When will the media treat women like actual human beings?
Let’s start with the good news. There are 5 children’s movies coming out in 2014 with female protagonists, titled for that female protagonist. This is a record since I started doing the gallery back in 2011. Those movies are: Legends of Oz Dorothy’s Return, Maleficent, Molly Moon, Annie, and The Pirate Fairy I am super- excited about the first four. I am holding out hope for “Pirate Fairy.” It’s always been challenging for me to get past Tinkerbell’s mini-dress and how she’s always smiling submissively at me when I see her on party napkins or sippy cups. But hey, the movie is called “Pirate Fairy,” meaning that is not an oxymoron, which is a huge leap forward for Disney.
Now, for the bad news. In 2014,18 children’s movies star a male protagonist, that’s more than 3 times as many movies than those starring a female.
There are 2 movies that I’m putting in their own category. For “Rio 2,” I am hoping that birds Jewel and Blu are, in fact, costars. (See how I put her name first?) Here’s imdb’s synopsis: “It’s a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel and their three kids in RIO 2, after they’re hurtled from that magical city to the wilds of the Amazon. As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel, and meets the most fearsome adversary of all – his father-in-law.” For “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar,” this is the description from imbdb: “A look at the life of wild lemurs living in Madagascar.”Because the lemur on the poster doesn’t have a pink bow or giant eyelashes, my past experience would lead me to believe it’s a male, but because the movie is about lemurs in nature, I hold out hope here too.
Why is the gender of who stars in a children’s movie important? Because girls make up half of the kid population, yet, when kids go to movies, again and again, they see males front and center, while females get sidelined and marginalized.
Today, when kids go to the movies, they will often see the narrative include a strong female or two, but rarely is she the star. The movie is not about her quest. I call these female characters the “Minority Feisty.” The trope has evolved from the Smurfette principle in that there is often more than one, and she is presented as powerful. But her power, lines, and screen time are carefully and consistently circumscribed to show that she is not as important as the male star. Still, the Minority Feisty is supposed to pacify parents, making them feel that, unlike those sexist films of yesteryear, this movie is contemporary and feminist.
Don’t let the Minority Feisty fool you. “Feisty,” an adjective reviewers will invariably use to describe this strong female, is a sexist term. “Feisty” isn’t used to describe not someone who is truly powerful, but someone who plays at being powerful. Would you ever call Superman fesity? How would he feel if you did?
All children need to see more female protagonists. Everyone is the hero of her own life. Kids shouldn’t be trained to see girls and women stuck in supporting roles. In the imaginary world, anything is possible, so why is it sexist? Why is a brand new generation learning it’s normal for girls to go missing?
Here’s the gallery.
Legends of Oz, Dorothy’s Return
The Pirate Fairy
Molly Moon: The Incredible Hypnotist (no poster yet, making my own with this pic)