I’m at my wit’s end here. After a trip to Target, Kara Bara posted this pic on Reel Girl’s Facebook page of the store’s sexist Justice League display:
I love your blog and I was in my local Target and I noticed Wonder Woman had gone missing from all their Justice League superhero stuff. She’s already outnumbered 7:1 on the team and now she’s completely missing from all the displays.
Kara posts a second pic:
Here’s the other side of the display with an even more obscure member, Cyborg, instead of WW – just in case we didn’t get the message that superheros should only be dudes.
After I saw this, I went to Target’s website, and guess what? Wonder Woman has gone missing from the all male group pic. Can you get any more sexist in your marketing strategy for children than excluding the only female? Seriously, Target, WTF? Please stop teaching kids that males are more important than females. Put Wonder Woman back where she belongs.
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson, not one to be outdone, explained that women are naturally submissive because of “biology”:
“I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science…When you look at biology, when you look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role.
I cracked up when I watched the video because I was just about to post on Reel Girl this title: “Scientific” studies on gender turn out to be biased, who knew? More on that soon.
If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, it’s trendy evolutionary psychologists and social Darwinists going off incessantly for the last twenty-five years about how everything is the way it is– sexism, racism, white privilege, standards of beauty and on and on– because our biology makes it so.
Moreover, expert opinion — including research by developmental and evolutionary psychologists — has fueled the development and marketing of gender-based toys. Over the past 20 years, there has been a growth of “brain science” research, which uses neuroimaging technology to try to explain how biological sex differences cause social phenomena like gendered toy preference.
That’s ridiculous, of course: it’s impossible to neatly disentangle the biological from the social, given that children are born into a culture laden with gender messages. But that hasn’t deterred marketers from embracing such research and even mimicking it with their own well-funded studies.
Sweet goes on to describe the aggressive gender-marketing aimed at children, marketing which starts, by the way, before the baby even exits the womb. When people speak to boy babies in strong voices and female babies in lilting voices, when so much of what we we do and how we act– including parents, teachers, and doctors— is based on cultural expectations of how girls and boys are supposed to be, how can we pretend to be beyond bias?
A meta-analysis done by the psychologists Janet Hyde and Jennifer L. Petersen at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, incorporates more than 800 studies conducted between 1993 and 2007. It suggests that the very statistics evolutionary psychologists use to prove innate difference — like number of sexual partners or rates of masturbation — are heavily influenced by culture.
Does new science debunk old science? Looks like evidence is showing evolutionary psychologists weren’t so scientific after all.
Can we at least agree on this: we live in a culture that, for thousands of years, has punished women for expressing sexuality while rewarding men. How can we possibly, objectively measure sex drive?
Hypothetically, say men ruled the world, and say that men were also incapable of giving birth. Would it be so surprising for the group in charge to come up with this theory: Every time women have sex with us, they fall in desperately in love. They want to marry us, be with us forever and ever. In fact, getting married is the happiest day of a woman’s life. Naturally monogamous, women will never stray.
I guess Disney was right to be so terrified of creating a strong, BRAVE, female protagonist (along with Pixar studios which hadn’t had ANY female protags before “Brave.”) It looks like Merida could be turning Disney’s franchise on it’s head. That’s pretty damn heroic.
Another mistake Disney made with “Brave?” They hired a female director. They fired her, but it was too late. Brenda Chapman wrote “Brave” based on her daughter. She was furious with the character’s transformation and wrote publicly about Disney’s terrible mistake.
That’s right: Although Merida was created by a woman as a role model for girls, the male-dominated consumer product division at Disney has ignored the character’s intended benefits for young girls, sexualizing her for profit. Compared with her film counterpart, this new Merida is slimmer and bustier. She wears makeup, and her hair’s characteristic wildness is gone: It has been volumized and restyled with a texture more traditionally “pretty.” Furthermore, she is missing her signature bow, arrow, and quiver; instead, she wears a fashionable sash around her sparkly, off-the-shoulder gown. (As Peggy Orenstein noted when she broke the news of the redesign, “Moms tell me all the time that their preschool daughters are pitching fits and destroying their t-shirts because ‘princesses don’t cover their shoulders.’” I’ve heard the same from parents, as well.)
Is the sexualized image of Merida gone for good? Has Disney learned a lesson? Or will that lesson be: No more strong female characters leading a film! No more female directors writing about their daughters! Keep the females weak and quiet!
Objectifying and sexualizing girls is dangerous. A first step to abuse is always dehumanizing the victim. Propaganda, in the form of images and narratives, effectively dehumanizes on a mass scale.
Images/ narratives of Jews circa 1938
Africans circa 1931
Females circa 2013
It’s easy to look back on history and wonder: How did people ever put up with that? I’d never buy into it, not to mention expose my child to it. But what are you participating in right now that is completely accepted, not to mention celebrated, by our culture?
Be part of the solution. Demand narratives with strong female characters for your kids.
Update: New Merida may be off Disney’s site but she’s showing up all over the place including Target. Below is Target’s web page.
“On May 11th Brave‘s Merida will be officially crowned as the 11th Disney Princess, the impact of which is that Disney will be selling more stuff with her on it, I guess? Anyway. Along with the “coronation ceremony,” to be held at Walt Disney World, Merida’s gotten a new redesign…”
Here’s one of my favorite pre-botox, pre-makeover Merida expressions.
Pithy analysis from Peggy Orenstein on the eventual fate of way too many of Disney’s female characters:
Because, in the end, it wasn’t about being brave after all. It was about being pretty…I’m especially creeped out by Belle who appears to have had major surgery… In addition to everything else, they’re pushing the brown girls slowly but surely to the edges…
I’ve always said that it’s not about the movies. It’s about the bait-and-switch that happens in the merchandise, and the way the characters have evolved and proliferated off-screen. Maybe the problem is partly that these characters are designed in Hollywood, where real women are altering their appearance so regularly that animators, and certainly studio execs, think it’s normal.
‘The surgery takes away their individuality and uniqueness and its sad. Most are beautiful without it but telling them that their Korean ethnic features are in fact lovely is as effective as screaming at a brick wall.
‘They wont believe you because they’ve been brainwashed to think westernization of their features is superior, I don’t think they want to look white, but a mix of white and Asian and definitely less Korean.’
This is how one “beauty” queen describes herself:
The student revealed her plastic surgery secret after photos emerged of her looking very different at school, but she said she hadn’t misled anyone.
But she defended her crown telling the Korean media: ‘I never said I was born beautiful.’
So sad because this generic look has absolutely nothing to do with “beauty” and everything to do with power, Westernization, capitalism, and status. TV host Stephen Colbert explained it well when he jokingly asked teen writer/ phenom Tavi Gevinson: “But if girls feel good about themselves, how will we sell them things they don’t need?”
How indeed? I was a huge Merida fan, as were my kids, and I bought my three young daughters several figures, books, and posters featuring her because she was cool. Here’s a framed poster over my four year old daughter’s bed so she can see her when she goes to sleep at night, along with her favorite Merida book.
Like Merida, my daughter, Rose, has wild, curly hair that she hates to have brushed.
I hope my daughter never feels that she has to look generic and homogeneous in order to be “beautiful.” I hope she always knows that her beauty comes from her spirit. That’s not some meaningless cliche. There’s nothing “attractive” about frozen-faced clones. Disney’s new, madeover Merida has absolutely nothing to offer my kids. I won’t be buying ANY merchandise with this awful, new image.
Reel Girl rates the new Merida ***SSS*** for major stereotyping.
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Brazil
Chief Creative Officer: Anselmo Ramos
Executive Creative Director: Roberto Fernandez /Paco Conde
AD: Diego Machado
CW: Hugo Veiga
Sketch Artist: Gil Zamora
Producer: Veronica Beach
Junior Producer: Renata Neumann
Business Manager: Libby Fine
CEO: Luis Fernando Musa
Group Account Director: Valeria Barone
Account Director: Ricardo Honegger
Production Company: Paranoid US
Director: John X Carey
Executive Producer: Jamie Miller / Claude Letessier
Line Producer: Stan Sawicki
Director of Photography: Ed David
Executive Producer: Jamie Miller / Claude Letessier
Producer: Stan Sawicki
Editor: Phillip Owens
Sound mix: Lime Studio
Composer: Keith Kenniff
Mixer: Sam Casas
Executive Producer: Jessica Locke
Production Sound: Tim O’Malley
Color Grading: Company 3
Colorist: Sean Coleman
—Short Version and Cinema
Editorial Company: Rock Paper Scissor
Executive Producer: Carol Lynn Weaver
Editor: Paul Kumpata
Assistant Editor: Niles Howard
Executive Producer: Megan Meloth
Producer: Jamie McBriety
Composer: Keith Kenniff
Sound mix: Lime Studio
Mixer: Sam Casas
Executive Producer: Jessica Locke
Production Sound: Tim O’Malley
Color Grading: Company 3
Colorist: Sean Coleman
Perhaps I am the wrong person to open this discussion, because I was raised in a house where being beautiful (if you were a girl) was everything – I was dragged from under my bed as a 6-year-old, kicking and screaming, so that my “ugly” straight hair could be permed.I was the only pre-teen I knew who was forced to wear makeup.And I existed on air-popped popcorn throughout high school because I dreaded being withdrawn from school and put on a liquid diet until I lost weight like a friend of mine.I grew up to make my living for a while from my looks, modeling and acting.So it would be silly to claim I don’t carry some baggage about beauty, and I won’t even try.
But I’m going to throw my hat into the ring anyway on the latest movement to redefine beauty, to make it more inclusive, to tell every woman she’s beautiful (yes, Dove, that’s you…and so many more).I hate it.I absolutely detest it.Why?Because even the most well-intentioned, politically correct, supportive, inclusive statements and movements can still be boiled down to this:beauty is all important.
The traditional wisdom – from my grandmother’s era – was a terse “if you’re not beautiful, cultivate a great personality, be the smartest, wittiest person in the world, be charming, develop great talents.”This seems outrageously offensive in today’s era, yes?It puts beauty in a removed and superior category which excuses the lucky ‘owners’ from doing anything else on that list (plus it reinforces the tired dichotomy of smart/witty/talented vs. beautiful).As much as we sincerely applaud the use of larger-sized models and real women in these new campaigns, the honest truth is: nothing has changed.We are still saying beauty is the defining item in women’s lives.We’re just screaming for an expanded definition.
If you take out the words “beautiful” and “ugly” in the widely celebrated, empowering “Everyone’s Beautiful!” campaigns and you substitutethe words “white” and “black” or “straight” and “gay” you begin to see how thoroughly stupid it is to waste time trying to define (or redefine) “beauty.”Go ahead, try it: “Everyone’s white! You’re white just as you are!” Or“We just need to redefine straight to include all humans! Everyone’s straight!”
It suddenly seems ridiculous (not to mention condescending), doesn’t it? These well-intentioned feel-good anthems really just posit beautiful (or white or straight) as the goal, as the “best” option, as the ultimate compliment/inclusion/approval.Think I’m exaggerating? I can guarantee that someone in response to this article will think the most insulting, awful comment they can summon is “you’re just a jealous, fat, ugly dyke!”But it’s not just those haters – it’s the advertisers, it’s the lawmakers, it’s the population, it’s each and every one of us.We all keep thinking that telling women and girls they’re beautiful is the answer, as long as we adjust the definition to include everyone.But we’re all still holding it up as the holy grail, the pinnacle of achievement, the most important thing they can be.
You know, my mother thought straight hair was disgustingly ugly (a fact she will still tell anyone to this day).As a child, did I wish she would open her beauty boundaries, recalibrate her metric, until it included my stick-straight strands?That would have saved me a lot of tears and chemical burns on my scalp, sure, but really I just remember fervently wishing she would stop focusing on my damned hair so I could go outside and swing on the monkey bars.Did my young friend wish her parents would say “honey, a few extra pounds are beautiful!” Not at all.She felt nearly the same shame and humiliation whether they praised her weight loss or put her on a diet.She simply didn’t want them or anyone else to discuss her body, in any way, good or bad – it was mortifying.She just wanted to be riding her horse.
Each one of us – me, you, Dove, everyone – needs to stop trying to expand our precious definitions (“beauty is valued, so we need to make sure everyone feels beautiful!”) and figure out why (and if) they’re important to define at all.Everyone should be accepted and given equal consideration and rights, even if we’re not all straight, we’re not all white, and we’re not all beautiful.Who cares? Let’s cultivate our talents, our charm, our smarts, our personalities.And then let’s run out and swing on the monkey bars.
“Thoughts that come with dove’s footsteps guide the world.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Melissa Duge Spiers is a writer whose work has appeared in Adventure Sports Journal, Vermont Sports, and The Monterey Herald, among other publications. She is working on her first novel. A graduate of Barnard College, she lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband and four children.
This sexism, by the way, goes beyond the specific imagery of a superhero. “Be a hero” translates to “act, take risks, make choices. “I need a hero” means “I’m a minor character. I’m passive, and I wait.”
See the difference?
The insidious problem with this stereotyped gender casting is that women are constantly sidelined and marginalized, remarkably, in the roles they play in their own lives. Females are cast in the supporting role, defined by their relationships as girlfriend, wife, mother, or helper. This sexist narrative has been going on for a long, long time, and we keep recycling it. I just saw this Virginia Woolf quote Tweeted by Bitchflicks:
And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends…They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that.
How small a part! But who would ever guess from looking at how women are depicted in the media– movies, TV, books, advertising– in 2013? Ironically, and this is what is so fucked up and twisted, females get to exist, get to play a part at all when they are sexualized and marginalized.
“Avengers” has the classic Minority Feisty ratio of 5 male superheroes to one female. As artist Kevin Bolk illustrates, the lone female is highlighted by her ass.
What is the solution to this sexism? Be a hero. Women, write your own stories. Make your own art. No one else can do it for us.
Update Here’s a comment from Nick:
Totally agree the solution has to be everywhere. Thanks for this comment and for the thought and research you put into writing female characters.
Obviously, it’s a sexist world out there, and when women make art, it’s often ignored or marginalized. It would help if women were running the major Hollywood studios or had the funds to bankroll those studios, not to mention lead the prestigious organizations and comprise the boards that give awards to “great” artists.
That said, women need to keep writing and creating. Making art is risky and dangerous, engaging in the process is being a hero. Persevering is especially challenging when your work gets dismissed and rejected because stories about women aren’t valued. But, even with all of this against us, women must put our stories and visions out there. I really believe this is the only way we’ll ever achieve full gender equality.
Today, when you endorsed California attorney general, Kamala Harris, at her fundraiser, you said:
“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here.”
Women in America are constantly valued for how we look and not for what we do. This prejudice is something every female in America of every age has to deal with on some level every single day. For the President of the United States to refer to the attorney general’s looks is not a trivial thing. I wish it were.
Kamala Harris is California’s first female attorney general. The first one. Why do you have to call the first female AG the “best-looking?” It’s not funny. Not only are you the president, you’re the father of two daughters. You’re telling America and your own kids that you value Harris because of the way she looks. Would you ever consider introducing a male candidate as the “best-looking?” How men look is basically irrelevant when evaluating their performance. Unfortunately, the same is not true for women. Harris, the women of America, and your daughters deserve more respect and an equal playing field. When you called Harris “best-looking” today, you took that away from her. When Americans hear your words, they, too, will look at Harris and evaluate her appearance. If our daughters– and I have 3– hear you, they’ll get training to do the same thing. That training already exists everywhere around them. The last thing our children need is to hear their President focusing on the looks of a high ranking, female politician.
You need to understand this. It’s important. Women put you in office for a second term. Yet, it’s startling to me how few women you’ve appointed to power positions in your Administration. Your cabinet has more men playing starring roles than a Hollywood blockbuster movie.
Women make up 50% of the population yet we’re drastically under-represented in our U.S. government. In 2013, women are just 18% of the United States Congress. Throughout our history, only four women have held the office of Supreme Court Justice. There has never been a female President of the United States. Do you think a female president would introduce a female politician as “best-looking?” Or would she ever introduce a male politician that way, for that matter?
Right now, the U.S. has only five female governors, a low for this century. Harris has the chance be the first female governor of California. To get her there, it doesn’t help to have the U.S. President reduce the race for California attorney general to another beauty contest. That’s bad for women and bad for America.
In defense of Sheryl Sandberg’s much maligned Lean In, I compared the book to No Excuses by former President of Planned Parenthood, Gloria Feldt. That book, which I read a couple years ago, has a similar thesis. It focuses on strategies that can help women succeed in the workplace, and it debuted with no feminist uproar.
Feldt responded to Reel Girl’s post:
Thanks for making the comparison between my book and Sheryl’s. You hit the nail on the head in many ways. I’d just like to say for the record that since my goal is to move women forward toward parity in top leadership positions, I’m thrilled that a woman like Sheryl in a powerful corporate position is so willing to say these things.
She and I have discussed that there is a need to be able to work in the system and to change it. I tend to come down more on the side of changing the system, but then movement building has been my career.
And I’m doing it again with Take The Lead (www.taketheleadwomen.com) if anyone wants to check it out and possibly hop on board to help us reach leadership gender parity by 2025.
Here is my comment back to Gloria.
Thank you for your comment to Reel Girl. I’m grateful for your long career in helping women and happy that you wrote No Excuses whichI learned so much from. I appreciate your support of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, though in some ways, your email perpetuates a misconception about “sides” that I want to address. You write:
I tend to come down more on the side of changing the system, but then movement building has been my career.
There are no sides here. Women can’t change the sexist system if they the lack basic skills do so. This may not seem like a huge deal in your comment, but this schism is presented and replicated all over the media when discussing Sandberg’s book, just last Sunday again on “60 Minutes,” and it can be distorting.
In 1998, When I was 28, I cofounded the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership to address this lack of skills and also, the class divide in feminism. So many young women, including me, had big dreams, but little idea as to the practical tools of how to achieve them. It was like we’d missed out on a basic training course that the men had taken.
Woodhull’s mission was to train women ages 22 – 35 in the skills they too often lacked. We saw this age period as crucial for women to lay the ground work for successful careers, a time where they needed support and training that they weren’t getting. There weren’t non-profits that focused on career development of this demographic, so we created Woodhull.
Modules at Woodhull included: media training, negotiation, advocacy, how to get published, financial literacy, how to write a business plan, and public speaking. Every Woodhull module included a component on ethics. There’s no point in becoming a leader if you can’t be an ethical one, give back, help people, and do your part to change the world for the better.
Woodhull ran into challenges raising money. Foundations wanted to give money to non-profits that served 100% inner city/ low income women. Even when 2/3 of Woodhull constituents came from inner city/ low income and were scholarshipped, foundations weren’t interested in that ratio. Woodhull didn’t want to adapt to funders, because part of the reason Woodhull was founded was to bridge the class divide. Women who came to Woodhull valued that diversity. Many said they had no other place to address class differences and similarities openly and to learn from each other. Again and again, we witnessed that young women, across the board, whether from the richest or poorest families, didn’t know basic financial literacy or had difficulty receiving applause without flinching.
You don’t get much more privileged by birth in America than me. My great-grandfather was Charles Merrill, the founder of Merrill Lynch. He was an early investor in Safeway stores, and my grandfather became CEO of that company, building it into the world’s largest supermarket chain. My father was also a CEO of Safeway until he left the company to buy the San Francisco Giants. I think that part of the reason I became a feminist so early is because in the world that I grew up in, the gender disparity was huge. Sometimes it seemed like all of the men were running the world and all of the women were dieting.
Following my college graduation, many of the privileged men I had grown up with went on to start their own companies, open restaurants, publish novels, and produce films. Most of the women I knew, who were smart, creative, and had a sincere desire to have a positive impact on society, took low-paying, low status jobs for big corporations or non-profits.
What I also noticed in these women, and not the men, and an issue that you address in No Excuses, was a profound ambivalence towards success and power, basically what it means to be successful and powerful as a woman in America. For all of these reasons, I founded Woodhull.
The class divide among women, whether it manifests as the stay-at-home vs working mommy wars or feminists against Sheryl Sandberg, is the major challenge keeping women from achieving parity. Even the foundation and non-profit worlds systemically reinforce this fatal gap. If women can’t bridge the class divide, we’ll stay stuck, but if we can overcome it, nothing will stop us.