At Billy Bush’s prep school, girls referred to as ‘toys’

Time Magazine just published a post: Colby Student: Billy Bush Exemplifies the Hypermasculinity on College Campuses with the tagline “A student from Bush’s alma mater says not much has changed.” Here’s my story. Billy Bush and I went to the same boarding school, St. George’s in Newport, Rhode Island. You may have read about the school recently in The New York Times or The Boston Globe or Vanity Fair because an investigation recently concluded that scores of students were raped and assaulted at the school, mostly during the 70s and 80s. While I was lucky enough not to be a victim of assault, this “elite” institution that supposedly educates “the best and the brightest,” like so many boarding schools was a bastion of sexism and racism, an old boys club where a culture of silence was encouraged and rewarded. The photo below is of me (on the left) and my friend, freshman year, in our high school yearbook from 1984. The caption reads “Todd’s toys.”


Todd was a senior prefect. The saddest thing to me about this photo is that I, at 14 years old, aspired to be liked, desired, by older boys, that I believed my value and worth was determined by whether or not older males– the guys with the power– were attracted to me. St. George’s did nothing that I can recall to recognize this sexism or to empower female students. To the contrary, the school seemed to condone misogyny. There was an annual event at St. George’s called Casino Night where all the new girls, mostly freshman and sophomores, dressed up as bunnies, as in playboy-type bunnies, complete with fishnet stockings and cotton tails on our butts. Our job was to sell the boys– who were fully clothed and pretended to gamble– candy and fake cigarettes. Casino Night was not a secret event, it took place to much fanfare in the school dining hall. Every teacher and administrator knew about it.

When I heard the Billy Bush/ Donald Trump tape I wanted to scream because it was like everything I learned in high school, the objectification of women and girls, the metamorphosis of teenager from San Francisco into a “toy” bunny plaything, was being reinforced by a would-be president of the United States of America.I felt ill and the nausea hasn’t left me since.

What are girls supposed to think and feel and be when we grow up surrounded by this kind of sexism, when it’s so normal that no one even notices it? When teachers condone it by never addressing it?

After I learned about the sexual assaults and rapes at St. George’s, about a year ago, I started blogging about the story. Though even before I was told about the abuse and the cover ups, I’d written about the sexism I experienced there in blog titled Women, class, and the problem of privilege: Everything I learned about sexism, I learned at boarding school. 

I spoke to the investigators because they said they wanted to know about the culture of sexism at the school, how the place could’ve allowed the rapes to happen and go unreported. I was disappointed that the investigators didn’t publish more about the rape culture at the school, and I wrote many blogs about it, including one titled with a quote from a survivor: ‘There’s no sense of why so many assaults happened at St. George’s, what the school did to create cultural backdrop that allowed and encouraged rape.’

The links to the posts I wrote about St. George’s are listed below, though I removed the photos from the blogs. I had posted a photo, also from our 1984 yearbook, of a freshman girl dressed as a bunny on Casino Night. To me, the shame was on the school, not the girl, but when she told me she wanted it down, I respected her wishes. I took all the pictures  of students down except for the one with me in it that you can see above.

Misogyny is so ubiquitous in America, paradoxically, it’s invisible. It’s in our schools and colleges and the air we breathe, but we don’t even notice it. I’m not 14 years old anymore. I have three daughters of my own now. I want them to have the right to control their own bodies, to find their value in their achievements not in how they appear to men, to be ambitious, creative, and inspired, to dream big and to acquire the skills to realize their vision, to be valued as people, not toys. That’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton for president on November 8.



Reel Girl posts on St. George’s:

St. George’s, how should law enforcement respond to 911 call about possible rape at your school?


Open Letter to Hillary Haters: Misogyny, Madam Secretary, and the Marquise de Merteuil

This is a guest post for Reel Girl by Melissa Duge Spiers

To all women who loathe Trump but don’t like Hillary:

In the past week or so we have heard and seen an avalanche of (even more) unspeakable things come out of Donald Trump. Most of us are justly outraged by his attitude and actions toward women: Trump has proven he views us purely as sexual objects, reduced to—and rated ruthlessly on—how we look and our sexuality. Every day hundreds of women give myriad reasons they will not vote for him, and this is one of them.



Many of these same women also give reasons for disliking Hillary, however: she’s nauseatingly smug, she’s cold, she dresses like crap, she must be secretly lesbian. I have heard everything from “I hate those dorky headbands she used to wear” to “why can’t she stop making that awful grin-grimace?” And the number one reason I hear, time and again: I can’t vote for Hillary because she stood by her cheating husband.

At best the above statements would be right at home when judging a beauty pageant; they are all based on rating her appearance or sexuality. At worst, they’re the feminine equivalent of the oldest, most patronizing and paralyzing harassment we’ve each been exposed to forever: why don’t you give me a smile? Why don’t you dress like a girl? You think you can make [X] sexual choice? You asked for it! You’re a cold bitch, you’re a lesbian!

My fellow women: we have a chance to elect a female to the biggest power position in the world, and yet we are picking at her clothing, her smile, her sexual choices. We are basing our votes and the future of our country on our reaction to how she maintains her looks, her facial expressions, and her marriage.

Why do we do it? The simplistic answer is that sexual competition and judging – tearing down or eliminating other women – was traditionally our only source of power in most societies. Two-hundred and fifty years ago Laclos’ “Dangerous Liaisons” villainess, the Marquise de Merteuil, perfectly captured this primal female urge in her personal motto: “win or die.” For the few who have not read the book (or seen one of the film adaptations), the story can be summed up simply: women viciously destroy each other and the man wins. “When one woman strikes at the heart of another she seldom misses,” the Marquise flatly informs the Vicomte de Valmont, “and the wound is invariably fatal.” Indeed, all of the women lose big in Laclos’ tale, in particularly sexually-damning ways—Cecile, defiled, returns in shame to a convent; the Marquise is disfigured and humiliated into never showing her face or using her body again; and Madame de Tourvel is so shame-stricken and humiliated she simply dies (the ultimate sexual give-up) — while the man walks away, smirking, with all of the power in the palm of his hand.

Earlier in the 2016 election season, already disgusted with the playground taunts passing for politics, I tweeted a personal vow (which now seems hopelessly dated and innocent, given how things have circled the drain since): I will not talk about how women look for the rest of the season. I will not join in comparing Heidi Cruz to Melania Trump, I will not weigh in on Megyn Kelly, I will not critique the Trump surrogates’ clothing and makeup choices, I will not discuss Hillary’s wardrobe or everyone’s possible plastic surgery or the attire or looks of any of the reporters who are covering them. (Just to be fair, I am also not going to discuss Donald Trump’s hair, skin color, or hand size either, although I did relish that whole ridiculous defend-my-manhood exchange with Marco Rubio.) I confess: I fell off the wagon once and gleefully tweeted about Melania’s choice of the Pussy Bow blouse after her husband’s big sexual assault bomb dropped—but I have otherwise found the self-enforced ban to be very illuminating. I constantly have to censor myself: we are so conditioned to comment on and tear down other women it leaves one often speechless in finding another topic.

Once Trump paraded Bill Clinton’s accusers through the second debate and we were all newly reminded of Hillary’s marital issues I added an even more important personal ban to my list: I will not weigh in on another woman’s sexuality. Period. Does Hillary love Bill, or is it a marriage of convenience? Did she stay with him because she forgave him, because she secretly likes women better, or because she saw him as a stepping stone for her ambition? I personally hope Hillary has a rotating stable of pool boys at the local Country Club, but I will never say another word about it. I will not pass judgement on any woman’s marriage, I will not speculate on who or what gender she sleeps with, I will not entertain reports of her fidelity or lack thereof. Unless she (not her husband, her aide’s husband, her ex-husband, or any other man in her life) has broken a law with her own sexual behavior I will not form or voice an opinion. Women are not the keepers of morality, we cannot hold them responsible for any man’s sexual actions, attitudes, or behaviors. Furthermore, we cannot assume to know what goes on in their relationships. Most of us would never judge another woman for electing to divorce a cheater; why do we all feel we can condemn one for electing not to? How dare we judge any woman on who or how they choose to love, to divorce, to stay, to marry.

Which brings me back to “Dangerous Liaisons.” I do not think all women should automatically vote for Hillary because she’s a woman; that’s reductive and ridiculous. But every one of us needs to carefully examine our reasons if we choose not to vote for her: is our decision intellectually defensible, or are we allowing our Neanderthal brain, our vestigial sexual competitiveness to drag us into knee-jerk bitchiness? Do we disapprove of her policies or doubt her experience…or do we just dislike her marital situation, her sartorial choices, her personal presentation? And can we live with ourselves and our country if we let this particular man walk away, smirking, with all of the power in his tiny, little…ahem, with all of the power in his hands?

Melissa Duge Spiers is a freelance writer based in Watsonville, California, and a frequent contributor to Reel Girl. You can follow her on Instagram @mdugespiers or Twitter @MDugeSpiers.



Wow, People Magazine addresses trivialization of Taylor Swift and women artists!

When news broke a couple days ago that Taylor Swift broke up with boyfriend Calvin Harris, the internet brimmed with snark: How long until she sings about this breakup? Swift’s lyrics have long been criticized and trivialized, reducing her to a boy crazy one note.


Today, People Magazine posts a headline: 8 Breakup Albums by Male Artists That Didn’t Earn Them as Much of a Rep as Taylor Swift with a list including musicians generally regarded as geniuses and poets: Bob Dylan,Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, and Kanye West. Guess what? All those dudes wrote about break ups multiple times in multiple albums like most artists do.

I am so fucking sick of women artists being relegated to “confessional” or “chick lit.” It starts when kids are young, babies, in the whole “just for girls” “special interest” category of children’s media. Literally, from birth, we train kids that stories about girls are not important, are less interesting, are less than. I can’t tell you how many parents have responded to me, when I tell them about this blog: “Oh, I don’t have to worry about that, I have boys.” Yes, mom and dad, you do have to worry about that. It’s up to you to seek out media for your kids– your kids— with female protagonists. It’s up to you to avoid inundating your child’s imagination with narratives and images that repeatedly teach that females belong on the sidelines. And even if you work your ass off to show your children alternatives, they’re still going to suck up gender stereotypes which are literally everywhere. So try. Try harder. Change the world, don’t be a bystander. I’m going off on a tangent. The point of this blog was an optimistic one, to congratulate People Magazine. I wrote almost the exact blog People did today on Reel Girl, years ago. The Bob Dylan song I cited wasn’t “Don’t Think Twice” but “Idiot Wind.” There are scores to choose from. Ask yourself: What can you do today to support women artists?

Sick of sexism in cartoons? Inspiring course teaches girls to create and publish comics


Lucky Charms, they’re magically sexist!

Today, we had Lucky Charms for breakfast. Not the healthiest choice, I know, but that’s how it went down. My six year old daughter counted 8 different charms on the back of the box, each with a portrait and storyline. Out of those, just 2 are female. I’m not even talking about Lucky, the  leprechaun, I’m talking about the charms.


My daughter read the box to me:

Hourglass is a smarty pants scientist whose inventions don’t always turn out the way he planned. He’s bringing his toolbox to the party.

In the photo above, you can see Hourglass on the left with the hat, a lock of brown hair, and a mustache.

That one she’s pointing to is Shooting Star

a seriously silly dude. He’s bringing juggling balls to the party…even though he doesn’t know how to juggle.

Guess what one of two girls (or as I call them Minority Feisty) is named? Rainbow. She is…

“the most magical charm of all. She wants to add some sparkle to the party with a disco ball.”

Good to know  her interior decorating skills are strong. What’s a girl who doesn’t want to add sparkle to her shoes, her dress, her soccer ball? Is she a girl at all?

My husband jokes that cereal boxes are like morning newspapers for kids. My three daughters fight about who gets to put the box in front of their bowl. Those boxes are seriously valuable real estate in kidworld and yet, there is a not a single female mascot on a children’s cereal box. Not a single one. I’ve written about this blatant sexism on Reel Girl for years but it was only when Raj from the hit show “The Big Bang Theory” made the same observation, that the issue got some traction. Things are going to change now, I thought. Raj has taken this issue on.

I was wrong. That episode aired three years ago. More stories keep coming and almost all of them are about males.

Reel Girls posts about sexism and children’s food packaging, girls get stereotyped or go missing:

Play ‘Find the Girls on the Cereal Box’ featuring…Captain Crunch!

New game to play with kids: Find the Girls on the Cereal Box!

M &Ms, Goldfish, cereal boxes, and the Minority Feisty

Raj’s list of all male cereal box characters from ‘Big Bang Theory’

“Big Bang Theory” mentions gender bias in kids’ cereal packaging

30 Greatest kids cereals of all time, 100% male characters

Today’s breakfast cereal shows female on the box, guess what she’s proud of?

Pepperidge Farm introduces Princess Goldfish, gendering kids’ food reaches new low

Good job on race, Cheerios, but what’s with the gender stereotypes?

Cheerios box shows kids girls gone missing

Buying my first box of Wheaties…

Why is Dora sunbathing in the freezer aisle?

New M & Ms package shows female getting stalked

Look what Ms. Green has to say on M & Ms’ Facebook page today

Why isn’t Pebbles on the Cocoa Pebbles?

Hey Goldfish Snack Crackers, girls aren’t a minority

How about some images of boys with your Reese’s Puffs?

If I blog about the gender of talking penguins, why wouldn’t I care about the gender of my president?

OK, let’s try this again.


A couple days ago, I wrote a blog titled: ‘Only in a sexist society would women be told that caring about representation at the highest levels of government is wrong. Only in a sexist society would women believe it.’ As I stated then, I wrote that blog in part because every time I post about Hillary, gender, and power on Reel Girl’s Facebook page I lose fans, usually not before I’m admonished for voting with my vagina or told to stick to writing about the imaginary world. I ended that blog with this statement:

If you’re a Bernie supporter or a Hillary supporter, I’d love you to stay, but If you prefer not to see posts about Hillary and gender, this is probably not the blog or the Facebook page for you.

Apparently, some of you are still confused, so I’m re-posting here what you can see on Reel Girl’s Facebook page in the “about” section:

This page does not post trigger warnings. If you are offended by media stories that deal with rape, sexual assault, or abuse, and expect a trigger warning, please don’t like this page. I also post about politics (I am a Democrat) and reproductive rights. The goal of my page is to imagine gender equality in the fantasy world so that we create equality in the real one. I hope you join me on this journey but if you expect to only read stories about female comic book characters here, this is not the page for you.

To recap: the gender of characters in the imaginary world is important to me because the gender of characters in the real world is important to me. Capiche?

If you believe that Bernie Sanders is a better feminist than Hillary Clinton, I respect that opinion and I understand your reasons for making that choice. I get it.

On my blog, a couple days ago, I posted this quote from Bernie Sanders from the AP:

“No one has ever heard me say, ‘Hey guys, let’s stand together, vote for a man.’ I would never do that, never have,” Sanders said. “I think in a presidential race, we look at what a candidate stands for and we vote for the candidate we think can best serve our country.”

I wrote:

Huh? Of course no one would say, “Hey guys, let’s stand together and vote for a man.” That’s just the assumption, a man is the default position. That Bernie would make that analogy shows me, once again, why I want a woman president.

That quote, as you can see if you go to the link, is not the headline, hasn’t been covered by any media that I know of, it’s simply embedded in the article, just like that point of view is embedded in a male candidate. To me, that quote says gender is not important and that men and women are the same and equal right now in America. That quote is just the latest one I came across as I was blogging that happened to show to me that Bernie doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a woman because he’s not one.

I want a female president. I wrote this in my blog:


Would I vote for Sarah Palin or Condoleezza Rice or Michelle Bachmann because they are women? No, of course not. I would vote for a woman who supports reproductive rights and women’s rights. Yes, I want a woman president. I don’t think women are better than men, more ethical than men, kinder, more emotional, or any of that bullshit. I still want there to be a woman who supports women’s rights to hold the highest office. I believe Hillary Clinton will make the world a better place for women and therefore men, as ultimately, we’re all connected and losing half the human race is missing out on a huge, untapped resource.


Is gender the only factor in why I’m voting for Hillary? No. Is it a strong factor? Yes.

So many people who are not supporting Hillary assure me that they’re all for a woman president, they just don’t want this woman. Elizabeth Warren, she’d be great! Jill Stein? Even better! I will tell you as I tell them: Neither of those women is in a position to be president, and that is not a coincidence. There could not be a female Bernie Sanders in Bernie Sanders’s position today– that angry, that vocal about a revolution. A woman like that would scare America right out of its pants. How do I know? Because she’s not in that position!

Here’s the good news. Since my post, I’ve actually gained fans on Reel Girl’s Facebook page. I have hope for us Democrats! Most of the comments I’m getting are much better and represent an improved and thoughtful dialogue, but I still feel like my point is being missed. Here’s one of those comments that inspired me to write this blog:

I have no problem with anyone supporting Hillary. I don’t agree with her and I find her extremely fake, but that’s my personal reaction and I understand that others react differently. I’ve never really had a problem with your stuff. I don’t agree 100% all the time, but that’s normal. I don’t know why we have to agree all the time or be huge ass enemies. What a waste of energy. The only thing I have to say about the representation of women in government is that, yes it would be amazing, but at the same time I don’t want to feel like I’m being shamed into voting for the vagina candidate. Know what I mean? But, well. The genitalia of a candidate has never really been my first concern. The issues are always more important for me. That being said, being told that WANTING a woman prez is sexist is an extreme. We want representation. That’s a normal part of being human.

My response:

Yes, we can disagree! The point I think is not to avoid conflict but to handle conflict ethically. When you write that you don’t want to vote with your vagina, that terminology feels kind of shaming to me. I respect that you don’t want to vote for a woman b/c she’s a woman, but when you write you don’t want to vote with your vagina, it makes me feel like you’re saying I’m doing something stupid or gross.

I swear if one more person tells me they’re not voting with their vagina or not to vote with my vagina….scrap that, because it’ll happen again hundreds if not thousands of times before this primary is over. I’ll take a deep breath. I’ll keep writing.

‘Only in a sexist society would women be told that caring about representation at the highest levels of government is wrong. Only in a sexist society would women believe it.’

I support Hillary Clinton for president.


I also supported her when she ran against Obama.

I post about gender and power on my Facebook page, and every time I put up a post about Hillary and gender, I lose fans. I’ve always supported open discussion on my site and on my blog. I get why people are voting for Bernie, but I’m blogging now about the shaming and vitriol aimed at me when I express my support for Hillary. This happens, by the way, not just on the internet but in the real world. Most people I know are voting for Bernie. I’m told, in multiple ways, that I’m not hip, I’m not cool, I’m too privileged to see the light.

I just posted on Reel Girl’s Facebook page: It Is OK to Care About Gender on the Ballot on by Jessica Valenti in the Guardian, written a month ago, but I love the post.The quote I titled my blog with is in it. Here’s the typical comment I get:

Pfft. Not when she represents things that I’m completely against. I’m not just a woman, I’m a cis, queer, Latina born and raised from low SES. The women I’ve heard that support Hillary just because she’s a women are white women who have not faced an iota that trans women, woc, poor women, queer women, or disabled women have faced. At least vote because she’s going to make our life better. Privilage baiting Reel Girl

Reel Girl: I read this post, as I wrote in comments above, not about Bernie supporters but about not shaming Hillary supporters


When Bernie was asked about Killer Mike’s comment that a uterus doesn’t qualify someone to be president, he told the AP:

“No one has ever heard me say, ‘Hey guys, let’s stand together, vote for a man.’ I would never do that, never have,” Sanders said. “I think in a presidential race, we look at what a candidate stands for and we vote for the candidate we think can best serve our country.”

Huh? Of course no one would say, “Hey guys, let’s stand together and vote for a man.” That’s just the assumption, a man is the default position. That Bernie would make that analogy shows me, once again, why I want a woman president. Would I vote for Sarah Palin or Condoleezza Rice or Michelle Bachmann because they are women? No, of course not. I would vote for a woman who supports reproductive rights and women’s rights. Yes, I want a woman president. I don’t think women are better than men, more ethical than men, kinder, more emotional, or any of that bullshit. I still want there to be a woman who supports women’s rights to hold the highest office. I believe Hillary Clinton will make the world a better place for women and therefore men, as ultimately, we’re all connected and losing half the human race is missing out on a huge, untapped resource.

Rebecca Traister wrote a great post about Hillary and Bernie, saying that no one likes to hear a woman yelling about revolution. No one likes an angry woman either. Or disheveled. Women are supposed to be the hard workers in the background, not the ones upfront.

As I wrote on Reel Girl’s Facebook page, I will continue to post about Hillary and gender. I’ve never posted or written based on how many fans I’ll attract, and I’m not starting now. I post about what I believe in and what makes me, and hopefully you, think. I believe people can passionately disagree on issues, but though I have a blog and write about controversial topics, I’m not someone who argues for the sake of arguing. I don’t have the time or energy to debate for entertainment. I’m busy, like we all are so I’m kind of shocked and amazed by how people I know personally and people I don’t try to pick fights and shame me for voting for Hillary. If you’re a Bernie supporter or a Hillary supporter, I’d love you to stay, but If you prefer not to see posts about Hillary and gender, this is probably not the blog or the Facebook page for you.


Female athletes gone missing: Sports Illustrated’s objectification of plus size women isn’t progress

The internet is abuzz with joy and celebration because the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue features plus size model, Ashley Graham, on its cover.


Isn’t this great, girls? Even if you aren’t skinny, you can pout doggy style in the surf! Yes, apparently, it’s true that even if you’re not a size zero, men will still want to fuck you. No worries, sweeties, you still have value in the world.

Maybe we can get a woman over 50 to pose in a bikini. Helen Mirren? Never mind that she’s a great actress, it’s her body we want to show off. What about a plus size woman of color? Now that would be a real leap towards equality.

In 2013, researchers from the University of Louisville found that out of 716 SI covers, all of them from the years 2000- 2011, only 35 featured a female athlete. Of those, only 11 featured a female athlete of color.

Despite females’ increased participation in sport since the enactment of Title IX and calls for greater media coverage of female athletes, women appeared on just 4.9 percent of covers. The percentage of covers did not change significantly over the span and were comparable to levels reported for the 1980s by other researchers. Indeed, women were depicted on a higher percentage of covers from 1954–1965 than from 2000–2011.

Do you see we’re going backwards here? Putting a plus size woman on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue isn’t any kind of progress.

When Serena Williams made the cover of SI in 2015 as sportsperson of the year, she was pictured in stilettos and a black body suit, one bare leg slung over a chair.


Some defended Serena’s cover claiming it’s important to show that a woman can be powerful and sexy. But for men, it is their skill that makes them attractive. For women athletes, if they happen to be “attractive” it is in spite of their talent, not because of it. Men’s bodies are valued for what they can do while women’s bodies are valued for how they appear.

If you’re going to tell me this sexism is just innate, tritely quoting: “Women use sex to get power, men use power to get sex,” listen to me carefully: People who are not in power learn to survive and be successful by pleasing those who are in power. That need is the only thing innate about reducing talented, skilled, brilliant women to body parts. Men, as a group, not individually, are able to stay running the world as long as women, as a group, stay weak.

Here is what I blogged in 2014:

Memo to the world: objectifying fat women is objectifying women

Just saw this from Buzzfeed on Miss Representation’s Facebook page:

Plus-size swimwear company Swimsuits for All set out to prove that “sexy curves go beyond a size four” by shooting its own swimwear calendar, including a picture reenacting this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.


Are you kidding me? Do you think I’d be any happier if my 3 daughters saw that picture in the Safeway checkout line instead of this one?


All right, maybe I’d be a smidgen happier that my kids wouldn’t have to see more starving women defined as beautiful, but my goals and expectations are so much higher than what this image from Swimsuits for All represents. I want to see images of women where they are not defined by their sexuality, by whether whomever is looking at them finds them sexy or not, where what they look like in bathing suits is not the be-all end-all, where who thinks they are attractive only matters in a very particular context, like when they are with someone who they love or want to have sex with.

Swimsuits for All is in the business of selling swimsuits. The company has got to sell its product, so posing women in the merchandise that it’s marketing makes sense. I’m not indicting the company, but pretending as if seeing this image all over the internet is liberating is ridiculous. Also, it might be nice to see the women swimming in their suits. What about playing volleyball on the beach? Building awesome sandcastles? Doing something? There could be a shot of a woman or two sunbathing, as long as the “aren’t I sexy” poses were not the dominant, ubiquitous ones.

I’ve written this for a long time, but “fat” women beauty contests don’t represent progress. Women no longer paraded as meat is progress.


Still confused or want to see more images to make this point? Please take a look at Reel Girl’s recent post: Why do men in America feel entitled to women? A gallery of reasons. You’ll see this famous painting by Manet (look she’s got fat rolls and she’s naked, isn’t that cool?) along with contemporary images of dressed men paired with naked women.


If we can imagine talking bunnies as police in ‘Zootopia,’ why can’t we imagine gender equality?

After posting about the sexist ads for Disney’s “Zootopia” 3 minutes ago, I decided to do a little more research on the movie.


The following headline came up on my Google feed from The Verge:  “The latest Zootopia trailer takes on workplace sexism against bunnies.”

I don’t know if it’s the idea of “workplace bunnies” that made me nervous, or simply my lack of confidence in the idea of Disney taking on sexism, but my heart sunk as I proceeded to read the Verge post:

At this point, the Walt Disney Animation Studios deserves praise for producing work that can arguably sit comfortably next to some of Pixar’s own efforts. Zootopia, at first blush, takes that all-too-familiar anthropomorphic animals idea and builds a whole world around it. But, at least with this new trailer, it looks like the studio is trying to tackle gender and race in a cute but really effective way.

Once Upon a Time‘s Ginnifer Goodwin stars as Officer Judy Hopps, a rabbit who joins the Zootopia police force. She quickly has to contend with stereotypes that women in the real world have long had to deal with — like being called emotional or unprepared for what’s out there — when the truth is she’s incredibly capable. And her skills will probably come in handy when she and Nick Wilde the fox (Jason Bateman) are forced to solve a crime together. Zootopia hits theaters on March 4th.

So can anyone tell me what the problem is here?

In a nutshell, “Zootopia” is a movie about talking bunnies. Lots of talking animals actually. There’s a fox, a buffalo, a lion, badger, elephant, moose, shrew, I could go on. Knowing Disney, all these animals probably sing and dance and hang out together even though in the real world, they’d eat each other. So why, why WHY if we can all stretch our imaginations to believe in loquacious animals, must we suddenly revert to reality when it comes to sexism? Instead of showing a lone female battle a majority of males, why not show a majority of females being heroic? Do you see what I’m going for here? In a fantasy world where anything is possible, why not create gender equality? Why not let kids experience females and males treated equally? If you can’t even imagine it (which apparently, we can’t) you cannot create it. Oh, is that the point, Disney?

You might say, there’s an important place for the narrative of a female struggling against sexism a la “Mulan” or “Brave.” While I agree this story has value, it can also become an excuse to continue to replicate sexism in the fantasy world, to always show a minority of females and majority of males because “that’s just the way it is in the real world.” After I saw “The Lion King” I asked: why did the lionesses have to wait around for Simba to come around and save them? Why did they have to get bossed around by weak, old Scar? Well, I’m such an idiot! Males lead a pride, of course. That’s just how it is in the real world. OK, so I’m just supposed to overlook that Simba is BFFs with a warthog and a Meerkat but when it comes to sexism, we’re all sticklers for reality?

In “Ratatouille” there is one female chef in the movie, Colette, who works in a kitchen with four male chefs. As far as I could tell, all the rats are male. Certainly, every rat who spoke is male. Colette delivers a speech about sexism, but wouldn’t it be so much more powerful to show kids a female running a kitchen of great female chefs, helped along by a female rat who can cook?


This strong, lone female is a pattern in contemporary children’s movies. While appearing on the surface to fight sexism, her role actually ensures that sexism will continue for another generation by keeping sexist stereotypes alive. While she appears to be battling sexism, she’s illustrating it. Her character repeats so often in children’s media, I’ve given her a name: Minority Feisty. She differs from the Smurfette Principle in that she is often a “strong female character” and sometimes there are a few strong females in the narrative but they always exist in the minority. Not much for a patriarchy to be threatened by, but we can still call her a feminist. Isn’t that convenient?


Disney’s ‘Zootopia’ ads promote gender stereotypes

So I’m reading the new Us Weekly with Eva Longoria on the cover, and on page 32 I see a promotion for Disney’s upcoming movie “Zootopia.” The ad features a super-skinny gazelle girl, staring at me submissively, blonde curls flopping in her face. She wears super high pink heels, sparkly leg warmers to match a sparky dress with a hem so high I can almost see her privates.


Right across from the sexy gazelle, page 33 shows another promotion for the movie. This one features 4 male characters. All get to be fully clothed in T-shirts and pants. They are in action poses, doing yoga. In spite of their exercise, they also get to be chubby. I guess this is how males get “red carpet ready.”


Let’s hope the 4 to 1 ratio in these ads is not reflective of the gender ratio in the actual movie, but my hopes are low given that in most movies for kids, females are reduced to the Minority Feisty role.

My three daughters and I were excited to go to “Zootropia.” We saw the preview, it looked pretty funny, but this ad has me gagging. Even if kids don’t see the movie, this sexy gazelle will be unavoidable. She will be a toy, a halloween costume, an image in a T-shirt, a band-air, a sippy cup, or a diaper. Disney, please stop exposing children to gender stereotypes where females bodies are valued for how they appear while male bodies are valued for what they can do. Portraying females as sex objects while males get to be funny and have fun is so misogynistic. The problem isn’t that you rely on this trope once, or twice, or a even a few times, but that gender stereotypes are a repeated pattern in most of your movies. Don’t you want to be more creative?

Update: I turned the page! Look what’s on page 34, surprise, surprise. Another fully clothed male character.


If Judy Hopps, a police officer, is one of the main characters, why isn’t she in an ad? Why the sexy gazelle? Because, I imagine, the sexy gazelle is a sexy gazelle and that’s how Disney wants to sell the movie. Gross.

After I did 3 minutes of research on the movie, I had to blog AGAIN about more sexism in “Zootopia.” Read my new blog: If we can imagine talking bunnies as police in ‘Zootopia,’ why can’t we imagine gender equality?