Rare sighting! “The Ballad of Nessie”

Finding a girl lead in an animated kids’ movie may be as rare as a sighting of the Loch Ness monster. Literally. Have you ever heard of “The Ballad of Nessie”? Here’s the poster:

On Friday, I took my four year old daughter to see “Winnie the Pooh.” Before the feature began, there was a super cool short called “The Ballad of Nessie.”

Here’s the official synopsis:

Set in the bonny blue highlands of Scotland, The Ballad of Nessie is a whimsical and colorful tall tale about the friendly Loch Ness Monster, Nessie, and how she and her best friend MacQuack the rubber duck came to live in the moor they now call home. Setting the adventure into motion is a greedy land developer named MacFroogle, who decided to build a mini-golf empire on top of Nessie’s home.

This movie clearly showcases a female character. The narrative is her quest. But did you get that part about “short”? Blink and you’ll miss it (as we almost did because we were late for “Pooh.”) It’s five minutes long.

If you’ve spotted the Nessie poster in your town or city or on TV, please report the sighting to ReelGirl. Even better, take a photo and send it in. And Keep letting ReelGirl know about any other sightings of female leads in kids’ animated movies.

ReelGirl changes its tagline

I started Reel Girl because I wanted to create a resource for parents on the internet where they could go to find great stories, movies, and toys that support girl empowerment. I’m the mom of three young daughters, and I wasn’t able to find the kind of information I was looking for in one place.

I also wanted to recognize how messed up our movie rating system is– and the values associated with that rating system. 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.”

So ReelGirl’s rating system is S for stereotype and G for girlpower, 1- 3 possible.

Here’s the problem: I’m a ranter, not a rater. I’m not organized enough to pull this off. I need logos, to go through all the movies, books, and toys out there, and I don’t have the time. Any free time I get, I have something new to write about. So while I will continue to rate media and products, I’m going to recognize that mostly, I haven’t been.

I’m changing ReelGirl’s tagline from “Rating kids media and products for girl empowerment” to “Imagining gender equality in the fantasy world.” That’s mostly what ReelGirl is about. My hope is that ReelGirl supports and encourages real imagination (ha ha) instead of the same old recycled stories.

Since having these three kids, I really get how fantasy creates reality and reality creates fantasy in an endless loop. That’s pretty much what this blog is about. So the new new tag line is supposed to reflect that. Still, not perfect, because it leaves out politics, sports and other issues. More accurate might be:  “Imagining gender equality” but too vague? I could go more specific, something like: “Imagining gender equality in media, merchandise, and politics.” If you’re good at titles, let me know your ideas.

WSJ reports Disney to create more animated series for boys

The Wall Street Journal reports that Disney is about to launch a major new line up of boy based animated programming. And all this time, I thought kids needed to see more animated female characters. Wow, I was totally wrong.

The WSJ reports:

This summer, kids TV programmers are a little boy crazy. That’s because boys watch more animated series than girls and represent a lucrative sales opportunity for videogames, toys and sports merchandise.

OK, lets stop there. I have a question not addressed here or in any depth anywhere in this article. Why do “boys watch more animated series than girls”?

I’m going to go out a limb here and suggest the reason is because animated series, and the movies derived from them, continually and relentlessly leave girl characters out. When “The Smurfs” (adapted from the TV series) hits movie theaters at the end of the month, kids will see one girl Smurf (Smurfette) among nine boy Smurfs (Brainy, Jokey, Chef, Handy etc.) This boy/girl ratio is so ubiquitous in kids’ cartoons that twenty years ago, Katha Pollitt coined the term “the Smurfette principle” to describe it. Did you get that part about twenty years ago? That’s right, no advances for gender equality in Smurfville for two decades.

So here’s a marketing proposal for Disney: instead of putting out the message that girls somehow “age out” of animation, why not, instead, create some cooler cartoon characters that represent half of the kid population besides princesses or long-eyelashed sidekicks? Girls don’t need less programming, they need more. Concluding that girls lose interest in cartoons after the slim pickings offered to them is a like serving a vegetarian a bacon cheeseburger and then deciding she doesn’t like food.

Later in the article, the idea that girls just grow out of animation is repeated when Ron Geraci, head of research at Viacom, is quoted saying: “Girls migrate out of animation more quickly than boys.”

But again, there are no statistics or mention at all about the lack of female leads in animation. There are only references to the non-animated Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato. EW.com recently reported that when Pixar releases Brave in 2012 audiences will see the studio’s first animated film featuring a female lead in its 25 year history. Twenty-five years! Yet Disney somehow sees the need to create more animated programming for boys. And what about “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons,” “South Park”– all popular cartoons for grown-ups. Note to Disney: No one “ages out” of cartoons.


Starting Sept. 1, Perry will make a guest appearance on some four million packages of Nesquik, replacing Nestle/ Nesquik bunny. And he is the focal point of a promotional tour of a 4,000-pound Airstream trailer converted into a “platy-bus”; fans can climb aboard and play 3-D videogames set for release with the Aug. 5 premiere of Disney’s TV movie “Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension.

Thank you to the WSJ for laying out here how the Disney marketing machine works. (1) Create programs for boys about boys (2) Put images of boys on every space available on products marketed to kids– cereal boxes, diapers, chocolate milk (3) Create video games based on the boy cartoons (4) Conclude only boys like video games

Here’s the unreported side effect: When girls go missing from kids programming, kids of both genders learn that girls are less important than boys.

Now a quote from Disney’s Senior VP:

“We definitely set out to create a boy’s franchise. That was our goal. That group was underserved,” says Adam Sanderson, senior vice president, franchise management, at Disney-ABC Television Group.

Underserved? What?

But here’s my favorite part of the article:

Some time after viewers hit age 6, story lines that appeal to girls-about friendship, romance, gossiping-start to make boys cringe. Boys like TV shows about robots and action. They prefer shows with male leads.

Ok, we are talking about 6 – 11 year old girls here. Romance? Gossip? I guess the boy version of ‘friendship’ would be a ‘buddy movie, kind of like how dolls for boys are called ‘action figures.’ But instead of ignoring these inane gender stereotypes, Disney perpetuates them, working hard to segregate the sexes. For those choices made by high up Disney Execs, girls suffer.

Animation is better than live action when it comes to boy-friendly story lines, says Stuart Snyder, president and chief operating officer of the Time Warner unit that includes Cartoon Network. “You can’t always do the most adventurous things in real life,” he says.

Tragically, if you happen to be a girl, you can’t do the most adventurous things in the animated world either. Hopefully, you’re into gossip and romance.

Is sex too messy for moms?

Some mommy blogs are upset that in Erica Jong’s Op-Ed in Sunday’s New York Times, she suggests women may have lost interest in sex, choosing kids and monogamy over lust and romance. Moms who have babies and young kids blog in response– they don’t have to make a choice, they have kids, they have sex, it’s all good.

I’m one of the contributors to Jong’s new anthology Sugar In My Bowl: Real Women Write about Real Sex and I’d have to say: it’s complicated.

Sugar In My Bowl features 29 women writers and includes fiction and essays about sex. Keep in mind that Jong is the one who edited this book, amplifying the voices and stories of 28 different writers with many views, experiences, and stories different that her own. Jong has never been one to tell women not to voice their own stories or opinions. Quite the opposite.

My story “Light Me Up” is about motherhood, monogamy, and sex. But I didn’t choose to write about sex in this context because sex is “too messy.” I wrote about it because sex is messy. As is marriage. And kids, too. Instead of concealing that, I wanted to write a story about it.

For too many female protagonists, the story always ends when the girl scores the ring; she disappears into narrative oblivion. But marriage is a great story, precisely because it turns out to be the opposite of ‘settling down.’ Marriage is more like jumping off a cliff. My story in the anthology is about a newlywed couple, deeply in love, and I threw some intense, but pretty universal challenges their way involving sex, money, and a new baby.

For women after Erica’s generation– I’m 42, Gen X– being single and sleeping around was pretty safe and normal, thanks to a lot of taboo busting by her’s. At least if you lived in New York or San Francisco and carried condoms. It wasn’t radical to be promiscuous, it was expected.

Picking just one guy to love and lust for, committing to him, having a baby with him– that is fucking terrifying. But I don’t think that’s because it’s a novelty. I think it’s because our generation, and those after us, see marriage more clearly for what it is: high-risk behavior.

We don’t marry because we need a male breadwinner or social acceptance.  So why do we do it? Why do we, literally, put all of our eggs in one basket?

I think, for many of us, it’s because we’re brave romantics.

There’s a non-fiction book on this issue by Stephen Mitchell called Can Love Last? the Fate of Romance Over Time. Mitchell’s basic thesis is: contrary to popular belief, romance doesn’t fade naturally. We kill it. And we kill it because it’s terrifying to lust for and depend on the same person. The more you need your partner, the more courage is required to risk perpetually experiencing the roller coaster highs and lows that come with being desperately attracted to him. Mitchell argues that instead of committing to that dangerous ride, for a lifetime, no less, we flatten our romantic partners into something more stable.

In her book Vindication of Love, Cristina Nehring makes a similar point, taking on the belief that ‘love is blind.’ Nehring argues just the opposite, that it is at those moments when we’re in love, when we see the world through ‘rose-colored glasses’ that we perceive reality. She writes: “Love, far from being blind, is the very emotion that allows us to see.”

I agree.

New review of ‘Sugar In My Bowl’

Great review from Taunton Daily Gazette’s Rae Francouer: Excerpt below (though my story is fiction, book is great because it features both, you can order the book here.)

“Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write about Real Sex.” Edited by Erica Jong. HarperCollins, New York, 2011. 238 pages. $21.99.

Here is where you realize that sex and romance aren’t really that related. Here is where you must admit that sex is way more important. Here is where you see, time after time, that sex can be anything anytime anywhere but it had better be erotic or else. And here is where you see that within the male-female dynamic — largely the dynamic “Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write about Real Sex” concerns itself with — men take up a lot of space in women’s head. And here, men and women looking for something fun to read this summer, is where you notice that good sex commences once pretenses are abandoned….

There are no duds in this lively, fascinating collection but I do have favorites. Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues,” wrote “Skin, Just Skin: A Dramatic Triologue” meant to be performed by three women. It is perfect-pitch true, funny, real, delightful and smart. Three women talk about really good sex in incomplete sentences. Sometimes they surprise and delight each other.

Margot Magowan’s post-childbirth attempts — “Light Me Up” — at reconnecting sexually with her husband were horribly wrenching to bear witness to. It seems as if the female sexual body, in her case, threw up a protective wall for the sake and survival of the baby. It took a major emotional meltdown to explode a hole in the wall big enough for her husband to squirm through…
In this collection you’ll find lots of women engaging in lots of sex. Therapists told these women they had low self-esteem. Nuns told them they were loose cannons. Friends called them sluts. But they persevered and today here we are, taking a long look and enjoying every written word of it.
Read the full review here.

Kidsmovies.com responds to ReelGirl

Thank you to Violette DeSantis of kidsmovies.com for her thoughtful email to ReelGirl. Here it is:

Hi, thanks for the KidsMovies.com mention. Actually I’m the content editor for that site and a mom of three girls by the way (a couple that like dressing up in frilly dresses and fighting with swords and another who is an xtreme sport fan and shops in the boys/men section for clothes because girl clothes have no pockets and are too pink or frilly – or not modest enough for her). I also used to be site editor at the daughters site on BellaOnline.com, one of the top internet sites for women. I’ve written movie reviews previously published at BellaOnline.com and soon to be republished at KidsMovies.com discussing great girl movies, and probably most of them were not best sellers or mainstream, but they are out there.

I see no point in being politically correct or incorrect in choosing movie covers based on the sex of the characters. Those images were chosen because they are favorite movies of my daughters and because girls enjoy these movies as much as boys EVEN if someone didn’t take the time to portray the leads as girls. No thought was given to the particular sex of any of the characters in these top movies or attempt to balance the scales. In honesty, movies were chosen based on an Amazon search of kids movies (probably best sellers come first in the search) and my kids and I picked the ones we’ve enjoyed over the last few years (remember we are all female). However this is a temporary theme and header so maybe some consideration will be given in the future when we’re ready to revamp the image better to suit the theme.

For the record we didn’t intentionally link to your article, your title must have shown up as part of a news feed. In reviewing that article though, I must point out that about half of these stories are traditional story book classics, spin offs of TV classics, or attempts at another sequel of a popular movie. Some of these classics have been favorites of all genders for many years. Hollywood wants to go with what it knows will sell. For the record though, our intent at KidsMovies.com is to cover kids entertainment whether mainstream or not, including special movies you should share with your daughters or your sons.

Thanks again for your mention and thoughtful article.

My reply:

Hi Violette,

Thanks for your email. It would be great if you did give some thought to the gender of the characters. I think the omission of girls is often unintentional and that’s part of the problem. It’s so ubiquitous and accepted as normal. Thank you so much for considering more diversity in another header.

I know kidsmovies.com didn’t intentionally link either, that it was just a Googlesnews feed which it looks like kidsmovies.com just took down? Too bad, I liked it.

I posted about the problem you refer to of Hollywood’s derivative movies and series recycling the same stereotypes for each generation anew. Also, I get that its about making money, specifically for the men who run these studios. We, the audience, want movies about girls that are cool and exciting. We will pay our $10 for that.

Please let me know when you post the reviews/ discussion of great girl movies. I will do a link.

Thank you for visiting ReelGirl.


Coming in 2012: Pixar’s first female lead in 25 year history

And now for some good news: EW.com reports that in June 2012, when Pixar releases ‘Brave,’ audiences will meet Merida “the very first female lead character in the 25 year history of the acclaimed animated studio.” I know– the exception proves the rule and it’s been a long, long wait for just one girl, brave as she may be, (and we still have a year to go) but I am so excited for this movie. It looks amazing! Check out the preview here.

When I started this blog, ReelGirl, a friend of mine gave me a book she bought at a garage sale that I LOVED called Brave Margaret. It’s about an Irish woman who overcomes enormous obstacles, slaying a beast and saving her love. I couldn’t believe my friend picked up this incredible story that I’d never heard of before at a garage sale.  Its illustrations and story are so fabulous. Could this mysterious book be the basis of the story for Pixar’s movie? Check out my review of Brave Margaret here.

There’s one more story I’m thinking of that reminds me of Pixar’s movie, the book Brave Martha. Though Martha is French, this story is about a brave girl who saves a French town from a dragon. This book is written and illustrated by my godmother, the great Susan Roth. Check it out here.

You can order Brave Margaret on Amazon here. Order Brave Martha here.

(I can’t help but notice all these courageous girls have names that begin with M.)

How do you protect your daughter’s imagination?

In the monochromatic girlworld of mass-marketing, how do you protect your daughter’s  imagination? As Peggy Orenstein writes in her fabulous book Cinderella Ate My Daughter,  this is her major concern as a parent: How do you help these girls to remember that pink is just one color in the rainbow? With the limited, repetitive roles for girls in movie after movie and too many books, how do you keep showing them that there are infinite parts they can play?

I make up many stories for my kids, as does my husband. The problem is I want to brainwash my kids but not too much! As my kids’ mom, I obviously, already have an enormous amount of power in their lives. The stories my kids tell me are often  derivative of the ones I’ve told them, sometimes too much. When they get stuck like that or continually repeat the same story, I try saying something like: She always takes that path and it doesn’t work out for her so well, what do you think she would do now instead? Maybe she gallops off on a dragon’s back? Or hides under a rock? Runs so fast she flies into the sky?

I would love to hear some suggestions about how you protect your daughters’ imaginations.