How do sexist movies affect boys?

I got this comment from Clare:

As a mother of 2 little boys I’m constantly struggling to find movies for them to watch that aren’t completely sexist. And it is frustrating because he is too young to have an opinion on what girls can or can’t achieve. I want him to grow up knowing girls an be strong leaders, smart and funny, not just pretty to look at. But hardly any kids movies give you a decent female protagonist worth bothering with. For me “Brave” was embarrassing as Pixar’s first female lead movie. Despite the film having a stereotypically “feisty” heroine (when is that word ever used to describe a boy/man?) it is still all about whether Merida will marry or not. Merida is seen as subversive, difficult because she won’t do as her mother asks and get engaged, but why not a movie where strong, independent Merida has a great adventure that’s nothing to do with romance like any number f her Pixar lead character counterparts? Also as Merida seems to be a young teen the whole idea of marriage is particularly creepy.

I’m glad Clare wrote in because, just like “women’s” issues, people tend to think sexism in animated movies is a girl issue. It’s not. What are our kids learning about gender when the males get to do all the cool, fun, brave stuff, when they get to be the center of attention, while girls are stuck on the sidelines?

Yesterday, my daughter brought a light up fairy to show and tell. She earned that fairy for reading her first chapter book, and she was proud of it and her accomplishment. A couple first grade boys yelled out, “Stupid! Boring!” The boys wanted to be clear that they wouldn’t be interested in something as uncool and girlie as fairy, Fairies, are sadly, on eof the few images we can find in our culture of magical females. Unfortunately, the boys’s reaction isn’t a rare reaction when girls show and tell “girl” stuff. How’s that for an early lesson in public speaking?

What if fairies flew out of the Pink Ghetto? What if kids saw fairies go on exciting adventures in narratives marketed to all kids? What if fairies didn’t look coy, with short skirts and shy smiles?

What happens when kids learn, from the moment they exit the womb, that there are girl toys and boy toys, and that girls are less important than boys? How does it affect who our kids grow up to be?

4 thoughts on “How do sexist movies affect boys?

  1. This article is not addressing the key aspect of this culture’s problem, which is: boys are ALLOWED to bully their way to the top and encroach on others’ ideas/beliefs in order to let theirs become most prevelent. Male rudeness is acceptable, as indicated by “cat” in the above comment.

    Why does this article (and so many Barbie-criticizing analyses over the years) conclude by criticizing the “pinkness” and “cutely” nature of girl toys and films while simultaneously ignoring the macho males muscling their way into the center of attention?

    The problem is not so much that girls are stuck on the sideline as they are PUSHED there by the other gender. I want to hear more articles analyzing the sexism in Avengers, Lord of the Rings, Dark Knight, UP, and Paranorman, (to name a few. And yes, as much as culture refuses to acknowledge it, these films are sexist and greatly misrepresent both males and females.)

    • Oh, no. Didn’t you hear, Jake? Joss Whedon writes strong female characters. (sarcasm)

      I know Scarlett Johansson was off doing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof but I’m surprised more people didn’t comment on her absence during the Oscars (as I’m sure the entire world didn’t know she was doing a play at the time and her absence was really felt with all those men on stage together).

      The trailers for Epic have started appearing. At the moment the only female characters I can see are the ones played by Amanda Seyfried and Beyonce. As far as I can tell there are a lot of faceless characters involved in a conflict but they all appear to be male. I hope this is not the case because it doesn’t just send the message that male is the default but that male is the default in that setting (war, wilderness, etc.). A female protagonist playing the fish out of water in a violent male environment? *face palm*

  2. I also have 2 boys, and like Clare I also struggle with finding programs for my older son (age 4) to watch that aren’t sexist (the younger is only 1 and doesn’t sit still long enough to watch anything, so I’m safe with him for a little while longer 😉 My 4-year old does like shows with female leads, like Doc McStuffins, but there are so few out there. You have long said that boys watch “boy” stuff” because it’s the only thing out there. Based on what I’ve seen of my own son’s viewing/playing habits, I completely agree with you. If there were more movies and tv programs with female characters doing cool stuff, my son would absolutely watch it.

    One of the reasons I come to this site is to find ideas for books and other media that feature strong female characters. I want my sons to grow up with plentiful examples of empowered, cool, strong females to help counteract some of the crap to which they will inevitably be exposed. So, thanks for what you do.

  3. THANK YOU. That was a very nice way of articulating some of my issues with Brave.

    “A couple first grade boys yelled out, “Stupid! Boring!” The boys had to be clear that they wouldn’t be interested in something as uncool as Fairy. Unfortunately, this isn’t a rare reaction when girls show and tell. How is that for an early lesson in public speaking?”

    I don’t believe that boys will be boys or that boys are naturally loud and exuberant while girls are kind and introverted. I think part of the issue isn’t just that boys feel the need to repudiate things that are “feminine” but how we allow children to behave. How often do girls shout out things while a boy is talking? I hope your daughter proudly went on with her speech. 🙂

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