I wanted to respond to the following insightful comment by Pepper-Tumeric on my Puff, the Magic Dragon post on sfgate :
…almost all fictional heroes are boys. And I can only speak for myself in saying that, when I was a girl, I noticed this and was saddened. Even Pooh, which I love, has only one female character, and that’s (uh huh) the mom Kanga. Why couldn’t Piglet be a girl? Nobody was going to have sex with each other, so why did he have to be a he? It didn’t make sense to me, and it made me mad that the only female characters I encountered were princesses in peril or mothers. The message that this sent to me, even as a young girl, was that writers and publishers believe that a girl’s only role was to be rescued or to whelp more boys. In most children’s media, girls really are not expected to do anything useful, so a little “girl power,” even when interpreted as you do, feels like progress. My husband used to work at Leapfrog, so I have an insider’s perspective. Publishers slant the fictional universe toward boys because there is a perception, true or not, that while girls will play along with movies/books/etc that feature male characters, boys will not do likewise with female-cast characters. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a financial calculus. But I for one am going to do what I can to skew the calculus the other way for my girl.
I totally agree about Pooh. I loved Pooh as a kid. I had a giant one, one of those super cheap toys stuffed with tiny styrofoam balls, the kind of toy that you win at an amusement park. I loved that Pooh until he was an empty yellow bear skin, his red belly shirt completely tattered. But the no girls thing really bummed me out then and now. I read all the Pooh stories and Pooh poems and when I was grown up, I read the Tao of Pooh. As a parent, I read the stories to my kids and still miss the girls. There’s a cartoon now on TV and they have added one girl human to the troop, thank God, so that’s a little progress.
But what I really wanted to respond to was Pepper-Tumeric’s reference to the popular theory: girls will see movies and read books about boys, but boys will not see movies or read books about girls. This is really important because these kids grow up into adults who were trained as toddlers to think its perfectly okay to divide books into great literature or “chick lit” and movies into award winning films or “chick flicks.”
So why not, instead of helping these kids become tiny experts in gender stereotyping, challenge the toddlers (like we do in every other area to help them learn) and transform Hollywood and “great” literature for future generations? It’s just not true that little boys are only interested in movies and books that are about boys and that girls are just totally fine seeing movies all about the opposite gender with no issues at all.
It is true that all kids are self-centered; they want to see themselves reflected out there. But girls get a great deal of practice, early on, just by the sheer amount of books and movies starring boys, to suck it up. They learn to be open to seeing and hearing about the other gender. We ought to teach boys the same thing.
But instead, a lot of parents feel comfortable when they see their kids neatly fall into established gender stereotypes. It would be great if more parents took their boys to movies starring girls or read them books with multiple girl characters. Teachers too, could select these kinds of books for reading time and assign them to their students. The issue, of course, is complicated by the fact that so many “girlie” books and movies are really bad, often perpetuating the stereotypes we are trying to escape from. There are some exceptions. Ponyo is a great movie that just came out on DVD, a fantastic girlpower version of the horrible movie, The Little Mermaid (where Ariel gives away her voice to land a man.) Ponyo co-stars a very sweet boy who loves and admires Ponyo’s strength and power, so a movie like that could be a good choice to begin the challenge. (It’s also a movie by my all time favorite animator– Hayao Miyazaki.) Part of the reason I started blogging was to create a resource for parents. Please add your suggestions.
On this blog, many parents have commented that their boys do actually like books I wrongly assumed they wouldn’t because they appeared too girlie, even if they weren’t actually stereotypical stories. For example, One commenter wrote that her son loves the Rainbow Fairy Series. I had written that though this is is an action-adventure series where two girls have magical powers, are able to fly, rescue fairies from wicked goblins etc, its so girlie looking on the cover, showing the fairies motion-stopped, like pinned butterflies, long hair flowing, mini-skirted, all sparkly, colorful, glittery. This commentator was offended, and wrote her son loves the series which is great. Maybe there are more moms and sons like that out there?
Here’s the thing: even if your boy or girl refuses to see movie about the other gender– at what other time in your parenting do you allow your three year old to dictate your choices? As parents, we always strive to challenge kids out of their comfort zones to help them grow. When it comes to gender, why do we do a 180, letting them advise the executives at Leapfrog what toys to create? These toddlers ought to be awarded multi-million salaries or at least a consultant fee.