Actress, comedian, and talk show host, Whoopi Goldberg, was a “Star Trek” fan as a kid.
She’s spoken about her ecstatic reaction when she saw U.S.S. Enterprise crew member, Uhura, on TV for the first time.
“Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on. I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”
Do you see how reality influences fantasy influences reality and creates our world? Just to remind you, that’s the same world that our kids live in. Art inspires us to dream big, except when it doesn’t.
Last week, actress and writer Jennifer Sky wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times about her experience working as a model.
I was given drugs, then coerced into going topless for a shoot. I learned the hard way that my body was not my own.
After a series of horrible experiences, Sky quit modeling. She got a job acting as a warrior princess. That role changed her life, how she saw herself, and how she experienced the world.
During my time on the show, on six episodes from the fourth to the fifth seasons, I kicked butt. Off screen, I was trained in numerous fighting techniques, in archery and horseback riding. On screen, I hung with a Christ figure called Eli; I had a same-sex lover and a boyfriend of a different race than mine; I threw bombs and walked along high wires. I killed so many bad guys that they began to look the same…Gender was not relevant in the Xenaverse. There, a girl or a boy could be a warlord or a farmer, a bard or a sad sack needing protection.
If playing and seeing powerful females in fiction is so inspiring and life changing, why, again and again, in kids’ media, do girls go missing? Why do we hardly ever see female protagonists? This summer, all the movies that came out for little kids– and I saw every one– starred a male character. When I blog about this pattern of sexism– as I did, regarding the lack of female competitors and winners in “Planes”– I receive hundreds of comments dripping with sarcasm like this one.
The actual race in Planes is totally dominated by male competitors.” How shocking! You mean in real life the actual race is not dominated by male competitors?… This stuff is silly nonsense.
WTF? This is a movie about planes who talk to each other, and the commenter is concerned about “real” life? “Turbo” is a movie about a snail who wins the Indy 500. A snail. Who talks. And befriends a human. (A human male, by the way, with a brother, but I digress.) And that’s all well and fine, but a female winning a race, that is totally unbelievable.
I can go on and on with examples of sexism in the fantasy world justified because there’s sexism in the real one. In “Lion King” the lionesses have to sit around, doing whatever skinny, weak, old Scar wants because only lions can lead a pride. Yet, Simba is BFFs with a Warthog and a meerkat, not to mention, he sings and dances. All that is totally plausible? “Ratatouille” is a movie about a rat who can cook. We get to see just one female chef, Colette, who has a brief monologue explaining the lack of females in the movie. French kitchens are sexist so the film is too, got that?
While we’re talking about “real life,” here’s a question for you. If, when it comes to gender, writers and producers of movies for kids, not to mention viewers, are such sticklers for “reality,” why are there so many, should we say, discrepancies? Reel Girl commenter, Nebbie, keeps a list of male characters in animation who, in the “real” world, would be female:
1) Barnyard movie and video game, Back and the Barnyard: male cattle with udders
2) The Madagascar movies and specials, The Penguins of Madagascar: Joey the male kangaroo with a pouch, male hornets with stings, King Julien the dominant male ring tailed lemur (Only female kangaroos have a pouch, ring tailed lemurs are matriarchal.)
3)Bee Movie: male worker bees, male bees with stings, Mooseblood the male bloodsucking mosquito (Only female bees, wasps, including hornets, and some ants have a sting because the sting is a modified oviposito)
4)Turbo: male snails, Burn the one female snail (Garden snails are hermaphrodites)
5) A Bugs Life, The Ant Bully, and Antz: male worker ants (Worker ants, bees, and wasps are all sterile females, the males are drones and they die soon after they mate with the queen– fertile female– ant, bee, or wasp.)
6) The Jungle Book: male elephant herd and leader (elephants are matriarchal)
7) Fantasia: female ostriches with male black and white plumage
8) Puss in Boots: The Three Diablos: Gonzalo the male tortoiseshell kitten (Most tortoiseshell cats are female. A male cat can only be tortoiseshell if it has Klinefelter’s Syndrome– XXY, usually sterile– has chimerism, or has mosaicism.)
9) Finding Nemo: Marlin the clownfish stays male after his wife died (Clownfish are protoandrous hermaphrodites; they are born male and the the most dominant male turns female when the dominant female is removed from the group.)
What’s so creepy about this is how often what is “natural” is used to justify sexism. Girls “naturally” love pink, princesses, shopping, and gazing at themselves in the mirror. Bullshit.
So here’s my question: Why, as parents, do we allow our kids to see, again and again, an imaginary world with the same manufactured sexism as the real world? It limits children, to say the least.
In the fantasy world, anything is possible. If we can’t even imagine a world without sexism, we can’t create it. And we must. If we live in a classist, racist society where women of color are maids for rich, white people, we owe it to children to show them a world where women of color are depicted as leaders and heroes. Recycling sexist narratives keeps a new generation stuck in a biased world. Don’t we want something better? When will Uhura get to captain the ship?