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Gender roles and children’s films… July 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Feminism.
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Mentioned on The Incomparable podcast recently was an interesting analysis by Lili Loofbourow of the New Inquiry about Brave from a while back which I find very persuasive, not least in its description of just how alienating viewing films can be for women and girls given very constrained gender roles.

I’ve a daughter and she’s of an age where she’s going through this. It’s striking to me how – for example – she doesn’t want to admit to boys that she likes the animated series Ben 10 (an excellent SF show in its own right in my view) which she does and wasn’t led to by me, even though that has a very strong central female character. And why? Because it is regarded as ‘for boys’ and admitting to like it is in some sense not right. Don’t get me started on the princess thing either – which irritates me from the point of view of constrained gender roles, political ideology and aesthetics. Simply put it’s startling how much of that trope there is directed at children.

A point that was somewhat depressing in the Incomparable podcast was the admission by all the men involved in that particular podcast that they had daughters. It does make me wonder what about those who don’t, are they quite as aware of the societal pressures at work here?

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1. gendjinn - July 30, 2014

A great piece of parenting advice I got was, it’s not what your child watches that’s the problem, it’s what they watch when you aren’t there to talk with them about what they’re watching. So sit with them, talk to them about what they’re watching and what it means. As long as you are pointing out the societal constructs and discussing them, they won’t be uncritically ingested & adopted.

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Gewerkschaftler - July 31, 2014

+1 Very good tip.

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2. Logan - July 31, 2014

Have you any sons WBS?
If so, have you seen how this process manifests with them?

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6to5against - July 31, 2014

I have a boy and a girl and I often ownder about that. The gender roles in popular entertainment are every bit as strick for the boys (football, heroes) as for the girls (princesses). I instinctively dislike this, but at the same time I have to admit that both of my children seem to have gravitated to those roles and I can’t believe its all due to marketing.

The part I really worry about, though, is for those kids who don’t fit the mainstream. I have been to education conferences where we were lectured about how boys are natutrally adventurous and restless etc and how schooling must factor this in. The truth – it seems to me – that just as my boy really does love football, many boys are adventurous and restless and all of that. But many of them aren’t.

In attempting to cater to a mainstream, we must surely increase the isolation of the boys, and girls, who do not fit the stereotype.

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EamonnCork - July 31, 2014

I would say it’s more difficult for a boy who doesn’t like football these days when sport has become so much more culturally central. And also that there’s far more insistence on ‘fitting in’ at the moment. I seem to remember a time when being a loner and misfit had a kind of romantic aura about it but now we seem to have that thing imported from the world of American high schools where popularity is all. Individuality seems a bit of a poisoned chalice now, hence the worries about being Liked enough on Facebook. Social media can be a very powerful enforcer of conformity.

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3. 6to5against - July 31, 2014

if you want a really tortured viewing experience you should try viewing some of the disney movies as an adoptive parent.
Its astonishing how many variations on abandoned children and/or ‘real’ parents they can dream up.

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4. 6to5against - July 31, 2014

On the subject of Ben 10, we ha d afew months here of obsession with this programme. I enjoyed it myself I have to say, but as my immersion deepened, I began to wonder if there weren’t a disproportionate number of ‘crazed’ environmentalists about.

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5. EamonnCork - July 31, 2014

I just asked my nine year old for her view on this and she said, “You don’t need to have a girl hero in all films but you need one in some of them.” Her twelve year old sister thought Frozen was particularly encouraging because it’s almost entirely about the relationship of the two sisters who are the main characters and they rescue each other rather than delegating it to a prince. They thought Astrid in How To Train Your Dragon was an example of the wrong kind of female protagonist as, “she has nothing to do except give out to Hiccup.”
From a personal point of view I’m always struck by the amount of creativity and intelligence which goes into the best animated movies, much more than goes in to the mainstream blockbusters which are ostensibly for adults but largely for unreflective teenagers. The very best of them, Up, Finding Nemo, Wall-E prepare kids for a much better cinema than the one which awaits them in their teens. My gang are also big fans of the Studio Ghibli movies which are tremendously entertaining and also show that there’s a different way of doing things than the Hollywood way.
On the Princess question, I have three daughters, one of whom quite likes the Princess thing, one who’s agnostic and one who despises it with a passion. It strikes me that the movies they like best tend to be about more ordinary souls. There’s also a split on Ben 10 between “addicting” and “horrible.”

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Michael Carley - July 31, 2014
EamonnCork - July 31, 2014

I’ll have a proper read of this but repressed Brits, evil Mexicans and Arab villains are pretty much standard in the blockbusters too.

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WorldbyStorm - July 31, 2014

Logan, nope, though a heap of nephews and sons if friends,just to +1 the point made in the thread re how constraining this is for boys too particularly those not into sport.

Just re Studio Ghibli, there is not enough ways to praise them!

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6. EamonnCork - July 31, 2014

In any case the Princess of children’s movies is practically a radical feminist creation compared to the female stereotype increasingly prevalent in ads and elsewhere, forever shrieking about shoes and crying over chocolate. Mr. Bloke with his unconvincing interest in football and wacky lager filled japes with his ‘mates,’ is just as objectionable.

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7. EamonnCork - July 31, 2014

Just tried to post something which didn’t come up. Happened a few times to me lately. Ah well.

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Gewerkschaftler - July 31, 2014

A mote in the Five Eyes, perhaps?

WordPress Sites have all kinds of exclusions however, due to the permanent war against comment-spam. Oh, and people who try to avoid surveillance.

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8. sonofstan - July 31, 2014

If it’s any consolation, I’m a lot further on in the parenting lark than most of you from the sound of it – 25 yo daughter – and she’s a staunch grown- up feminist despite going through all the pinkness, princesses and ponies stuff.

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EamonnCork - July 31, 2014

Phew. Did the Merle Haggard have any deleterious effects?

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