Princess Issues

Well it looks like times are a-changing. I don’t know whether you follow things like this online, but Merida – the heroine from Pixar’s Brave – was recently added to the official Disney Princess lineup, only her design was ‘tweaked’ a little… Now it’s obvious that she wouldn’t look exactly the same as in the movie, since she’d have to be changed from a 3D CGI gal to a 2D drawing, but somehow in the process she also aged about 6 years, lost a few inches around the waist, and started using makeup.

(Some have also mentioned that her hair has been de-frizzed, but to be fair, I think that just has to happen when you go from CGI to two-dimensional drawing. I mean who wants to draw every single hair sproinging out of her head?)

brave-merida-before-and-after

Merida sexed up and slimmed down to join the princess throng. No surprise there. The real surprise is that there was an immediate furor about the changes, led by the writer and co-director of Brave, Brenda Chapman. God bless her for getting mad and raising a stink.

But wait, that’s not even the most surprising part. This is: it looks like Disney has backed down on the design. Here’s the latest on the story.

The design of those Disney Princesses has always driven me crazy but this news makes me feel like there is finally a wave of opinion cresting on the issue. Cresting and crashing down on the Disney marketers. What finally pushed it over the top was the fact that Merida herself spends the entire movie resisting glittery off-the-shoulder dresses and all attempts to make her more girlie. Which makes this makeover all the more repugnant.

So Disney… give us an uncinched, younger Merida with no makeup, please! And for goodness sake, give her back her bow and arrows!

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Role Models for Boys

It sometimes feels like there are a lot – almost too many – male role models out there in the media, but we should be thinking about exactly what they are teaching children.

Here’s a fantastic TED talk by Colin Stokes, “How Movies Teach Manhood”.

There has been an awful lot of effort over the last few years to present young girls with empowering role models that we haven’t spent enough time really analyzing what baggage is being toted by all those male role models we’ve been trying to balance against. Colin is right, they are usually renegades, fighting (always fighting) all alone against the odds, etc. His comparison of The Wizard of Oz with Star Wars is spot on in its implications of the changing face of movies. (It’s also another argument for watching old movies instead of newer ones, in my opinion!)

After my post a few days ago Positive Role Models for Girls I wanted to follow up with some info about boys, and that TED talk really put everything into a nutshell for me.

Here are a couple of great posts from Commonsense Media on the same topic –

Boy Games With Positive Role Models

And in case we forget that boys are just as inundated with media messages about body image as girls are –

Boys and Body Image Tips

Positive Role Models for Girls

I don’t watch much tv these days (who has the time?), but here’s a list of current TV shows with Positive Girl Role Models from Commonsense Media.

My six-year-old is in turns fascinated and mystified by the world of teenagers. She loves to mimic their catchphrases, and even tries on their ‘world weary attitude’ for size. Her classmates are starting to pay attention to teen pop stars and other young celebrities. One problem with this is that so much tween and teen media is rife with girl vs. girl antagonism, gossip, rivalry and catfights. It takes some effort to find shows in which girls are thoughtful, nice, loyal and true friends to each other. And that show girls who have interests other than boys and the mall.

We may have come some distance in media depictions of women. At least we can see women in a variety of non-traditional careers now, but there still remain insidious stereotypes about how girls treat each other and these still need to be turned upside down. And don’t even get me started on the depiction of women in comic books and computer games…

We’ve still got a long way to go, baby.

See also: Commonsense’s list of Strong Female Characters in Books.

And on this blog, type “strong girls” into the search box above to see my list of great female characters in books and movies.

New York Times article on Boys and Reading

I just read an interesting article from the New York Times entitled “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?” by novelist Robert Lipsyte.

Strangely enough, the same “mostly true” cliché he cites (that girls will read books about boys but boys won’t read books with female main characters) exists in children’s television as well: girls will watch ‘boy shows’ but boys will not watch ‘girl shows’. But whereas in publishing this theory has led to fewer and fewer ‘boys’ books’, in television the result has been fewer and fewer girl characters.

Why? I think it’s because book publishers are wary about aiming product directly at a gender that doesn’t read so much, so as a result they hedge their bets. They add female characters to the boys books (as the author states) to hopefully entice the legions of girl readers.

In television-land – Hunter S. Thompson’s “long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs” ¹there is no such thing as a “reluctant boy tv-watcher”, so the impulse is instead to reduce the number of girls on all sides, because you can conceivably capture both genders as an audience for your show as long as you don’t scare off the boys with too many alpha females onscreen. So, more often than not, when you have an ensemble cast of 5… 3 will be boys. If there are 3 characters, 2 will be boys. Girls are to be kept in the pert and pretty minority.

But I digress. Interesting article, like I said.

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¹ Sigh. I never get tired of using that quote!  Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s (New York: Summit Books, 1988), p. 43.

Fairy Tale Controversy, Part 3: Modern Times

[Previously:  Fairy Tale Controversy, Part 1 ; Fairy Tale Controversy, Part 2: Coming to America]

Fairy tales are no less controversial today than they ever were in the past. The arguments against them echo some of the concerns of the past, and add new ones. Sexual content or innuendo in tales for children is still prohibited. We are less concerned about maintaining class distinctions, but we definitely have a lower tolerance for grisly violence than audiences of the past. And we have added the relatively recent concerns of racism and sexism to the mix. As well, parents today seem inordinately bothered by death scenes in children’s literature. In past times, the death of a parent, of a mother in childbirth, of babies and young children was much more common than today, and therefore found a place in the literature. Today we seem uneasy with the very subject, a modern preoccupation.

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The Serpent Slayer; and Other Stories of Strong Women

retold by Katrin Tchana

illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman

Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000

109 pp. – each individual story averages about 6 pages

Age:  5 + (some stories suitable for 4)

Interests: folk tales, princesses, pirates, fairy tales, magic, other cultures

Other books by this illustrator: St. George and the Dragon, Rapunzel

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Very Interesting Data on the Vocabulary of Toy Advertisements

From “The Achilles Effect”, a terrific set of visualized data:

Word Cloud: How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes

There are two fascinating word clouds, one for boys and one for girls.

BOYS TOYS

GIRLS TOYS

(Click MORE if you don’t mind hearing me rant a little…)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.