Toys: Girls and Boys


From Tom Sawyer, through Batman to A Wimpy Boy and the innocent Nemo.  It’s not just in math, science and journalism where our girls and women are marginal. Boy-man heroes dominate our children’s books; films too.

Among theories on socialization, I subscribe to the argument that serious life-models for our children derive from the admirable, heroic characters in our books and films. And boy heroes who far outnumber female champions of any kind– even today– affect girls’ aspirations and achievements.

Hadn’t 40 years of feminist campaigns reversed the dominance of males in the bedtime stories we read to our children and the films we so enjoy together? Aren’t women in all police squads now? Harry Potter’s creator is a woman.

Certainly that movement awarded many more women iconic status. After Wonder Woman, we have Leia of “Star Wars”, Agent Scully of “X-Files”,  Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games”, Barbara Park’s Jennie B Jones series for kindergarten kids , Elastigirl,  Xena Warrior Princess, and a host of ‘badass women’ sleuths.

Women are there. Somewhere. But boys and other male characters still dominate.

Arguments for stronger girl models to counter stereotypes of the bossy, the compliant or the adjunct female character are back . The debate’s been sharpened by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. “We have too few women leaders”, notes Sandberg. She argues that girls and women are still constrained by low self-esteem; “Lean In” is her strategy to change that (www.Leanin.org).

Authors Hadley Freeman  and Zoe Margolis are among the many journalists re-examining how heroic stories depict girls. Now animated films are brought into the argument. About time too. Animation is a major source of family fun– and possibly, just possibly– impact our children’s ideas of who can be brave and noble, dynamic and successful.

We have film interpretations of classics like Lord of the Flies and Harry Potter; we have video adaptations of bestsellers like Diary of A Wimpy Kid; and of course Disney’s fantasy hits. I marvel at the animation technology and human imagination that gave us “Toy Story”, “Finding Nemo”, and “Shrek”. (Even if all three of these happen to feature males in leading roles.) They offer entertainment for adults and children from Texas to Thailand. They are funny, playful, dazzling and touching.

But where are the girls? Am I just a grumpy lady frustrated by the sluggishness of feminist successes?

If so, I’m not alone. In the July issue of The Atlantic, Sarah Boxer convincingly demonstrates that female characters are not only secondary; those who save and protect lost children are predominantly male. She reviews the fate of cartoon mothers  in some of our favorite animated tales, from “KungFu Panda”, “Little Mermaid”, “Ice Age”, “Aladdin”, “Pocahontas”, going back to “Bambi” and “Snow White”. In film after film, she shows the pattern:–mothers die, leaving orphans to be rescued by men, be they fish, lions or princes.

And we haven’t even mentioned the issue of American children’s falling reading levels. Where do we begin to counter the imbalance? Would Pixel editions of Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Zora Neale Hurston, and Doris Lessing work?

Tell me I’m misinformed or unreasonable. Shower me with examples of the little girl heroes who inspire your daughters and granddaughters. Maybe your sons too.

Barbara Nimri Aziz is an anthropologist and journalist based in New York; her work can be found at www.RadioTahrir.org

Barbara Nimri Aziz is a New York based anthropologist and journalist. Find her work at www.RadioTahrir.org. She was a longtime producer at Pacifica-WBAI Radio in NY.

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
David Yearsley
Papal Pop and Circumstance
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?