FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Toys: Girls and Boys

by

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.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
Charles R. Larson
A Review of Mary Roach’s “Grunt”
David Yearsley
Stuck in Houston on the Cusp of the Apocalypse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail