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March 09, 2010

Comments

Jenni Holm

Amen!

Molly

I definitely agree!

Taiger

There's no shame in a guy watching a movie about a girl, they might even learn something about us. :)

Sarah

I was so proud of my husband the other night for going into my five year old daughter's room and getting Madeline to read to our son, who is two. And who loved it. And I felt sheepish, feminist me, that I hadn't thought of it first!
As to the movies, I couldn't agree more. (Coraline was a pretty darn awesome heroine, though!)

Sara

Back in middle school (just about five years ago) I remember that the boys in my class had a sleepover and watched a Disney princess movie, and they legitimately seemed to enjoy it. They were also the ones to suggest we do "Mulan" for our class play. Perhaps I was just incredibly blessed in friends, but I think it is largely due to parents, especially the ones worried that princess movies will feminize their sons.

Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

YES! Amen.

Christy

Here, here Shannon! Beautifully said. I hadn't even looked at the boy/girl ratio and it frankly shocked me. A link to this post is going on my blog! We need to support those fabulous female characters (not to mention the ones in real life).

Jenny

Amen.

I think all the gender based marketing has created a greater division/paranoia among children than parental encouragement. There are so many more (unnecessary) choices that play off gender. I can buy girl colored Legos or boy colored Legos, swim goggles for girls or swim goggles for boys. I miss the days of crossover.

So now it looks like it finally bit Disney in the rear. HA! I took my 4 year old son to see the Princess and the Frog and he liked it but he needed to tell me he didn't like the princess, just the prince. Some people's children...

Ezzie

My 20 year old and 14 year old brothers love your books. They've read them all and they give them to their friends.

Mary

Considering that lately my daughter is in love with all of the Barbie movies, I think that our animated movie collection actually has a higher female to male ratio of characters :) My son likes to watch them right along side his sister. (Although I don't know how funny the female characters are in these films!)

Sarah

YES! Thank you! i accualy babysit for a lot of boys and everytime we watch a movie before bed. Their movie collection does not consist of any strong female roled movies.
These boys watch dora daily so i don't see how a princess movie would be against thier liking. I personaly think that the disney princess movies have a lot of depth and many elements that a boy would like. Take 'Sleeping Beauty' for example. Sure there's singing and dresses but there also is a lot of action to.
A different group of kids that i babysit for consited of two girls and two boys. At the end of the night i told them to pick out a movie and, get this, the boys picked out 'Sleeping Beauty'.
No kidding.

Princess Loucida

My younger brothers (8 & 5) really liked the Princess and the Frog. The only exception was that the 'bad guy' was too scary. (They also enjoy the Barbie movies much to the chagrin of my older brother.)

Dr. Sallie N. Cheinsteen

Bravo! I mean, Brava! And that is totally sweet Disney is doing Rapunzel. I am so excited.

Shannon Morris

Thanks, Shannon. I don't suppose I had ever nailed it down quite so eloquently but you are absolutely right! And I'll have you know that the main characters in my first four novels are GIRLS! and they are lovely, and vulnerable, and powerful, and only get better as the pages turn, (not to mention that they are flanked by some pretty smokin' boys). I love writing!

Debbie (Celes)

If my brother could enjoy watching Jane Austen films every Sunday growing up, then boys can most surely enjoy girl movies and books.

Amen, Shannon.

(Plus he likes your books, too, which shows good taste).

Ari

I'm guilty of trying to please the boychild when it comes to movies. Whenever I have to babysit my younger sibs, even if my sister and I want to watch the movie, if I deem it too 'girly', then we won't watch it because my brother doesn't like to watch movies about girls (thus reuslting in us watching a lot of action and comedy movies. Some were good, some not. We watched a ton of superhero movies and a fe sexist ones as well. I did explain why the movie was sexist to my brother though) Perhaps if I had him actually sit down and watch a few, he would like them and see their value.
He also only likes to read books about guys and while I want him to read books about guys (especially Latino and African American boys so he can relate) and see the positive qualities in the stories, I do think that stories about girls have universal appeal and apply to boys and girls.

Thank you for this post, it has inspired me to try harder. Perhaps next sibling movie night we will watch a movie about a girl. Now I just need some recommendations :) (prefarably sports related or action-y. Off to go research).

Frogster

Great, Shannon! I'd never really thought about that before. I do think Mulan would appeal to boys too, though. Lots of fighting and action in that one. And not to mention girl power! Dori's also well-loved in my family, especially since I became friends with a girl in high school named Dori. Who is hilarious, by the way.

I only heard good things about Princess and the Frog, but I didn't see it (surprise, considering my posting name) because, when the movie was first in the works, it was billed as being a movie version of E. D. Baker's The Frog Princess series. I was really excited for it as was my sister, but then we found out that they changed the whole plot, characters, setting--everything but the part where the princess changes into a frog upon kissing the prince. That really irritated us and so we decided to boycott the movie.

hairyshoefairy

I think Disney's conclusion about The Princess and the Frog is ridiculous. Even if it were true, which I don't happen to believe, shouldn't the frog part of the story have drawn the boys in if they buy in to such stereotypical bologna. I haven't actually seen the film yet so I don't know how much of the frog's story is included but even if it isn't much I think it's just plain silly to think boys can't appreciate or enjoy fairy tales simply because if the princess aspect.

Katie-wa

I've never understood why it's okay for girls to watch ALL movie genres and read any book they want, while guys are dissuaded from reading "chick lit" and watching "chick flicks." It makes no sense. We all enjoy a good story, and it doesn't have to have intense action or killing in it to interest a guy. The protagonist doesn't have to be a male for them to enjoy a book or be able to "identify." Romance isn't for girls, it's for men and women alike, or there wouldn't BE romance. It's okay for guys to have a "soft" side. It's not even that soft. It's just human.

And yes, we need some fun female characters. We're just as goofy, (believe me) and have just as many jokes and sarcastic comments rolling off of us as a guy. (We just tend to be more quiet about it, muwahahaha). Great post.

T

haha...my son will pick out girl books sometimes, but i try not to make a big deal out of it. i think my husband sees it as a bigger deal than i do.

and i don't know if you saw the biggest loser last week...but the teams just got split in two and one team has only one guy on it. ali asked him something to that lone guy about being the only guy on the team, and he said something like he had to step up to a leadership role in their group. and i thought to myself...what, only guys can be leaders?

barf.

Natalie D

My question is, why did Disney decide to go old school on the Princess movie? I mean, when all the best movies are digitally animated by Pixar, of course Princess and the Frog wasn't as popular. I could have predicted that from a mile away. My kids want high quality no matter who the main character is. These kids are tech savvy and they can tell a difference.
P.S. Boys don't know they are going to see a "girl" movie unless someone tells them and my guess is its usually the dad. Darn them.

Julie

I can't tell you how irate some of this stuff makes me. The worst example I've seen: action figures.

Have you seen the show Avatar: The Last Airbender? The show features four main characters: Aang (boy), Katara (girl), Sokka (boy) and Toph (girl). I recently went into a toy store and saw some action figures from the series. Curious, I peeked at the back. They have made two series of figures, and in two whole series of figures, there is not ONE Katara figure, but there are three Aangs (oh, you know, Fighting Aang, Air Bending Aang, etc.)! To me, this is an egregious oversight because Katara is most assuredly a MAIN character, and is an element bender like Aang (thereby making her worth of being an "action" figure). I was so disgusted by this that I seriously contemplated going home and writing to the toy company.

Same goes for the Secret Saturdays series - you can get an action figure of any member of the family, EXCEPT the mother.

Mary Ann

Shannon, you're absolutely right. Parents do have tremendous power to shape their children and their choices.

Your post brought to my mind bringing a big group to see Nim's Island, and also another big group to see Inkheart. Both were action movies staring daring, courageous girls. Hooray!

Robyn

When we took our kids to see "Enchanted" at the theatre my oldest son was 9 or 10. He was in tears he was so mad that we were making him see a princess movie! We told him to just give it a try. And Guess What?! He LOVED it!
**sidenote: I was so jealous that my husband got to talk to you at the literacy promise conference. He was so impressed by you. He was the last one to get his book signed (I think) and had a picture of our daughter as rapunzel drawn by Nathan Hale in the book. Do you remember? It's OK if you don't but we think you rock!

JSavant

Hear, hear! I loved this post. :)

I too have noticed the decline in female protagonists in children's movies (both animated and non-animated). If there IS a female protagonist, she is usually balanced by a boy, and they're seen as a "duo." I am left to wonder, "What, the girl can't be depended upon to fulfill the protagonist role on her own?" It sends the wrong message to boys AND girls -- telling boys that they must lord over and protect the girls who are too weak and helpless to protect themselves and giving the girls the message that they are nothing without a man to depend on to save the day.

It's occurring with the adult movies too -- more and more female movie-goers are left with the scraps of romantic comedy disasters where the heroines are either degrading to other females or annoying due to their stereotypical traits. One has to wonder where the female screenwriters are in all of this . . . ~_~

However, I am a bit more encouraged by the characters represented in the book world -- such as Katniss from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. She is a character largely accepted by both males AND females, so I hope -- if and when a movie does come out -- that the trend will continue in both genders being able to embrace her as the strong heroine she is. (I can only hope more heroines will pop up from where she came from -- for ALL age groups.)

I can only hope that the trend will trickle down to the younger audience's movies too since they are the future he's and she's of the world. :)

Samantha Stewart

Amen! Although I agree with the fact that girl heroes are much more abundant in books, there is a question from Jim Trelease that bothered me: Would Harry Potter be as popular if he had been a Harriet? It seems like girls are more open minded about reading books starring boys than the other way around. Don't worry, though. My little boy will get plenty of princess stories...as well as guy stories...

Good Post!

Karen

I took my whole family (boys included) to Princess and the Frog and was disappointed by how dark it was and how forced some of the plot was. That's why I didn't recommend it to others. Not because it's girl centered. My two sweet boys can't help but be inundated by everything girly in our house (whether we intentionally buy books and movies to the like or not). I agree that parents definitely have a role in how their children perceive characters in books and movies, regardless of gender. I read to all my children collectively from Princess Academy and caught the youngest son stealing it away later so he could finish the story on his own. Not because he was embarassed, but because he said he wanted to read ahead and with so many others wanting to do the same thing he swiped the book. We hence bought multiple copies of the book and he complained when I didn't hand him one personally. Maybe it's Hollywood who is underestimating boys or making excuses for their lousy plots in order to explain poor sales. :)

Emilie

My fave little boy in the world read all the Little House books and last summer enthusiastically participated in a tour around the Midwest of the major sites right along with his mom and sister. He was the only boy actually participating at most of the sites (so said his dad, who is super-supportive of stuff like this), but he didn't care because he'd loved the books so much. When I have little boys, that's how I want them to be.

Laura

I agree with you that we need to show our boys strong girl characters. However, I think we're leaving out half the equation. I think a big reason why there are so many more male heroes is because boys and men WANT to be the heroes. Go ask your brothers, your husbands. They want to be the white knight, the protector. Does that mean they want all women to be subservient and docile? No! But it's a strong need for the man to feel like a man and to be needed as one.

I think part of the problem is that in so many modern movies and books, if it has a strong female lead, it tends to denigrate the male role. I think the best thing we can do for our children is to show them examples of strong males and females working together to solve problems. I do think it is important to have strong females but I don't think it needs to be at the expense of the male role. Of course, this is best exemplified at home, where both parents lead and decide together.

Teresa Hirst

The way we've overcome this at our house is that we have two girls and a boy. He automatically is exposed to the "girl stuff" as well as the "boy stuff" out of proximity. My husband was the only boy in a house of sisters and so is my son. It throws this cultural need to "toughen" up my boy right out the window.

Laura

By the way, Shannon, I failed to mention that I don't think that you, personally, are guilty of denigrating the men or writing weak male characters. I just think that society as a whole tends to pit men against women, when it's important to recognize how much we need to work together.

kaity

This is so true! I didn't even think about it, but wow that is really sad. You would think the movie Princess Frog would do well on both sides since it has Princess for girls and Frog for boys. I used that on my little brothers and they actually loved it. Unfortunately most of the movies with a strong girl character are chick flicks and guys and even young boys have been taught to avoid those entirely unless of course they are cosying up with a girl. haha Anyways I think we need more action and adventure type movies that can show case a womans strength and bravery. We are tough too!

Robbie

I'd never noticed how un-funny female characters are. Occasionally I'll find a strong, sarcastic heroine, but mainly the comic relief is all male!

Jen

YES! Thank you for this post. This phenomenon has always bothered me since I learned about it in a college communications class. Minorities also have a similar fate in movies and media.

I also feel like sometimes movie writers throw (female/black/minority) characters in for the sake of diversity instead of writing them in because it is a more accurate reflection of reality, and because it adds more depth and interest to the story.

Jessica

My husband is an animator and he says he naturally gravitates toward male characters being male himself. I can't say I blame him. If I were to write a book or even make a movie I would pick a girl based on the same principle. I often disbelieve male characters created by women since how could they really know the inner workings of the male mind. I think more often then not we make our male characters what we wish or think males should be like. Where is the crime right? It is a fantasy world so why not live it up. I would like to think the current animators in the movie industry aren't trying to belittle women. Of course you are right about raising the standard since the industry plays to the demands of the audience.

Dana DaBell

We took our children, 2 boys and 1 girl to the theater to watch "The Princess and the Frog" My boys liked it more than my girl! It was awesome!!!

Tamsen

It's so true! I can watch or read something that might be stupidly classified as a "boy" thing and there is nothing to it. I enjoy it or I don't. But, if I suggest to my brother--or any other guy for that matter--he read Pride and Prejudice or watch Kate and Leopold, the typical response is a snarky laugh followed by an implication that it would make him (to quote Arnold) a "girly-man." And then, if I happen to mention bloomers in passing, I am attacking these boys with feminism. Haven't we grown beyond this?

Ariella C.

I totally agree! Tangled? You can't rename Rapunzel for pete's sake! This is the reason the boys in my class laugh at me because I like playing videogames!

Nicole Peck

I didn't read anyone else's comments, but I agree with what you said. Luckily, my son (the only boy) has 2 older sisters (as well as one baby sister), so he's stuck watching girl movies and playing girl games. He gets recruited to be in their home production dance concerts and also watches the "girl" movies. He did go to see "The Princess and the Frog" and didn't have a bit of a problem with that. Of course, given the choice, his favorite movie is "Cars." LOL But I think Sally is a pretty strong female presence in that movie!

pambelina

I can recall a few years ago when there weren't a whole lot of books with female protags. In fact, a lot of female writers I know started writing for just that reason! We are capable of great change, we just have to become aware and make the change happen.

Marcus Aurelius

I've never credited focus groups or marketing depts. with an overabundance of savvy, except when it comes to appealing to the lowest common denominator. This is always a bad move when it comes to creativity, IMO.

My way of looking at it, anything that was released a week before Avatar was bound to loose a bit of revenue to the monster behemoth that was the Blue Space Kitty Epic, but it's easier to blame poor financial returns on those gosh-darned gender politics.

It would be nice to see Hollywood (and the world in general) take a more honest approach to their story-telling, and just tell a story for the sake of the story, rather than worrying about demographics and prevailing market forces and social trends. If you told a story full of characters who are three dimensional (and not just in the sense that they're computer generated) and engaging and full of purpose, I don't think it'd matter what their gender or race or religion were, you'd have a good story, and folks might be inclined to go see it.

It's far easier, though, to pander to the masses and play off of old prejudices, reinforce stereotypes and concern yourself with remuneration as your bottom line as opposed to being true to your story and characters. Honest story-telling is hard and scary, and I suppose if I were being terribly honest with myself, not always commercially viable. But I can't help feeling that if people were given more chances to experience art that was a little more challenging and substantial, the general public would eventually be able to wean itself off its junk food diet and learn to enjoy a good home cooked meal every now and again.

I <3 Glen Keane (he's probably my favorite American animator), and I have a secret hope in my heart of hearts that he bristled under the edict that Tangle née Rapunzle need be more boy-friendly. I've been excited ever since I saw his preliminary work for the movie. I know in the end he must obey his dread masters and their demands to change thestory in what they claim to be an attempt pacify the all powerful financial jugernaut that is the 12 year old boy. But I also can't help to feel that maybe, just maybe, they felt a little threatened by the wonderful end result of the Hale3 Rapunzle, and they knew that they had to distance themselves as much as they could from it, lest they suffer by comparison.

That could just be me, though.

Marcus Aurelius

I wrote "loose" when I meant to write "lose". Sorry, I have a cold.

Okay, I'm going back to American Idol, now. Oh, Simon! You're so full of *cheek*!

Andrea H.

Shannon, I love this post! Like you, I want my boys to cheer on girl heroes and recognize that girls are strong and brave and interesting and wonderful. At the same time, I don't want the pendulum to swing too far the other way so that movies and books are telling my boys that they aren't as awesome as girls. Recently my first-grade son said to me, "Mom, how come boys are always the dumb ones in books and girls are always the smart ones?" Of course, "always" is a bit of an exaggeration, but it was my son's sincere perspective on the matter and he was totally bummed out about it.

I love it when I find books and movies that portray both girls and boys in positive ways without pushing one gender down in order to make the other shine. We can all be strong! I have always appreciated the fact that your books strike that sweet balance, where girls and boys alike are strong and weak and wonderful and flawed. In other words, they're real. Hopefully, through our influence as consumers, we can begin to find that authenticity in all forms of media. And I agree--a story is a story, whether the main character is a boy or a girl. The idea of a movie about a girl being a "girly movie" is just ridiculous.

Thanks for a great post.

Amanda

The reason so many books ahve girls as characters is because it is mostly girls who read books. Guys are more into video games, also extrememly gender biased, and movies.

Nicole Marie Schreiber

I completely agree with you. I am a children's writer and mother of two young boys, ages 5 and 2. Since the older one was tiny, I have been reading him lots of books with girl characters in them, as well as showing him movies with girl main characters. Two of his favorite movies are Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. He loves the Madeline books and the original Wizard of Oz book and his favorite fairy tale is The Frog Prince. I want my boys to be very well-rounded and not stereotypical boys.

Thank you for your post!

-Nicole Marie Schreiber
http://www.nicolemarieschreiber.com

Heather Buzbee

Shannon I enjoyed this post. And as moms we have a huge influence on the way our kids look at the world. But as I thought about it we have lots of dvds with strong female main characters: Nausicca and the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service and Princess Tutu. Perhaps it's because each of these are Japanese. My son's favorite Princess Tutu (It has far more action than it's name implies, really it's pretty awesome, but you just have to get through the first couple episodes. And the main character is funny too.)The whole soundtrack for the show is based on classical ballet music and symphonies. Every time when we get in the car he requests Princess Tutu. (This means that he wants to listen to classical music, and I am more than ok with that.) This is from my boy whose play focuses all around dirt, cars and dinosaurs.

Rachelle Ankney

Thanks, Shannon: well said. The strong (and funny) girls in your books are the reason I keep reading them!

Cecily

This makes me feel a little better about supporting my son in his princess frenzy. Sure he can dress up in the frilly pink dresses; sure he can be the Papi princess; sure we can read Cinderella over and over again. It balances out the other playing he does.

Kristen

my boys loved Princess and the Frog (though admittedly I kindof hated it. Personally I think that the success of movies like Hannah Montana and Twilight speak to how many girls are out there ready to wildly support a favorite heroine. Hollywood does not follow the trends actual trends in society. Never has. And people still look to the movies to dictate their ideas and behaviors. SO sad; and more than a little disturbing!

Molly

We raise our kids in a very open-minded environment. They are free to like whatever colors, stories, characters they want to like. I have also encouraged them to be open about what they disagree with when they read a book or watch a movie. I try to model that by saying, "Hm, if I had written this book, I would have made sure the princess saved herself." etc.
My daughter LOVES the whole idea of the Robin Hood stories, but is chagrined at the lack of female adventurers. So we invented three sisters for Robin Hood and act out the story that way.

One thing I notice with both kids (a girl and a boy) is that they long to "see themselves" in the story (or movie.) My son loves Barbie Island Princess, but when he acts it out, he chooses to be the boy animal characters. My daughter loves the Jungle Book but, since she can't find someone to connect to in the story, she fixated on "Mother Wolf" and expanded on that part of the movie in her imagination.

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