A few weeks I emailed E’s nursery and asked if they knew why she appeared to be suddenly obsessed with princesses. “Nothing to do with us,” was the reply (though they did give her a book of Cinderella for Christmas) and they suggested she was learning princesses through the other children. This seems likely, as they’re all merchandise tie-inned up most of the time. It was only going to be a matter of time before E got more exposure to these things (we do have the films at home but we limit screen time and merchandise); it also seems likely as I’ve noticed when E plays with other children she does seem easily led by them. *makes note to find assertiveness parenting tricks*
I do like Disney films. I’ve blogged about this before. My problem with them is two-fold. The first is that they have such a monopoly on things. You can’t buy a tshirt, a scooter, a bag, a set of cutlery without seeing Elsa or someone else on them. They’re everywhere, inescapable. The other is because they reflect part of the problem we have with representing women on screen.
A recent study analysed the amount of speaking time women in Disney films have. The older films (Sleeping Beauty, even Cinderella who is the most passive heroine in the history of the world) give the women between 50-60% speaking screen time. This gets smaller and smaller as the films get more modern to the extent that, Frozen, a film with not one but two female protagonists, has female speaking screen time at 41%. I blame that stupid snowman.
Now while you may say that what they say isn’t important, their acts are, I say this does matter. Art doesn’t reflect culture, in many cases it can shape it. There are studies that say that seeing a range of female roles on screen (big and small) can ‘normalise’ those roles and make the transition for women in the workplace easier and less strewn with sexist comments. Seriously. In a word where the media adores Kate Middleton, a prominent female ‘role model’ who says nothing at all in public if they can help it, we really should be concerned about the amount of time women on screen speak.
E naturally gravitates towards female characters. Her favourite in Toy Story is Jessie, she often makes toys she plays with into women (Mickey Mouse is Mickey Sophie Mouse in our house, the dragon from Room on the Broom is now female in our house (though to be fair the book doesn’t specify)). I was watching snooker on TV yesterday when she walked in and asked where all the women were. It was this that made me think we never see female snooker on screen. Presumably there is a championship? So I imagine one of the reasons she likes the princesses in Disney is because they are prominent female roles where she doesn’t see many. We watch some regular programmes – mainly Octonauts and that one about the Natural History Museum. Both programmes have male main characters with female assistants. Thank goodness for Katie Morag.
There are some good things to be taken from Disney. My favourite, Beauty and the Beast, has a heroine who is bookish, voices her desire for adventure, happily knows her own mind enough to turn down the advances of the local creep and then goes off to rescue the beast – literally and figuratively (she not only saves him from being a beast but pulls him to safety from the top of the castle). What a gal.
E’s favourite is The Little Mermaid. Again, some good things to think about here – a heroine who doesn’t fit in is one we can all relate to. And when she voices her desires she is punished, first by her father who destroys her treasures but then by the sea witch who steals her most powerful weapon – her voice. It screams feminist injustice. (Obviously the original fairytale doesn’t but there was a reason reading it traumatised me as a child.)
Stopping by the supermarket this weekend I decided to buy some Lego Star Wars for us. There was lots of merchandise. None of it featured Rey. Or Leia. I bought it anyway and let E do what she wanted with it, which is why this morning a Tie fighter pilot and an X-wing pilot were sitting in our dolls house living room, enjoying the sofa. But why can’t we have Rey?
Why can’t we have females who aren’t princesses, who are girls and women just doing stuff? Why do I have to make a special effort to find females to show E when we watch things? Sort it out please.