10 April 2008

not about food

Okay, enough of the food blogging. The more I write about food, the fewer comments I get. I can take a hint.

Instead, today, I'm going to post on a couple of other topics I love: movies, and gender issues. (Not that I think these topics will get many more comments, but at least it's a change of pace!)

I want to direct you to this piece by NPR's Peter Sagal, which has been all over the feminist blogs I read, about the blatant sexism in the new Dr. Seuss movie, Horton Hears a Who. It's pretty short; read it if you haven't already. I've written before about gender distribution in sci-fi and fantasy, and in that post I mentioned, without getting into details and examples, that it's part of a larger trend in film in our culture. But Horton apparently takes the cake, with one heroic boy and his ninety-six useless sisters. Trust me, they didn't get that from Seuss's book.

It felt great to read Sagal's indignant rant about the worth of daughters. The lack of female characters in kids' movies (and adult movies too, though I'll save that rant for another day), not just of female heroes or protagonists but of female characters in general, is something that has irritated me for a long time. Television is generally better -- thank goodness for PBS! -- but part of the reason for that is that there are so many kids' shows to choose from (even when you only get five channels) while there are, what, 3 or 4 mainstream kids' movies in theaters every year? Maybe five in a good year. Slim pickings, at any rate.

At the end of his piece, Sagal mentions several iconic kids' movies featuring male protagonists saving the day, or saving the world. Below the fold I'm going to highlight some of my favorite kids' movies (favorites of my boys, too, I should add) that give girls a chance to shine.

At the very top of my list is every film ever made by Hayao Miyazaki. From the magical adventures of Satsuki and Mei in My Neighbor Totoro, to the compassionate yet fierce ace pilot and princess Nausicaa, to the smart, resourceful Sophie taking charge in Howl's Moving Castle, to the slightly-feral warrior Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki's films are full of girls who run the show and save the day. Totoro was a favorite of my boys' when they were small, and Nausicaa is a long-time favorite of both as well.

One of my favorite movies even now is Mary Poppins, and both of my boys fell in love with it too when we first watched it a couple of months ago. Two adorable children go on adventures with a magical nanny who takes no nonsense from anyone. Plus there are fun and catchy songs to sing along to. Bonus: the children's mother is a suffragette! (Something I had forgotten in the many years between watching this movie as a child and as an adult.)

I've been working on this post for a while, and the last film I can think of with good gender distribution (and a good plot too) is The Incredibles, the only Pixar film I can think of that has more than two female characters. (Did you see Ratatouille? Cute film, but am I the only one who noticed that in the colony of hundreds of rats, there was not a single female rat among them? Please!) As someone who likes superhero movies in general, and as the mother of boys who love superheroes, I have to say that I would really love to see more movies about female superheroes, and The Incredibles helps fulfill that wish a little bit for me. It's not only a fun film, but one that places its women on equal footing with its men, and in which everyone works together to save the day. My kind of film.

So there you have my favorite kids' films, for girls and boys. I don't think it's a coincidence that my favorite kids' films also have even gender distribution (well, more even than most films anyway) and/or strong female characters who are not stereotyped. (Okay, a proper British nanny is obviously a stereotype, but Mary Poppins goes so far above and beyond typical child-rearing that I think she's an exception here.) Maybe one of these days I'll have time to get into other kids' films that are good, but could have been better if their vast casts had included, say, one woman to every 3 men instead of one woman to every 10 men.


Ren said...

FYI, the link to the Sagal piece actually takes you to the blog entry that you direct readers to in your second link!

Heidi said...

Oops. Fixed. Thanks Ren.

John S said...

Ooh... if you guys haven't seen it yet, Spirited Away is another excellent Miyazaki movie with a female protagonist. It may be a little scary for the boys... but it's one of my favorites. I never realized most of his movies had heroines until you pointed that out.

Jessica said...

I've never heard of Mayazaki -- I'll have check those out. One of my favorite kid movies (for older kids) with lots of female characters and female protagonists is Anne of Green Gables.

Heidi, your boys are very lucky to have you as their mother -- you are doing a wonderful job raising them.