Monday, NPR’s Linda Holmes issued an open letter to Pixar asking for a movie about a girl who “isn’t a princess.” Titled “From all the girls with band-aids on their knees,” Holmes’ piece asks Pixar to make a movie about little girls and things that happen to them, just like they’ve made movies (a lot of them– 10) about little boys and the things that happen to them. I thought this was interesting, even if the “open letter” format leaves a little to be desired. However, when I sent the link on to my partner, he informed me he thought this was “a stupid request” because Pixar does organic story development and doesn’t really have a “writers room” or whatever.
I’m not going to lie, this really pissed me off. Of COURSE he didn’t think this was interesting because HE had lots of media about adventerous boys doing cool things and meeting all kinds of magical creatures. Me? I was stuck with princesses.
Sociological Images (a great, great blog about representations of people and their impact on society) has been following this Pixar and gender thing for a few months now. While there is only 1 member of the Pixar writing team that is a woman, I find it difficult to believe that Pixar would have a hard time recruiting top female writing talent (also, it looks like a few future films will have female writers). Anyway, the point of asking Pixar to make a feature film about a girl is not only about having a model for independent girlhood that is not about being a princess but about getting images of girls like that into mainstream culture. I think that is the point that often gets left out in debates about girls and media representation. It isn’t just that women need to be represented in the media, it is that they need to be represented in a variety of roles. We’ve been working against racial stereotypes in media for a long time but, with a few exceptions, children’s program still heavily depends on gender stereotypes.
I know kids are a lot smarter than we often imagine– I believe that girls and boys play in all kinds of unique and idiosyncratic ways. I do not believe that a lack of girl-powered major studio films is going to ruin a girl’s sense of adventure or keep her away from playing soccer. However, I do think that without strong female characters in movies girls who don’t conform to he princess stereotype are going to have a much harder time as a kind and young adult. I remember having no model for girls who like to bike, read books, and who could give two sh*ts about makeup. Princesses and tom boys can co-exist in the girl-targeted media market.
Slightly unrelated– Sociological Images has also done a really good job covering the “redesign” of Dora the Explorer and how they’ve tarted her up.