weber_dubois22: (Baseball)
[personal profile] weber_dubois22 posting in [community profile] disney_pocs

Just for fun, try taking your daughter to the movies this weekend. See if you can find something cheap to watch. Wreck It Ralph might be playing still, or maybe even Rise of the Guardians. Whatever movie you choose, I want you to count up all of the female characters. It won’t take long. Now count the male characters and give me the ratio of them next to the female characters.

Think it will be 50-50? Try again. Female sare disproportionately represented in films, which presents a number of problems. Firstly, it’s completely inaccurate and stupid, given that half of the population is missing from a movie. So unless it’s about, say, pod people from another planet who only have one sex, it’s irrelevant to half of the people watching it.

Secondly, our daughters have no one to look up to except the Love Interest and the Plucky but Inferior Sidekick — the two token roles that women are given in most films. You’ll see these two roles in the two aforementioned movies, as well as any other films you watch (including most adult movies, aside from romantic comedies) with very few exceptions. In 2012, Pixar released its very first film that featured a female in a lead role — and Disney’s pretty much given females the backseat lately, too. Even Disney’s last film, Tangled, had its name changed from Rapunzel because they didn’t want to alienate the boys in the audience. Heaven forbid a movie be centered around a female character!

When I demand that a movie pass the Bechdel Test, it doesn’t make me a stereotypical angry feminist; it makes me an irritated mother expecting the very basics of human normalcy. The only thing that the Bechdel Test demands, if you recall, is that two females are in a movie and they have a single conversation that is about something other than a male. The fact that movies rarely pass this “test” is absurd. It should be a natural occurrence in any movie that represents a culture made up of multiple sexes.

The good news is that although these movies are rare, parents continue putting pressure on companies to demand that they give us great lead female characters. Organizations like the Gina Davis Institute on Gender and Media and Pigtail Pals give me hope. I’m tired of hearing my daughter’s friends inquire if girls can be astronauts or cowboys or explorers “too.” My own daughter, age seven, still comes to sexist conclusions once in a while, even as I patiently raise her in a feminist household full of literature featuring strong women and healthy examples. All it takes is one friend to question her Cars sandals, one relative to make a comment about her not liking dolls, and she suddenly becomes unsure. Wouldn’t you at her age? “Why haven’t we had a girl president?” she asks again and again. Indeed.

That’s why it’s so important for us to keep moving forward not just politically, not just socially, but also in the media we use.

I will be writing for Feminspire from my perspective as a feminist homeschooling mom, and one of the things I want to talk about is not only how to change this media, but also the media we can support right now for our daughters (and our sons, who also need to see strong, multi-dimensional females in movies and elsewhere). My favorite director who routinely gives me this media over and over again is Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki takes a complete role in his films, often writing, directing, animating and even writing songs for them. Many of his films feature an environmental message, and most of them feature strong, funny girls who develop over time in an epic hero’s journey — you know, like boys do in most animated films.

When we’re talking about movies for littles, or young girls under, say, age 8, I wholly recommend the movies Ponyo, The Secret World of Arietty, and my daughter’s favorite, My Neighbor Totoro. Wood Sprite* is seven and also enjoys movies like Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service and The Cat Returns, but some of these may contain content that is too scary for littles. The first three are completely appropriate for kids ages four and up.

Ponyo is a fairly recent film about a little fish-girl who wants to become human. Yes, she falls in love with a human boy — he is only five — but she actually uses her strength, spirit and wit to outsmart her father, the keeper of the ocean, to become human in the first place. She unflinchingly takes on nature itself, and her hundreds of little fish-sisters help her. It’s like a little mermaid story without all the misogyny. The little boy does take on a heroic role more so than many boys do in Miyazaki movies, but it is equal to the role Ponyo has in the movie herself. The movie also features two strong mothers, one of them the Moon, which I love since Disney likes to kill moms off so often. We need more moms in movies!

My Neighbor Totoro is about the relationship of two sisters, their relationship with their mother, and their adventures with the forest spirits in their new home. Maiden, mother and crone are all represented in the movie, which is very rare. Female friendships are also touched on, but it’s mostly about two sisters and their love for one another. It’s a gorgeous, delightful movie, one of Miyazaki’s oldest ones, and it’s what hooked me onto his films first.

The Secret World of Arietty is a new movie, released just last year in the United States, and it is just dazzling. The story is based on The Borrowers, but it’s also the coming-of-age tale of a teen borrower who isn’t afraid of humans. Arietty is independent and strong, loves nature and helps take good care of her family. She is adventurous and brave and saves the life of a teen boy in the movie. It’s just as gentle and gorgeous as the other movies listed and contains humor, uplifting music and the smooth, natural flow that is a trademark of Miyazaki’s movies.

In Miyazaki’s works you aren’t going to see the sexualization of girls, their need to be rescued by boys, or any inferiority that is present in so many other films. He often uses inspiration from girls in his family or daughters of his friends, so you will see girls journey from one age to the next, overcoming obstacles, saving loved ones, and bravely taking on life. Some are funny, some are whiny, and some just want to play pretend all day — quite like our own daughters. But it doesn’t end there. You’ll also experience movies that have such exquisite animation, unique stories and creatures, and even open storytelling that leaves you wondering (and often needing to see the movie a few times to fully get its message) and maybe even a little smitten by magic. It’s not the fast!action!packed! animation you’re likely to get in a theater, but a lovely sensory experience for the entire family.

If you’re new to Miyazaki, I really recommend starting with Totoro. You’ll be amazed that you’ve never seen these wonderful, complex movies before — and you’ll probably be addicted for life. Like me.

*Wood Sprite is the online alias I use for my daughter

Do you love Miyazaki films? Which are your favorites, or alternatively, which movies in general do you recommend for their representation of girls and women? Share with me in the comments!


Date: 2013-01-23 04:17 pm (UTC)
gehayi: (sophie of ingary (colorcharge))
From: [personal profile] gehayi
Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Those two are tied for first place. I love Chihiro's determination and lack of greed and downright courage; I love San for her fierce love of nature; and I love Lady Eboshi (despite the fact that she's indirectly responsible for corrupting a couple of gods into demons) because she builds a refuge for people that society doesn't want--lepers and prostitutes. And all of them are flawed people who grow and become better.

And they DO things! This is particularly wonderful in my eyes because Protagonists Who Don't Do Anything are becoming something of a thing in fiction and I HATE it. Give me an active protagonist any day of the week.

BTW, did you know that Hollywood writing schools actually teach screenwriters NOT to pass the Bechdel Test? That's just fucked up.

Date: 2013-01-24 02:07 pm (UTC)
gehayi: (mulan (gehayi))
From: [personal profile] gehayi
The Bechdel Test actually help me realize how little writers actually engaged in the activity of writing dialog for female characters that didn't centralize its focus on the male leads or character. It took a while to actually accept the idea that they really think that line of thinking scores them both and audience and a profit.

They do. Part of this is because many filmmakers and TV executives are firmly convinced that women don't go to movies or only buy products that are exclusively female, and that therefore we're not a demographic worth paying attention to. (Ask me about The Dresden Files TV show sometime. That was a study in willful blindness. And there was no justification for it.)

Women talking about other things = "no profit" doesn't strike me as sound logic so much as does suits scared of thinking of female characters outside of the realm of a man's status within a narrative.

I think that a lot of them are, yes. But there's also a modern phenomenon called "protecting the star" that injures a lot of stories. What this says is that the star MUST be the focus of everyone and everything, and MUST get all the good lines and all the good scenes. The other characters can't think about anything else and certainly can't do anything independently that actually works, because that would show that the star wasn't an absolute necessity without whom the world (personal or global) would perish.

And this terrified, egocentric star is, more often than not, male.

As a result, in movies where this happens, every other character operates as an adjunct to the star's character--the male friends, the parents, the boss, the co-workers--rather than as an ensemble trying to tell a good story. It's just more noticeable with the female characters because female characters nowadays are often written with a painfully limited range of "love interest," "sex interest," "wife/mother," "older woman/grandmotherly type," "plucky female sidekick" and "evil woman." (Chick flicks sometimes feature two women who are friends, but most other movies don't, preferring to make them rivals/enemies instead.) And while a female character being a love interest, a wife, mother or grandmother, a sidekick or evil are not bad things, it's damned annoying to realize many film and TV directors and studios think that's all that women can ever be. (I'm looking at YOU, Stephen Moffat.) Apart from the damaging sexism and the possible loss of profit, it limits the stories they can tell...which is very, very dumb.

Now that I'm older I understand the story and her effect on the events she participated in far better than I did when I simply watched it for the animation and wolves. But I don't ever remember really hating her in way I would have with a character like the Evil Queen in Snow White. Maybe because Miyazaki never promoted her as a singularly evil or good?

I think that's it. I can only think of one time when Miyazaki went to town trying to prove that the character in question was unusually good and virtuous, and that was with Nausicaa. Most of the time, his people are just...people. Even in the fairy tales he tells, people aren't all good or all bad; he just tries to make the story so interesting that you'll care what happens to the characters even if they screw up--and they do screw up.

Disney, however, has never gone in for protagonists with serious flaws; the Disney execs go for the likable protagonist that the audience can easily identify with. They also don't want to alienate the audience by having the protagonist do anything that's wrong. Foolish, yes. Reckless, certainly. But not morally questionable and certainly not morally wrong. Even though Disney protagonists are now much more pro-active, I can't think of a single one who was the source of a problem. Which means that you need another character to introduce evil into the mix. And so you have the sources of outside evil who exist to make things miserable for the protagonist--the Evil Queen, Maleficent, Scar, Jafar, Ursula, Cruella DeVil.

(Although I have to say that I loved Maleficent from the moment that I first saw her. I didn't care about the baby, and I thought that Flora and Fauna gave her pointless gifts--seriously, they couldn't give a future queen wisdom or compassion instead of beauty and a good singing voice? But Maleficent got my attention IMMEDIATELY.)


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