Saturday, April 5, 2008

Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! Sexism in Another Children's Movie?

Kieran has been awaiting the arrival of "Horton Hears a Who" at the cinemas, although we have yet to see it. Yesterday we saw a delightful adaptation of "Go, Dog, Go!" at the Northwest Children's Theater...if you have read that book, you'll know that it's a very skimpy plot with not much text. They made an entire hour-long play based on that story. As far as I could determine, there were no sexist images...unless you consider the flirtatious poodle in the fancy hats. Except for that poodle, the female and male dogs seemed to be equal.

As the feminist mother of sons, I'm often torn between wanting my children to have characters they can relate to and wanting them to see strong female characters who don't follow the virgin-whore stereotypes (known in children's lit and media as princess wimps or evil stepmothers). Nearly all of the characters in Winnie the Pooh, Sesame Street, and other childhood teams are male. Thank goodness for Dora the Explorer, Peanuts (love that Peppermint Patty!), and the androgynous teletubbies. Last weekend I took Chris to see "The Water Horse," and even though the main character, Angus, was a boy longing for his father, his older sister was pretty cool too.

So imagine my chagrin when I just read this article posted on a wonderful blog called Feministing, with a link to an article on the NPR web site by the wonderful Peter Sagal (host of one of my fave radio shows, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" He took his daughters to the Horton movie and discovered that the movie playwright had added a new subplot--the mayor of Whoville has 96 daughters and one son, and guess who saved the day? Wait, wait, don't tell me! What a surprise.

I often think of the irony of my fascination (and sometimes horror) with Asian cultures, where sons are highly revered. Combined with the fact that I always thought I would have a daughter, I find it interesting to consider that I have three sons. In India, China, Japan, Korea, I would be revered. Years ago I read a great book about women's status in India called May You Be the Mother of One Hundred Sons (by NYT writer Elisabeth Bumiller). Generally, in the U.S., people give me sympathetic or horrified looks when I tell them I have three boys. In American and European pop culture, literature, and media, though, the male continues to be revered.

Speaking of India, I'm reading a hilarious memoir right now called All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India. The fascinating thing about Indian culture and history is that, in spite of the fact that women have a tradition of being shunned as widows, burnt in suttee on their dead husbands' funeral pyres, or rejected or abused as wives because of their paltry dowries, India has a great legacy of powerful, inspirational female heroes and goddesses. Author Rachel Manija Brown found refuge from her unhappy, lonely childhood in a remote ashram in India by reading, researching, and emulating great Indian warriors--many of whom were female. Every child needs heroes they can relate to and find inspiration from...sadly, little girls have to search so much harder for those heroes. Or create their own.

1 comment:

  1. You know I saw the movie and enjoyed it but did feel irritated at his over attention to his one son, but I guess my take on it was that was the one child that wouldn't or didn't care to talk to him.