Sexism in the cult of Disney? Fictitious heroines one limited template? I don’t think so!

When I started writing this blog, I intended it to document our life as a new home educating family and to share some tips and activities about things which have worked for us.  My last post though was a tad – shall we say forthright?  I was passionate about the subject but after having said my bit, I was planning to go back to sharing some of the fun things Jasper and I have been up to.

But then I read an article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, entitled ‘I’d happily blow the brains out of a Disney Princess’ written by Beverley Turner.  There are a lot of really valid points in the article; you can read it here but if you haven’t, the gist of the bit that drove me mad is essentially this:

The author fumes that ‘the cult of Disney’ brainwashes children into believing that women should do no more than wait around, doe-eyed and pathetic, for a charming Prince to come along and rescue them from whatever perilous circumstances they happen to find themselves in.  She argues that we should have more true-to-life characters because most women “prefer to do more than wait to marry a Prince, in a size 8 dress with hair down to their waist” and that the Disney princess image is damaging to young girls as it teaches them that they need to be aesthetically perfect and can’t do anything without a man.

Oh come on.

Firstly, I’m not at all convinced that Disney Princesses are the distressed damsels Beverley Turner seems to think.  Yes, they do seem to be motivated (at least in part) by the desire to marry a handsome Prince, but very few seem to sit around waiting for this to happen or indeed to be rescued.  I said very few, not none before you shoot me down.  They know what they want and they go after it, navigating treacherous paths and any number of obstacles on their way.

Let’s take Princess Jasmine.  As the daughter of a Sultan she is expected, under obligation in fact, to marry a Prince.  Yet all the ones she meets are arrogant fools who treat her as nothing more than a “prize to be won.” Refusing to buy into that idea, Jasmine defies the system and decides she’s going to marry for love.  Fragile maiden I think not.

Then there’s Ariel.  Again, yes I know she’s after a bloke, but he’s not exactly attainable.  Does this put her off?  Of course it doesn’t.  She’s prepared to leave her home, literally travel across the ocean and change her whole world to get what she wants.  Now the usual argument here is that yet again, a woman is made to change who she is for a man, but I really don’t see it like that.  I think you’ve got to have a hell of a lot about you to be prepared to give up all you’ve ever known and venture into unknown territories without even a guarantee that the one you want will love you back.

Belle refuses to marry Gaston despite all the girls in the town thinking he’s a catch because she wants something more and she’s prepared to give up her liberty to protect her father.

Now, I don’t have daughters.  But if I did, I’d be quite happy for them to look up to these girls as heroines.

Secondly, let’s look at the skinny thing.  I think there’s confusion about the effect generally size 0 women, and the way they are portrayed in the media, have on young girls.  To me, the problem is this.  It isn’t that there are skinny women in magazines and as celebrities.  If that’s a problem, that says more about our parenting – if our girls can’t see someone with an apparently near perfect body without suffering a huge knock to their confidence, we need to helping them develop their self esteem more.  If we get into the realm of banning and dictating to publications because we don’t like what they put on their covers, we’re in dangerous territory.  The problem arise when these women pretend that they don’t have to work hard to maintain their figures; when we show zoomed in pictures of their invisible rolls of fat when they bend over on the beach or claim that they have “ballooned to a size 10” and wonder whether this will affect the quality of their work.  The most worrying though is when we airbrush women so that they are flawless without making it clear to young readers that this has happened.  Magazines need to sell copies.  Fact.  So yes, they want something on the cover that looks good.  The damage comes when we make women look almost 2d and then let them claim that they “eat what they want” and can still be slim.  That’s damaging.  A confident, articulate Disney Princess who happens to be slim, isn’t.

I happened to see Kimberley Walsh on Lorraine this morning and she summed it up perfectly for me.  Talking about her style and body confidence, she said this:  “I do think women have to work hard to keep a good body shape.  I do work out a bit but I like food and like to eat what I want.”  She admitted that despite her enviable figure, she has days when she doesn’t feel confident.  Just like the rest of us.  It’s all about, she states, being confident in yourself and knowing what suits you and your body shape.

Beverley Turner mentions the fit, athletic women who inspired young girls as part of the Olympic games.  She talks about achievement.  Isn’t defying the system to marry for love an achievement?  Or being prepared to risk death to save your family?

Of course there are subtle messages in Disney films.  Disney is a huge corporation and we need to be careful about the messages such a powerful company is able to send out to our children.  Sometimes though, I think we should just let things be what they are.  And the films in which our Disney Princesses appear are just this: Fun-filled fairy tale adventures enjoyed by children for generations.

And Beverley?  Blowing the brains out of characters you don’t happen to like?  Great message to our daughters.

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Five Minute Friday: Truth

Thanks Lisa-Jo Baker for today’s Five Minute Friday: truth. 

This is a tricky one!

Truth.  It’s a funny word.  We hold it in such high regard, yet we all seem to not only attach different meanings to it, but also adapt those meaning to suite our current needs.  Everyone’s truth is indeed different, especially when it’s so open to being edited!

So does truth really exist and, if it doesn’t, should we place such a high value on it, especially with our children?

‘Tell the truth.’ we demand when they argue and we want to get to the bottom of who smashed the window, or drew on the wall.  They tell us and yet we insist they’re lying.  We question, we interrogate, pick holes in their story as though they’re a criminal under oath rather than a willful child.  Whatever they tell us, we punish them anyway.  We know, we tell ourselves as parents, what happened.  We were children once.   So where is the incentive for them to tell us the truth if we’ve already made up our minds?

Then, not half an hour later, we find ourselves ten minutes late to meet someone.

“Sorry we’re late, the traffic was bad.” We apologise with a little white lie to disguise the fact that we were behind because the toddler wouldn’t eat his lunch, we forgot our coats or were still chatting on the phone when we should have been in the car.  The traffic was bad but it shouldn’t really have held us up.  So is half-tale really the truth?  We give our children such mixed messages, rarely bother to explain and then criticise and punish when they get it wrong.

As adults, lots of us believe it is ok to tell a small untruth to spare someone’s feelings or to avoid an argument.  We’ve had those ‘new’ shoes for ages or that new hair cut looks lovely on our friend but when children do the same, we talk to them about liars having their tongues cut out or sing rhymes about their pants being on fire.

We claim to have a greater understanding of truth; we say that we can tell when truth is important and when it is best not to voice it, but is this really true?  We want to avoid an argument or spare someone’s feelings but aren’t we just trying to avoid an awkward moment for ourselves?  I’m not saying we never should tell white lies, I’m ashamed to say I do it myself all the time.

But I am saying this.  Children need modelled behaviour.  They copy us, look up to us, we are their shining example.  And what they do need is consistency.  If we’re going to hold up truth as a beacon of all that is right, surely we owe it to our children to be truthful ourselves or at least be consistent in what we say truth is?

Or, if we are prefer to keep those lines muddied with a few fibs here and there, we should credit children with enough intelligence to explain to them why instead of punishing them when they try to work it out themselves.

 

Five Minute Friday: Grace

It’s my second week of Lisa-Jo Baker‘s Five Minute Friday and this week the word is ‘Grace’

So here goes:

I recently watched this beautiful video by Shaun Lichti entitled ‘What she taught Me.’  The video shows Shaun, a young man who was home educated, reflecting on the love of reading instilled in him by his mum.  It was, he says, the snuggling on the couch reading stories, listening to her voice for hours, which made him want to emerge himself in the magical world of story.

When I first saw it, I cried.  Tears streamed down my face and it made me think of all the things I want to achieve as a mother for Jasper.  I want him to be happy; I want him to remember that I had time to play with him; to join in with him and not just shout at him not to get dirty, to tidy his room or wash his hands in time for tea.  I want to give him the opportunities to try everything and find what it is that he really loves; to help him not be afraid to speak his mind and to have courage in his own convictions.  I want him to be well-mannered and considerate; to be open-minded and polite; to always try his best and approach everything positively.

As I thought about these things, I thought about my own mum.  My lovely mum.  I argue with my mum a lot.  Not seriously, we’ve always had a fiery relationship and we make-up as quickly as we’ve fallen out, usually several times in a minute.  I complain that she doesn’t listen, she complains that I’m too critical.  But whatever our disagreements, I know this.  Everything I want for Jasper is based on what she taught me; what she showed me to try to be.  She was never afraid to be different, she doesn’t follow a crowd. She’d wait in the car for hours with a baby for me to finish my piano lesson; she’d spend all her evenings in a freezing swimming pool (no doubt with us screaming) whilst we all took turns to have swimming lessons.  She played with us- really played.  In the late eighties when we were growing up, it was the time when all the risk-aversion was just starting.  Was it safe to play outside?  Should you really make dens in the wood?  My mum said yes and we had a fantastic childhood.

Long before we had the internet, she’d spent hours scouring bookshops and newspapers, looking for stories we’d enjoy.  She was a whirlwind – whizzing all over town in her white metro, giving her children the best chance she could.

And the thing about my mum?  Unlike me, she does it all with grace.  I’m a tad shouty, I’m volatile, I’m opinionated and I swear too much (although hopefully not in front of Jasper).  Whenever people meet my mum though, they always comment, no one fails to notice.  She smiles; she connects with everyone; she’s well spoken and she’s kind.  Although she speaks her mind, she’s careful not to offend.  She’s sweet; she’s thoughtful; she’s beautiful but she doesn’t know it.

My mum is Grace.