Tuesday, July 8

Not just Pixar

Last week, I read this post at the “F-Word” about Pixar and the company’s movies. I gave the content some time, harvested some thoughts and here they are.

First of all I’d like to point out “it’s not just Pixar”. The huge majority of movies from Hollywood (and elsewhere) still works by the old principles. A female lead can either be passive and good or active and evil. Either a princess or a witch, if you want to put it in the vocabulary of fairy tales. Therefore female heroes in movies are just as unlikely and rare as female superheroes. And women in lead of companies or countries are real minority, too.

Women still are not considered equal when it comes to heroism. There are a few female heroes, even in ancient myths. The amazons are often named, but in Greek myths, they are villains of a sort, not heroes. Heroes are the men who defeated them. Brunhilde from the Nibelungen was a strong woman ... until she lost her virginity. The same goes for most other stories. Strong women are rare. If you encounter a self-assured woman in an old legend, it’s quite probable she’s a baddie.

Female leads may be found (quite probably) in romances and love stories, maybe in melodramas, too. But most of those women are looking for Mr. Right (whoever he might be). They are not strong, they are merely interesting in their search for the one thing which - supposedly - brings luck and happiness and everything nice for women.

At least, in anime there’s the “magical girl” subgenre among the shoujo manga (comics for girls), where you will find one or more magically gifted girl fighting to save the world (or whatever) from the forces of evil (or whatever). Yes, they are magically gifted, no superheroes the way American comics define them, but in the end it comes down to the same: they are given special powers and use them to defend mankind (or whatever). There might be some man (usually rather some boy) involved, but on the whole, the girls have to rely on themselves and their friendship to work it all out (some of them like “Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne” are even alone). It’s not a minority of stories, there are quite some of them (“Sailor Moon” probably still being the best known). In ‘western’ series, the number of strong female leads is quite small ... and some of them, one feels, only exist because of the evil spirit of political correctness. (Yes, I’m against political correctness, especially when it comes to stories. I don’t want to see female leads just because ‘you ought to have them for political reasons’. There are better reasons to show strong women.)

You can hardly blame one company for something they all do. In addition, Pixar most often produces for Disney ... and Disney is hardly very ‘modern’ when it comes to stories. As the one who pays the musician also chooses the tune, it’s not surprising you find Pixar producing movies that fit with the usual Disney storylines. (I don’t count “Kim Possible” among the usual Disney stuff ... but it’s rather an aberration in the Disneyversum, just like the “Taran” movie or the “Gargoyles”.)

And yes, I think it’s especially important to show children more than one kind of ‘good’ girl. It’s important to show girls you can be strong and self-assured without becoming a baddie. (After all, no-one likes the bad guys - except me, of course). And it’s important to give them a choice. They don’t have to be strong women, but the need to know it’s okay if they want to.

When I was young (and don’t you feel twice your age whenever you say or write that?), the number of ‘strong’ female characters in novels or TV series was extremely small. Offhandedly, I can only name Pippi Longstocking and Emma Peel (and isn’t that a strange mixture?). So I looked to male characters (especially as I always wanted to be an investigator and the number of female investigators I stumbled over that weren’t extremely old was next to zero) for inspiration. No wonder, I sooner or later stumbled over Sherlock Holmes.

Women my age had to make up their female heroes on their own. Still we found Feminism, so it wasn’t that bad. But it would be easier for girls if they had someone to serve as a role model, sort of.

Women should still try to make a change in movies, TV series and novels (we’re not bad there), but it doesn’t do us any good to simply point at a company and basically say “it’s their fault children learn you have to be male to be a hero”.

A little addition: I zapped into a TV program which presented books for children and mentioned the “Dangerous Book for Boys” I read about on “The F-Word” before. From the little bit of it I saw, I can only say I would have loved it as a child. On the other hand, the variety for girls would not have been interesting for me at all. That’s a good example of why that “it’s for boys/it’s for girls” is so bad: People come in more different varieties than prejudices.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you have read Sherlock Holmes, Laurie R. King updates the canon with her Mary Russell series: Russell is the young feminist partner and wife of Holmes, but in King's work she is presented as his equal first and foremost (they do their fair share of mutual rescuing). I know this is quite an aside from what your post is about, but I thought I should mention it - Mary Russell brings "number of female investigators I stumbled over that weren’t extremely old was next to zero" to slightly above zero ;D

That said, I completely agree that there is a dearth of strong female characters (emotionally strong, strong in characterisation, whatever - not just physically, Wonder Woman strong!) who aren't villains. It's as though Hollywood is *gasp* scared of what strong women could accomplish, yes? :P