#FeministFriday No. 34

Attention all Disney Darlings, we have a new princess.

moana

Meet Moana Waialiki, the Polynesian princess and heroine of the upcoming movie Moana, set for release in November 2016.

The animated musical will tell the story of Moana’s epic journey to meet demi-gods, and will be directed by the creators of The Princess and the FrogAladdin, and The Little Mermaid. Dwayne Johnson has signed on as the voice of Maui, Moana’s father, and rumors for the voice of the titular character include Hawaii-native Makamae Kailani Auwae, as well as Dinah Jane Hansen of Fifth Harmony.

Fans are beside themselves, particularly with the design of the character.

To quote tumblr user cronuseatsbabies, “JUST LOOK AT HER, LOOK AT HER WAIST AND BUST AND CALVES AND ANKLES SHE’S SO REALISTICALLY PROPORTIONED…DISNEY HASN’T HAD A FEMALE LEAD WITH A BODY THIS REALISTIC SINCE LIKE???? NANI??? CONCLUSION: I’M SO HAPPY”

Another user, clubhousemouse, commented, “Moana’s design is: not a straight copy and paste clone of Rapunzel, Elsa, and Anna; not tiny waisted; a woman of color; different and somewhat new; hella cute; that is all.”

This may seem like an odd reaction to an animated character, but they have a point. Disney faced a lot of scrutiny after the huge success of Frozen, with many people pointing out the lack of diversity in their female characters.

Particularly in the facial region.

Particularly in the facial region.

The Disney Princess brand is one of the biggest media franchises aimed specifically at young girls, so many parents have been glad to see more forward-thinking characters like Merida, the tomboyish heroine of Brave to balance out the passivity of the more traditional princesses like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. In fact, when Merida was given a more feminine makeover as part of her official induction into the Disney Princess pantheon, there was public outcry to return her to her original design.

The relative feminism of recent Disney princess movies is not the only thing modern viewers are concerned about. Most notably is racial representation — or rather, the glaring white nature of most of Disney’s animated output.

Because they’re directly marketed to be role models for young girls, the Disney Princesses come under a lot more scrutiny than other cartoons. The last three movies have featured four white princesses, and failed to include any POC in even secondary or background roles — including Frozen which included indigenous Scandinavian clothing and music from the Sami culture, but no actual Sami characters. This has led many fans and parents to accuse Disney of failing to represent people of color.

The Official Disney Princesses (according to the Official Disney Princess Wiki) are:

  • Snow White (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937)
  • Cinderella (Cinderella, 1950)
  • Aurora (Sleeping Beauty, 1959)
  • Ariel (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
  • Belle (Beauty and the Beast, 1991)
  • Jasmine (Aladdin, 1992)
  • Pocahontas (Pocahontas, 1995)
  • Mulan (Mulan, 1998)
  • Tiana (The Princess and the Frog, 2009)
  • Rapunzel (Tangled, 2010)
  • Merida (Brave, 2012)
  • Elsa* (Frozen, 2013)
  • Anna* (Frozen, 2013)

* Technically Elsa and Anna are Princesses-in-Waiting as they have not yet been crowned in an official ceremony at Walt Disney World. I’m told this is a big deal. 

Other female Disney characters like Lilo, Esmeralda, and Meg are not considered official princesses because they don’t meet qualifications set by Disney. There are very specific rules for this, which I’m told are also a big deal.

Here’s where it gets dicey, though. The following graph is the population of the United States by race, according the the 2010 U.S. Census:

US Population by Race

Here are the same demographics of the Disney Princesses:

Disney Princess Race

The lack of representation is disgraceful (“Other” in this case refers to Princess Jasmine, whose Middle Eastern descent does not currently have its own designation on census forms). Our second largest (and fastest growing) racial group doesn’t have their own princess, and while the debut of Tiana as the first black princess drew excitement, the character spent 80% of her screen time as a frog, and the movie contained some pretty unflattering racial stereotypes. Furthermore, while Mulan is arguably one of the better princesses in terms of independence and badassery, the Asian demographic includes 20 subgroups — the six largest of which are Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese. As a Chinese war hero, Mulan technically only represents about 23% of all Asian Americans.

The lack of diversity seems even more ridiculous upon further breakdown. For instance, despite making up approximately 2% of the United States, red heads account for almost a quarter of all Disney Princesses.

Disney Princess Hair

 

Here’s my wishlist of Princesses that should be added to the Disney lexicon:

  • Hispanic Princess
  • Latina Princess
  • Black Princess that stays human for the entire movie
  • Indian/South Asian Princess
  • Muslim Princess
  • Mixed Race Princess
  • Physically Disabled Princess
  • Mentally Disabled Princess
  • Little Person Princess
  • Overweight Princess
  • Transgender Princess
  • Non-heteronormative Princess
  • Alto Princess
  • Any combination of above the above traits would also be acceptable

Obviously it’s a little unreasonable to expect Disney to create a feature length movie dedicated to every single diversity in existence. However, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to be more inclusive to their audience.

As tumblr user everything-is-broadway wrote, “As a person of Polynesian descent, I got extremely excited when Disney’s Moana was announced, and didn’t really know why…and then I realized, THIS is what representation feels like.”

Everybody deserves to feel that magic.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!

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#FeministFriday No. 33

In the news this week, Target has announced that they will eliminate “boys” and “girls” on their signs in the toy and bedding departments.

Good.

“We know that shopping in some departments like Toys, Home, or Entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary,” says a statement on the Target website. In recent years, more and more parents and corporations have started to understand that gendered toy segregation can make children feel needlessly ashamed of their desire for toys that don’t fit their gender stereotypes, such as chemistry sets and monster trucks for girls, or play kitchens and dolls for boys.

Toys are toys. They’re a source for entertainment and joy, and companies like Target that are encouraging children to pick a plaything that will bring them joy — even if it may not enforce traditional gender roles — should be the norm, not the source of controversy.

Because of course there’s controversy over removing obsolete and meaningless signage in a retail store.

Notably, Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the famous Rev. Billy Graham, and president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Graham is calling for a boycott, and like many conservatives has grounded his complaint in his evangelical Christian beliefs, marveling, “They won’t be using pink and blue colors to identify sexes. What’s next? Are they going to try to make people believe that pink or blue baby showers are politically incorrect? I have news for them and for everyone else — God created two different genders.”

Except no, He didn’t. I’m not starting a “where did we come from?” debate, settle down, but the fact is there are more than two genders. Like, a lot more. Gender itself is a social construct, and relatively new in terms of recognition, but to assume it can just be simplified into a binary is wrong and kind of ridiculous. Gender, much like sexuality, is a spectrum, and not everyone falls into neat categories.

gender

Additionally, Graham’s remark of color coding is kind of strange when you put it in context. Everyone knows that “pink=girl” and “blue=boy” because marketing and society are super effective at ingraining these constructs into our brains from a young age. However, it’s a fairly modern phenomenon with absolutely no biblical roots. In fact, historically, the reverse was always true: many religiously devout parents felt blue was feminine due to a long history of association with the Virgin Mary, and pink was considered virile and masculine. Baby boys were dressed in pink until the 1940s, at which point a certain German leader started using little pink triangles to identify gay people (in the same way he used yellow Star of Davids to identify Jewish people). After World War II, pink was considered an effeminate color and designated for girls.

That’s right, the whole of western society decided that pink was girly because Adolf Hitler associated the color with homosexuality.

Infuriatingly bigoted history aside, Graham complaints continued, stating that “gender-neutral people out there” haven’t made Target strong. Others — like Tom Kersting, an actual psychotherapist — expressed concern that the lack of boy-girl labels would lead children to “question what their gender is.”

Contrary to many conservative’s beliefs, gender-neutral marketing doesn’t mean an attempt to make males and females exactly the same, or that Target is going to ban traditionally gendered toys like Barbie and G.I. Joe. It simply means organizing products that children already love according to interest or theme, rather than by boy or by girl. This isn’t exactly radical; gender-based marketing only really became popular in the 1990s when companies realized they could get parents to buy twice as much stuff by introducing products with gender segmentation.

Furthermore, wild accusations of gender confusion don’t square up to the science. Developmental psychologist Christia Brown, a professor at the University of Kentucky and author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue, has about 30 years of social science on children and gender-labeled toys to back her up.

consider the following

“We know kids know their gender really early — they know it by about two years old,” said Brown. “The gender-confusion thing is not something parents need to worry about.” She goes on to agree that the decision to remove gender labeling on toys is, in all likelihood, a very good idea. Most research suggests this, as well.

“Social scientists really agree pretty wholeheartedly on the effect of these kinds of gender labels on kids’ choices,” Brown said. “What they find is that the girls don’t want to touch it if it’s labeled a boy’s toy. When the exact same toy is labeled as a girl’s toy, however, the girls are interested.” Similar patterns have been observed in boys, including a study that involved purposely confusing visual cues — for example, when handed a monster truck that had been painted pink, boys were interested as long as it was labeled “for boys”.

Carol Lynn Martin of Arizona State University studied the effects of labels on preschool-aged children. Two sets of children were presented with a variety of gender-neutral toys, like flip-books or magnets, and asked to rate how much they enjoyed the toys. For one set of children, half of the toys were taken from a box labeled “Boys” and the other half from a box labeled “Girls” — all of the boys were more interested in the boys’ toys, and the girls in the girls’ toys. However, the other set of children were presented the exact same toys without labels, and no clear trend emerged concerning the toys the boys liked versus the ones preferred by the girls.

Further research found that not only does gender labeling impact the toys that children like, it impacts the way they play with the toys, as well. In one study, American children were presented with a Canadian toy they’d never seen before, which involved throwing discs into a target. Half the children were told the game was meant for boys, while the other half were told it was intended for girls. The result was boys scoring better at the game when they believed the toy was for boys, and the girls doing better when they thought it was a game meant for them.

Where this becomes an issue is when the toys labeled for specific genders are toys that mimic traditional gender roles and are deemed the only appropriate or acceptable toys for children of that gender. Another study completed last year by Dr. Maria do Mar Pareira of the University of Warwick found that raising children to adhere to rigid gender roles can be detrimental to their physical and mental health.

Pereira drew her conclusions after spending three months observing a class of teenagers in Lisbon, Portugal. The teens knew they were being observed by Pereira in all aspects of their everyday lives — attending classes, eating lunch in the cafeteria, playing on the playground, and joining them on trips to the mall after school — but they didn’t know her specific area of focus.

In addition to one-on-one interviews with each teen, her observations allowed her to track the ways they interacted with their ideas about masculinity and femininity, and noted that both boys and girls were regulating their behavior in potentially harmful ways in order to adhere to gender norms. For instance, even girls who enjoyed sports often avoided physical activity at school because they assumed it wouldn’t be a feminine thing to do, they worried they might look unattractive while running, or they were mocked by their male peers for not being good enough.

The girls also put themselves on diets because they believed desirable women have to be skinny. “All of the girls were within very healthy weights, but they were all restricting their intake of food in some way,” said Pereira. “What we’re really talking about here is 14-year-old girls, whose bodies are changing and developing, depriving themselves at every meal. In the extreme, that can lead to things like eating disorders, but even for the women who don’t reach the extreme, it can be very unhealthy for them.”

Meanwhile, the male participants in the study all faced intense pressure to demonstrate the extent of their manliness which led to everyday low-level violence and destructive behaviors: slapping and hitting each other, inflicting pain on other boys’ genitals, encouragement to physically fight each other if they were ever mocked or offended, and feeling like they had to drink unhealthy amounts of alcohol because that’s “what a man would do”. Additionally, they were under certain mental health strains. Many were struggling with anxiety about proving themselves and suppressing their feelings, all while lacking a strong emotional support system.

Pereira ultimately concluded that, “this constant effort to manage one’s everyday life in line with gender norms produces significant anxiety, insecurity, stress, and low self-esteem for both boys and girls, and both for ‘popular’ young people and those who have lower status in school.”

genderrole1

Although Pereria’s observations took place at a school in Lisbon, she believes her results have widespread implications for Western nations that are subject to similar cultural messages about gender. In fact, previous research in British and American schools has reached many of the same conclusions as her study.

Sociologists agree that children “learn gender” from being subjected to society’s expectation, despite the fact that pressuring children to conform to rigid gender roles can result in serious mental health consequences for the children whose parents try to “correct” their behavior. Additionally, there are countless examples of schools being environments where gender stereotypes are strongly enforced and strictly policed, and children can be sent home for wearing the “wrong” type of clothing.

The findings of these studies could serve as hope about the possibility of creating a different kind of approach to these issues. Children and teenagers are still shaping their attitudes about what it means to be a man or a woman, and while some adults may think it’s impossible to change gender norms, it’s important to remember that such norms are much more entrenched in adults than they are in young people.

Change is slow, however. Cultural shifts happen in stages, which is why there’s been such backlash towards Target. In the future, gender stereotyping could be eradicated in other areas, such as clothing departments, which are currently starkly divided into “boys vs. girls” colors, themes, and styles — sending the same limited messages as toy labels about what boys and girls are supposed to like and who they are supposed to be.

I look forward to writing about the blowback from a clothing department that contains both sparkly dresses and football jersey.

Bottom line: if your child is happy and healthy, does it really matter what their favorite toy is?

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!

#FeministFriday No. 32

The Teenage Girl is possibly the absolute stupidest, most materialistic, and shallow kind of human there is, and by definition the easiest to make money off of.

The Average Teenage Girl wears a general uniform that included leggings, Uggs, NorthFace fleece jackets in winter; extremely whorish costumes (police, nurse, cheerleader, school girl, etc.) on Halloween; and in summer, extremely tiny shorts and skirts with sunglasses wide enough to hide her entire face. Of course, all of these outfits must come from a wide variety of different brands which also provide a wide variety of accessories that she clearly doesn’t need.

Teenage Girls tend to travel in herds of 5 or 6 as they have nothing resembling independent thought or character and are totally subservient to the herd mentality, which decides who they can date, what they eat, where they go, what they wear, and what they do.

In her free time, The Average Teenage Girl likes to listen to mass produced idiotic music by the likes of One Direction or Five Seconds of Summer. Within the herds, this is usually accompanied by screaming the lyrics very obnoxiously to make sure everybody knows what idiots they are.

The Average Teenage Girl is of very low intelligence. She talks in a very high pitched voice and if she is literate, her favorite book is Twilight. Movie preferences include the “rom-com” or “chick flick” genre, which any idiot with basic writing skills could make.

The Average Teenage Girl is an idiot and will probably amount to nothing more than trophy wives, models, or actresses in really bad movies, assuming they remember how to breathe.

The above, vomit-inducing description is the definition of “teenage girl” provided by Urban Dictionary. Incidentally, it’s the second thing that comes up if you Google “teenage girl”; other search results included diet and exercise pages, and blogs dedicated to making fun of things like leggings. By comparison, Googling “teenage boy” brings up links for parental advice columns, news stories about academic and athletic excellence, and medical research about the effects of (cis) male puberty.

Teenage girls (and even preteen girls to a large extent) have long been the punchline of society. They are reduced to simplistic, stereotypical beings whose thoughts, interests, habits, and emotions are endlessly and needlessly mocked. We trivialize their mental health, laugh at their pain, and minimize their behaviors as illegitimate angst, ridiculous overreactions, or PMS.

teenage girls1

It’s not easy, being teens. Nearly all teenage girls suffer from poor body image, or think they need to lose weight. It’s estimated that one in every 200 girls aged 13-19 regularly cut themselves, but estimated that one in twelve will self-harm in some way before they turn 18. Suicides among U.S. females between 10 and 24 years old have nearly quadrupled since 1994, but it’s socially acceptable to belittle them because, why? They’re wearing riding boots and scarves, and drinking pumpkin spice lattes?

Grow the hell up.

It seems like every other week there’s some news story or breaking article that revolves around the “fact” that teenage girls lack self-esteem: “As their teen years approach, many confident girls turn into sullen shells.”

It’s almost like it’s stressful to have all of society constantly telling them exactly what perfect mold they need to fit into, and are then told they’re unacceptable if they don’t fit, but told they’re shallow if they do. Everything that teenage girls do is meticulously criticized, from the way they speak, to the way they style their hair, to they way they act in groups of their peers. Regardless of what it is, there is always someone, somewhere commenting that they should do it differently.

All the while, teenage boys are just sort of expected to behave the way that they do. Teenage boys eat a lot, they think about sex a lot, they wear basketball shorts and flat billed baseball caps, and make homophobic comments on Xbox Live. That’s just teenage boys, that’s just what they do. Nothing they do is ever really addressed as an issue, and I’ve never read an article anywhere detailing how consuming endless Pizza Rolls and Mountain Dew makes a guy “basic”. Granted, these are broad generalizations that in no way represent every 13-19 year old male in the country; there have even been recent studies that suggest popular stereotypes of males are, on the whole, inaccurate.

Meanwhile, let’s keep assuming that all teenage girls are vapid and are more interested in selfies than current events.

That's their reaction to Donald

They’re watching the latest Donald Trump press conference.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, teenagers are considered a “golden goose” of sorts by marketers in terms of disposable income. They’re at the age where they’re old enough to work part-time, but young enough to still receive birthday money and allowances. According to a Harris Poll, the 42 million teenagers in the United States have over $100 billion at their disposal. Furthermore, teenagers typically have less financial responsibility than adults, and are less likely to respond to economic factors as much as older consumers.

If only there was a target market with such disposable income that could be easily convinced by companies to buy their products on account of the target market’s perennially low self-esteem and need to be seen as “good enough” by society.

Marketers thrive on society’s treatment of teenage girls because it allows them to capitalize on the fallout. They manipulate girls through advertising to believe that these exact jeans, or this exact shampoo will enable them to overcome any insecurities and be accepted, all while feeding into the bigger picture of perfection that undermines their confidence in the first place.

Immoral? Absolutely. It’s modern capitalism at its finest. The best example of this is Dove, which launched the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004. Their website states, “The Dove brand is rooted in listening to women…The campaign started a global conversation about the need for a wider definition of beauty after the study proved the hypothesis that the definition of beauty had become limiting and unattainable…In 2010, Dove evolved the campaign and launched an unprecedented effort to make beauty a source of confidence, not anxiety, with the Dove Movement for Self-Esteem.”

This all sounds amazingly positive and female friendly, until you realize that Dove’s parent company, Unilever, also owns Axe. While Unilever has promoted one brand by pointing out how terrible women feel about their bodies and trying to convince them otherwise, they’ve been promoting the other with sexist and objectifying portrayals of women, telling men they should be focused only on the appearance of women — which, of course, is represented by the limited and unattainable standard of beauty Dove is trying so hard to abolish.

I could probably write a separate post about everything wrong with this ad.

I could probably write a separate post about everything wrong with this ad.

I digress. Let’s look at a revised version of that definition from earlier:

A teenage girl is a female between 13-19 years of age, and is very likely to be targeted by marketers, as well as people who have nothing better to do than make fun of young girls because they feel bad about themselves on the inside.

Teenage girls have a wide variety of styles that express their unique personalities. Many choose to wear clothing like yoga pants and leggings because they’re awesome and hella comfortable. Some stick to basics like jeans and t-shirts because those are awesome and what they like. Others choose to follow current trends, such as shorts and and crop tops in the summer months, which are awesome and adorable on anyone who chooses to wear them. If you disagree and think they should wear something else, you should take a long, hard think as to why you care so much what teenage girls are wearing.

Some teenage girls like to travel in groups of friends because it’s nice to spend time with friends. Additionally, there is safety in numbers and females who travel alone are often blamed for any misfortunes that may befall them.

Many teenage girls enjoy listening to music by groups like One Direction. Incidentally, the individual members of One Direction each have a net worth of £15 million, which is much more than what anyone making fun of these girls will ever be worth. This “fangirl” behavior towards One Direction is also reminiscent of another British boy band, which almost certainly would have never enjoyed commercial success in America were it not for the support of screaming teenage girls. You may have heard of them, they were a group from Liverpool called The Beatles.

The average teenage girl has a GPA of 3.1 and composite ACT score of 21. In their free time, many teenage girls tend to favor books and movies with more than one speaking female character, which often fall under the romantic comedy category. Despite a lack of female representation, teenage girls also show a strong interest in the science fiction, fantasy, and action-adventure genres, making up a sizable portion of the fanbase for popular franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, and DC.

Teenage girls are amazing and many will grow up to do incredible things. Anyone who tries to limit them is an idiot and will probably amount to nothing more than a bitter Redditor, assuming they remember how to breathe.

Much better.

Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!