Monday, September 30, 2019

Frozened out?

HALLIE EPHRON: "I want a show that has a boy inside it." That was the plaintive cry of my adorable (just ask me) three-year-old grandson. He shares an iPad with his six-year-old sister, she of the generation of toddler girls who wear Elsa dresses and can belt out Frozen's "Let it go, let it go!" from start to finish.

Watching her, I'm transported back to the 1970s we were roaring, "I am woman!" Back then Disney hits featured girls who had to clean the kitchen and pass out in order to get her prince. In Frozen the prince is a jerk.

But I can't help wondering if my grandson has a point. He carries around action figures -- Batman (his favorite) and Robin and Superman and Spiderman. But they're creatures invented in another era, and all the Disney princes of late have been duds, cast as the villain not the hero of their tale.

Dare I ask, has kid-culture become overly girl-oriented and is it time for boys to get a boost? Or is it jut that my granddaughter is bigger and controls the iPad?

JENN McKINLAY: No, and I say this as the mom of two hooligans who had PLENTY of boy based movies/shows all over the place - Disney, Pixar, and regular TV. The thing is boys don't want to be princes like girls seem to want to be princesses (I'm still not convinced that this isn't shoved down our throats from birth). Boys want to be heroes, adventurers, musicians, and dragon tamers and they get to be -- in Big Hero 6, Toy Story, Coco, and How to Train Your Dragon, not to mention that all boys want to be superheroes and Into the Spider-Verse was all kinds of awesome!

I think the bigger question is why girls don't get the same diversity of movies that boys get? As a very non-princess girl (shocker, I know), I'd have much rather had movies about girls taming dragons or having super powers when I was growing up. And for Pete's Dragon's Sake (Ha!) can a girl's value not be centered around a stupid boy? Thank you, Moana! Talk about a breath of fresh air. Sorry, Hallie, I think you plucked a nerve. LOL!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I think it can seem like it's all-princesses, all the time, but that's because Disney is such a colossus, bestriding the entertainment landscape. Once you get out of their shadow, there's a lot of variety. My now-six-year-old nephew loved Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood and reruns of Thomas the Tank Engine, both with male protagonists. When the Sailor was a preschooler, he loved Caillou and Bob the Builder and, of course, Barney. Preschoolers seem to respond strongly to books and shows with animal protaganists - it kind of takes the girl-boy edge off a bit.

Hallie, another thing to try for your little guy - nonfiction! Little Sailor adored simple real-life videos about trucks, construction equipment and monster trucks. Both he and Tiny Smithie loved shows about sharks and dinosaurs and wild animals. This did NOT work for Youngest, who got so upset at the beginning of MARCH OF THE PENGUINS when - spoiler alert - an egg escapes from its father to freeze on the ice, we had to turn the TV off. I never have seen the rest of the documentary!

RHYS BOWEN: Hallie, I'm so glad there are finally movies with strong heroines. My kids still had to watch Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, both waiting to be rescued by a Prince. And how many movies and TV shows actually had female lead roles in which the females were pro-active? Now we've had Mulan, and Pocahontas and even a kingdom governed by Elsa, and Belle is a great example of how a girl can be compassionate, smart and stick up for herself.

Your little guy gets Toy Story, Cars, Ice Age, all the dinosaur movies, all the dragon movies.

By the way, I hate Frozen. What sort of message does it give? If you are cursed, you run away? Isn't that female as victim again?

LUCY BURDETTE: We had a good window into our grandkids' and nephews' heroes this summer (don't get to see them enough--wah!) Thea is definitely absorbed with Frozen. They live in LA so have been to Disney many times. The princesses are the biggest hit. Last we face-timed, her father was taking her on a date to see Rapunzel. That's not a feminist movie unless they've changed the story...

Our nephew on the other hand, wanted nothing but Thomas the Tank Engine. He knew all the names of the engines and watched and read the stories over and over. Here's an interesting article from the New Yorker, saying the Thomas show has a repressive, authoritarian soul.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I wonder if boys identifying with inanimate things like trains (authoritarian or otherwise) and diggers is a biologically wired thing? Female infants respond more strongly to faces, male infants to objects. 

At any rate, I think boys have plenty to watch and that girls are still catching up. And, like Jenn, I want to see more diverse roles for
girls. More diverse roles for boys, too! Our three-and-a-half year old granddaughter loves Frozen, but not so much for the princesses. When I asked her last night who her favorite character was, she said, "Sven!" Reindeer rule! She also loves Miguel in Coco, and Johnny the Gorilla in Sing (which I adore.)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, my grandsons both loved Thomas the Tank Engine. I was...baffled. I thought Thomas and his pals were creepy and super-authoritarian. It was disturbing, and even scary, and I thought it was like a cult. They both grew out of it,  though, and at some point, it was completely discarded. If I'd mention it, it was like a forgotten language. Good riddance, I say, although it did mean something to them, so maybe it's all about age and timing. 


They're all into Magic cards now, and those "heroes" are essentially genderless creatures I can't even describe. (I mean, Eli is studying law and social justice now, so bye bye Thomas) I have not felt that boys were ignored when it came to heroes--in my early days, Supergirl and BatGirl and was there an Aquagirl? And even Catwoman. Seemed like--no, WERE--secondary and lip service. 

Still,  Hallie, if your grandson feels that way, that's fascinating, And superly wonderful that he can articulate it.  

HALLIE: So how does it look from where you sit? Are boys being Frozened out, or is it a welcome correction, or is it still a boys' world?

Red hot news from the Jungle Reds

JENN: My publisher is having a sweet Mutt and Mistletoe giveaway with THE CHRISTMAS KEEPER included! Enter here: http://bit.ly/2k86Fw6

HALLIE: There's a fantastic interview, me talking to Lori Rader-Day about CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR at the Chicago Review of Books.

HANK: This is the LAST DAY for the e-book SALE of TRUST ME! Just $2.99!  Reds, and readers--please--if you don't have this, now's the time! (No pressure, just my career. :-) Maybe buy it for a friend?) https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780765393081

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DEBS: THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS, Kincaid/James #15, is available on Kindle Unlimited for $0.00!

It's not too late to order signed copies of A BITTER FEAST  from The Poisoned Pen and Barnes and Noble.

My book tour for A BITTER FEAST starts next Monday! Here's the schedule!

51 comments:

  1. I’m way out of the loop on this one! I was a tomboy so my heroes did things rather than led passive lives. Sometimes things didn’t turn out too well. Davy Crockett I’m looking at you. Marlo Thomas’s special Free to be You and Me back in the 70s? was absolutely kick butt. It turned kids’ stories on end.

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    1. Free to Be You and Me! We have the record. AND a record player. And when the kids are here we listen to it all the time. Along with Really Rosie! (I'm really Rosie. And I'm Rosie real. You'd better believe me. I'm a great big deal...)

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  2. Although the princess thing seems quite entrenched in our culture, it’s nice to see stronger girl characters. I’m not sure it has to be an either/or, though . . . I think there’s probably plenty of good models for both boys and girls.

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  3. Interesting. The one boy I'm close to is ten now. He knew all the Frozen songs and belted them out right along with his older sister. Then they turned to Hamilton and he knows all those songs, too. He was enthralled by Greek mythology when he was younger, and I think he's reading Harry Potter now (too old for your little guy, Hallie, but there are some good boy and girl role models in those books and movies).

    My own sons loved Thomas the Tank Engine, Land Before Time, and lots and lots of books about vehicles.

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  4. Based on my limited knowledge, I do think that there is MORE of a push for female led kids movies these days. That's not a bad thing. But in doing so, I wish the companies would remember to make the movies feel natural as opposed to "Look at us, we're doing a movie with a female lead where the male characters are generally awful. Aren't we progressive?" It comes off as a cynical marketing move more than any actual belief that little girls need positive role models.

    There's plenty of stuff for boys of course. And that is a good thing as well. I don't think boys should be made to feel bad because they want to do typical boy things like adventuring, etc.

    Growing up, I didn't have the slightest interest in being a princess. Instead, much like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca I wanted to raid the Death Star and save Princess Leia. And I don't feel bad for wanting to do that.

    I'm glad Princess Leia has grown to be the leader of the Rebel Alliance / The Resistance but that doesn't mean as a boy, I was somehow bad for wanting to be her knight in stolen Stormtrooper body armor when I was 6 YEARS OLD!

    By the way, when I give out comics at the door on Halloween I make sure to have books that I think little girls will like. And with all of the ones coming to the door dressed up as Elsa coming to my door, I don't feel it is wrong that I have a Frozen comic for them. Of course, I also have Wonder Woman and Supergirl stuff for them as well.

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    1. Jay - YES, on the overdone bits. I love the Marvel Universe and all, but the scene in the last movie where all the female characters banded together and had their moment against Thanos was the most ham fisted, cornball writing I’ve ever witnessed. Positively, embarrassing. Ugh.
      And comics for Halloween? Your house would be my favorite! I love this!

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    2. Jenn,

      Regarding that "We Are Women...See Us Pose Before We Beat Up Thanos and His Army" moment, that was cheesy as hell. They even made mention of it in the Honest Trailer for Avengers: Endgame. (If you are unfamiliar with Honest Trailers, look them up on Youtube and prepare to spend a LONG time watching all the ones they have done. You will thank me later. Definitely check out the one for The Little Mermaid, that had me in stitches).

      I have hundreds of comics already waiting to go out the door for Halloween and I've got more coming in the next couple of weeks so I can give those out as well. Candy, comics, special prizes for great costumes and I give out themed toys for specific costumes. The first Star Wars costume gets a Star Wars toy, the first female superhero gets their choice of a Supergirl or Wonder Woman toy (plus a few other options for this year). They LOVE my house!

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  5. Jay, what a great idea, giving out comics on Halloween! Bet you've got them lined up at your door.

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    1. Oh yes. I get 200-300 kids at the door each year and they come from four towns away sometimes. I'm "the comic book house".

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    2. Jay, really a great thing to give out comics! And that kids come from miles around!

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    3. As you all might remember from last year, I also have my Halloween Rules list too. I really despise anyone coming out to get free candy when they could get a job and buy their own.

      But for the little kids, I love doing this. I've got a whole array of stuff to give away this year from comics and toys too.

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  6. My nephews wanted Barbies when they were little, along with their GI Joe, Spiderman, etc. Let me tell you, those were some kick-ass Barbies!! Their dad was horrified, but I let them play. And they loved Little Bear and Thomas the Tank. Hank, scary? With Ringo Starr doing voice-overs? :-)

    I'm with Jay, though, on the idea that some movies are too precious--'look how strong our heroine is!' and the male has to be a bad guy then. Like Maleficent--totally disappointing. And not because I wanted the 'traditional' ending--just didn't find this version any better.

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    1. Yeah, scary. The characters are weird. ::shrugging:: :-)

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  7. This conversation shows how ingrained our gender politics are, right from a very early age. I would dig deeper to see why the boys don't want to watch a show about girls - and yes, I know the answer to this, but I think it's a symptom of a larger issue.

    At some point, we want males to respect and understand women, but we rarely give them the tools to do so early in life. I fear that our boys are getting mixed messages and are then held accountable for being confused later on.

    And if we think there are not enough boy or girl shows, think of all the other "types" of people who have almost no representation. I stand behind my theory that nothing will change until we start making changes very early in life. "You have to be carefully taught..." has never been more true.

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  8. I am beyond thrilled with the Captain Marvel movie. Not only is she my favorite female superhero ("Earth's Mightiest Hero") she is a great role model for little girls. As soon as they saw the movie, one of my young nieces wanted her hair cut like Captain Marvel. The other wears shirts with the Captain Marvel logo all the time.

    Over the last few years as more women have become writers, editors, and artists, comic books have started to change. Costumes are more modest and realistic. Female heroes are strong, complex characters who no longer need to be linked to a make hero. For example, Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) is a fighter pilot who is strong, smart, funny and her origin story was recently revised so that she didn't get her superpowers from her male counterpart.

    I also appreciate Disney princess who are smart and strong like Belle, Merida, and (now that Disney owns Star Wars) Princess Leia!

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    1. I'm glad you like Captain Marvel. I liked but didn't LOVE the movie. However, changing the established history from the comics to a more palatable movie origin doesn't make the actual origins any less true.

      Retcons of established comic book lore is disturbingly similar to the whitewashing everyone complains about these days.

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    2. You make an excellent point about retcons, Jay! I already loved the character before they rewrote her origin but the change didn't bother me. What thrills me most is that little girls, like my great-nieces, have such a strong female role model.

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  9. One of the Disney movies that doesn't get a lot of attention is Brave, with a fabulously talented young Scottish girl who can shoot her arrow accurately from a racing horse. And she saves her mother from an enchantment she herself causes. I like that she doesn't have the seemingly obligatory love interest. My grandson loved it. Possibly because the heroine had the same wild red hair as his mother!

    Most of the Disney stories are flawed in some way, but aren't most movies? It's hard to find one that is perfect.

    The Incredibles does a good job of showing both male and female characters in a heroic (and not so heroic) light. Every family member, even the (male) baby, gets a chance at saving the others.

    When my two younger daughters were in the early middle school years they turned their Barbies (mostly birthday party gifts--that seemed to be the easy choice for moms in the 90s) into extreme sports fanatics. The girls were quite inventive, and I allowed them to be. There was nothing so precious about lumps of plastic that the girls couldn't cut the hair off and color scalps rainbow colors, or heave them out an upstairs window with grocery bag "parachutes" under their armpits.

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    1. SO true about The Incredibles! Never thought about it that way--and now I love that movie even more.

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    2. LOL - My lone Barbie had to keep up with my brother’s GI Joe. She was an ass kicker :) And we launched them off the roof with homemade parachutes, too! So fun!

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    3. Jenn, they had downhill skiing, whitewater rafting (in a friend's whirlpool), and the funniest: I came home to find all these Barbies hanging from their ankles on a frame. I was a bit disturbed until it dawned on me--they were bungee-jumping!

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  10. I'm beyond the "current toddler craze" since my kids are older now. The Girl was very girly/princess-y. And that's what she liked. When taken to a toy store and told she could pick anything, she headed straight for the sparkly pink stuff. But she hated "Frozen" when it came out (she was older, but she hated it).

    The Boy gravitated to Legos, cars, and (now that I think of it) animal or animal-like characters. I've lost track of how many times I watched Bey-Blades, Pokemon, or any of the other similar shows. When he got a little older (and still read) he was in love with Percy Jackson.

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  11. Reading all the above comments makes me glad my kids were pre-iPad. But my youngest grandchildren, almost 11, 9, and 7, all boys, don't seem to be lacking for boy stuff on the screen. All are into team sports, even the littlest, and their teams are all boy. They get taken to major league baseball games all summer and huddle over college and NFL games all winter.

    Contrariwise, I wonder if they are getting a good picture of what it means to be "other" than.

    Hallie, I wouldn't worry about the three year old. With you for a grandmother, I know he'll get to experience to all sorts of great male and female roles in literature, film, and, with any luck, in stories you write for him. How could it be otherwise?

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    1. And by the way, you don't want to know how I feel about Disney. Soulless at best.

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    2. Sounds like a job for Woke Grandma, Ann - the amazing grandma who leaps over stereotypes with a single bound as she gives thoughtful books and diverse DVDs for Christmas/Hanukkah/Birthdays.

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  12. Disney does overdo the princesses and many of their movies are aimed at girls. However, Pixar has mostly male main characters. I remember the big deal that was made when they finally had a female lead in Brave. I found it funny because Disney owned Pixar by that time, so it wasn't like the company in total wasn't putting out a balance of movies.

    Hallie, I think it is the dynamics of your family and not the offerings out there. :)

    Unless I missed it, I didn't see anyone actually mentioned Tangled. There was a movie where the princess was able to do some rescuing of her own (she saves Flynn's life at the end, and there are the frying pan scenes), and the "prince" turned out to be a nice guy at the end when he was redeemed. Plus it was funny, and I really bought into the romance. It twists the classic Rapunzel tale and makes it more modern. I love it, more than Frozen.

    I'm a Disnerd, so I will always have opinions on the company. :)

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    1. Mark, seconded on Tangled, and for adult viewers, it has one of the best depictions of narcissistic parenting ever. I remember seeing it with Ross (and the kids, of course) and him leaning over and saying, "This is Disney's version of a Eugene O'Neil play."

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    2. Mark, count me in as a Tangled fan--

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  13. Rhys, I'm with you about Frozen.
    I'd heard all the hype and then finally saw it.
    This is what everyone has been so excited about? Really?
    It left me flat.

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    1. I confess I loved Frozen. But then I saw it with a four-year-old. We even took her to the Broadway play -- Disney is always great with production values, and LET IT GO is truly a showstopper.

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  14. Hallie, interesting topic today. I grew up reading Nancy Drew, who was excellent at everything! She mastered anything she set out to do! I remember Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman who were strong people. My father read a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels with strong female characters. I took it for granted that women were strong people. However, I remember children's movies had boys who went out on adventures. The only girl I remember going on adventures was Pippi Longstocking ?

    Now we are starting to see more stories like Maisie Dobbs and Where the Crawdads Sing. Now we have Mulan, Moana, Meriden (?), Belle (the modern version), among many stories.

    As a reader, I notice that most of the novels I read are by women.

    Still thinking about this post.

    Diana

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    1. Diana, my dad belonged to the Science Fiction Book of the Month club, which is a big part of why I learned to love that genre. And yes, when I was a young teen in the 70s, there weren't a lot of books that caught my imagination with female protagonists EXCEPT fantasy and SF. We're doing much, much better for our kids.

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    2. In books, let's not forget Dorothy and Ozma of the Oz books. Eloise... of Eloise who lived at the Plaza Hotel. Jo of Little Women. Ann of Green Gables.

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    3. Julia, agreed that we are doing much better for our kids too!

      Hallie, thanks for the reminder. I discovered Anne of Green Gables and the March sisters of Little Women later as a teenager. I was thinking of novels that I read before becoming a teenager.

      Diana

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  15. I've been thinking a lot about how adults shape kids' gender perceptions. Playing with my three and a half year old granddaughter on Friday night with two very bedraggled Barbies (someone's castoffs, maybe, as I don't think her mother bought them) one was the mom and one was the dad. Her Lego people were the "honeys." Of course I didn't tell her that a girl Barbie couldn't be the dad! Kids are so creative and adults are constantly trying to put everything in neat boxes.

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  16. Not a parent but a great aunt - in both definitions of the phrase - and what I’d like for kids nowadays are movies that just show kids, being kids, negotiating the course of a day, month or year in their lives - showing them how to do it - how to direct and focus the energy they have - not wish or want for some superpower they can’t achieve.
    How to be friends or a boy or girlfriend in age appropriate ways.
    How to be involved in socially productive ways: climate, recycling in the community, earth day cleanup of their towns or planting trees.
    Volunteering or raising funds to help someone sick in their community.
    Anything that sends the message ‘average is ok’ and enough -
    No need for famous - royal - superpowers -
    Being a simple kind, compassionate Socially engaged caring person is enough.
    And if Disney would only make their preteen TV less silly and more real. Utter nonsense.
    Kids today more than ever need guidance if only in being kids. Let them grow into adulthood and unrealistic pressures. No need to fast track that anxiety.

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    1. Oddly the one show I knof of that does this is Stranger THings... Go figure.

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  17. I'm going to lay the blame for girls wanting to be princesses squarely on the shoulders of fathers (hahaha). From day one, a girl is called a princess by her dad, so wanting to remain the apple of her father's eye, she, of course, wants to remain a princess. OK, so I don't really blame fathers, but it is something to think about. Growing up though, I'm not sure I wanted to be a princess as much as Annie Oakley. I have a photo of me in that outfit I received for my birthday (must have been around age five or so), and I still have the outfit.

    My granddaughter, who recently turned ten, is caught up in the Harry Potter characters, with Hermione being her favorite and the character is has been for the past couple of Halloweens. Halloween costume choice can be a tell for whom kids admire and want to emulate. Isabella went through a princess stage and a fairy stage. At one time, she declared that she had wings under her skin that would eventually come forth. Mark mentioned Brave and Tangled, and both of those movies were favorites of Isabella. I'm happy that she favors the strong, independent girls.

    My daughter and my son did watch a lot of Disney when they grew up in the 80s and 90s, and there was lots of old school Disney. One of my daughter's favorites was Robin Hood, with the foxes playing Robin and Lady Marian. Oh, and she loved The Little Mermaid, too. There was some clever dialogue in it that I liked. My son leaned more towards ones with magic and fantasy, such as The Black Cauldron and Aladdin.

    I do have to mention my main complaint about children's books and movies these days, or maybe it's been going on all along. Why does at least one parent have to be dead? It seems that every other book I picked up in Barnes and Noble the other day for children had as a family dynamic that one of the parents was dead. Really? Can't we have the parent just be gone on a long trip?

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    1. That orphan thing goes WAY back to the earliest children's stories. Grimms Brothers. Cinderella. Snow White. And continues to Roald Dahle (Mathilda) L. Frank Baum (Dorothy)... I'm sure there's something in that classic about fairy tales, Bettleheim's USES OF ENCHANTMENT, that explains.

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  18. When my niece was little, she wanted a Red Sox hat even though she lived in Georgia. But she wanted a PINK one. And as any Red Sox fan knows, the pink Red Sox hat is an abomination brought on by so-called fans who only call themselves that after the Sox broke the curse. So at least in this one specific instance, I refused to kowtow to the gender thing and bought her a REAL Red Sox hat instead.

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  19. I think (speaking as an artist) that women are simply more fun to draw. It’s both a blessing and a curse, in that it promotes a wildly unrealistic idea of beauty, yet can produce lovely images. In addition, many fairy tails feature a damsel in distress, or a female protagonist. It’s an interesting question. Frankly, I stopped watching most Disney films after about 1997, simply because I (mostly) hated the deterioration of the animation. I despise the rapey themes behind some anime, and the art is insipid.

    However, this brings up the question of why most action movies feature females in tight, revealing clothing; why there’s ALWAYS an episode of your favorite show where the female lead gets sexed up; why you see breasts but not male parts.

    I’m not a hardcore feminist, but even I get frustrated. I may have diverted from your initial question, but I suppose it ties in. People want to look at pretty things. Women are said pretty things to both men, women, boys, and girls.

    Look at Disney’s “Hunchback.” There are parts of that movie that may as well be pornographic, lol. The plot features Esmeralda as basically a side-note, but Disney needed princess-style eye candy - which the hunchback is not.

    Is this something I am going to protest about? Nah. I just won’t see movies I’m not interested in. I’ll keep drawing my own work instead.

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    1. Interesting perspective, MVSK! Food for thought.

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  20. MVSK, I know what you mean about females fighting crime or super villains in tight clothes and high heels, not to mention since New York is location of most of the superheroes, it must get cold in those clothes! However, there are plenty of TV shows and movies where the guys take their shirts off for no real reason, like soap operas and Dancing with the Stars.

    I like the Disney movies for the most part. The old ones were based on fairy tales that weren't politically correct. At least they're trying to find new stories to tell.

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    1. And I can watch them over and over again.... I'm embarrassed to admit.

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  21. A Netflix series that I thought was just great (but probably a bit much for a toddler) was A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the Lemony Snickett books. The brother and sister team are great--she's the inventor. And of course, they're carrying baby Sunny around. The set and costume design are also really creative. I just loved it! And they are orphans. Maybe.
    -Melanie

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