It was in the news this week that Keira Knightly has decided to ban her three year old daughter from watching some Disney movies because of the message they send to young girls. Naturally, as we see with most parenting-related news items along these lines it causes a little debate, with some feeling it’s all going a bit far now, and others feeling she’s completely right and it’s not going too far at all.
Which side of the fence do I place myself? If ‘Too PC’ is the right side, and ‘G’wan Keira’ is the left side, I’d say I’m firmly placed a bit to the left of the middle of the fence..!
I think, if I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t place an all-out ban on the movies, BUT, I probably wouldn’t actively encourage them either. Full disclosure – Rian, who is about to turn four, has seen the Little Mermaid numerous times (which is one of the movies Keira mentions) – it was a much-loved movie in our house with my sisters and I as kids, and ironically I wanted to show it to him because it’s deemed as a ‘princess’ movie and therefore, by society’s standards, only for girls. On this vein, Frozen is another hit with him and more recently with Alex too – he loves Sven the moose and will happily go around the house singing ‘for the first time in foreeeeverrrr!’
And I love that. But you won’t find any Frozen toys or t-shirts in the boys’ section of the shops.
However, with that in mind, overall I understand and probably agree with Keira’s reasoning for placing the ban for her daughter, and it has now made me rethink whether showing these movies to my boys might be such a good idea. I really don’t think it’s too PC – so much of the issues towards how we view and treat women and girls are so subconsciously ingrained within us as a bias whether we even realise it or not – that’s all of us, men and women. And we all know that this really needs to change. So when I think about it, movies with these messages about women needing to be saved by men surely have to play their part.
I watched a really interesting documentary on the BBC last year where they showed how studies prove that toys we give young babies and kids will help determine their overall skillset. For example, because logic-based toys are usually more targeted towards boys, like Lego / construction type of things, this will help them to develop skills in these areas. Girls are seen as more empathetic and in tune with their emotions and toys aimed towards them, like dolls, encourage nurturing behaviours. Nowadays people are more conscious of it so it’s thankfully improving and things are becoming less gender biased, or at least it’s much more accepted that boys can play with dolls and girls can play with tractors, as examples. But look at any toy shop and you’ll often see a clear divide of pink and blue.
Traditionally, girls are given pink ‘beautiful’ sparkles and boys are given blue ‘brave’ adventures and so this is what they are taught as correct gender behaviour, and importantly, attitude. The documentary showed the audience how these ideas are embedded into us, so as we grow up they subconsciously affect how we see the world, giving us bias for and against our peers, across both genders.
When my boys were born I made a conscious decision to try my best not to gender-stereotype them with their clothes and toys. I would not restrict them from wearing something pink, and I wouldn’t only dress them in blue. I think if I had had a daughter I’d have gone a step further and almost avoided dressing her in pink – in my opinion the girls’ clothes are generally awful when you look closely at them. Although I have to admit, I detested being put into dresses as a kid, and I hated playing with dolls too. I’m sure this is having an influence on my dislike now for girls pink sparkly clothing, but I still strongly dislike the message they send.
Go into any kid’s clothes shop and look around – once you notice it once you’ll always see it. The girls will be pink of course – maybe some pastel colours too. If there are slogans or images they will usually centre around ‘beautiful’ or ‘pretty’ or somehow reference looks. There’ll be an abundance of sparkles and glitter and unicorns.
Over on the boy’s side you’ll see almost all blue / grey and black clothes. Their slogans will be all about bravery, adventure, and mischievousness. ‘Catch Me if You Can’, or ‘Here Comes Trouble’. There’ll be superheroes galore.
What do you think this really teaches us, and more importantly, teaches our kids? If you really think about it. At first it might seem so casual, even a bit ridiculous, worrying about a simple t-shirt slogan. But add all of the pieces together and this is the message we are sending to kids, and it stays with them as they grow up. Not just boys or girls, but everyone.
If, as kids grow older and they can start choosing their own toys, and what they wear, and they WANT to be in pink sparkles or blue adventurous things, then that’s fine. I’m certainly not saying I would enforce anything or block anything at that point, there is no right or wrong if it’s their own choice – because the main thing is – it’s all about doing and being whatever it is you want to do or be. Not what society dictates we should be purely based on our gender.
I want so much for my boys to be feminists – but more than that. I want them to not even NOTICE a need for equality for everyone. I want them to JUST BE EQUAL. Not congratulate themselves if they, for example, are happy to play soccer with girls, thinking they are doing the girls a favour. Or feel they are being ‘in touch with their feminist side’ if they want to wear something pink, but I want them to just DO it and not even notice that it’s a thing.
So back to The Little Mermaid… I’m a bit stuck now between wanting to show my boys that they can happily watch and enjoy ‘girly princess’ movies whenever they want as is their right, but, what if showing them the decidedly un-feminist nature of women needing to be rescued by men and men alone teaches them the wrong message in the first place?
That is the question.