“Have courage, and be kind.” This sentiment recurs throughout Disney’s new live-action Cinderella. From the moment Ella’s dying mother offers her this advice, it becomes the driving force in Ella’s life and the through-line in her characterization by actress Lily James.
Imbuing Cinderella with courage and kindness has a purpose: Director Kenneth Branagh uses it to give 2015’s Cinderella more agency than her cartoon predecessor from 1950. After all, in the broader media culture, bold, empowered young women are on trend (think Frozen’s Anna and Elsa, Brave’s Merida, and Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen). Passive victims like Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty are passé, out of step with modern values.
In Branagh’s retelling of Disney’s animated classic, then, Ella makes a courageous choice to stay in her father’s home with her stepfamily. She chooses to respond to their cruelty with unearned kindness, even when they eject her from her room, stop feeding her properly, force her to tend an estate once managed by many servants, and taunt her, calling her Cinderella instead of Ella. Because it is her choice, the film positions Cinderella is not merely a passive victim, but a young woman with agency.
Young women’s agency is a hot topic. Parents, critics, and members of the pro-girl-empowerment community want girls to grow up to feel they are in charge of their own lives. As presented in Cinderella, however, Ella’s choice to submit graciously to abuse is a problematic message that weakens the film. If Ella’s courage and kindness allow others to abuse and deprive her, what good is it?
Here’s the underlying problem: All choices happen in a context. In the cultural context of Ella’s (vague and undefined) historical era and geographic locale, what range of choices would a young woman in her position really have? Could she have chosen to leave her family home if she had wished to? Did she have any extended family to go to? With her skills and mannered upbringing, could she have pursued employment as a lady’s maid, or would that not have been appropriate for a young woman of her station?
None of these questions are addressed in the film, which is unfortunate. It would have been easy enough to address them in the market scene, where a former servant of her father’s household asks Ella why she stays with her stepfamily. Her answer makes little sense: She states that she promised her parents to always cherish the family home, and so she stays. It’s a strange answer, for surely her devoted parents would never have wanted her to value a mere building more than her own health and well-being. From a storytelling perspective, it’s truly an opportunity lost: A quick conversation on the constraints Ella faced as a young woman alone in the world would have strengthened the film, giving it more power. As Joanna Weiss points out in the Boston Globe, “An easy answer, had Disney chosen to give it, is history. Unmarried women weren’t always free to move out on their own. Say that out loud and spark millions of deep conversations in minivans on the ride home.”
The long and short of it is this: While Branagh presented Disney’s newest Cinderella as less of a victim because she made a courageous choice, her choice was merely one of which way she should endure her abuse. What were her options, really: to endure her situation with grace, or anger, or despondency? Agency of this kind is incredibly limited, and Branagh’s inattention to the cultural context of Cinderella’s world is a weakness of the film. Accepting one’s victimization does not make one any less of a victim, even if you do so with such grace and dignity that you are a bride fit for a prince. Ultimately, Cinderella still requires the interference of a prince to change her fate from that of a victim.
In interviews, however, Branagh and his cast have asserted that Cinderella’s relationship with the Prince was irrelevant. As Richard Madden, the actor who played the Prince in the new film, stated in an interview: “This young woman in distress doesn’t need a man to save her. That’s totally irrelevant—she’d be fine without the prince, she’d get on with it.”
This sentiment sounds wonderful, but the film offers no indication that Cinderella would have “gotten on” with any other life kind of life. As long as her stepfamily was around, she seemed destined to remain a quietly courageous victim engaged in no better than slave labor. How would the continuation of that status quo have been “fine”?
Viewers may be also frustrated by the abruptness of the Fairy Godmother’s bumbling but good-natured and entertaining intervention. (Aside: Why did this film and Maleficent reimagine fairies who were portrayed as competent, powerful, gray-haired older women in the original animated films as younger and ditzy?) She only shows up when Cinderella wishes to attend the ball, but Cinderella needed so much more, so much earlier. Is this further evidence that in her socio-historic context, Cinderella’s choices would have been so limited that her only real “choice” was to stay with her abusive stepfamily or find a man? It seems all the magic in the world could not afford her a way to save herself. The best it could do was to help Cinderella deliver herself into the arms of the most eligible, handsomest, near-stranger bachelor around.
On the other hand, though, viewers may be pleased with subtle but important changes to the Prince’s storyline. Some good points:
1. The Prince seems to be drawn to Cinderella’s personality, her passion for courage and kindness, more than her beauty. It’s not a love-at-first-sight tale, but rather, one of love at first meeting, first conversation. Their first encounter is in the forest, when neither knows anything about the other. Cinderella loves animals (she is a Disney Princess, after all), so she chastises her new acquaintance for hunting a stag. The Prince, in turn, is taken by Cinderella’s words and spirit. The idea that he is drawn foremost to her personality is a step in the right direction for Disney, which tends to over-emphasize the perceived value of its heroines’ appearances.
2. The Prince has a close relationship with his dying father, who calls him Kit (which is very sweet), and who on his deathbed gives him his blessing to marry for love rather than political advantage. Father-son relationships are rarely depicted in Disney films, and this backstory is refreshing.
3. The Prince knows that the “mystery princess” from the ball was the girl he had become smitten with in the forrest. He recognizes her, and that—not her physical appearance—is why he seeks her out to dance.
4. After Cinderella leaves the ball without revealing her identity to the Prince, he sends an announcement to every village, declaring that he invites the “mystery princess” to join him at the castle so that he may propose to her, if she is willing. But she does not join him at the castle. He wonders whether she was somehow prevented from accepting his invitation, so in an effort to ensure she has a choice in the matter, he launches a search for the woman who fits her glass slipper. In an interesting twist, the Prince does not actually need the glass slipper to identify Cinderella, as he has seen her in both commoner and princessly form. Rather, the slipper serves as an excuse for his staff to approach every maiden in every corner of the kingdom to ferret out the young woman he is seeking, wherever she may be, and give her the option to accept or decline his offer of marriage, without the interference he worries may be at play.
Like other parts of Branagh’s Cinderella, then, the Prince’s search positions Cinderella as having a choice, as having agency in the matter. Unlike the stag the Prince was hunting earlier in the movie—which I read as a parallel to the beautiful maiden the Prince was essentially hunting in Disney’s 1950 Cinderella—today’s Cinderella is not a prize to be won. She is treated by the Prince as a person in her own right, and he appears to take her wishes are into consideration, aware of the possibility she might decline to be with him.
Realistically, of course, if we consider the significant matter of context, it’s hard to imagine her choosing the alternative. Why would she continue to be abused, with no exit strategy possible, when she can leave her abusers and become a princess?
Nevertheless, the idea that the Prince recognizes Cinderella’s agency and hopes she will choose him, rather than assuming that she is there for the taking, is perhaps the most important revision to the film. The theme of courage and kindness fall flat, but the fact that the Prince does not feel entitled to have her unless she consents is a meaningful improvement to the story.
After all, girls are not prizes to be won by male suitors. They’re people.
For further reading:
Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters.
Empowering the Next Generation: Women’s Day
A guest blog post by Katie Grant
In today’s world, most girls go through a princess phase: princess outfits, tiaras, shoes, curly hair, makeup, nails, the whole nine yards. I went through that phase, even though my mom had a problem with princess stuff. She knew I played with LEGO, Batman, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but she did not like that I was also so obsessed with being a princess and playing damsel in distress. This, as my mom likes to say, “didn’t fly.” In response, my mom instituted “Women’s Day” when I was about seven years old—a once-a-month excursion to the public library to research the lives of significant women in history. She created it as an antidote to princess culture, and it worked.
In hindsight, it isn’t surprising to me that my mom came up with the idea of Women’s Day as a solution to my “princess problem.” My mom is an innovative parent, and she has cooked up some clever ideas help me overcome my Autism. She’s had me reorganize all of my shoes to learn left and right and hang up all of my clothes after she took them off the hangers to learn dexterity, and she purposely wrapped me in my least favorite textures to help me learn coping skills.
Women’s Day solved another problem beyond my princess obsession: It bridged the gaps in my education. My dad was active duty in the military for the first eleven years of my life. As a result, my brother and I sometimes had wide gaps in our education. Every state had a different curriculum, so we might have been ahead in one state and behind in another. We often spent summers visiting museums, zoos, playing outside, and in the library catching up on our education.
Women’s Day is a simple concept. One Friday out of every month, my mom, my brother and I would go to the library. Mom would give us each a name of a woman, and we would research her. The main questions she always asked us were, “Who was she? What did she do? What is she remembered for? Do you find anything interesting about her? Would you want to do what she does/did? Does she have any notable quotes?” Sometimes, we had a side project like, “Draw the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat,” or “Write Marie Curie’s final journal entry.”
When we were younger, we would simply tell her what we had learned about our assigned women. As we grew, we wrote reports. The report had to be at least three handwritten loose-leaf pages, front page and back, using our best handwriting and with perfect grammar, as Mom’s background was in linguistics.
One time, she said, “Katie, research Eleanor Roosevelt. Alex, Princess Diana.” Off I went to the non-fiction section to research Eleanor Roosevelt. Somewhere during my research, I became sidetracked and took a peek at my brother’s topic and was enthralled. I completely forgot about dear Eleanor. The report I turned in was on Princess Diana, not Eleanor Roosevelt. My mom was about to say something when Alex came back; his report was on Roosevelt. He had misheard whom he had and thought he had Eleanor Roosevelt the whole time! At least we had done two different people, and she had a good laugh about it.
Over the years, I’ve researched quite a few women for Women’s Day. I’ve researched household names like Marie Curie, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Russian Empress Catherine II, Anne Boleyn, Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, Audrey Hepburn, Belle Boyd, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. I’ve also done reports on less famous women like Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in the United States, and mountaineer Annie Smith Peck. Mary Jane Bowser, a highly educated former slave gifted with eidetic memory who was planted in the Confederate White House by the Unions as a spy, is one of my favorites.
When I went on to college, Women’s Day informed some of my school assignments. For example, one of my papers was on Camille Claudel, a less famous sculptor institutionalized against her will by her brother after an affair with Auguste Rodin went south. I took what I learned from Women’s Day as a child and chose a sculptor who was overshadowed by her mentor, even though she had a voice of her own. I have kept this paper as a memento because I could relate to Claudel on a personal level.
In other words, parents don’t have to ban princesses, Barbies and toys that put women on a pedestal to raise children who view women as strong individuals. It’s about finding a balance. Barbies are fun, but so is learning about real women who have impacted society. Parents don’t even have to look that far back in history to teach children about strong women today. A few of my favorites that parents and children can explore include:
There are so many women to choose, especially with modern day technology. No school will ever teach children about all of these women, but you, as a parent, can.
Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be kind in your comments. It takes bravery to publish a personal story. Unnecessarily harsh comments attacking the author of this reader story will be removed or edited.
About the author: Katie Grant is a 26-year-old Army daughter. She was born in a tiny town called Bamburg in West Germany; she moved to the States when she was nearly three. She’s lived in four other states aside from the one she lives in currently. She was diagnosed with Autism at a very early age; her mother has been a backbone in aiding her education so she kept up with other kids. She is three classes away from an Associates Degree in Art from the College of Lake County. Her passions include crochet, jigsaw puzzles, fairy tales, mythology, and comic books, especially Batman. Often seen with her Decker Terrier, Zena, she has a love for all canines and is currently expanding her love to horses; she’s currently doing therapeutic horseback riding at a stable near her home.
Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters.
It’s a familiar story: A mom, shopping for clothing for her two-year-old daughter, sees nothing but gender-stereotypical offerings. To give her little girl some diverse choices, she ignores the girls’ and boys’ signs, and buys a few items from each department.
I remember my mom doing this for me in the 1980s, in order to get me a shirt with my beloved Mickey Mouse on it (which for some reason was only available in the boys’ section).
I remember moms doing this for the little girls I interviewed for my Growing Up With Girl Power book around 2005, in order to get their daughters science-themed shirts.
And I have been doing this for my own sons since 2008, seeking out non-stereotypical options in both department—with favorite finds including a cute bomber jacket and an epic black-and-white print Madonna “Who’s That Girl 1987 World Tour” t-shirt, which my son rocked at age three. Both were in the girls’ department, rather than the boys’, even though they struck me as delightful gender-neutral items.
But Rebecca Melsky, like a few other brave and entrepreneurial parents before her, went one step further: After a fatefully frustrating shopping trip for her two-year-old in 2013, Melsky and her friend Eva St. Clair decided to do something. In the same spirit as their entrepreneurial predecessors who created t-shirts, books, and dolls, Melsky and St. Clair took on a different challenge: girls’ dresses.
The dresses they designed break the pink frilly dress mold with aplomb, featuring equal parts style and cleverness.
In this way, Princess Awesome—a small, indie, mom-owned business—was born. Two years passed, and Melsky and St. Clair could not keep up with demand: People wanted more of their well-designed, colorful dresses than they could sew. So, on February 3, 2015, Princess Awesome launched a month-long Kickstarter campaign to move their brand into factory production, with a goal of raising $35,000.
Kickstarter tells its campaigners that when they receive one-third of their funding in three days, that’s a good predictor of success.
Consider the significance, then, of the fact that Princess Awesome was fully funded in three days—and that now, 10 days later, they’re rapidly approaching the $100,000 mark.
In the meantime, their incredible designs have gone viral. They’ve been featured everywhere from the Huffington Post to BuzzFeed News, and when I shared their campaign with my own Facebook community on the day their Kickstarter launched, my readers reacted with palpable excitement.
“OMG, my girls would have LOVED this!” one mom said. “We did ballet dancers and fairies, but that was about as far as anyone could stand—and only in bed sheets.”
“Yes!” exclaimed another. “I know my LO would love a dinosaur dress.”
“I like cute pink dresses for little girls but I also like options,” noted another. “Can’t wait to buy these one day when I have a daughter too.”
Even Brenda Chapman, director of Disney/Pixar’s Brave, weighed in: “A kickstarter I think all princesses could get behind! Thanks for sharing, Rebecca Hains!”
Melsky and St. Clair are delighted and perhaps a bit surprised to see that they’ve stuck a chord with so many people. “When we were just starting out and told people our concept for Princess Awesome, almost every single person said, ‘That’s a fantastic idea!’,” Melsky reflects. “We figured that when we launched the Kickstarter we’d find out if people were just humoring us or if we’d really hit a nerve. I’m pretty sure at this point we can say that people weren’t just humoring us.
“Our Kickstarter message inbox is filled with people telling us about their daughters who love all sorts of things—tutus, trucks, Ninja Turtles, math, dinosaurs,” she adds. “They keep saying how happy they are to have some dress choices that honor that range of interests.”
The public’s enthusiastic response to the Princess Awesome dresses raises an interesting question: Why are people so excited about this option—and why now?
From my perspective, the groundswell of support for Princess Awesome tells us something important about our current cultural context. Today’s girls face a strikingly monochromatic girlhood. As I explain in my book The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, the dominance of pink frilly dresses and other stereotypically pink products exploits a developmental stage called “appearance rigidity.” During this stage, about two-thirds of little girls—unsure what makes boys boys or girls girls, and unsure of the permanence of their sex, and therefore a little nervous about whether using “boys'” items could turn them into boys—attach themselves to the most stereotypically girlish items they can find. In so doing, they are announcing to the world that they are girls and proud of it, as they celebrate and cement their identities as girls.
Marketers know this, and so girls’ products in all categories, from apparel to toys to home goods, have become dominated by the color pink. After all, the color pink is like low-hanging fruit: It’s an easy and lazy way for marketers to declare, “Hey, girls, this is for you!”
Unfortunately, monochromatic girlhood drives a wedge between boys and girls—separating their spheres during a time when cross-sex play is healthy and desirable, and when their imaginations should run free.
Meanwhile, marketers (and some critics of the girl empowerment movement) blame parents for the very situation the marketers themselves have created. If parents would vote with their dollars and stop buying stereotypical items and boycott the pinkification of previously gender-neutral items (like wagons and infants’ stacking rings and globes), they say, the marketplace would respond. Then, and only then, girls will have real choices once again.
Many indie clothing brands and their supporters have heeded these words, fighting back against monochromatic girlhood and the stereotypical division of the sexes by creating clever unisex items, like t-shirts in colors and designs that are meant for boys and girls alike.
But thanks to the developmental phase I mentioned earlier, many little girls favor dresses over t-shirts (and many parents do, too). After all, a dress announces to the world that its wearer is a girl, which means that by wearing a dress, girls can celebrate girlhood. Plus, dresses are undeniably pretty, and fun to twirl in—and play dress like those offered by Princess Awesome are easy to move and run in, and look nice with leggings, too. For some families, then, gender-neutral tee-shirts don’t always fit the bill, and they’re not always that easy to find, either. Parents need to have a bit of cultural capital to locate indie brands in the first place.
Princess Awesome is arguably the first serious alternative to stereotypically girly-girl dresses to enter the marketplace in recent years. Given parents’ increasing frustration with princess culture and girls’ constricted, stereotypical, pink-upon-pink “options,” Princess Awesome’s timing is perfect. Perhaps it’s even the harbinger of a new zeitgeist.
Lori Day, a psychologist and educational consultant who authored Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More, agrees. “I think one of the reasons Princess Awesome is hitting it right now is that in today’s girl culture, we have a spectrum with much-needed brands like Princess Free Zone on one end—featuring clothes for girls who want nothing to do with dresses or girly. On the other end is the super girly-girl style—all pink and Disney gowns,” she explains.
“But,” Day adds, “the middle is a popular place to be right now. Think of how many moms say, ‘My daughter is girly and likes to wear dresses and collect bugs,’ or ‘My girl plays in the mud in her Belle gown.’ Princess Awesome taps right into the ‘my daughter likes princess and…‘ concept: girly dresses with neutral or traditionally ‘male’ themes in the fabric.”
In short, the Princess Awesome Kickstarter campaign has gone viral because there is indeed an unmet need for clever, non-stereotypical, vibrantly colored little girls’ dresses in the marketplace. They juxtapose stereotypically boyish themes with traditionally girlish stylings—which some readers may recall as the formula that led girl power to success in the late 1990s.
Princess Awesome’s traction may be read as a cultural referendum on the relentlessly monochromatic girly girl culture we’ve lived with for more than a decade—a signal that we’re approaching a cultural tipping point on the subject. And that’s a good thing.
Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters.
Boston-area #BlackLivesMatter protesters made national headlines today by chaining themselves to roadway railings and 1,200-lb construction barrels, bringing traffic into Boston on I-93 N and S to a halt during the morning commute.
According to a press release posted to the Black Lives Matter Boston facebook page, the diverse group of protesters sought to bring attention to the fact that systematic racism isn’t just an issue in other places, like Ferguson, MO. Similar problems happen right here, at home, and have been happening for decades.
“Today, our nonviolent direct action is meant to expose the reality that Boston is a city where white commuters and students use the city and leave, while Black and Brown communities are targeted by police, exploited, and displaced,” said Korean-American activist Katie Seitz.
In the past 15 years, law enforcement officers in Boston have killed Remis M. Andrews, Darryl Dookhran, Denis Reynoso, Ross Baptista, Burrell “Bo” Ramsey-White, Mark Joseph McMullen, Manuel “Junior” DaVeiga, Marquis Barker, Stanley Seney, Luis Gonzalez, Bert W. Bowen, Eveline Barros-Cepeda, Daniel Furtado, LaVeta Jackson, Nelson Santiago, Willie L. Murray Jr., Rene Romain, Jose Pineda, Ricky Bodden, Carlos M. Garcia, and many more people of color. We mourn and honor all these lives.
“We must remember, Ferguson is not a faraway Southern city. Black men, women, and gender-nonconforming people face disproportionately higher risk of profiling, unjust incarceration, and death. Police violence is everywhere in the United States,” said another protester Nguyen Thi Minh Thu.
I am a local resident myself, and I’ve encountered conversations about the protests everywhere today. There’s a lot to discuss about the protest and whether this act of civil disobedience was justified. Did the ends justify the means? Many people seem to argue that they did not, while others liken it to the Boston Tea Party: something causing short-term outrage but long-term good. The debate on this point is fascinating.
But today, I would like to explore a pattern that transcends whether the protest was right or wrong: the vociferous response from those who allege the protesters are endangering lives by making it more difficult for ambulances to get into the city.
The expression of such concerns started early. They were presented in a way that disparaged the protesters—calling them “foolish,” “disgusting,” “morons,” and raising the specter of hypothetical sick children and elderly people to make their case:
From my vantage point, analyzing the discourse, there are some signs that at least some of these comments aren’t really about the ambulances. Rather than critiquing the protester’s choice and asking if they considered emergency vehicles during their planning stages, they’re using the idea of emergency access to disparage and insult the protesters.
In other words, this isn’t thoughtful critique. Some are using what sounds like a legitimate concern (and in some cases may genuinely be one) as fodder against a movement they already disagree with and wish to discredit using any means possible.
Some who noticed these posts early on observed that comments in this vein seemed hypocritical:
Then, unsurprisingly and distressingly, an ambulance did indeed try to take I-93 into the city. It was unable to pass the protesters, who had chained themselves to secure objects and apparently could not move out of the way as a result:
Blocking the path of emergency vehicles is no laughing matter, and I certainly respect these concerns. The fact is that such actions are illegal, after all.
At the same time, as a Boston-area resident who commuted into and out of the city’s Longwood Medical Area for years, I think a subset of such responses are disingenuous.
Some people are using ambulances as a socially acceptable excuse to slam protesters with whom they disagree. It’s not really about the ambulances or the medical emergencies: It’s about a protest and a movement that some folks would never agree with, no matter what they do. This kind of hypocrisy is problematic.
Consider that Boston is notorious for its traffic coming to a complete standstill on major thoroughfares. Our roads are too small for the volume of traffic that enters and exits the city daily. Driving in the breakdown lanes is legal on some Boston-area highways during commute hours as a way to alleviate the back-ups, which the locals are now used to but which positively terrifies out-of-towners. Traffic is so bad here that we were subjected to the Big Dig, a massive, unbelievably expensive, and hugely inconvenient construction megaproject that placed a stretch of the I-93 corridor beneath the city. It was the most expensive highway project in the USA, went terribly over budget, and lasted for 16 awful years…. and it hardly made a dent in the traffic situation.
In addition to the problems we have during rush hour, anytime there is a Red Sox game, traffic from I-93 onto Storrow Drive and onto Commonwealth Avenue, Beacon Street, Brookline Avenue, and other major roads comes to a standstill. These are the roads used to access the Longwood Medical Area, which is in easy walking distance of Fenway Park. (The gridlock is not confined to Yawkey Way, as some who haven’t worked in Longwood might believe.)
Major hospitals in the Longwood Medical Area include:
It is home to Harvard Medical School, as well.
During baseball season, ambulances are routinely prevented from reaching major Boston hospitals in an efficient manner. I wonder whether the people who are attempting to discredit the #BlackLivesMatter protest also speak out against the Red Sox and their fans for blocking traffic? After all, although the intent of the Red Sox fans and these protesters differ, the outcome is the same: Predictable though Red Sox traffic may be, emergencies are by nature unpredictable, and emergency vehicles do become stuck on their way to the Longwood Medical Area on game days.
One local mom, Nicole Aliberti, can personally attest to this. “I find it disingenuous that people keep complaining about ambulances not being able to get to Boston hospitals due to the protests,” Aliberti told me. “I once experienced being in the back of an ambulance that was transporting my critically ill baby in stopped traffic due to a Red Sox game. No one would move out of the way, and we had to find another route to the hospital.”
She asks: “Why is there outrage about the Black Lives Matter protest, when there is no outrage about this disruption of hospital traffic that happens many times a year?”
A Boston medic who asked to remain anonymous confirmed this perspective: the Black Lives Matter protest is just one of many such impediments ambulances face on a regular basis.
“Every response I drive, there are multiple people who impede my progress,” the medic said. “People not paying attention on their phones, those who try to out run me, the commuter rail train crossing the tracks, sporting events, concerts: This is not isolated to protests.”
Before playing the ambulance card, perhaps critics of #BlackLivesMatter could think about the day-to-day realities of emergency vehicle traffic in Boston. Yes, the intentions may differ, but the outcome is the same: urgent medical care is delayed, threateningly the lives of the critically ill. Critics condemning the protest and movement with vulgarities because if the ambulance that was diverted might reflect upon whether they care about comparable experiences, such as that of the Aliberti family, shared above.
In short, the Black Lives Matter protests are critically important and a locus of ongoing debates and discussion. If you disagree with the protest, come out and say so. Don’t hide behind a stance that vilifies the protesters for blocking emergency vehicles in a disingenuous way.
To be clear: I am not saying that the Boston protest was the world’s best idea. It is far from perfect (though from a PR perspective, it succeeded in reinvigorating a national conversation and bringing attention—some negative, some positive—to the cause).
To put it simply, I am troubled by those who cite concerns about ambulances hypocritically. I don’t mean that every person raising such concerns is a hypocrite; far from it. But look closely, read between the lines, and you’ll see that in many cases, it’s a cover for racism and hatred for the entire #BlackLivesMatter campaign.
It’s the strangest thing I’ve seen in some time: In a new, unlicensed Frozen app, players deliver Anna and Kristoff’s baby via a magical C-section, with tools including magic ice and a glowing orb.
According to Buzzfeed, the app called “Anna Giving Birth” by developer Oleg Vinogorodov begins with a montage depicting Anna and Kristoff’s courtship, wedding, and pregnancy.
Then, a very pregnant Anna appears before you on an operating table. You inject her with a needle to put her to sleep… because apparently epidurals go in the arm:
Once Anna is asleep, the player is prompted to freeze her belly to numb it. (Maybe as the player, you are acting as Elsa, or she is assisting?)
Then you slice Anna’s abdomen open with a scalpel to reveal her pretty, pink, princessly insides:
…and manipulate a magical glowing orb (not your hands! eww) to remove a really cute baby from her womb.
After cutting the umbilical cord, disembodied hands appear to carry the alert baby away.
Then you use a magic wand to restore her tummy, making it perfectly flat and scar-free—a top priority for every Disney Princess:
The player then joins the baby in another room to weigh and swaddle it, while a modesty patch keeps anyone from noting the sex of the baby.
That’s the game! It’s so bizarre, it’s really kind of funny.
But what does it mean?
Without reading too much into a one-off, unlicensed app, which obviously is not endorsed by Disney, here are a few takeaways and questions to consider:
1. It’s interesting that a game called “Anna Giving Birth” elects not to show her in active labor. Anna does not deliver a child vaginally with, say, assistance from a doctor, midwife, or doula—even though that would have been characteristic of a successful birth in her era. This may betray a broader perspective that views childbirth as a medicalized problem, rather than a natural event: In fact, the U.S. C-section rate has been dramatically increasing without medical need, causing the the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology to urge patients and doctors to avoid unnecessary cesarians.
2. Despite this sound advice, would a self-respecting princess ever push a baby out of her hoo-ha? Maybe in the world of this app Anna had a medical reason to have a C-section—or maybe the physical labor of vaginal childbirth is just an unprincessly form of labor. After all, celebrities are sort of like modern-day princesses, and they have frequently shared their choices to have elective C-sections. In many cases, they cite fear of the changes vaginal childbirth might bring to their bodies and the pain they want to avoid, as well as convenience.
3. Though rather silly, this game confirms that princesses are perfect inside and out (they have pretty pink guts! who knew??), and that after their babies are magically delivered, their pre-baby-bodies return instantly. This part shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose: as I explain in The Princess Problem, princess products and unrealistic beauty ideals go hand in hand.
4. Related to this: While it’s odd to see Anna with an instantaneously flat and smooth belly, literally moments after childbirth, this reflects an unhealthy modern attitude—promoted by celebrities and magazines—that moms should make it a priority to regain their pre-pregnancy shape.
Now…. I wonder who could possibly be behind such an odd game, full of pink and princesses and body image issues.
This couldn’t be the work of the infamously incompetent Computer Engineer Barbie, could it?
Oh, Barbie… you shouldn’t have!
In the past year, white families have become increasingly aware of the fact that people of color continue to be mistreated in U.S. society. The shootings of black men and youth like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Brown, coupled with campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter, triggered deeper attention to other pervasive and insidious forms of structural inequality.
For example, children of color are frequently mistreated in school. In incidents that teachers and school authorities might characterize as misbehavior, children of color are rarely given the benefit of the doubt that white children often receive. This is reminiscent of the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who had a toy gun—an air rifle—in his waistband when police killed him. I find it almost impossible to imagine that a white child in the same setting would have been fatally wounded by police within two seconds, then denied any form of medical aid while his devastated sister looked on.
The fact that black children are rarely given the benefit of the doubt from authority figures in our cultural institutions means that nationwide, they are 3.5 times more likely than white youth to be suspended or expelled from school for comparable infractions—even at the preschool level. Although black children make up only 18% of preschoolers, they constitute nearly 50% of all out-of-school suspensions from preschools.
This is a shocking pattern with long-term implications for children of color. Denying them an education equal to their white peers’ creates more problems than it solves. Over-disciplining them risks (among other things) creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, prompting kids to view themselves as troublemakers or worse when, really, they’re no more troublesome in behavior or attitude than their light-skinned peers are.
The good news is that state boards of education are paying closer attention to these types of disparity. For example, in October 2014, state investigators determined that black children in a Portland, Oregon school district were consistently being over-disciplined in comparison to their peers. In consequence, the State punished the school district by requiring them to use $1.5 million of their federal funding for sensitivity training—a significant penalty.
The bad news is that such sanctions are often ineffective. In fact, the State of Oregon punished the Portland, Ore. school district similarly in 2011, but those previous sanctions apparently made no difference. Critics lamented that the sensitivity training the district employed had been inane-–for example, focusing not on crucial matters, but on matters such as raising awareness that children from non-white backgrounds might be less likely to eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.
As a result, some white parents who are anti-racist allies are scrutinizing their schools’ punishments of their own children, thinking critically about whether their children are benefitting from white privilege.
What follows is a guest post on this subject from a Jill, a regular reader of this blog who identifies as white. Jill is conscious of the ways in which her small, blonde daughter might receive unjustified lenience from her school when she misbehaves, and she wished to share her thinking on the subject. Read on to learn more on how one mom is approaching her daughter’s lenient treatment by her school.
White Privilege in Elementary School Conflicts:
A guest blog post by Jill
The week before winter break, I got one of those emails from my seven-year-old daughter’s teacher. Another parent had complained to the teacher that my daughter had punched her daughter.
I’d like to say that I couldn’t believe it, but I did. My seven year old isn’t a hellion, but she has a lot of energy, a very fluid appreciation for other people’s boundaries, and difficulty keeping her hands to herself. She’s also very strong.
Of course, her dad and I have been working with her on all these issues and she understands what she can and can’t do. Sometimes, though, she forgets.
At first, I was furious and embarrassed. I called the other child’s mother to apologize unreservedly. I emailed my husband to let him know what had happened and emailed the teacher to say thanks for letting us know what was going on. And then, I had to sit and think. I had an hour before I was due to pick my daughter up at the bus stop, and I wanted my reaction to have the right effect on her. She’s heard my lectures and concerns, she knows the rules. What could we do to make an impact?
The most important thing to my daughter is school. She loves school. She adores her teacher with the fire of a thousand suns. Every child in her class is her BFF (even the one that she hit). The school bus is the most unique and precious form of transport ever invented. School is where it is at.
“OK,” I thought, “what if beloved and awe-inspiring Mrs. Principal had a talk her?”
I emailed her teacher and asked if the principal would call my daughter into her office and have a stern chat with her. I said I would be happy to come and collect my daughter after school if the principal didn’t have time during school hours. The teacher emailed me back quickly (yes, she is a fantastic teacher!) to say that the principal preferred issues like this to be handled in the classroom unless there was an extreme situation and that she (the teacher) was sure that a talking to at home would make a big impression.
And then I was left to think again.
Because, it was bad, what my daughter did. She punched another child. The other child was hurt and afraid. That’s awful. And the school thought that a talking-to at home would be an appropriate consequence. Which got me thinking: an appropriate consequence for whom?
My daughter is fairly tiny, and the youngest in her class. She has blond hair and blue eyes. She’s funny, and bright. She loves to read and tell jokes. She loves horses. She loves to spin around in dresses and wear sparkly things. Maybe because of this, she was being treated more leniently than other children in her class would have been.
“What if,” I wondered—“what if my daughter had brown skin? Would a talking to at home be considered appropriate then? What if she was a boy with brown skin? Would the principal step in?”
I decided that a talking-to wasn’t enough of a consequence. I imposed a one day suspension with lots of time with me to work on strategies to deal with keeping her hands to herself.
She wrote a letter of apology to the girl she hit.
She did some unpleasant jobs for me.
She was reminded over and over that she was at home because her behavior had been entirely unacceptable.
She lost the privilege of taking the bus home because I want to be able to chat with her teacher each afternoon to be sure that her behavior is on track.
But, despite the efforts that my husband and I make at home to teach our children that the rules apply to them, just like they apply to everyone else, that simply isn’t true. Their reality is that if they hit, they’ll likely be given a talking to and a second chance. I’d like to think that any second grader would be given the same understanding if they hit a classmate. I like to think that my daughter’s teacher would treat any child with the compassion she showed my daughter in the wake of the bad choice that my daughter made, but the experience of many children of color all over the country doesn’t bear that out.
I don’t have any solutions to the challenges of raising children in a way that they’ll grow up aware of the privilege that their sex, race, religion or socio-economic class confers on them. This is really the first time I could raise my hand and say that I am truly aware of the buffer that privilege has placed around us, but it won’t be the last.
Maybe the best thing that can come out of this is that, as the parent of a white child, I’m aware. I’m watching for the extra chances that privilege doles out to my children and me, and I’m going to try to see them for what they are: a chance to learn to do better, and a chance to develop the compassion to see that anyone can benefit from a second chance.
Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be kind in your comments. It takes bravery to publicly publish a personal story. Remember that she isn’t a professional writer, and as a parent, she is developing a critical conscience on these issues without a clear guidebook or any obvious answers. Therefore, unnecessarily harsh comments attacking the author of this reader story will be removed or edited.
I find it sickening.
The video’s description asks, “What happens when you put a boy in front of a girl and ask him to slap her? Here is how children react to the subject of violence against women.”
As the video begins, it seems promising. An off-camera male voice asks five charming young boys questions, one at a time:
Thanks to this line of questioning, each boy is brought to life for the viewer. With a range of personal demeanors and interests, it’s easy for viewers to see each boy as a unique and lovely individual.
Then, each boy is visibly surprised when a tall, blonde, conventionally beautiful young girl joins them in front of the camera. She introduced by the off-camera voice with a single sentence: “And this is Martina.”
The interviewer does not ask Martina any questions.
He does not share any details about Martina.
We do not learn how old she is, what she wants to be when she grows up, or why.
Instead, the interviewer asks the boys a question about Martina: “What do you like about her?”
Knowing nothing about her personality or interests, the boys focus on what’s visible—her appearance:
The interviewer doesn’t follow up on the boys’ top-of-mind impressions by sharing information about Martina or inviting her to speak. There’s no discussion of shared interests or mutual passions that might form the basis for a relationship of any kind. It’s all about whether the boys like the way she looks—nothing more.
This makes me uncomfortable. While the producers present the boys as interesting people, they present Martina not as a person in her own rights, but as a girl who is expected to be an object of boys’ desire. The producers are doing boys and girls everywhere a disservice by perpetuating the idea that girls’ appearance is of paramount importance.
She is a prop—there to be seen, not heard.
This holiday season, conservatives such as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott have made international headlines for insisting that children’s toys should be segregated by gender, as “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys.”
What a delight, then, to read Addicting Info’s new report on President Obama’s decision to deliberately and publicly ignore gender stereotypes while sorting gifts into “girl” and “boy” bins (which, honestly, I don’t see any need for in the first place). He found the opportunity to do so when he and Michelle Obama delivered 1,000 toys from the President’s staff to the annual U.S. Marine Corps.Toys for Tots campaign at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. this month.
As the below video shows, the President placed a basketball into the “girls'” bin, declaring, “I just wanna make sure some girls play some ball,” eliciting applause and a “Yes, sir!” from delighted onlookers.
As President Obama continued placing sports and science toys in the “girls'” bin, he noted, “I wanna mix some things up.”
When a person from the crowd questioned his decision to place some LEGOs in the “girls'” bin, the President responded: “Girls don’t like toys?”
Narrating his decision-making process aloud, the President picked up a t-ball set and remarked, “T-ball? Girls like t-ball,” and placed the set in the girls’ bin.
Then, addressing the crowd of onlookers snapping photographs, he stated his intent: “I’m just trying to break down these gender stereotypes.”
Nicely handled, Mr. President. Thank you for being a role model on how to select toys for little girls. As a well-informed father and leader, it’s clear that you understand: toys don’t need to be gender-stereotyped. Toys are for everyone!
So, one small request: Next year, would you mind making a statement by throwing craft kits and Easy-Bake Ovens in the “boys'” bins, too? Because that would really rock.
For further reading: The President also made a statement on gender issues by calling only on women during his last press conference of 2014. It’s proving to be an interesting December!
An Interview with Illustrator Maritsa Patrinos
A comic titled “LEGO Friends” recently went viral, striking a chord with people by humorously pointing out that girls don’t need a separate line of LEGO toys. No, no—girls just need better female representation within existing LEGO sets:
I was so taken by how well this cartoon encapsulates so many parents’ and advocates’ position on the unnecessary gendering of children’s toys—a topic I address in detail in my book, The Princess Problem—that I reached out to the cartoon’s creator, Maritsa Patrinos, to learn more about her work.
Maritsa is illustrator living in Brooklyn, NY who grew up just outside of Washington, DC and went to Pratt Institute to study illustration. Since graduating in 2010, she’s worked on staff at Marvel Comics, made backgrounds for a Cartoon Network show called MAD, and has worked in different editorial jobs, including a couple New Yorker comics. For the past three years, she’s also done the cartooning and animation for the shows “16 & Pregnant” and “Teen Mom 2” on MTV.
REBECCA HAINS: Your LEGO Friends cartoon has clearly struck a chord with people, and as someone who does work in this area, it’s been really gratifying to me as a bystander to see your piece go viral—as of this writing, it’s been reached by 106,304 people from my facebook page alone. The traction it has gained is really impressive. Can you tell me what inspired you to create this cartoon?
RH: You’re clearly a talented illustrator, and you’ve been posting comics to your site SeasonalDepressionComic.com since 2009, covering a pretty wide range of topics. How do you usually choose topics for your cartoons? What inspires you?
RH: Have any of your other posts gone viral like this one?
RH: What kinds of feedback have you been receiving from people about your LEGO Friends cartoon? What would you say the balance has been between supportive comments and comments that are critical in some way?
Rebecca would like to thank Maritsa Patrinos for taking the time to be interviewed for this blog, and would like to note that Maritsa is also available for freelance work! Be sure to check out Maritsa’s impressive portfolio.
I recently chatted with Joel Riley of News Radio 610 in Columbus, Ohio about the “No Gender December” campaign. Here’s our conversation:
Joel Riley: Let’s spend a couple of minutes with Dr. Rebecca Hains. Dr. Hains, a Children’s Media Culture Expert. And, Dr. Hains, I became aware of this over the weekend, “No Gender December.” Tell me, what is the concept?
Rebecca Hains: Well the concept, Joel, is that toy marketers and toy stores have been basically telling kids who should have which toy on the basis of their sex. So, rather than assigning toys to, say, a “boys’ aisle” or a “girls’ aisle,” the concept is that instead stores should be organizing toys by kids’ interests.
Joel: Hmm…okay. So, if you’ve got a boy that, you know, gravitates towards the doll aisle, no big sweat and if you’ve got girls that want to play with slot cars and matchboxes, totally cool.
Rebecca: Right. And, you know, what’s interesting is that it’s even toys that really seem to not be for one sex or the other that are being arbitrarily categorized, like craft sets, or kitchen sets, or play foods. I think that it shames kids when they see toys that they want in the aisle that is dedicated to the opposite sex. So it’s just about having more options for everybody.
Joel: Yeah, it’s interesting. I guess, you know, the times I’ve been in toy aisles—I mean, I’ve got a 14 year old now, but back in the day, we were buying toys. I don’t really sit back and think, “Boy, there’s the boy’s aisle, there’s the girl’s aisle.” I mean, we went through a lot of the board game stuff; you know, bicycles, they’ve got boys’ and girls’ bicycles together. I mean, toy stores really line this stuff up that way, huh?
Rebecca: Yeah, you know, they’ve increased the gender segmentation in the past decade pretty significantly. And what I found in doing the research for my book, The Princess Problem, is that kids who do want a toy in the opposite sex’s aisle end up feeling ashamed about it, like there’s something wrong with them that they want the toy that’s “for” the opposite sex. And that’s a big problem. Kids shouldn’t feel badly about wanting to explore different toys! Toys are for everyone.
Joel: Yeah, do you think it’s an issue more that it’s marketed that way, or is it that parents have a hard time themselves even saying, “Hey, Johnny, it’s okay if you want that toy even though it’s kind of marketed as a girl’s toy”?
Rebecca: You know, I think it’s a combination. I think that in some cases, it really is about the marketing. In other cases, parents—even if they do their best to say, “No, honey, it’s okay; you can have the dinosaur, little girl,” or “Little boy, no really, you can have a craft set; there’s nothing wrong with that”—kids can be very literal, especially the younger kids. And seeing that the aisle is meant for someone who is so clearly not them and not what they identify with, really, it makes it a frustrating situation for parents as well, even if they are really educated on this subject and well-intended.
Joel: And how much peer pressure do you think is involved in that? Cause if, you know, you’ve got five year-olds together, it doesn’t seem like one of them is going to break away and play with the toy the other kids aren’t going to play with.
Rebecca: That’s right. Children who are at about that age often go through a phase called “appearance rigidity,” where they’re so fixated on what is obviously assigned to their gender, that there’s no way they’re going to break away from the peer group. You know, because the peer group is into things that are very stereotypical, it’s hard for the 10% of kids that a study from Harvard University found are gender non-conforming to feel comfortable just exploring interests that don’t match the stereotypes.
Joel: Yeah, and is the goal just that kids just get to do what they want, or is it that between boys and girls we become more non-descript? I mean, are we trying to make things gender-neutral? Uh, what is the ultimate goal?
Rebecca: You know, the ultimate goal is to open things up, and not to make things neutral so that everyone is some weird, like, unisex product—but so that anyone who wants any toy that’s out there feels comfortable with it. One way that I think is helpful to look at it is this, okay? Play is children’s work. Maria Montessori, who founded the Montessori Schools, said that. Right? But, when it comes to the workplace, we definitely know that there are not careers for men and careers for women, so why would we suggest that there are toys for boys and toys for girls? It’s all about flexibility and letting girls have both the dolls and the chemistry sets, and vice-versa. It’s just more for everybody, and it’s in everyone’s best interest.
Joel: I got it. Dr. Hains, I appreciate the time. Dr. Rebecca Hains, Children’s Media Culture Expert. You participate if you’d like, “No Gender December.”
Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters. Rebecca would like to thank Salem State University graduate student Irene Walcott for her assistance transcribing this interview.