Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Female leads as a Marketing Tool

Surlalune posted from an article about the upcoming "Frozen" movie by Disney, which has fairy tale enthusiasts disappointed by its lack of having anything at all to do with its original inspiration, Andersen's "Snow Queen". But I feel like I've been reading/hearing a lot lately about people complaining about lack of strong female leads in entertainment and this one quote really struck me:

"It is a telling sign of how far gender parity has fallen in the last decade when something like this or Brave is considered noteworthy, especially as the female-driven animated features like Mulan or Anastasia used to come and go without comment in the mid-to-late 1990′s."

I think I never really got what all the fuss was about, because in my mind I had never noticed a lack of strong female leads. I have no problem relating to male protagonists, such as Harry Potter or the cast of Lord of the Rings, but also as a girl I was drawn to the classic girl stories such as Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, etc-and of course the classic Princess fairy tales. But the quote above made me realize that some of my most formative years were some of the most successful in terms of promoting female leads-so much so that it wasn't considered something to brag about. Can I just say that I am so disappointed Anastasia doesn't have the continual marketing that Disney princesses do and none of my students even know that movie? It hurts my heart. I swear every single girl my age can sing all of "Once Upon a December" word for word even if she doesn't admit it. Despite its historical inaccuracies it got me interested in reading about Russian history in a way that no history class ever did.

A musician friend of mine in college and I were once complaining about how we didn't like recitals or concerts that promoted only female composers. It meant that the music was chosen primarily because of the gender of the composer, not because of the quality of the music. If the music is excellent it should be featured regularly alongside the works of Bach, Beethoven, and the other male giants of the music world. It almost comes across as patronizing rather than empowering.

The same thing applies to entertainment. The world is full of males and females and so should entertainment be. If you're looking for strong female casts of characters you can certainly find them but sadly it seems our culture has become less female-empowering over time. The more we pat ourselves on the back for fecently featuring a gender that encompasses 50% of the world the sadder the situation is.

But there's also good news here. I think that if we give our young girls enough positive female role models, it's not going to destroy their self-esteem if they are also exposed to some of the most passive versions of fairy tale princesses. I grew up seeing strong and independent females as well as those who mainly waited around for their prince to come, and I didn't see the latter as representing the ideal state of the female, as many critics claim is their result. I spent my single years getting educated and pursuing my talents and hobbies (including researching fairy tales) and working in a job I love. And that's the goal of feminism, right? Equal opportunities for both genders?

What kinds of female role models did you grow up with and how do you think they influenced you, looking back?

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