Reflexion on Articles

What boys are taught

1:17 PM

The day before yesterday a friend of mine posted the link to a video on Facebook, the title was: “Learn A Lot From Watching 'Star Wars,' And It Isn't All Good”.

I had to watch that one, because, first I am a Star Wars fan, and then because I have a daughter and the summary mentioned something about girl power. The Video ended up being thought provoking and raise many questions that are as valid in the US and Europe as it is in India. I encourage you all to watch it. Because I just can’t go in a lot of detail about it here without ending up with a lengthy post. Basically the video raise the question of what happens when you teach girls something modern to empower them, and the boys are still taught to be the Prince, the hero who is to go on a quest, defeat evil and win the girl as a price. The example of Princess Leia is a good one, because she is one of these first Princess that have leadership skills, is assertive, and know how to fight…but yet she is STILL the damsel in distress, and still need a bunch of male of various species to come and rescue her before giving them medals and letting the viewer wonder who she will get to be the property of at the end of the first movie (Luke or Han). She is also the ONLY lead character in the original trilogy, Aunt Beru is a supporting one, so is Mon Motma In return of the Jedi. One Princess for a galaxy of male. As a teen when I saw the movie for the first time, that didn’t strike me, I was in awe of having a Princess being other than just pretty, I was pretty much soaking in girl power back then, it was the early 90’s after all. But I can totally imagine that boys didn’t get to see that and saw exactly what is explained in the video: Princess Leia is that object that need rescuing and can therefore be won…

After watching that video, I shared the link on my timeline, and one of my old high school friend, fellow Sci-fi geek and man pointed out that in most of the fictional literature and movies, women easily replaceable by a chest filled with gold the hero gets to win after having defeated evil, and that in most of these movies and novels you could totally do away with the female component as it would not even affect the main story line : Save the planet from impeding doom, the women are accessories, things that come as a perk. Something that the video indeed echoes perfectly. not to say that there is no effort in making these women object more empowered, but then as rightfully pointed, what good is it if boys are still taught old fashioned values?

This whole thing got me thinking very hard, about the stories I grew up with, what Ishita is growing up with, and the crime against women situation we have in India. All at the same time…
Having grown up in the “West” my early childhood references were those of the traditional fairy tales and their princesses waiting for prince charming and living happily ever after. Generations before me were raised on the same stories, but I think my generation will be the first to really start questioning it. The early Disney movies were true to the original fairy tale to a great extent, then came the Little Mermaid, I remember that one a lot because I think I was 11-12 at the time, and I remember loving it. My mom however hated it, because Disney dared doing the unthinkable by altering the ending, Ariel gets to live happily after…outrage! At the time I didn’t quite get it, because to me it seemed kind of cool that Ariel got to decide what she wanted and be happy, the original story pretty much leave her killing herself as the only honourable choice. Suicide is the solution…what kind of message is that? I knew my mom was over reacting, I knew deep down the original tale was nasty, but I didn’t have enough words and way to express why Disney did right some serious wrong in that tale. My mom came to realise it wasn’t all that bad a few years later when a friend of hers pointed out that Disney’s Mermaid was a woman of our time and that she was indeed a role model to girls letting them know that they can make choices of their own.

Now with a daughter of my own and some perspective I must admit that I was very wary telling her about fairy tales I grew up with, even before this video. What kind of role models I want my daughter to have? None of the famous classics in the world of fairy tales qualify. Snow White is this pretty girl that hones her domestic skills taking care of 7 men and end up in a pickle because she ignored their advices, and only get a chance back at life when Prince Charming kisses her and take her to his castle. Cinderella will slave her whole life for her step family in honour of her deceased father, only to be freed from hell by Prince Charming, after years of learning how to cook and do laundry I might add…teaching girls there is virtue in being abused because something will come your way if you endure it with grace. Hansel and Gretel teaches girl it is better to have a brother as only they possess the brain to save them, so sit and wait until a man comes to the rescue…any male is better than you girl. Sleeping Beauty is cursed from birth and only a Prince’s love can break it. The little mermaid teaches girl that you will suffer if you don’t do as you are told and do not stick to your peers and that should misfortune result of your disobedience suicide is the only way out. The Beauty and the Beast tells you you need to fall in love with your captor to save both of him and yourself. And do not get me started on the little red riding hood, that is the pinnacle of ridiculous morale, very few know that the red hood is the symbol of a woman coming of age with a ripe hymen, the bad wolf a sexual offender and that the morale of the story is that girls that have come of age should know better than be outside their home…the very notion that is considered the best solution to rape in India according to many of our pompous politicians!  
Ishita’s first brush with fairy tale came with Disney’s Tangled, a take on the rather weird and boring Rapunzel tale. In the original version, it comes as no surprise that Rapunzel wait all her life for Prince Charming to find her and rescue her, as of course it never came to her mind that she could cut her hair and escape that door-less tower she was trapped in. Growing up I remember that this tale never ever made sense. Why would any girl be stupid enough not to escape, Disney found a great way to explain it with a very credible reason: “Cut your hair loose the healing magic you were born with”. What Disney also did was turn Rapunzel into a lady that ends up taking charge of her life, without a Prince, she uses a random Joe to get out and see the world, she ends up realising he is likeable, he ends up feeling the same, and they end up saving EACH OTHER, nobody is the prize the other gets to win. It’s mutual, it’s full of ladies making choices, and the ONLY work of children targeted fiction that also tells boys that women deserve respect, that no you don’t get to win the girl by default and that life in general means being responsible of your own choices. I love that movie, I love that version of Rapunzel…that’s the kind of Princess my daughter should have as role model, and that is the type of tale boys should have as a model too.
The other movie that is a cut apart in the children’s genre is the one mentioned in the video: Brave. Brave is that movie were all the character central to the story are women, it’s a story of a girl carving herself a destiny, and learns a few lessons along the way, namely that when you screw up, you are the only one that can fix your own wrongs. It’s a story in which Merida is firs on offer as a Princess to a bunch of really non-worthy boys who will fight for her hand without her even having a say as who she wants as a suitor out of the 3 or if she is even interested in getting married just yet. She is that “treasure chest woman” that becomes an actual human being along the story line. She teaches girls to make their choices, and mistakes, and learn along the way, and teaches boys that when a girl says no that means it and that choices is not just something men gets to do. Not surprisingly, Ishita likes both these movies a lot.

Now in India, we are moving toward a better grasp as to what Girl Power is, women are stepping up, demand safety when they venture out of the house, urban middle class little girl are getting access Disney’s movies, to Dora the Explorer (a great cartoon that promotes problem solving and leadership skills). Like we did in the West, India is departing from a more traditional literature and role models. It’s no longer just Sita that has to be won in an archery contest, Sita that breaks the rules and cross the safety line, Sita than then see her virtue questionned by Ram upon rescuing her (when his is undisputed). It’s no longer just Draupadi the common wife of 5 brothers that decided to share her over fighting over her like a piece of property, the same Draupadi that is leading the 5 brothers to go to war when another man dare trying to touch her. Nope India is on the same realisation path where women are transitioning from trophies and properties to actually be human beings…we are still a long way from having accomplished that, but it’s getting there.
But as the video pointed, 1 out of 5 women in the US has been a victim of sexual assault. That is in the US, after girls have been empowered with at least 2-3 decades of empowerment. And as Colin Stokes points out, that means there are a lot of men who are sexual offenders out there…it’s not women’s fault, it’s not what they are doing or not doing, but it probably is what boys that grow up into men are lead to take as a good role model: Fight evil, get rewarded with a girl who has no depth and doesn’t talk. And that is in Hollywood movies, Bollywood takes it a notch further by teaching boys that no only the hero fights evil and get the girl, but that should the girl dare saying no, enough harassing, pestering and even a little physical violence will make her say yes in the end, as there is no such thing as a woman saying no and actually meaning it!
This brings back my friend’s metaphor of the treasure chest filled with gold. Hollywood pretty much teaches the boys the chest will open if your bravery was up to par, but Bollywood teaches you that even if the treasure chest doesn’t open, it is then fine to yank, push, pry and possibly smash it against a rock to access the prize that is inside.

To me it is no wonder anymore, I will empower my daughter, but what are the ones who have sons going to do? That’s where the change needs to be.

4 comments

  1. Alexandra Madhavan3:51 AM

    I totally agree. The concept of what it is to be feminine has evolved over time and is multi-dimensional. Wasn't hasn't changed much is the concept of masculinity, being macho and such.
    You should watch the documentary "miss representation" - it talks about this exactly. It is excellent.

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  2. I'll have to google for that documentary, sounds interesting.

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  3. I totally agree with what you have written here. It does not matter what laws we have in India, because the empowerment begins at home. We need to educate our sons to treat women with respect and that begins at home.. and I aim to do exactly that as I raise my boy.

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  4. Congratulations for raising your son to grow up into a respectful man, I would have done the same thing if I had a boy.

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