From the readers: Hollywood fears boys learning that women are people

A couple of days ago I wrote that the reason people react more strongly to criticisms of sexism in kids’ shows and movies than adult shows and movies is that they’re terrified of what will happen if young girls learn they don’t have to buy into their assigned gender roles.

Three of my readers took it a step further and made a really great point: S.A. Bonasi said:

So I don’t think Hollywood is afraid that little girls will learn that they don’t have to conform to gender roles.

No, I think Hollywood is afraid that little boys will learn that girls shouldn’t have to conform to gender roles. What a revolution that would be!

And Mickle said:

Personally, I think what scares Hollywood – and everyone else – the most is the fear that anyone might learn that little boys don’t have to conform to gender roles. Once you decide that, everything is blown to bits. I mean, there’s a certain logic to women wanting to be like their betters, as much as we can’t have that. But boys identifying with female characters. My god, the horror! Next thing you know people won’t just be saying that women can do men’s jobs, but that men should value women(’s jobs)! And not in a condescending “as only a mother can” kind of way.

And finally, Lizriz added:

And the thought that men might someday not be trained to find female characters and stories to be irrelevant and of no interest – well, it is my fervent dream that all human stories are valued the same. Can you imagine an Oscar ceremony where all the films have primarily female characters instead of the other way around??? And more ideally, where the gender (and race for that matter) is actually balanced???

I don’t really have anything to add. I think they’re exactly right. Part of the equation involves conditioning boys not to wonder when they see a lack of women in government, in filmmaking, in cultural myths, in fairy tales, in maths and sciences, etc. If you don’t get the boys thinking this is natural and that’s just how it is and the girls should be perfectly content with it, you risk a serious social upheaval in which young men and women challenge the old dudes running the show.

The anarchist in me drools at the thought.

Thanks, S.A., Mickle and Lizriz!


  1. says

    Those are all really good points, but I can’t help but think there might be another reason too: people act as if children are somehow magically immune from cultural influences because if they admitted that children are affected by what they see and hear, just like everyone else, then they’d be forced to admit children are people, who can think and feel and make their own decisions now and then. As in, they’re not decorations that turn into people when they turn five or ten or eighteen, and parents shouldn’t have carte blanche in how they’re treated.

    How long has it been since doctors started anaesthetizing babies before they were operated on? There are still people alive who have nightmares about that.

    Things you do to children matter.

  2. says

    BetaCandy, your last paragraph makes me think, (and drool a little) about how I always felt Disney’s musical Newsies should have gone…Boys and girls taking on the “Old Men’s Club” power system, and not just having the girls show up in the last scene…(Sorry, I love Newsies deeply and always preferred to Annie, which others were constantly trying to foist upon me, but, as the years have gone on, I’ve grown to resent the lack of female presence in the film. And let no one dare try to claim “historical accuracy,” as that film took far more than its fair share of liberties with historical events.)
    Anyway, that rant has got a point. How much more awesome would something like Newsies have been if it had shown young people of both genders rising up and taking down the man, in vast adolescent rebellion? Mega-Awesome.
    As it is, we are often shown, in true please-conform-to-your-gender-roles fashion, that boys rebel, and girls put on a happy face and suck it up! Someday, I hope we shall see that, sometimes, the boys can just suck it up and the girls rebel.
    My point, as so many have made, is that telling children “boys do this, and girls do that, and nary the twain shall meet,” is unfair to everyone.

  3. says

    Mana G

    Newsies is also extremely awesome for simply being a Disney movie full of fanservice for teen and pre-teen girls.

    Christian Bale….and the opening scene where all the boys were waking up and washing and getting dressed….and then most of them wandering around wearing paper thin and clingy shirts and dancing the whole time…..and did I mention Christian Bale?

    In other words, real fanservice, not just “oh, let’s put Lindsey Lohan/Hillary Duff/etc. with Chad Michael Murray/some random preppy dude.

    Yeah, I loved that movie. (Even though the one girl’s role annoyed me in it’s Smurfetteness.)

  4. says

    Mickle – That’s so funny! Part of what got me on my Newsies rant in my comment was the fact that I’m in the middle of an article on the movie, and what’s part of the first paragraph? “The opening sequence of the movie is an adolescent girl’s dream…” So, your thoughts on the fanservice are pretty much spot-on with mine! As I said, my biggest complaint with the movie, even when I was younger, is that we don’t see, until the very end, any girls really rebel against the system that had them just as — if not more than, in my opinion — oppressed as the newsboys. I know it probably wouldn’t have been historically accurate, but still…To me, it sent the message that “boys rebel, and girls wait for rescue.” (Especially as, when I was younger, the musical that everyone kept trying to foist on me was Annie, as opposed to Newsies. And seriously, Annie? If some of yall love it, great, but for me? *Gag.*)

  5. MaggieCat says

    (Especially as, when I was younger, the musical that everyone kept trying to foist on me was Annie, as opposed to Newsies. And seriously, Annie? If some of yall love it, great, but for me? *Gag.*)

    I did love, and still have a soft spot for Annie, but that’s because I love Miss Hannigan. (I think I even still have my old cast recording on vinyl around here somewhere.) Not exactly what they were expecting, I’d wager, but “Little Girls” was always my favorite number. Hey, even when I was a kid I didn’t like large groups of kids. But I didn’t ever love Annie as much as I still love My Fair Lady and Gypsy.

    I’ve only seen Newsies once or twice, because as a kid I usually didn’t gravitate to the stories *all* about boys (which is why I’ve never liked Pinocchio very much) and certainly not in musicals, which were the one place I could reliably count on at least one female lead I’d like. Eliza, Mama Rose, Sally Bowles, Janet, Fiona Campbell, Rizzo, Velma Kelly… those were characters I could get behind.

  6. says

    MaggieCat – I apologize if my comment on Annie sounded dismissive, by the way. I can be rather hyperbolic, and it wasn’t until much later that it occured to me that I sounded rude, even to myself.
    As far as the musicals go, I think our respective feelings on them have much to do with taste and personal impressions. I love My Fair Lady, as well, but that probably has as much to do with my youthful obsession with all the various British accents as anything else. Anyway, I can very much understand not gravitating towards stories that are all about boys…That’s only begun to bother me in the past few years, and I’m only starting to figure out why!

  7. MaggieCat says

    Oh, no worries. I was just explaining why I do like Annie despite being the least shiny, happy, ‘the sun’ll come out tomorrow’ type of person on Earth. 😉

    And it is mostly due to Miss Hannigan– sure she’s a villain figure, but you can kind of see where she’s coming from: there’s Depression on, but even if there weren’t she’s a poor unmarried woman at a time where the only real option available to her is in a mother type role that she loathes. But on the other hand there’s also Grace, who’s lovely and sweet but also pretty canny when it comes to outing the Mudges as fakes, and when Warbucks said he’d take in an orphan for Christmas it never occurred to her that the default answer there was supposed to be “boy”– you know, someone who matters.

    The genesis of my MFL love goes back to both my childhood fascination with all things English (I blame Roald Dahl) and with Greek mythology since I recognized the Pygmalion myth, as well as other things. That and I’ve always loved a period piece.

    It’s only in the last few years that I noticed the implications of the fact that I rejected a lot of entertainment as a child that was nearly entirely male centric. I never liked Peter Pan much either, or Winnie the Pooh except for Eeyore. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want to or couldn’t sympathize with male characters– there were several things that had both genders represented where I just happened to prefer a male character– I just resented being expected to do it and being offered no other options. So my natural stubbornness manifested itself and basically said “Yeah, if you don’t think I’m important enough to include, I don’t care what you think and I don’t need you”.

  8. says

    I know it probably wouldn’t have been historically accurate, but still…

    Mana G, women were *very* involved in the labor movement in the Gilded Age. This has been edited out – by H’wood among others – from our collective memory, just like black cowboys and so on.

    That the culture would think it *had* to be ahistorical PC pandering, if anyone did have striking factory girls (and of all ethnic backgrounds!) in a pre-WWI movie is …itself telling.

  9. Gategrrl says

    When I was a little kid between 4 and 8 years of age, all my pretend play tended be *as the male* characters in the cartoons I watched, unless it was The Justice League, and Wonder Woman was present…if I ever bothered with Wonder Woman at all, since the male superheroes got all the real action.

    If I watched Kimba the White Lion, I pretended I was Kimba, only as a girl having the same obligations and adventures. If I watched Speed Racer (which I considered a *total* boy show) Trixie was okay, but it was more fun to be Racer X.

    Gender didn’t seem to matter too much in the shows. If there were females in the shows, invariably they were sidekicks, or sidekicks destined to be romantic partners in the future of the male character. But at 5 years old, that’s not what I thought about, and it wasn’t my criteria for a kickin’ good character: the same tropish things that male writers wrote for male characters, were the same tropes that caught my preschooler imagination.

    When The Avengers with Emma Peel came onto the scene, my mother let me watch it – I think she wanted me to see a woman character that was as kick-butt as any male character.

    I never saw Newsies, and never watched Annie all the way through, although I new the Annie Story and the actress du jour of the day (Andrea McArdle comes to mind). There was a movie called “Bugsy Malone” with a young star cast that included Jodie Foster as a too-young femme fatale (or was that the Paper Moon actress?). My memory might be way off, but it seems to me in the early to late seventies, the roles for young starlets in Hollywood had a LOT to do with increased sexuality for younger and younger girls, like “Little Darlings” and “Bad News Bears”. Not to mention the oh-so-horrid little screen adaptation of a Judy Blume book about first sex and first love that featured the Remington Steele lead actress who was *awful*.

    That was some of the crap I grew up on (excepting for Kimba and Speed Racer and Starblazers – those were just damned good fun).

  10. MaggieCat says

    women were *very* involved in the labor movement in the Gilded Age. This has been edited out – by H’wood among others – from our collective memory, just like black cowboys and so on.

    That the culture would think it *had* to be ahistorical PC pandering, if anyone did have striking factory girls (and of all ethnic backgrounds!) in a pre-WWI movie is …itself telling.

    That is an excellent point. The International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s Union was founded less than a year after the newsboys’ strike– it was one of the first US unions to have mostly female membership and shocked the hell out of businessmen who didn’t think women or immigrants were capable of organizing, let alone both. The Women’s Trade Union League showed up in 1903. Clara Lemlich (from the ILGWU) helped lead ‘The Uprising of the 20,000″ in 1909 that started with a walkout at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (which hit the news in 1911 to yet again help labor organizations through shockingly horrible conditions) and had over 60% of the workers in shirtwaist factories picketing for almost 4 months, and Triangle was one of the few shops that didn’t agree to the union contracts (which turned out rather badly for everyone as it turned out). Where’s their movie?

  11. says

    Very good question, Maggie Cat! Where is their friggin’ movie?!
    When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to be a Broadway performer. However, the more musicals and such I saw, the less female roles I found that completely appealed to me. My mother came up with a solution: Write your own. I haven’t worked on any scripts or stories since I was sixteen, but maybe it’s time to work on that movie! (I’d so watch it!)

  12. says


    Do you ever think about going back?

    I know I’d love to see anything that you wrote make it to the screen. And sometimes when I see a TV show that’s doing it right – or close to it – (there does seem to be a couple, at least) I wonder what you would have done with the material. :)

  13. says

    Mickle, not really. On top of my other reasons for being disillusioned, after dumping film I discovered TV for the first time – specifically, non-episodic TV that gave characters time to develop. After that, no two-hour story ever managed to hold my attention and I eventually gave up even renting movies. I like to be moved by my entertainment. Two hours just can’t give me anything but an adrenaline rush, which I can get just by driving to the damn theater amongst all the crazy drivers here in L.A. 😉

    I am about the start posting an online novel, however. I’m trying to capture the episodic qualities of TV with the ability to write more than just sight and sound that you get with novels.

  14. says

    BetaCandy — That’s funny, I’m kind of thinking of going in the opposite direction. Some readers have suggested that my new novel is more like a movie than a novel in structure, and my secret dream is to one day make a movie of it. (Note: the version I sent you is not the final version — there are some important improvements and corrections.) It’s true that novella/film length stories seem more natural to me, which is why my online serial is composed of novella-length chunks.

    If you need any assistance or suggestions on launching your online novel, I’d be happy to help. It’s harder than it looks to get any kind of publicity (unless you’re willing to pay for it, which I’m not 😉 ).

  15. Pipenta says

    Yes, yes, yes! I’ve always thought and often said, but never seen it written, that the real reason that patriarchal cultures fear homosexuality is because it makes people question gender roles. So gay men get beaten up because women cannot be allowed to see the possibility of a relation in which one party is not, subtly but ever so constantly, deferring to the other. Because that is the most dangerous thing, isn’t it? And it can’t be allowed.

  16. says

    Yep – heteronormativity and sexism are intimately connected. It all boils down to the idea that women should be [these traits] and men should be [these other traits] and if there’s any overlap, the world will end or something.

  17. photondancer says

    > the idea that women should be [these traits] and men
    > should be [these other traits]

    Which has baffled me ever since I grew old enough to think it through. Haven’t people noticed that the popular saying “they’re like chalk and cheese” is not usually employed to suggest that the 2 entities are compatible? It doesn’t make sense that a person trained since birth to behave in certain ways, and to prize such behavior, should then be expected to be enraptured by someone embodying the opposite of all that. More likely they’ll be uneasy, exasperated or repulsed.

    Pipenta, your theory that gaybashing is ultimately aimed at women is intriguing and not one I’ve seen before. I have seen theories that gaybashing is partly fuelled by the feeling that the gays have ‘let the side down’ but this is usually explained as the gays being punished for refusing to follow the script.

    [btw what are the markup tags used here? eg. to indent quotes in that nice pink box. I didn’t see it in the commenting guidelines]

  18. SunlessNick says




    Links: text on page

    Obviously without the spaces – except the one between the “a” and the “href” – that one should be there.

  19. SunlessNick says

    Ok, so apparently putting spaces in doesn’t prevent the formatting from taking.

    Take 2:

    All formatting codes are enclosed in triangular brackets, like so .

    For quotes, the code is “blockquote” to start them and “/blockquote” to end; for bold it’s “strong,” and for italics “em.”

    For links, it’s “a href=web address” to start and “/a” to end, with whatever text you want on the page between them.

  20. says

    I didn’t realize the instructions for posting with HTML had disappeared from the comment form! Sorry for the inconvenience – it’s back now, right above the boxes where you type the comment.

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