Frozen in time

Thanksgiving weekend I found myself in a long line at the movie theater, waiting to see the newest Disney princess flick, Frozen. So much of the movie buzz was about whether boys would watch a “princess movie.” Conventional marketing wisdom has been that girls will watch movies about boys, but boys won’t watch movies about girls. I saw it with a ready-made focus group—five boys ranging from preschool to pre-teen. Their reviews were glowing (“awesome!” “hilarious!” “the snowman said ‘butt’!”) and had nothing to do with the gender of the main characters. But let’s get real: on day 7 of a 10-day school break, none of us were that picky.

So what is it about “girl movies” that boys supposedly find so unappealing?

My guess? The girl protagonists we are used to being served up are just boring. It’s not their fault—they have been imprisoned in the towering failure of imagination that is the “princess movie” formula. It isn’t really a fair comparison. Boy characters (be they humans, cars, monsters, whatever) have their own story arc complete with character motivation, challenges to overcome, and quests to fulfill. Even in title roles, girls are more often objects than subjects, serving as the motivation, prop, or reward for someone else’s heroic deeds.

The question isn’t why don’t boys relate to these movies, but how can anyone?

It is amazing to me we are still having this conversation. That it is actual news when a girl character is a person instead of a prop. Girls as objects; boys as subjects. Snooze.

Another person who can’t believe we’re still talking about this is the namesake of the Bechdel Test, a set of three criteria for movies that have women characters who are more than mere objects. It first appeared in Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. To pass the test, a movie must (1) have at least two women in it, who (2) talk to each other about (3) something besides a man. In case it isn’t obvious, this a low bar. It doesn’t make a movie feminist, or worth $8 at the matinee. It just means the women in it are people.

Although being famous for the rule doesn’t do Alison’s work justice, it is fitting. What made Dykes to Watch Out For revolutionary and revelatory in the 1980s is that its cast of characters are lesbians who are fully formed human beings. The relevance of the “test” shows just how little has changed. After a recent round of media attention, Alison pointed out that her critique is at least as old as Virginia Woolf. Frozen’s head animator pointed to the technical challenge of creating female characters who are expressive and individual, yet faithful to the “pretty” princess mold.

But Frozen promised to be different. So I watched the movie in actual suspense: Would the princess (once again) be rescued by the heroic prince? Or does she get to be the hero in her own story? Is happily ever after defined as romance and marriage? Or is there another story about happiness, friendship, and love? If two women share the same space, does one have to be evil?

Spoiler alert: The girls are people. Two sisters are the main characters; the boys are sidekicks. A major plot twist turns on the idea that fairy tale romance is a scam. The act of true love doesn’t climax in a shimmery wedding scene. And the snowman says “butt.”


Es solamente una bofetada de telenovelas (It’s just a soap opera slap)

(scroll down for English translation)

El otro día, mi pareja y yo estábamos mirando una comedia en la cual uno de los personajes principales iba a ser la dama de honor en la boda de su ex pareja. La women-slapcomedia continúa a través de una series de incidentes cómicos cuando de repente la dama de honor abofetea a su ex (y futura pareja al final de la película). Yo me encontré a carcajadas por la bofeteada e incluso pensando que la otra persona se lo merecía por haber sido tan desconsiderada. Pero segundos después comencé a cuestionar mi reacción. Ignorando mi propio consejo de que tenía que relajarme porque es solo una película, me puse a analizar la situación. ¡De todas maneras cuestionar mi posición acerca de quien se merece una bofetada me parece razonable! Me molestó que esa bofetada sea tan casual—casi normal. Nadie se disculpó. ¡Solamente sucedió! El hecho de que se trataba de una pareja del mismo género no cambio la sensación incómoda por la agresión. No es la primera vez que veo una  bofetada ocasional, al contrario estuvo presente en todas las telenovelas que seguí de adolescente y adulta. Incluso he visto bofetadas en novelas americanas como All My Children (Todos mis Niños), General Hospital (Hospital General) y también Modern Family (Familia Moderna).

Me puse a pensar de cuando hablamos de abuso en las relaciones, siempre hablamos de la presencia del poder y control como patrón de conducta. Algunos de nosotros creemos que un solo incidente de abuso no es suficiente para calificar a la relación de abusiva. ¿Sería entonces apropiado que nos riéramos si una persona recibe una bofetada sólo una vez? ¿O estas bofetadas ocasionales que vemos en las telenovelas y películas nos llevan a aceptar la violencia que ocurre en las relaciones reales? Personalmente, yo creo que las bofetadas ocasionales que vemos en la televisión promueven violencia y en algunos contextos contribuyen a varios sistemas de opresión. Ahora, ¿deberíamos de parar de mirar las películas y telenovelas que tanto nos gustan porque esto ocurre? Independientemente de la respuesta, me gustaría alentar a las personas a reconocer la bofetada ocasional la próxima vez que la vean. Incluso tal vez puedan hablar con alguien acerca de ello. Quizás pueden decir, “que buena película o episodio pero ¿qué pensaste de la bofetada?


My sweetie and I were watching a romantic comedy the other day in which one of the main characters was asked to be the Maid of Honor for her ex—a woman she is still in love with. The plot continues through a series of comic events that lead to the Maid of Honor suddenly slapping the bride (her ex- and future lover)! I caught myself laughing and even thinking that the person at the end of that slap deserved it for all the pain she had caused. But then I started to question my reaction. I decided to ignore my own advice that I should relax because it’s just a movie. After all, questioning one’s judgment of who deserves to be slapped seems to me to be a reasonable standard to have. It bothered me that the slap seemed so casual—almost acceptable. It just happened. No one even apologized! The fact that it was a same-gendered couple did not make it any less troublesome to me. I am not unfamiliar with the occasional movie slap—they are ubiquitous to the telenovelas I watched growing up. I have also seen them on All My Children, General Hospital, and even Modern Family.

It got me thinking, when we discuss abuse in relationships we always talk about power and control as a pattern of behavior. Some of us believe that a one-time incident is not enough to call a relationship abusive. So, is it ok to laugh if someone gets slapped just one time? Or do these occasional slaps in the movies and telenovelas lead us to accept real-life violence in relationships? Personally, I believe that the occasional slap does promote violence and oppression. Now, should we stop watching the movies and soap operas that we enjoy so much because of it? Either way, I would encourage you to acknowledge a slap the next time you see it. Maybe talk to someone about it. Say, “What a great movie/episode, but what do you think about that slap?”

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