Just about every time a children’s movie comes out, or any movie for that matter, you can hear the inevitable cry: Where are all the strong girls?
“Where are the strong girls? The brave girls? The girls who represent real girl human beings, instead of trophies for boy heroes?”
It’s whine, whine, whine, all the way to the blog.
But here’s the deal.
We don’t need any more strong girls.
We already have the strong girls. We’ve got that part covered down to a science.
She’s called the so-called Minority Feisty, a character you probably know oh so well and point out to your daughter as an example of silver screen awesomeness.
“Look, honey, girls aren’t total lame-os!”
You know who she is. You’ve seen her plenty of times.
She’s that one super cool, hard-charging girl who, despite incredible powers or talents or grit, is usually relegated to being the sidekick to the ultimate hero, the dorky, hapless boy who suddenly “finds himself” and saves the day. The added bonus to this character is that she’s often also the “harpy scold” or “sister killjoy” whose mission in life is to lean in on cutting boys down.
Anyone who’s seen anything from Kung Fu Panda to How to Train Your Dragon to the Lego Movie knows this dynamic well.
So come on, what more do we want?
We’ve got the strong girl and the killjoy.
It’s a two for one.
We should be happy.
So why aren’t we?
Let me end this charade. Let me tell you what we want, we movie lovers, parents, and pop culture fans who are sick and tired of endless messages that put Baby in the corner and tell boys that’s exactly where girls should be.
So how’s this for a start: We really don’t need more strong girls.
We do have that covered.
Keep those assertive, gritty girls in the film and then do this:
Add more girls.
Lots more girls.
Got some throwaway moron who offers one line and goes away? Make her a girl.
Got some stuttering sidekick? Make her a girl.
Comic relief animal: Girl.
Banker teller: Girl.
Sports hero: Girl.
Fart noise maker: Girl.
Evil genius: Boom. Make that character a girl.
Despite the fact that women outnumber men in this country, boys far outnumber girls in movie roles in every genre and rating level. It’s basically remained 70 percent boys vs 30 percent girls for the past 25 years.
To be perfectly fair, roles assigned to girls have risen in that time period. By the tune of 2.7 percent.
Um … yay?
Look, I get it. You’re thinking, “Come on, these are movies!” Often these are fantasy lands or made-up worlds. What does it really matter?
Why does it matter?
If the real world is 50-50 boys and girls, why do fantasy lands or cinema populations have to so heavily favor boys? Why do we need this fantastical thinking over and over and over again, in movie after movie after movie?
What does it say about our society when escapist fun means escaping half of our population?
How is that any good for anyone?
If it’s just a movie, let me throw that logic back at you: Who cares? Even it out then. Let’s see what happens.
It’s really not difficult. When a film is being cast, unless a penis or a vagina is paramount to a role, just make the roles 50-50.
Strong girls, shy girls, hapless girls, brave girls.
We need them all.
Look, I’ll level with you. Nothing I’m saying here is particularly new or insightful. Many ground-breakers have been making this argument for years, from the wonderful Reel Girl to the Geena Davis Institute to Pig Tail Pals to Princess Free Zone and many, many more writers and thinkers I admire.
But I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines. I’m tired of silently nodding my head in agreement to their great arguments for gender equality in movies and pop culture, and I’m really, really tired of seeing the reactions they get from mouth-breathing hordes of sexist gas bags, when really all they want to do is empower our girls and tell our boys that girls have worth, that they’re not just objects to be won, or killed if they reject you.
Yes, seriously, that’s the end game.
That’s why arguments like this are important.
Take one thing: a stupid movie in which girls are made the lesser. Fine, no bigs. Sometimes it happens. I get it.
But take 200 movies over two decades. That’s a different story. That’s a pattern of societal sexism that hits home year after year, in child after child.
Then start adding in other things.
Take one girls T-shirt that says, “Golly, math is, like, hard!” Ha ha. Very funny.
But a consistent pattern of these things moves beyond creepy and into dangerous territory — territory that reverberates out of childhood and into adulthood in the form of rape threats for simply being online, lower pay for the same work, or blatantly sexist coverage and messages about who and what our real leaders should be.
This real world pattern starts somewhere.
Movies, T-shirts, toys, Happy Meals. Take just one thing, and it’s no big deal, but add them all together and we’ve got a problem.
So that’s why I’m doing this, adding one more voice to the mix simply to say, “We can do better. For our girls and our boys.”
Let’s not just raise our fists and simply shake them.
Let’s set a 5-year goal to get movie populations to mirror real world populations.
50-50 in 5.
It may not be a panacea, but it’s a start.