Shortly after Brave was released, Eric Wecks posted an opinion piece on Wired.com titled Brave is Bad Storytelling for Boys and Girls! It’s eye-catching, and having fought for improvements in storytelling for women I read his post truly interested to see what concerned him.
There was no need to push down on one side of the gender seesaw in order to lift the other side up. Pixar was too good of a storytelling firm to resort to such cheap tricks, until now. We can hope it is an aberration. I worry it is the beginning of the end for Pixar’s independence from the tired Disney gender narratives.
Who cares, right? In a world of rants, why waste your breath when a movie follows common tropes? Because the trope of the stupid, irresponsible male vs. the capable female is coming true in real life. Rates of college attendance among men are dropping, while they are rising among girls. Boys now lag behind girls at every academic level from kindergarten forward. A growing number of college age men self-report feelings of social awkwardness. The stories we tell may not be the only reason for these trends, but they certainly do not help. If we as a society start boys off with family films which show them that their gender is not capable and is only interested in meaningless play and violence, why are we surprised when young boys become just what we expected them to be? We told them they were socially awkward and incapable. For the sake of our boys we need to create new stories which avoid making them look capable at the expense of women and which avoid pushing them down in order to lift women up.
My biggest problem with Weck’s assertion is that one movie does not make a trope. Stories can only flesh out a limited number of characters – especially in a movie meant for children. To Brave‘s credit, even with limited screen time the King acted as the voice of reason in the tension between mother and daughter, and he is depicted as an amputee who still forcefully leads a warrior nation. In advocating changes in storytelling to raise the portrayals of female characters up to a level-playing field, women have pointed to consistent patterns – that’s what creates tropes.
I’d like to say more, but time is a precious commodity right now. Fortunately, a great blog post from author Keirsten White summed up some of my other reactions.
I saw some complaints that men were nothing but plot devices in the movie. Well, umm, they are characters. In a movie. So, yeah. But they are also side characters who, by virtue of being SIDE characters, are not actually main characters. WHOA. CRAZY HOW THAT WORKS.
Look, I know that reverse sexism is just as bad as sexism (okay, actually I don’t know this because I don’t think it happens enough to impact our culture with the same degree of pervasive and insidious influence as reverse-reverse-sexism [or just plain old sexism if you want to keep things simple, which, why would we want to do that?]) but this is not sexism.
This is telling a story with two female main characters.
What’s sad is that it is even remarkable. It shouldn’t be remarkable. It shouldn’t be a talking point. But it is, so let’s focus on the positive of Pixar creating a story with a girl MC that is universally accessible and non-alienating based on gender.
(We will leave artificial gender constraints for another rambling blog post.)
I’d love to see White’s rambling on artificial gender constraints. In the meantime, I’m writing a story about a strong female character. Nothing reverse sexist about that.
Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.
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