I was half listening and watching The Proud Family Movie, a Disney cartoon movie for kids, when one of the characters said something that made me sigh so loudly my neighbour rang me to keep it down, and my neighbour is a kilometre away.
Referring to their sixteen year old daughter, mum says to dad:
“…..before we know it she’ll be off to college then a career, marriage, grandkids……”
So what, you ask? So what indeed. It's true, for many this statement won’t even raise an eyebrow, most won’t see the problem with it. Then let me ask a question: is this the only order of life for girls? Can life not be different to this for them? Are they not capable of making decisions for themselves about how they want to live their lives?
Let’s not even discuss if this sixteen year old girl has decided she doesn’t want to get married, or have children, or even go to college.
This type of sentence may seem completely innocent, and it would be if that’s the only time children will hear it. But this will not be an isolated utterance or concept reiterated to girls, or even to boys. Both girls and boys will hear and read and watch this kind of gender stereotyping over and over again, so much so that they will begin to think - much like many parents already do - that this is the ‘natural’ progression of things, of life. Though, I must give credence to the mention of this sixteen year old being allowed to have a career before marriage and kids – it’s really quite rare to hear this.
It is important to mention that this movie was written by four men. And I mention this because quite often people forget that this is a made-up story. Instead the focus gets shifted to mothers saying this about their daughters, albiet just cartoon ones. We often begin to believe that this is in fact what 'real' mothers want for their daughters, and as such it is women who regress their cause by saying stuff like this. Actually it's just another attempt to discredit the female voice because the voice behind this cartoon mother is in fact male. This was a male’s perception of a mother, not a woman’s - the writers were male, remember?
I am not suggesting the men who wrote this script had intended to be stereotypical about a girl’s life path or believe this is the only path for all girls, however I can write this with certainty - these men took the easy way out, rather than creating a unique 'mother' character they chose a generic one, one we’ve seen a million times over, one they didn’t have to think too long and hard about.
Most talented writers wouldn’t dream of using clichés but when it comes to writing about women or creating female characters, whether in books or movies or cartoons, for some reason the cliché is suffice. Even more so disappointingly, it’s still accepted by the majority of us.
Let's begin to pay attention to the gender of writers and ask, whose voice and perception are they coming from?
And let's start demanding more from these writers of female characters, and while we're at it let's start demanding that they use more of them, too.