Another excerpt from the feminist parenting guide manuscript. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and reactions!
Finding healthier—and more interesting—media experiences is even harder than identifying awful ones. Feminist pop culture bloggers are a good resource for this effort: they enthusiastically mention particularly good shows, movies, magazines, games, and other media that don’t rely on lazy stereotyping for their laughs or their character development. For preschool-aged children, Sesame Street is a thoughtful show that shows a lot of respect for humans (including its young viewers) and is not poke-your-eyes-out unwatchable for parents—or, at least, I rather like it. Networking with parents of similar-aged children may help you find other good shows.
If you aren’t familiar with director Hayao Miyazaki’s films, please remedy that oversight as soon as possible: his Totoro is incredibly gentle and entrancing even for quite young children; then move on to Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Secret World of Arrietty, and others. Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki’s film studio, utterly avoids Disney’s princess obsession and Pixar’s near-inability to imagine a female lead character;* instead, these films matter-of-factly tell stories about girls. But Miyazaki’s oeuvre is only so extensive.
Even when your children are young, one more general strategy is to think outside the box of media specifically created for young people: depending on the genres you enjoy, your own favorite movies and shows may be better options for your children than the stuff that’s marketed at them. Musicals, nature documentaries, and other sorts of “grown-up” movies can be great options for children. And when you go this route, you may find yourself more willing to co-watch and talk about what you’re seeing.
[* Of Pixar’s first thirteen feature films, one (Brave, 2012) has a female lead—an imbalance that seems all the more pointed when we consider that the ant, monster, car, etc. leading many of these films could just as well have been voiced by a woman. When Pixar strives to tell universal stories, it seems they hear men’s voices in their heads. For an engaging and readable take on the Disney Princess phenomenon, see Peggy Orenstein’s book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Line of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.]