The World at Large

Moving to the US

Friday, August 03, 2007

Girls

This morning I found myself thinking (again) about how the Hollywood movie experience is about men. There are occasionally some good movies with female protagonists, but these seem quite rare. I suppose those films attract a smaller audience, since they are usually what we call "chick flicks", meaning they mostly appeal to women, and not men. In contrast, "popular films" (which are usually about men) are designed to appeal to our cultural tastes, regardless of gender. Books and TV are similarly about the male experience.

Of course, like most people, I can relate to the lead character in most plots. This is the point - if you can't relate then you won't care about the character, meaning you won't be interested in the story. However, this is partly based on the fact that the lead characters are usually male. I can care about a female character, but not by "relating" to their experience in the way that I do with a male role. It's more like imagining the scenario for a partner, or a friend.

This makes me wonder if the same is true for most people, and in particular, for women. I should ask Anne if she agrees (this post should remind me to do just that). I acknowledge that it's not a big issue for most people, as this is the cultural experience that we have been brought up with. Men can relate to being a male character, while women might relate better to knowing or maybe being with most characters. This is the way we've always known it, so it doesn't bother us like maybe it should. Or that's my thesis anyway. :-)

I was thinking all of this because an advertisement for "Angelina Ballerina" was playing at the time. Over the last few years I've possibly seen 5 or 6 halves of episodes of this (maybe even a whole episode or two), and I usually don't "get it". However, for young girls it must be nice to see something written directly for them, as opposed to those shows about boys, like Jakers, Caillou, Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder, Noddy, Kipper, Fireman Sam, and so on. Even Sesame Street has a bias of Elmo over Zöe, giving Elmo his own "sub show" called Elmo's World (this is broadcast separately in Australia, but is just a part of the hour-long Sesame Street episode here in the USA).

This partly comes from an attitude adopted as late as the early 70's, which pretends that boys and girls are essentially the same, and advocates that they are each treated identically. TV shows, movies, and books seem to aim at this "androgynous" approach by taking a male perspective for the most part.

However, recent studies are showing that there are fundamental differences (it only took us 3 decades to rediscover what had already been known for thousands of years), and that not acknowledging these can be detrimental to a child's progress. Note that I'm NOT talking about "inequality" here. Just that there are innate differences. There is evidence to show that neglecting these differences leads to boys being disruptive in school at a young age (where there is a female orientation to early childhood education), and teenage girls performing worse, on average, than boys do in mathematics and physical sciences (where the teaching approach is geared toward male thinking). I'm summarizing a lot of sources here, but a good central reference for finding this stuff is Leonard Sax's book, Why Gender Matters.

Of course, this isn't a direct issue for me (for now, at least), as we are raising two boys. But it still bothers me. Other than simple concerns about being "fair", it makes me wonder if a cultural experience like this is what leads to some boys growing up without enough respect for girls and women, and for many girls to grow up with less confidence. These attitudes can have a big impact on individuals and, by extension, society in general.

When I hear people express concerns on these points, I notice they are usually dismissed as far-left liberals. This is a shame, as I think it is an attitude being perpetuated by the very cultural norms I've just referred to.

Still, progress is still made every so often. Just a couple of hours after I was thinking about all of this, I saw that television actress Danika McKellar has published a book for teenage girls, entitled Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math and not Break a Nail. Danika may not be a lead character on a TV show, but it's still great to see something like this coming from a figure in popular culture.

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