I'm sitting in my bed right now, my eldest snuggled up next to me after a rather late movie night. We both stayed awake - a shocking event in my case more than hers - courtesy of lots of chocolate and a really fantastic movie.
No, it was not Frozen.
Let's all take a moment for that statement.
It was not Frozen. It was James and the Giant Peach, which, about midway in, had me searching for a place to scribble down the boom and echo of what had been previously just an inkling and a whisper of my discontent with Disney's latest hold on girl power.
As I was scribbling with a half melted crayon I found in my pillow case, my eldest said, in a chocolate stained stupor: "Mom, this movie is really really really... I don't know the word... I just really really like it better than Frozen."
(I wanted to say: “I know, right?!” and then jump into a delectable feminist rant like she was my bestest college roommate)
E: "Because... It has more details. More stories. It's more real life. Um. What's the word? There are more parts. More characters. It - I don't knowwww - makes me imagine."
Uh huh. Here we go, yo, here we go.
Prior to this movie night, I will confess that my children, even my almost three year old, had watched Frozen so many times that they had actually started to opt for watching it on Spanish. They don't speak Spanish nor are they invested in learning it. It was just that "make it still awesome" phase of the addiction process.
I participated happily, convincing myself that the underlying discontent I felt for the movie was just yet another weirdism of mine I needed to let have a time out. I hesitantly concluded that the fervor of young girls in relation to this film was akin to my generation's innocuous obsession with Cabbage Patch Dolls. Plus, let's be brutally honest, it sometimes acted as a very good dinner-making babysitter.
I know, I said it. And so far I have not been arrested. (looking over my shoulder)
Anyway, I believe now that my discontent is warranted. And I know many of you have felt it too. Like me, though, you just couldn't scratch the itch. On the surface and even at is depth, Frozen's message is "sisters before misters" and "claim your voice" and "Buh bye good girl" and, I'm gonna say it, "Let it go!" But, after watching James and the Giant Peach, I felt the guts of my unease about it swoop in with clarity.
Girl power has become a mass produced object, with profits of unfathomable levels at its manicured helm.
Frozen is the highest-grossing film of all time. And many would like to believe that this is A) a signal that it is serving an unaddressed need in the culture of young girls; B) an awesome development in the landscape of female empowerment; and C) a major renegade move by Disney to be anti-antiquated princess.
To all of the above, I call bull shit. All that is happened is that "they" have gotten more adept at knowing how to make a product contagious and viral. Along with that, "they" have learned how to more effectively exploit the previously proven engine that is the buying power of the girl market. How? By:
- Creating the movie and its associated products in a pretty, mainstream, and popularity approved package
- Following a formula for how to make something contagious: Early pre-release of toys, trailers with only funny parts, catchy jingles, celebrity presence, etc etc etc.
- Exploiting deeply entrenched pain points in the mothers of these girls
- Creating simplistic solutions for these pain points that we as guardians think will help them not suffer our fate.
Now, to be fair, I'm not saying that this is some sort of sinister operation out to diminish women for all eternity. And I can pretty much guarantee that most of the people working on the film genuinely believe it is serving some sort of greater good for girls.
But, if we can hold that innocence in one hand, we can open the other hand and see that simultaneously there exists a need to make a buck (or a gazillion) through strategic marketing to a lucrative demographic. And from this need, there is consequential carnage in the form of undermining the female experience as one that is mostly related to the struggle with self love.
The truth is that the experience of being a woman surpasses by leaps and bounds the oppression of insecurity they (and we) are projecting to our girls. The experience of being a woman is divinely complicated, just as it is for every human being. And by continuing to homogenize what it is to be a woman and sell it to our children in a neatly packaged object of girl power is the real oppression. It's an easy way out for all of us. For us as mothers and for the creators of this sort of media.
The easy way in? Remind ourselves daily that the girls we raise may not (yet) have the insecurities we've inherited from our own journey, but are instead AT RISK for them. When you can isolate our girls as being at-risk, then we can get innovative. And I promise, Frozen is not innovative. Not in its animation. Not in its supposed "diverse" "empowered" princess retelling. Not in its male/female dynamic. Not in its marketing.
So, is the solution tossing Frozen (and Brave and Tangled and and and) out the window? I wish. That won't do much except rid your cabinet of some plastic and your ears of that dang song.
Well, as usual (and as the privilege holds), the work gets put right back on our momma plate. Not only can we meander through making conscious decisions for how to shed these insecurities ourselves, but we can actively surround our girls with options that expand their inborn nature of liberated self expression rather than options that put them directly on a conveyor belt towards a predictable battle with acculturated shoulds of womanhood.
We can educate our girls about self love by showing them self love in the form of taking risks and doing dynamic things that are important to us. We can fill our inner and outer worlds, as well as theirs, with a recipe of spirituality + creativity + physicality + possibility. We can unearth all resources that tap into the quenching juice of being lifegivers and lifeguards in the world. We can say no to that which begs our unconscious consumerism and corseted behavior. We can create media that sparks not a contained and overproduced girl powerdom, but a flexible, inventive, and feminine human powerdom.
Instead of popping in a movie of animated pixie fairy-tale characters, we can be real live action heroes in their lives.