Each time I have entered an early childhood or primary classroom these past months, I was made instantly aware of the number of young children organizing new games. Sometimes it was the "Beauty and the Beast" game; other times it was "The Little Mermaid."
I had not previously seen either "Mermaid" or "Beauty," but their over whelming popularity with this young group convinced me that I needed to borrow the videos and assess content and contribution. I had to promise my friend's children a quick return because these were most prized videos.
Interestingly, all the "chorus line" females in " Mermaid" wear the same revealing costume; and they are thin, curvaceous, well endowed, and had long, wavy hair. They are sweet, gentle, kind, inquisitive, and trusting. In contrast, the evil woman, Ursula, is fat, lewd, heavily painted, and frightening. Ariel falls in love with Eric, and we know it's real love because she moans, day dreams, sings, and primps.
Furthermore, we hear that men prefer voiceless women, those who don't gossip. After all, it's "she who holds her tongue that gets a man." Returning to the traditional rescue, Eric must kiss Ariel or she reverts back to a mermaid. They kiss and live happily ever after.
Belle, the beauty of "Beauty and the Beast," is a somewhat different character. While she, too, is beautiful, thin, shapely and has captivating dark eyes and long, dark hair, she is also a reader and a thinker. She is a young woman who has ideas, and because of her active mind, it's apparent that she doesn't fit in" with others. Gaston is overwhelmed by her beauty and feels that one so handsome as he, deserves this beautiful woman. He tells her she could be his wife and even look forward to a daily ritual of massaging his feet! They could have 6 or 7 little boys just like Gaston himself.
Children are flocking to these films, but what messages come through to them? To learn more, I interviewed a dozen young girls to learn why they like the films. Responses were overwhelmingly the same. "These are stories about being in love and getting married.'' " I hope I will marry a handsome prince, too." " I want to have long hair and be beautiful." Even Belle, the reader with wonderful ideas, was revered only for her beauty, her hair -- and because she was in love. None of these children saw any other message or identified more worthy characteristics.
Perhaps there is some growth and development of female film and cartoon characterizations, but the stereo types remain evident and the exceptions almost too few to count. In contrast, the "Home Alone" movies star an adventuresome, brave, clever, young boy who is able to repeatedly outwit and outscramble a pair of bungling culprits. "Save Willie," the story of a young boy and a whale, provides us with a dedicated, risktaking, kind, and brave young boy. Strong role models for boys in both instances. But where are the bright, industrious, brave, thinking young girls so desperately needed and so consistently neglected in film?
Copyright 1993, The Women in Literature and Life Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN #1065-9080). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.
Reference Citation: DeCosta, Sandra Bradford. (1993). Column as early childhood and elementary editor. WILLA, Volume II, 4.