I am a female novelizing fairy tales, with the goal of publication.
I have two daughters, ages 7 and 8, who love stories and princesses and “glamor” and dressing up. They talk about the man they’ll eventually marry (though they acknowledge they might not know him yet), and the sort of choices they’ll make when they’re mommies (some like mine, some different).
So discussions about “gender inequity” in stories and challenges like the Bechdel test intrigue me, as a woman, a mother of girls, and a storyteller.
But I sometimes wonder how much I actually care, since some of this is choosing where to look, and some of this is having enough hope to look in the first (or second, or third) place.
Now, to start with, I’ll be the last person to argue that there aren’t more male-centered stories. That’s not my point. What I think when I look at the list of movies that “don’t pass the test,” (that is, they don’t have two or more named female characters talking with one another about something other than a male), I don’t think, The slimeball writers left out the women!
I ask, Was it a good movie/story anyway?
Maybe I’m a storylover first and a woman second.
Maybe more than seeing surrogates for myself or my daughters in interesting/tragic/life-threatening situations I want to have an emotional journey.
I want to experience things I’ve never felt before, find words or images for something previously ineffable, or relive something that is over but an exciting memory.
So I watch Lord of the Rings, Stranger than Fiction, or a romantic comedy for an echo of that unexpected spark that surprised me when I first realized I loved the man I ended up marrying.
As an adult, I’m not particularly looking for “role models” or ideas for relationships or interaction. Ms. Bechdel’s test is an interesting piece of trivia, but not relevant to my storylife.
As for my girls I’ve never had the illusion that they will find adequate role models from movies. When poor choices are in front of our eyes we pick them apart, discussing motivations, connecting cause and effect.
Yeah, being the children of a storyteller can be hard sometimes. For the record we actually don’t pick stories apart that much, but when anything seems settle really deep we try to make sure it settles in a healthy context.
So I suppose that has never been a pressure in my mind.
I don’t feel bothered by their attraction to beauty or babies or the ideal of marriage. It is the life I hope for them: one where they are happily married and raising a family.
Statistically that’s what’s going to happen anyway, so why not prepare and make it something to look forward to?
We are surrounded by hard-working, kind-hearted women who know how to listen and how to speak. These are the role models I want all three of my children to key off of.
But what about the stories?!
Yeah, I have a collection of those, too. Mostly picture books, because that’s what I’ve spent to most time with in recent years,
They tend to be traditional so they conform to some *tsk*tsk*able norms (daughters suffering for a father’s “sin”?) but I roll with because every story needs an inciting event. And girls will always be surrounded by people and circumstances stronger than themselves. I feel it’s more important what they do next.
And, yes, in a significant number of these stories the girl has help.
I’m glad for that: I never want any of my children to assume they have to do enormous tasks in isolation. I pray they will always be surrounded by healthy, loving people who with share their burdens.
Most of those next time.
My list begins (and some commentary):