Finding Dory Is Perfect, Except When It Isn’t: Gerald and Becky

Finding DoryThis weekend “Finding Dory” opened to enormous box office success, which is important for a sequel driven by a female character. My family and I join in on the positive reviews, we all really loved the film.

Except for one really important part.

The movie offers marginal gender balance (two of the six main characters are female) but the film redeems itself by depicting the female characters as the heroes (Dory, Destiny, Becky). It is a beautifully animated, so much so my kids kept turning to me asking “is this real life?”

The story has a central theme – the importance of family bonds, those we are born to and those we make along our journey in life. My husband and I were very touched by tender moments between Dory and her parents (the lines of sea shells, anyone?). No matter what path you take in life, love will bring you home.

Friendship, courage, empathy, self confidence, and teamwork all are strong story components. As the character arcs play out we see different vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies of many characters, especially our main characters. Destiny the whale shark has poor eyesight that impacts her swimming, Bailey the beluga is super dramatic and convinces himself his sonar does not work, Marlin is his usual pessimistic self, Nemo has his little fin, and Hank the octopus (actually, a septopus due to a lost tentacle) is terrified of the kiddie touch pool and the open ocean. Most obvious of all is Dory’s short term memory loss, and we see her struggle to overcome this while being open about her condition and unafraid to ask for help.

Dory and her amazing parents.

Dory and her amazing parents.

As the film played out I was touched by the way Pixar showed Dory’s parents teaching her in ways that gave her the skills she needed to be independent and “normal”. I have a daughter with anxiety and I completely identified with having to do things differently in order for my girl to feel like she could do what all the other kids were doing with ease.

Having a kid who is different is not easy.

It was heartwarming how the six main characters accepted one another’s quirks and encouraged one another to triumph despite them. In many ways, the film can serve as an important vehicle to opening meaningful conversations about disabilities and differently abled people.

Unfortunately two characters were not afforded the same inclusion and acceptance, which left me feeling very uncomfortable with certain scenes in the film.

Finding Dory's sea lions Gerald, Fluke, and Rudder.

Finding Dory’s sea lions Gerald, Fluke, and Rudder.

Gerald is a sea lion who is goofy looking, does not speak, and moves and behaves in a way that differs from the other two sea lions we meet, Rudder and Fluke. In fact, we see Rudder and Fluke bully Gerald. All for laughs from the audience. Their behavior isn’t used as a teachable moment, instead the neuroatypical Gerald is used as a punchline.

 

Gerald

Gerald is tricked out of his beloved green bucket.

Schools and parents do a lot of work these days to teach kids to stand up to bullying, to be an active witness instead of a silent bystander, and to recognize the power of kindness. Gerald’s character could have been treated much differently and still been silly.

I know kids who are a Gerald. They aren’t punchlines. They are human beings who do not deserve to be bullied nor ostracized.

Becky is a loon with a bizarre appearance and she behaves differently from the rest of her flock. While her character serves a purpose, her “differentness” is again exploited by Rudder and Fluke. Marlin is openly hostile to her. Her appearance is meant to be jarring, and we see characters react strongly to her with little tact or respect. Becky doesn’t talk but she does make strange noises, another punchline. In a movie with only two of the six main characters cast as female, and two of the five side characters as female, it would have been nice to have Becky portrayed differently.

Becky looks and behaves strangely, and is mocked for it.

Becky looks and behaves strangely, and is mocked for it.

The movie makes the distinction if you are different but look and behave mostly “normal” (Dory, Nemo) you are accepted, but if you look or act oddly you are the butt of the joke and used by the other characters. Gerald and Becky are most definitely outsiders. This post and this post do a nice job of explaining why this made many viewers uncomfortable or downright upset.

David Chen for slashfilm.com summarized the scenes very succinctly: “Both of these characters feel like cheap jokes. For the kids that are in the audience, they send a pretty clear message: It’s okay to laugh at people who are different, or who aren’t as smart as you are. Sure, Dory is differently abled. But she doesn’t fundamentally look/function different than most of the other characters in the film. Becky and Gerald, though, are fair game. For a movie that’s all about how anyone can achieve anything, that’s disheartening and inconsistent.”

There are a lot of kids who are Gerald’s and Becky’s. I don’t think they are jokes. I think more often than not, they are the best of us. 

My friend Jennifer and I were discussing this aspect, and her words perfectly sum up my feelings on Gerald and Becky’s roles: “I really, really struggled with the Gerald character. It made me absolutely cringe. I wasn’t happy with it and it seemed completely unnecessary. At least Becky, they show how the world looks through her eyes (literally) and they portray her as someone who is a useful member of that society. But the mocking and bullying of Gerald? Totally not OK.”

I know Gerald’s and Becky’s so I talked to my kids about this aspect of the film. I’ve been bullied, it is a miserable experience. This is a wonderful family film and your family should go see it. The good messages definitely outweigh the bad, but the bad messages still need to be addressed. When our children know better they can do better.

I feel like a fish out of water for saying something negative about a film that is so widely loved. And I did love the love the film. But I don’t love cruelty, and frankly our nation has enough of that going on right now. I know there are kids off the screen who could be negatively impacted by the acceptance of treating Gerald’s and Becky’s cruelly. With a platform the size of Pixar’s I would have appreciated if respect and inclusion had been a tenant throughout the film.

Like Charlie taught Dory, “There is always another way.” Let’s choose instead to take good care of each other.

13246296_10153429033517131_2474661485922461678_oMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

You Are Needed To Shine

We have been called on to shine.

We have been called on to shine.

A late night request to my community —
Whether you are awake late into the night with me now or you read this in the morning or days later, I need something from you.

 

For two days I have had women messaging me, telling me they too were raped. They say thank you for talking about the Stanford case, thank you for sharing his mug shot, thank you for calling him a rapist and not a swimmer.

 

These women tell me they too were raped as a teen or young woman. In the wake of the firestorm around convicted sex offender Brock Turner, they have come to realize they were raped, that what happened to them is rape. They have come to be able to admit it was rape and not some other category of unwanted, coerced, forced sex. All of the discussions on social media have given them the courage to speak for the first time. Some of them have been speaking out all the years I’ve known them.

 

It is just past midnight on my side of the world. I am sitting at my dining room table working in the quiet while my family sleeps. The only way I’ve been able to write about the Stanford rapist Brock Turner is when my children are sleeping because when I look at my daughter while this story is swirling in my head I feel a scream build and rage inside me that would crumble the mountains that surround my home if I were to let it out. So I wait for night.

Night is hard for those of us who survive being raped. Maybe it is because so many of our attacks took place at night. Maybe it is because at night your thoughts always seem so much louder. Maybe it is because the dark makes it more difficult to see and you no longer like surprises. Maybe night is worse because of something primal, something deeply embedded in our brains from the days we lived in caves and were hunters as well as the hunted.
Women and girls should not be hunted. We carry a natural born right to dignity and security. We deserve to not fear the darkness of the night. We deserve to not fear walking home from class. Or fear riding the subway to work. Or fear dancing and flirting with someone, and to have that confused as an invitation to commit sexual felonies on our bodies. Or fear showing up female while in public. Or fear the ability to name ten other friends who have also been raped.

 

We deserve to have parents teach their sons not to rape.

 

We deserve to have society support us with that one, simple request: Teach your sons not to rape.

 

Teach your sons instead to leap off their bicycles to aid a woman in distress, to testify on her behalf in her quest for justice, to share her voice so the world better understands the impact of rape.

 

In her letter to the court, the courageous Stanford victim spoke of offering hope to other rape victims by sharing her story and quoted author Anne Lamott, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save? they just stand there shining.”

 

“And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save? they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.” -Stanford survivor

 

We need a community of light houses around our girls and women.

We need a community of light houses around our girls and women.

So that is what I ask of you. Stand there and shine. Let us know you are a lighthouse. Tell the Stanford survivor you are shining for her. Tell us you are #StandingShining for all. 

 

If you support the women who have shared their experiences with rape, stand there and shine.
If you support girls and women struggling to overcome sexual assault and rape, stand there and shine.
If you support the idea that rape stops when we stop raising rapists, stand there and shine.
If you support the idea a convicted rapist is not brought to justice with light sentencing, stand there and shine.
If you support the movement led by parents to teach consent, respect, and dignity towards all bodies, stand there and shine.
If you support the idea a woman can get blazing drunk and hold the expectation she will not be raped, stand there and shine.
If you want to expose the Rape Culture that allowed the Stanford attack and trial to exist, stand there and shine.

 

Let survivors know you are shining for them.

 

Let parents know you hold their sons to higher standards, and they will be in your spotlight.
Let women know their nights are no longer dark, that we will become a community of lighthouses.

 

Let’s take good care of each other. Let’s stand together and shine.

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

Little Girls and Dangling Earrings

11209742_10153317049122460_1277328579789775883_n

Nine-year-old Amelia wears dangling earrings for the first time, and relishes the feeling of sophistication it brings.

Originally written May 8, 2015 (Thank you, Facebook, for the tour through Memories!). Updated May 10, 2016. 

Here’s the thing about rushing our girls prematurely through girlhood – if they act like miniature teenagers during their childhood they miss out on that special feeling that comes from being just a smidge more grown up. When you can feel yourself getting just a little more sophisticated by the new thing you are doing and you can see what is ahead of you as you continue to grow. If you’re 5 going on 21, those special little moments don’t mean anything because you’ve already done it all.

Like tonight at my husband’s birthday dinner, my nine-year-old daughter was allowed to wear dangling earrings for the first time in honor of the special occasion. She chose to have her ears pierced a year ago, a decision we felt was important for her to make for her own body, and we’ve limited her earrings to small styles that just cover the bottom of her earlobes. Maybe for some families it isn’t even a consideration, but my husband and I told her dangling earrings are more for older girls and grown ups, and little earrings are for little girls who run and play hard and wrestle. Not that older girls can’t do those things, I just don’t usually wrestle with my friends when I get overly excited. Usually.

Because we had her wait to take the next step to being an older, more sophisticated girl these dangling earrings were a big deal to her. She felt special. She felt fancy and excited to be exploring something new. She felt the power that comes with becoming a woman.

Our mothers give birth to us, but it is through the process of girlhood that we give birth to ourselves.

I believe that is one of the reasons society rushes girls through their girlhood. Aside from the billions of dollars there is to be made in the beauty and apparel industry when girls act like appearance-conscious women, culturally we rush girlhood in order for our daughters to practice the script of being a woman. Think about the bulk of what is marketed to girls: princesses, glitter art, fashion, makeup, fancy pets, boyfriends. Culturally we sell our girls out to the lowest common denominators of expected femininity.

When we take away girlhood we rob our daughters of so many opportunities for self discovery, achievement and failure, curiosity, and confidence building. We rush girlhood because the patriarchy understands the power there and does everything possible to dismantle it.

My husband and I winked at each other during dinner when we would catch our girl tossing her head just to feel the dangling earrings swing and dance from her ears. For the evening she was trying on being a grown up. She was temporarily borrowing a part of being a lady with fancy grown up jewelry; visiting adulthood soon to return to being a happy nine-year-old girl.

There’s no need to rush. These children grow so, so quickly. In a breath, your daughter is taking a photo before dinner and she looks more like a preteen than your baby girl and you fight back tears as you think “Where did all this time go?”

She’ll be grown soon enough. Hopefully she’ll be her own strong version of being her own woman, who may or may not wear danging earrings. But tonight, I’m so glad for my little girl that fancy earrings were a big deal and she looks forward to growing and maturing and figuring out what all this grown up stuff is about.

All in due time, as tonight there are earrings to put back in the jewelry box and little brothers to wrestle with.

What is the cost to our girls when we allow or encourage them to rush through their girlhood? What do little girls gain when they are given the time to try on womanhood one bit at a time?

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

Sexism From The Back Seat: What Women Want

At least no one said "thigh gap".

At least no one said “thigh gap”.

While driving with my children this morning we heard an obnoxious morning radio program ask a trivia question for listeners. “What do forty percent of women wish they had?”

 
My kids – my kids, who live in the epicenter of media literacy, critical thinking, and gender equality – began yelling out their guesses from the back seat.
 
“An engagement ring!”
“A husband!”
“A nice kid!”
“Coffee! Tequila, probably, if they have kids.”
 
Ummmm…..what? I wondered why these were their answers. Did they really think this is what women coveted, or did they think this is what women would probably answer? Would those have been their answers had the question been about men? Probably not, and I wanted them to think about that. 
 
Then the callers were put on air with their answers: husbands, bigger boobs, lose weight, shopping spree, better hair, etc.
 
“What total, sexist crap,” I said as I flicked the station.
 
So I shouted out my own answers:
 
“Diversified stock portfolio!”
“An executive position and house husband!”
“Equal pay for equal work!”
“Win IronWoman!”
“Sell off a successful business and travel the world!”
“An all-female government!”
“A Woman Card-toting sparkling UNICORN!”
 
My unamused ten-year-old said, “Okay, okay you’ve made your point.”
 
“Thank you, 1956. You had me worried there for a moment. Marriage and kids are nice, if that is what a woman chooses for herself, but these days women can dream about things beyond being a wife and mother,” I replied.
 
Gender stereotypes creep up everywhere, all the time. It is not unnormal for your child to repeat them, whether or not they are reinforced at home. They are influenced by society just like we are.
When you hear stereotypes, you need to redirect them. Even when your kids don’t readily agree with you, (hello, parents of four-year-olds) your comments will challenge their thinking and lay a foundation for them to question the gender binary and stereotypical boxes we place people in.
 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

Daughters, Boyfriends, and Terrified Dads

The control of female sexuality, the paternal version.

The control of female sexuality, the paternal version.

My kids, ten and eight years old, both have their first crushes. Nothing more than “playground love” and I can see why my kids are crushing on the other two individuals. I adore the other children, they are great kids with fun personalities. While all very cute, the other parents and I agree they are entirely too young for romantic love and so instead we encourage strong friendships and do not tease them about “being in love” or being boyfriend/girlfriend.

That is a much different approach than viral dad-of-the-moment John Tierney took with his four-year-old daughter. When little Grace waved at two boys as they passed the family car her father told her “not to wave at the boys “because they’re smelly” and that sparked a debate about whether she could have a boyfriend,” as reported by the Evening Times.

Their conversation goes on and we hear “Dad of the Year”, as he has been called, telling his preschool-aged daughter he will break the legs of any boyfriend, kidnap the father, and eventually force her into a convent because she will “work for Jesus.”

Mr. Tierny’s parenting skills have been praised world wide and the video has been dubbed “hilarious” by several media outlets. Most of my conservative Christian friends loved it and shared it. Most of my progressive friends were horrified by it.

As the mother to a son and a daughter, it made me ill. And angry.

Can we please stop being so fearful of and trying to deny our children’s sexuality? They are human beings, they are going to develop into sexual creatures. It is a biological truth that got them here in the first place.

Dad of the Year? No. There is a lot going on here that is undoing the healthy development of this child. Maybe it is a harmless viral video, but it is upholding several highly problematic beliefs in our society that harm children.

First, this girl is exceptionally young to be focused on boyfriends. Her father encouraging the conversation as if it is age appropriate for her is sexualization. A more empowering conversation for this child would have been to have her list all the amazing things about her she sees in herself and that her friends and family love. She needs to be her own person long before she is anyone’s girlfriend.

Building on that idea, preschool is also a vital time to encourage friendships between boys and girls. The more time they spend together and the stronger friendships they develop, the better understanding they will have for each other and the more respect they will hold for each other.

Research supports the idea of boys and girls playing together, which makes sense since boys and girls will study, work, love, and live with each other for their entire lives.

Second, I don’t like the idea of a father controlling a child’s sexuality and tying that control to violence. Violence has no place in romantic relationships, and I’d rather see a father uphold that example than perpetuate the idea men hold title over the females in their lives.

In my family we prefer a more sex positive approach, and teach our children that having crushes on people is normal but dating and boyfriend/girlfriend stuff is best left for teenagers and college kids. In the meantime, there is a lot of growing up to do. For now, boys and girls just make really good friends.

Third, a “good father” does not threaten violence upon a child, especially the child of another family. Your daughter may be a very sweet girl, but I wouldn’t want my son anywhere near a crazy family like this. I can’t recall Jesus saying anything about breaking peoples legs or holding them hostage….Maybe we should review the work Jesus actually did.

Instead, a good father might allow his daughter to speak her mind as opposed to dominating the conversation, find out what she finds attractive in another person and use that as a teachable moment to review their family’s expectations and values.

A good father would raise a child whose judgement he can trust, instead of fear and control.

A good father raises a child who wants to keep company with other awesome people and sees the boyfriend/girlfriend as another unique, special, lovable young person.

A good father would raise his sons to be young men no family with daughters has to fear.

It takes a village to raise a child, so let’s raise them well.

To the boys or girls my children will date sometime in the future – Welcome to our village. We are big fans of respect, honesty, maturity, and no texting while driving. We have rules and expectations for our children, while in their company those also apply to you. We look at you as an awesome addition to our family. Let’s take good care of each other.

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).