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 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 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

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

Gender Stereotypes, Bullying, and Stepping Up: What We Learn from Michael Morones

We need to step up. We need to be the generation of parents who puts an end to bullying in our schools. No more excusing it, no more silence. No more thinking someone else will take care of it. No more kids feeling the only way to escape is to kill themselves.

Last week we learned about Michael, a kind and creative boy who was bullied by his peers because he loved My Little Ponies and the violin. They said he was acting like a girl. They said he was gay. Michael hung himself, and is now surrounded by family and love as he fights to wake up and resume his life. Michael is eleven years old.

“Girly” and “gay” must stop being used as slurs. All people have worth. Being a girl or being gay does not devalue a person. The way a child expresses their individuality has little to do with their gender or sexuality. Gender stereotypes are hurtful and we need to take action to make them unacceptable.

My good friend and colleague Carrie Goldman (author, “Bullied”) brings our attention directly where it needs to be: “We must continue to educate our young people on the fact that gender stereotypes are harmful, and that it is okay for boys and girls to play with all toys, not just the ones marketed to their gender.”

The silence of Michael’s school is also completely unacceptable. Become familiar with the bullying policy at your child’s school. Be proactive and talk to teachers and the principal. Look into programs like Buddy Benches or start an after school Kindness Club. Create a message wall where students can write kind messages to each other on post it notes. If you are at school and see students being unkind to each other, say something to them and set the example for the children around you. Finally, talk with your children at home about being an active witness when they encounter bullying and let them know they can always come talk to you and receive your full attention.

Christian Bucks developed a Buddy Bench for his school. (Image via HuffPo)

Christian Bucks developed a Buddy Bench for his school. (Image via HuffPo)

More info on Buddy Benches:

Interactive book for K-3 students on stopping bullying, “Jake and Riley’s Recess Rescue”:

A special thank you to my dear friend Carrie Goldman, who is so passionate about this issue and a true champion for our kids. If you have not yet, please pick up a copy of her book “Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins, August 2012)” and learn more about the issue and how we can stop it.

Grandma Pigtail Pals Has Something To Say To Girls Who Are Different

March 19, 2013

Dear Amelia,

I learned from your Mama today that some of your classmates have said some mean things recently. You were not looking forward to recess because of that. You wanted to play “wolves” and they did not think that is something girls should do. They wanted to be fairies, delicate, tiny, and almost invisible. They teased that maybe you wanted to be a boy. I felt very sad that your feelings were hurt. I also feel sad that those girls do not know how they are keeping their own awesomeness from growing bigger and stronger.

When I was little, my best friend Kathy and I used to pretend we were wild horses on the way to school. School was a mile away and much of that trip we would gallop and paw at the cement like real horses paw at the ground. Each street was a pretend river we had to cross and not drown. When we got to school, I am sure we were wind-blown and sweaty most days. She and I never, ever played beauty shop or princesses. We created pretend mysteries, a dog kennel, and school. We played explorers. Sometimes, but not very often we played dolls. We swam a lot and rode our bikes everywhere. We spent long days in the public library and art museum. She and I did not fit in with many of the other girls. She now teaches college classes and earned many college degrees. I work at a college and have many college degrees.  And I never turned into a boy!

Your imagination and strong spirit is different from many girls your age. You like to do art projects and play outside. You like to play pretend. There are many children who cannot play like that. You may act differently than some of the girls at school, but that does not mean you are bad or wrong. There are many ways to be a girl and many ways to be awesome. You may make some of the other girls uneasy because they might not have imaginations as strong as yours. They may have only been given certain kinds of toys because that is “what girls play with”. They may think girls can only be pretty, look nice for other people’s approval and get boys to like them. You know better. You know girls can get dirty, be noisy, be scared, be brave, take risks, be creative, and not care too much how they look every minute. Sometimes people can act mean when they feel uncertain or scared. They fight against any idea that suggests they might be in the wrong or need a new attitude.

Sometimes you will have to deal with mean people. Girls can be especially mean. Your mama had to face some mean girls. They did not like her because her hair was black, because she was very smart, because she moved to Kohler from somewhere else. She was different.  Sometimes your mama cried very hard and I held her tight. Sometimes I got very angry at those girls for hurting your mama. I had to remind myself that those girls were very unsure of themselves.

Look at your mama now. She is beautiful and strong. She graduated from college. She has traveled throughout the world. She has started her own company that is helping so many people. She is going to Boston this weekend because other people want to hear her ideas. I wonder what those mean girls would think now!

I hope you will be strong and be the Amelia you are meant to be. You are smart, creative, and very funny. You sometimes will not fit in because other people do not see the world like you do. That does not mean you are wrong. No other woman had flown an airplane across the Atlantic before Amelia Earhart.  I bet she lost many friends because she would not give up her plan. Rosa Parks took a stand for freedom of Black people to sit where they wanted to on buses and she did not care what the other women thought. She had to be herself. Sometimes the people, girls or boys, who do the most and explore and create the most, have to do things differently than the group who thinks it makes the rules. I hope you will remember that awesomeness is inside and no one can take it away. You know how to show it and you know how to make it quiet when you need to. I hope you remember that there is not just one way to be a girl or a first grader or a big sister. There are many ways. Amelia Joyce, remember you are amazing. We can only hope those other girls realize they can be amazing too, even while they let other girls be awesome in their own way. If I ever learn you have been a “mean girl”, you and I will have to have a very serious private talk. You need to show other children how to let their seed of awesomeness grow. Never, ever forget how much you are loved. You are my very first grandchild, my very first granddaughter, and I learn from you every week. I expect you will teach me many more ways to be awesome as I grow old!

I love you very much.







Book Review: Jake And Riley's Recess Rescue

A great workbook for children by Alison Trachtman Hill

As parents of young children we have a lot to worry about, and it seems like these concerns are present for our children at younger and younger ages. For our family, bullying was something that came at an early age and we were unprepared for it. I thought bullying was more of an upper elementary to middle school issue. I was not expecting to have to deal with it in kindergarten.

My children have always had a large group of friends and have moved easily in and out of play dates over the years. When my oldest, Amelia, began kindergarten last year we did not know anyone going into her grade at the school she would be attending. I had confidence that she would do well and meet some little friends who would become her bosom buddies. I would be dishonest if I did not admit that I was a tiny bit worried about her being teased….for mismatched socks or unbrushed hair or her wild laugh or any of her little silly quirks that make her Amelia.

It turns out those were all of the things her classmates loved about her. Amelia became well known around school and liked by her peers. Except for one boy, who made our year difficult by constantly harassing Amelia and her little brother Benny on the playground before and after school, we had a great kindergarten year. This boy was just clever enough to not do the continued harassment during the school day. The line was crossed when, during the same week, he kicked my then three year old in the groin and told Amelia that he was going to kill her after school. Meetings with the teacher and principal happened immediately, the issue was dealt with and much time later the relationship has now improved.

During this difficult time for Amelia I wished I had had a resource for her that could help me explain bully behavior, bystander behavior, and how to be a leader. That is why I am so excited to be introducing “Jake and Riley’s Recess Rescue”, an interactive workbook by my colleague Alison Trachtman Hill. “Jake and Riley” is what I needed last year to explain the painful experience of being bullied in a positive way so that my child could feel like her experience was being recognized without encouraging her to be a victim. Nowadays she and I talk a lot about how to be a leader and why it is not okay to be a silent witness. “Jake and Riley” does a great job teaching kids about targets, witnesses and what to do to help a peer in a situation where someone is getting hurt.

{To purchase “Jake and Riley”, click HERE.}

The story of “Jake and Riley” begins by introducing us to a group of four friends who all play different roles in a bullying experience on the playground. The simple text and engaging storyline are perfect for young readers, and the black and white pages make for a great blank canvas for your child to color in with their imagination. The book is geared for children in grades K-3. Throughout the 30 page workbook there are questions and activities that keep the young reader as an active participant in the story. At the end of the book, your child will learn how to work together with peers to create an inclusive, respectful school community. There is a complimentary adult curriculum guide that provides more opportunities to learn how to handle bullying situations and tools to create environments where everyone feels safe and valued.

Amelia read the book to her little brother Benny while I’ve been typing this up, and I asked them how “Jake and Riley” made them feel.  Amelia (first grader) said it made her “feel warm in her heart” and Benny (pre-K) said it teaches him how to be a good friend.

They’ve got it right! I liked what and how “Jake and Riley” teaches so much that it is now available on our website! You can order a few copies for the children in your family, or you can order for your classroom at a discounted bulk price. The Parent Guide complimentary with every purchase, sent to you via email after you place your order. Single copies are $7.99 and bulk orders of 24 books or more are $5.00 per workbook.

Alison Trachtman Hill is a nationally recognized advocate for youth whose work specializes in drawing out the social-emotional and character issues and challenges our young ones face. She has a kid-friendly approach that is packed with meaningful action items and tips. Her style fits seamlessly into our PPBB Community, and I know you and your children will really get a lot out of “Jake and Riley”.


This workbook is perfect for kids in grades K-3.


A note from Alison:

As a longtime member of the PPBB community, I am thrilled to share this resource with all of you.  My years of work focusing on positive youth development, social-emotional learning, and successful youth/adult partnerships led me to craft what I believe is a fun, engaging and successful method for teaching character education and helping young children deal with interpersonal conflict, power dynamics, and ethical decision-making.

To learn more about the work that I am doing across the country, log on to Critical Issues for Youth, follow us on Twitter, and/or “like” our page on Facebook.  To connect with me personally, email me or connect with me on LinkedIn.

I am on Team Bullied

I had injured my knee when I was in basketball in seventh grade, and was on crutches with a hip-to-ankle leg brace the day I got on a bus and rode ninety minutes from home with other students from my school to attend a Student Council leadership conference. It turned out to be one of the worst days of my life. I was, for reasons still unclear to me, the target of vicious bullying in seventh grade largely led by two girls who took every opportunity to demonstrate their hate for me. The teachers did nothing, other students did nothing. For months and months and months, nothing. The bullying was so bad at one point an incredibly inept guidance counselor told my parents we should consider moving.

I had no friends in seventh grade save one, a girl who is still my friend today. I got on that bus with the feeling something bad was going to happen, above and beyond the usual daily crap I took from the kids at school (like “slam books” being passed around with horrible things written about me or having obscenities scrawled with my makeup all over my gym locker or people kicking my crutches out from under me and laughing as I fell to the floor). The high school this conference was held at was an enormous school in a suburb of Milwaukee. After the final sectional of the day, we had to hurry to get back to our bus. The kids from my school, led by my main bully, took all these confusing turns and hallways intentionally trying to lose me as I struggled to keep up on my crutches. I could hear them laughing at me and taunting me. I heard my bully say, “She’s been like a dog following us all day. Let’s lose her!” And they did, they took off running and I couldn’t keep up with my crutches and after not too long, I couldn’t hear their footsteps anymore. It was winter and had become dark outside by the late afternoon, and I was completely lost inside this giant high school. I let my crutches fall to the ground, then my body followed, and I began to sob. I was lost, physically and emotionally. I had no idea why these kids hated me so, so much. Where did their cruelty come from?

My teacher came looking for me, and found me in a teary puddle on the floor. He sat down next to me, put his arm around me, smoothed my hair, and hugged me. And then he said, “Missy, they hate you because you are better than them.” I never told anyone what he said to me, but it stopped the suicidal thoughts going through my head. He helped me up, we walked back to the bus in silence. I rode home in the seat across the aisle from him in the front of the bus, crying quietly and just aching to get home and fall into my mom’s arms. When we got back to school, I quickly and quietly hopped down the stairs of the bus and walked into school while he stayed on the bus and gave the kids some wrap up notes for the day.

I was trying to get my books and back pack and get the hell out of there, but my leg in the brace was throbbing with pain at this point and I couldn’t move fast enough. The kids started filing up the stairs to our hallway of lockers, quietly staring at me. The teacher must have said something.

And then it happened.

My bully came up to me, put her hand on my neck and made a motion like how you would take a leash off a dog. She said loudly, “There  you go you bitch dog, you are free of  your leash and don’t have to follow us anymore.”

Where she touched me on my neck felt like fire. I saw white and my ears rang. And then I exploded. I dropped my crutches and in one swift motion grabbed her by her throat with one hand, lifted her in the air, and pile drove her into the bank of lockers. I slammed her into the lockers, as hard as I could. I held her in the air by her throat, and hissed at her through clenched teeth that I may be a bitch dog, but she was nothing but dog shit and that I hated her more than she hated me. I said I was done with it, and tomorrow, she had better leave me alone. Then I threw her to the ground and left her there in a snotty, crying mess. And I heard everyone laughing at the bully who had terrorized our entire grade for a year.

I collected my things and began the long, cold, crying, painful walk to my house. When I got in the door, my mom hugged me and said I wasn’t in trouble. She must have gotten a phone call. My dad hugged me. My brothers checked on me later that evening. I had people around me who loved me and showed it, which is why I didn’t kill myself that night. But I wanted to. I didn’t really want to, but this was my breaking point. I just couldn’t take one more day of being made to feel worthless. Mostly, I didn’t do anything drastic that night because I loved myself and I knew that what the teacher had said was right. I was better than them.

The next day when I walked into school, kids were smiling at me and saying hi. Not just hi, they were saying my name. Like I was a real person. I had people to sit by in lunch and study hall. Things changed very quickly for me. I was instantly liked by my classmates again and by the beginning of 8th grade, I was popular and remained so through high school.

What became of my bully? She was largely ostracized and bullied by most of the school until the day we graduated. So, I did what I had been brought up to do – I befriended her. We became very close friends, actually. I stood up for her. I stood up for other kids being picked on. I had words with boys who were bullying my younger brother. I broke up fights, and had secret therapy sessions in the bathroom with girls who were where I was that horrible winter day. I kept everyone’s secrets, still to this day. I was in every club and every sport, and enjoyed being friends with all the kids jocks to band geeks. Because no one has the right to make you feel small.

My senior year of high school we studied the Holocaust for many weeks, culminating in a large display of mixed media art. We had two Holocaust survivors acting as mentors for our class. One warm spring day, I was designated by my teacher to walk the woman back to her car. She was elderly and walked slowly with a cane. She had parked really far away from the parking lot, down the block and up a hill. It took us forever to reach her car, but I was so honored to be in her presence that I reasoned it would totally be worth the inevitable detentions I was about to get. She told me about her sister and mother and father who had been killed in the camps. She didn’t tell me about their deaths, she told me about their days spent alive. She told me about her favorite dress, and how dirty it had gotten on the train to the work camp she was deported to. She told me about the children she had birthed in America, and what a lovely place America was. I couldn’t speak the entire time, I just held tightly to her arm wrapped in mine as we walked. The sun was warm on our backs.

We reached her car and she said to me, “Your project is one of the best in the class. Do you know how I know this? It made me cry. Not a lot of kids understand this. What happened. You do. You touched my heart and now you need to promise me, when you see injustice, you are to be not silent. Repeat that to me.”

I stood there for an unknown amount of time, dumbstruck. I found my voice and I said, “My promise to you is that whenever I see injustice, I will always be not silent.”

I have always kept my promise to her. I always will. I will always be not silent. Those words are burned into my heart.


I don’t feel like making a video about my bullying experience for Team Bullied, because I can write better than I can talk. But I did make a video about bullying and my friend Carrie Goldman’s new book “Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs To Know To End the Cycle of Fear”, and you can see it here.

Tomorrow I’ll review her excellent book, and tell you how I’ve dealt with bullying as a parent, and how I am teaching my children to create a culture of dignity in their school and with their peers.

No one has the right to make you feel small. When it does happen, be not silent.