Forget Harry Potter--The New Miyazaki Looks Like Magic!

Oh my goodness! More good news! The next Studio Ghibli movie, Arietty, will open in the U.S. in February. Ghibli the Japanese company founded by the visionary auteur Hiyao Miyazaki is responsible for the fight-fun-with-fun screen gems My Neighbor Totoro,

Kiki's Delivery Service,

Spirited Away,

Ponyo,

Castle in the Sky,

Nausicaa,

Princess Mononoke (not for little ones),

all of which feature spectacular, wonderful, natural female protagonists. I could not have gotten through my daughter's childhood without him. Plus, Miyazaki totally blows out of the water the old chestnut that female protagonists can't be universal or hold boys' attention. His  creativity puts Pixar to shame. In fact, John Lassiter idolizes Miyazaki.

According to an article in the UK Guardian:

Ghibli is often lazily dubbed Japan's answer to Disney, but the comparison only holds true in terms of box-office sales (Spirited Away is still Japan's all-time top-grossing film – three other Ghibli films are in the top 10) and sales of cuddly toys. In terms of content, Studio Ghibli is a world apart. Since 1984, under the auspices of its founder and chief auteur, Hayao Miyazaki, the studio has rolled out a succession of dense, ambitious fantasy adventures, almost all of them led by strong, intelligent, independent-minded girls. Miyazaki's movies are exciting and fantastical, often involving flying machines, ecological disasters, clashing civilisations and precarious spiritual values – all rendered in clean, colourful, hand-drawn animation. His heroines also tend towards a certain type. They are adventurous and active, but also compassionate, communicative, pacifist and virtuous. Their "female" qualities and childish innocence are often what resolve the crisis at hand and bridge conflicting worlds. Miyazaki does princesses, too, but the first time we see his eponymous Princess Mononoke, she's sucking the gunshot wound of a giant wolf and spitting blood into a river.

As Miyazaki once explained: "If it's a story like, 'Everything will be fine once we defeat him,' it's better to have a male as a lead. But, if we try to make an adventure story with a male lead, we have no choice other than doing Indiana Jones. With a Nazi, or someone else who is a villain in anyone's eyes."

"He thought heroism was much more complicated than that black hat/white hat stuff," explains Helen McCarthy, a British author who has written extensively on Miyazaki and Japanese animation. "By making the hero a girl, he took all that macho stuff out of the equation and that gave him the freedom to examine heroism. His career has been a very beautiful building of an idea that the feminine doesn't preclude the heroic."

The new film has all the earmarks of a Ghibli classic:

Arrietty fits right into this mould. It was adapted by Miyazaki from Mary Norton's Borrowers stories and directed by his protege, Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Arrietty herself is a miniature 14-year‑old girl, who lives with her parents in secrecy under the floorboards of a rural Japanese home, "borrowing" their possessions – a pin becomes her sword, for example. Like any little girl growing up, she's independent-minded and eager to explore the outside world. Just as Spirited Away's heroine bridged the world between the spirits and the living, so Arrietty bridges that between her little people and the full-sized humans, but she is also driven by her curiosity about boys.

Yeah, the boys thing, I don't know. But in Miyazaki's hands I imagine we'll see something beautiful...and real. Here's the trailer (somewhat lame, but the animation and story look great).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeoKCQUDE-k

And--GIRL CRUSH ALERT--it stars Amy Poehler!!!

 

Forget Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (well, okay, don't FORGET it, but....). I'll be first in line for this one.

 

 

Being Part of the Solution for Girls AND Boys

Let's take a break from chronicling the problems today and--hey. in honor of women's soccer (woot!)--be a little solution-oriented. I just spoke with the magnificent Diane Levin and she mentioned an organization she's founded: TRUCE, which stands for Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment.

Our mission is to raise public awareness about the harmful influence of unhealthy children's entertainment and to provide information about toys and activities that promote healthy play. We are working to eliminate marketing aimed at exploiting children and to reduce the sale of toys and entertainment that promotes violence.

This is not specifically about girls--it's about the unhealthy messages beamed at both sexes. On their web site they have a fabulous set of action guides teachers and parents can download on play, toys and media for infants, toddlers and young children. They're totally grass roots, so if you do it and like it PASS THE INFORMATION ALONG!

I'll put this on my resources list, too!

Happy Friday!

 

 

Born This Way?

I know. Your daughter was just born loving pink. Your son made "vrooming" noises as he exited the womb. In CAMD I have a chapter on nature versus nurture, but I also highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend these three books. They are essential for anyone who has essentialist (i.e., everything is down to gender, boys will be boys, girls will be girls) tendencies. All three are super-readable and scrupulously researched and disentangle nature (which is real) from nurture (which is huge) revealing how our assumptions about kids and gender may be undermining our sons' and daughters' potential. Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps and What We Can Do About It by Lise Eliot

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine

 

The Truth About Girls And Boys:Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett

This one isn't out yet, but I just read the galley and was impressed. I love Rosalind Barnett's and Caryl Rivers' work.

It's Not JUST about Sexualization

Today's New York Times has an article about Kumon academic "enrichment" programs for preschoolers. At best, the article concludes, they are useless. At worst, they undermine kids' love of learning. I wrote a piece about this trend--accelerated academics among preschoolers and kindergartners--in the New York Times Magazine in 2009. It was called Kindergarten Cram. I am adamantly against accelerated kindergarten and preschool--and research backs me up. Sometimes I don't know whether I'm liberal, conservative or just radical on these issues, but my core philosophy is that kids should be allowed to be KIDS as long as possible and that we need to push back against everything in this culture that imposes traits that are beyond their years--whether it's sexualization, mind-numbing computer games, massively licensed products that co-opt their imagination, flash card drills or daily homework. They only have a few years in which they can simply play. The internally-driven creativity, fantasy play, imagination of small children is a precious resource and should be cultivated for its own sake, not to create some super-kid who is smarter/faster/earns more money. It's about "enriching" their HUMANITY not their elementary school grades.

Play, draw, read, go for walks, stare at ants, climb, jump, pretend....Repeat (for as long as possible).

I especially love Alliance for Childhood on these issues.

Also Alfie Kohn, a voice of reason in education. And Howard Gardner at Project Zero

Girl Crush:The Lennon Sisters

One of Daisy's favorite toys of ALL TIME is a set of Lennon Sisters Paper Dolls that my friend Dawn gave her for Christmas when Daisy was 6. Some weekend mornings, Daisy will wake up early and I'll find her in her room, happily cutting out elegant dresses or winter ski jackets and inventing stories for the four girls. She doesn't know who they are. And again, they are not licensed to the hilt. And their clothing is always appropriate. Sometimes I blow bubbles at her while she plays with them, though she doesn't know why and gets annoyed if they get on the paper (you'll WRECK the, mom). It's just all so sweet and incongruous it cracks me up.

So what a thrill it was, after I mentioned the dolls in a post I wrote for Motherlode to hear from the Sisters' publicist. She wanted to tell me about the Best Pals dolls that Kathy and Janet have created. They're rag dolls that are exact replicas of the dolls they had and loved as children.

 

Kathy doll:

Janet doll:

 

 

Give it a second. It takes awhile to adjust to something so sweet and basic, a doll that looks childlike. They remind me a little like Laura and Mary Ingalls. What's notable is that they exist to be girls' friend--a companion doll--not as a tool to teach girls  to fuse femininity with  constant consumption, materialism, "sassiness" or focus on appearance. Because in 1949, that was the dominant role of dolls--to be a girl's "best pal."It seems that is more of the stuffed animal today.  

There is also a line of multi-cultural best pals (in the first version of this post I hadn't realized). One of them, Isabelle, was named after the Lennon Sisters' grandmother (who was Latina).

There's also Lily:

And Sofia:

The Lennon Sisters themselves were the four oldest in a family of TWELVE kids. They worked hard to help support their family, honed their talents and did well. And yeah, maybe they were square but they were the only act I enjoyed when I'd  watch "Lawrence Welk" with my grandma (who gave my Minnesota homegirls The Andrews Sisters an early break--had a signed photo from them that said so-but that's another story....). Here are the Lovely Lennon Sisters singing the story of "Ferdinand the Bull."

 

Also, the Best Pal dolls are what they are. There are two of them. That's it. There are no "Best Pal" grapes or t-shirts or band-aids or diapers or DVDs. What a relief

One more thing:  Notice the colors of the original dolls' clothing and ribbons.  In addition to what I've said in the past about pink being originally for boys and blue for girls, my clothing historian guru, Jo Paoleti, has told me that the other classic division was: brown haired children (girls OR boys)  were dressed in pink and blonde children in blue. Certainly plays out here.....

And oh, just for the heck of it, here's a great Andrews Sisters' vid.

 

Coda: I just found this fascinating article on the Lennon Sisters, who were the pop "princesses" of their time and were, in fact, merchandised more than any girl since Shirley Temple. Interesting to see, though, how they were protected, how the media declined to cover the scandal and tragedy in their personal lives for the sake of not only their privacy but their "purity." Back then, though, a girl whose wholesomeness was fetishized didn't try to "grow up" by objectifying her sexuality. I'm not saying it was BETTER in those days, but today's pattern isn't much of an improvement....

Gotta Love those Swedes

My friend Anne-Marie just told me about this Swedish kids' clothing line, POP that has recently come stateside. I love it--especially the sales. And I love their manifesto on why, in addition to boys and girls, they provide a unisex line. "Our unisex collection (UNI) consists of clothing that is based on situation and function rather than on gender. As a clothing manufacturer, we want to make it our responsibility to offer an alternative to clothing that is based on gender. There is really no reason to design different models and fits for small boys and girls since there is no great difference in the way their bodies are shaped. We have taken an overall approach to unisex clothing, and consider not only color but also pattern and fit. We primarily want to offer children and parents freedom of choice. Each collection is first planned based on the UNI concept, after which we develop clothes that are more gender oriented."

POP. I'd call it WOW.

They've got newborn, infant, kids 6-11.....Here's their Girls 2-6 line. I'm digging the patterns and colors and especially that lime green. And the unisex 2-6.

Playing Catch-Up

Gosh, you go away for a couple of weeks and look what you miss! There was, for instance, the wordle that has been making the rounds, a word cloud of the most-used terms Advertisers use to describe boys and girls toys.

Girl Wordle

 

 

Boy Wordle

 

No big surprises. But still. And it reminded me of going to the Fisher-Price showroom at the International Toy Fair in New York. Above the girls' display was a banner on which the words "Beautiful, Pretty, Colorful" were repeated in pink script (apparently no one noticed that "beautiful" and "pretty" are essentially THE SAME THING. Or they thought no one else would notice. Or their imaginations balked at the prospect of THREE concepts that were germane to girls).  Over the boys' display, meanwhile, in blue, was written "Heroes, Power, Energy!" Really???

So there was that.

And there was this highly satisfying post by Alexandra Lange, who writes about design, on the impact of the increasing ornamentation of baby girls' clothing which included this:

"What strikes me most about the girl baby clothes is the ornament. No sleeve left ungathered, no neckline unrosetted, no hem unruffled. The Carters leggings, 100 percent cotton, nice and soft, have ruffles across the butt — for a child who spends 10 minutes a day on her front, screaming for tummy time to be over."

And, let's see.....There was the insane American guy who went to London to open a princess boot camp for little girls so he could capitalize on the Royal Wedding frenzy (though more on this in another post--I was in London last week and there was no real frenzy, nor was the princess culture anywhere NEAR as intense). Does it seem significant to you that an AMERICAN took it upon himself to promote  princess comportment to British girls?

Speaking of Princesses, Disney is now branding grapes. I mean it. Grapes! I know I complain when they slap those royals on stealth junk food (i.e., kids' yogurt) but somehow it's even more disturbing when they're doing it with actual food. This is not a trend I'd want to catch on....

Dr. Robyn Silverman wrote a great blog post on the new Skecher's shape-up sneakers for girls, which are supposed to firm and tone your 8-year-old's butt. Seriously. here's the YouTube video of the ad

 

So, how many ways does this irritate? The presumption that the highest calling for a girl, other than princess, is rock star. The relentless, cloying pink and purple as the signifier of femininity. The equation of having new shoes with being a better person. The background chorus of "nyah-nyah-nyah," as if the person who has the new shoes has the right, nay the DUTY, to mock the girl who does not. The insulting images of boys (and the boys as junk food--what is THAT about?). Oh, and the idea that your 8-year-old needs her butt toned. By her shoes.

As for adult women, I often say that I KNOW the princess thing is just a phase that little girls grow out of, and that "princess" per se is not the point, but the occasion for the discussion I've begun. But it's beginning to appear that the phase is not confined to little girls. The latest trend on facebook is putting your profile picture through the Princess Maker. As Stroller Derby's Carolyn Castiglia says;

"Perez offers plenty of realistic skin colors to choose from, but when it comes to being a princess, only one body type is acceptable: thin, but curvy in all the right places (think Jasmine). That’s a message our girls have pounded into their heads every single day. This afternoon while talking about body image issues on the phone with my friend Desiree, I stared at my daughter’s little Disney Princess chair and thought, no one can ever truly be pretty as a cartoon princess. I hope my 5-year-old doesn’t wind up making herself crazy trying."

Also, I know you've all been waiting for this, but FINALLY, FINALLY, Alfred Angelo has released the Disney's Rapunzel Wedding Gown. For grown ups.

And those princess brides can start grooming the next generation from the womb, too, thanks to this t-shirt.

Okay, enough. The point is: that was one week's worth of stereotyped, sexualized, pink, princess junk that stretches nearly across a girl/woman's entire lifespan.

Now some upsides. There was this wonderful post by Pigtail Pals' Melissa Wardy about how to deal with the inevitable inappropriate birthday presents your daughter will get. The ones that drive you up the wall. Whatever your particular wall is. Check it out.

And I've been looking a bit at these Girl Scout pamphlets on promoting positive body and self-image. They've got some merit, though even when it's for the good I personally don't like my daughter ever thinking, "it's all about ME!" I prefer her to think that the world is about how she treats others. But still, Uniquely Me has some good ideas for a variety of different age levels.

USA Today is taking the issue of the sexualization of girlhood seriously (and quoting me, too!). Good for them.

I think that about covers it. I feel better now. Next up: the differences between girl culture in London and the U.S. and my thoughts, long-awaited but never set down in writing, on Tangled (now that it's in DVD).

Meanwhile, tell me: What else have I missed?