What if “happily ever after” is only “happy” for us baby loving women? (A review of Shrek 4)

*warning: spoilers

Fairy tales rarely move beyond their tidy endings into the realm of what they promise will be a “happily ever after.” As many end with marriage, one can presume that the “ever after” for the likes of Snow White, Cinderella, et al would likely include children. Shrek breaks with this fairy tale model in its latest installment, moving beyond “first love’s kiss” into that realm where days often are more monotonous than happy –the parenting of young children.

In the clever opening scene, Shrek and Fiona spend a blissful, carefree day parenting their triplet ogres. Fiona, at day’s close, says “I wish every day could be like this.” Then, in Groundhog Day fashion, the film whizzes us through numerous repititions of this same type of day with the triplets crying more loudly, the diapers becoming more toxic, and Shrek becoming ever less happy with the daily grind of raising children.

The film frames Shrek as missing the days before family responsibility. Fretting to Fiona, “I used to be an ogre, now I’m just a jolly green giant,” Shrek yearns to live his pre-dad days again. Thanks to a gleefully evil Rumplestilksin, he is given “One Day as an Ogre” – a do-over of sorts that places him in an alternate world where Rumple rules Far Far Away as tyrannical dictator and ogres are banished to an underground life of toil.

In this alternate reality, Fiona leads “The Resistance,” fighting for the freedom of ogres everywhere. Though the day Shrek is given by his deal with Rumplestilskin threatens to erase his former existence (and thus his marriage with Fiona and his three ogre babies), Shrek is excited to be back in the world of causes and adventure. And herein lies the moral of the story – “happily ever after” is not all it’s cracked up to be – at least not for male ogres. Offering revolution as an anecdote to suburban ogre life, the film speaks to what Betty Friedan might have called “ogre mystique.” Shrek, like the women Friedan discussed in 50s era America, feels trapped within his domesticated sphere. He needs more than mud baths for a purposeful life, more than one eyeball martini at the end of the day to relieve his stress.

Speaking to the more egalitarian approach to parenting many households in the U.S. now attempt to enact, Shrek is experiencing the loss of identity in much in the same way as the “housewives” Friedan studied. Though this plot is explored with the visual humor and zesty wit we have come to expect of the franchise, it also falls into another expected – though less desirable – reiteration, that of focusing on male interests and desires.

Granted, the name of the series is Shrek and we can thus expect his dilemmas to drive the story, but this time around, the lack of focus on Fiona stood out to me particularly. Yes, she got to be a rocking Ogre-Revolutionary, leading the resistance with aplomb – but ONLY in the alternative universe (which the film jettisons at the end, safely ensconcing her back in domesticated bliss). What of her dissatisfactions with domesticated life, her yearnings for adventure? If she has them, they remain un-named. Instead, she is presented as all-too-blissfully wearing the mantle of wife and mother, a problematic representation that perpetuates the notion women are happy and well placed in the private sphere of domesticated happily-ever-after, while men shafe within its narrow confines.

Though I enjoyed the film, I would have enjoyed it even more if it offered a bit more egalitarian focus, and one that was more realistic in its portrayal of mothers. Instead, we get what Susan Douglas calls “the new momism,” where mothers love ever second of their hyper-helicopter parenting, in green ogre form.

I love Fiona, but she is one female character among a slew of males, and one whose story is sidelined.  As revealed by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, this unbalanced gender phenomenon in children’s media has changed little since the 1940s.

Surely it can’t be easy being the lone green female lead in a fairy tale world that loves it’s suave fighters (Antonio Banderis asPuss n Boots), its sidekick comic relief (Eddie Murphie Donkey) and its  jolly green giant (Mike Meyers as Shrek) so much more than its cursed human/ogre Fiona (Cameran Diaz) – just as it can’t be easy for all the girls who have to watch movies where there stories are either absent or in the background.

Yes, there is the cadre of witches this time around, and other Shrek iterations have involved kick-ass princesses, but this franchise, like most animated films, still puts males front and center. Here’s hoping that soon some of these happily ever after tales will focus on a female who longs – like Shrek – for adventure and purpose rather than merely “true love’s kiss.” Or, as Geena Davis puts it, here’s hoping for the day “when gender equality is no longer a fairy tale

What if the “best books” were not always centered on male protagonists?

Today we have a guest post from Meg of Planning the Day. Meg responds to Nicholas Kristof’s list of best children books, a list that featured mostly male writers/protagonists. Granted, Kristof’s list was much more diverse than Publishers Weekly Best of 2009 book list that was male/white biased in the extreme. He included some books I would count among “bests” — Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables. Yet, he, as Meg points out, has chosen a list where ONLY ONE GIRL is front and center. In keeping with the call at She Writes to speak out against the still male dominated world of publishing/writing, Meg offers us a more diverse, less penis-privileged list in what follows:

“I usually enjoy the writing of Nicholas Kristof, the New York times columnist who often uses his space to bring attention to the ongoing genocide in Darfur and the plight of trafficked women in Southeast Asia. So I was excited when I saw that his column this week was a list of the best children’s books; I expected selections that would inspire social-consciousness and empathy among their readers.

What I did not expect is that nearly every book would feature male (and when he is a person, white) protagonist. Out of thirteen suggestions, only one is based on the story of a young girl. Who is the lucky lady? Anne of Green Gables, “one of the strongest and most memorable girls in literature.” And not one of them centers around the story of a person of color.

Some of his other suggestions have great girls in supporting roles: Charlotte’s Web, with beloved Charlotte and Fern as Wilbur’s best protectors and friends, topped the list. The Harry Potter series was also recommended, which features such strong women as Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley.

So what’s the problem with his suggestions? There’s nothing wrong with any book in particular on his list, but it fails to offer characters that young girls or children of color can immediately relate to. There is something special about picking up a book and connecting immediately with its main character by seeing yourself in that person. While it is not out of the question for girls or children of color to relate to a white boy protagonist, it would be great for children to see themselves, with all of their historical particularities, represented in their books.

Kristof invited his readers to comment on his article with their own additions, so I’ve made my own list to add to his. Not all of them feature girls or people of color, but I hope that they represent a more diverse set of characters:

  1. “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell. I vividly remember buying this from our school’s book fair when I was in fourth grade, and then retreating into my room for three days to read, emerging only for meals. This book is based on the true story of a 12-year old Native American girl, Karana, who survived alone on an island for 18 years.
  2. “Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbitt. I was enchanted by Winnie when my mom read this story to me in first grade.
  3. “Number the Stars” and “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. These are two of my absolute favorites from elementary school. I read them countless times between third and fifth grade, and remembering them now makes me want to check them out of the library again. Number the Stars is the story of Danish girl whose family helped her best friend escape from the Nazis in Denmark. And The Giver… just read it, it’s great.
  4. “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor is the story of Cassie, a black girl growing up in a segregated and oppressive southern community in the 1930s.
  5. “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech. Native American Salamanca Tree Hiddle travels across the country with her grandparents, trying to find her disappeared mother. I don’t remember much about this book except that I loved it.
  6. “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E. L. Konigsburg. This book-on-tape kept us kids silent for countless car trips, as we listened to the adventures of Claudia and Jamie, two kids who secretly live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art while they try to solve the mystery of the new statue.”

(Please add your suggestions in comments!)

What if we had gender strainers rather than gender boxes?

My mom was recently here for a visit. She and I do not see eye to eye on gender. She is a big believer in biological determinism, while I am a card-carrying social constructionist. I concede that our personalities and proclivities are certainly PARTLY determined by biology/genetics (or nature), I give much more credit to societal conditioning and context (or nurture).

I cringe at phrases such as “boys will be boys” and “of course she’s emotional, she’s a girl.” I am equally perturbed by “men and women are just different” or anything that smacks of assuming there are two distinct genders.

I realize that many people fall into “traditional boy” and “traditional girl” categories, yet I think MANY less would do so if there were not so many societal punishments for failing to cram ourselves into those tiny, solid gender boxes.

Why can’t we think of gender like a strainer instead?

You know how when you use a strainer with holes that are quite big to strain pasta shapes that are rather small how a handful escape and end up in the sink? Well, it’s the same with gender. If you dump a whole batch of boys into the masculine strainer, many of them will happily stay in the strainer, but others, for whatever reason, squeeze through the holes. These boys are the ones that the “traditional boy” strainer does not work for.

If we thought of gender in this way – as a construct that is not solid like a box, but full of escape holes like a strainer – then perhaps it would be more acceptable to end up in the sink rather than on the plate covered in societal sauce.

I know a gender strainer doesn’t sound as catchy as a gender box – nor does gender sieve or gender colander. But, as my mom would say, it’s only NATURAL I think in cooking terminology, I am, after all, female.

What if motherhood fogs your feminist lenses?: On being a feminist mother

(Thanks to Habladora for prompting me to post this piece that has been gathering dust on my hard drive…)

I did not expect that being a mother would make me more of a feminist. In fact, I feared quite the opposite, worrying that my feminist convictions would wane under the weight of overfilled diaper bags and the expansive responsibilities of caring for an infant.

When I had my first child, a son, just after finishing my Master’s and while ramping up to begin my PhD, I worried that motherhood might de-radicalize my politics and cause me to lose my feminist vision of the world.

During that first pregnancy, I had applied for various doctoral programs and been happily accepted to the University of London – an acceptance that necessitated my partner and I move from the U.S. to England during my 34th week of pregnancy. While my mother, grandmothers, and older sisters were convinced I would give up the doctorate once I fell madly in love with motherhood, I firmly disagreed with their image of me as stay at home mom basking in the glow emitted from Telly-tubbies while pureeing homemade baby food. Yet, despite my long seated plans to get my doctorate and pursue an academic career, pregnancy and looming motherhood made me fear for my feminist life. Would my feminism wither into a past identity as I assumed the mantel of mother? Would I lose my love of reading obtuse theoretical treatises and instead dog-ear Dr. Spock and What to Expect When You Are Expecting? As my own mothers and others predicted, would I decide that a career paled in comparison to “a woman’s true vocation” of being a mother?

These fears and many more fizzled through my increasingly exhausted brain throughout my pregnancy and practically boiled over when I discovered I was having a boy – a discovery I had dreaded. I wanted a daughter or daughters – a girl that would grow into a woman with whom I could fight the feminist good fight, a girl whom I could give the feminist upbringing I never had, a girl who I could let know from day one that she was as strong, smart, and capable as any penis-privileged human. Looking back, this dread of having a son embarrasses me. As a hopefully wiser feminist now than I was 12 years ago, I see that it is just as important to raise feminist sons as it is to raise feminist daughters.

Now, I love men (and some more than others), but I have to admit, like many feminists, there are aspects of masculinity that I see as variously harmful, useless, and/or idiotic. In fact, if push came to shove, I would probably commit a grave sin of gender essentialism and say that women tend to be more socially aware, more just, and more prone to activism than men. (However, I hasten to add I believe this is the case not because of female biology or hormones, but because of the ways women tend to be socialized as women.) As a card-carrying member of the ‘gender is socially constructed club,’ I thus believed I could raise my son to love justice more than football, peace more than toy guns, and hot pink more than camouflage.

So, imagine my shock when my son was born and what my mother had so long insisted proved to be true – he actually seemed to be ‘boy-like’ by nature! At playgroup gatherings, he was little Rambo on the rampage, grabbing toys from others and then whacking them over the head with them. At parks, he acted like a colonizer intent on committing genocide on any kid who dared to play on his turf. At home, despite the fact I refused to buy weapon toys, he industriously built toy guns from Lego, play dough, and Lincoln logs to shoot everything (including me). For a while, I sadly gave into my mother’s mantra that “boys and girls are just different” and chalked up my faith in social constructionism to naiveté.

However, as the years wore on, I realized I had fallen prey in my daily life to the binary thinking mode I am so critical of in my academic life — I had simplistically seen my son’s strong affinity for traditional masculinity as proof social constructionists had it wrong. How could I, a feminist schooled in post-structuralism, postmodernism, and political theory, be such a dupe?

I think one of the reasons I fell prey to questioning my convictions about gender was due to the fact that I had always insisted without question, ala Simone de Beauvior, that women (and men) are made, not born. Thus, when I had tangible proof of a little man in the form of my son, fear and second-guessing kicked in (or maybe it was just the lack of sleep and deluge of stress brought on by raising an infant while working on a PhD).

My personal feminist theoretical crisis concerning gender essentialism verses social constructionism was not resolved by the birth of my daughter two and a half years later. For, just as my son seemed to be a ‘natural boy’ so did my daughter exude femininity from birth onwards. These children were ruining my long held feminist beliefs! They were proving my mother right! And, as I tried to balance raising them alongside finishing my dissertation, I found myself living a double life – feminist by day, mother by night. While I continued to read and write feminist literary theory, my practice of being keenly politically informed and active waned. In my children’s early years, I did not attend any protests or participate in any girlcotts let alone stay abreast of activist news and happenings. My feminism became abstract – rather than living ‘the personal is political’ I seemed to be opting for ‘feminism is philosophical’ via an approach that directed my feminism solely into research and writing. Although I practiced the basic tenets of feminism and endeavored to raise my children to value diversity, equality, and social justice, I became, in the main, an academic feminist rather than an everyday feminist activist.

However, as my children grew, entered institutional education, and as a number of world events changed the socio-cultural landscape of the United States (and the world), I returned to my ‘pre-children’ self of fighting the feminist fight not only in my writing and teaching, but also via my battles with teachers, principles, corporations and even roller-rink managers.

Further, as my children moved from babyhood to toddlerhood to childhood, I saw (to my relief) that they were not the ‘typical boy’ and ‘typical girl’ they first seemed. My son revealed a feminine side, a true love of the color pink, an aptitude for tap dancing, and a very strong nurturing personality. My daughter revealed she did not only love dolls, fashion, and burying her head in books, but also math, wrestling, and skateboards. I think I can take at least some credit (along with my partner) for our children’s ‘gender blending’ personalities. It seems that while I felt I was not ‘feminist enough’ once motherhood became part of my life, that, in fact, insisting my children use gender inclusive language, arguing for Tinky Winky’s right to carry a purse if he wished, or analyzing the injustices of Nicktoons boy-dominated cartoon lineup helped to turn out two socially aware, feminist kids.

And, while I worried I had lost my activist streak, I see that instead I had fostered too narrow a vision of what feminist activism is. I now see that being a mother can be an activist activity, that raising children to be pro-peace, consumer conscious, and actively anti-sexist/racist/classist/heterosexist/able-ist is just as vital as marching on Washington or leading an Impeach Bush campaign. Just as I see teaching and writing as valuable forms of activism, I now understand that motherhood itself is a vital form of feminist activism.

In hindsight, I am bemused that I ever imagined otherwise. I, who had read Adrienne Rich’s Of Women Born multiple times, had theoretically understood ‘motherhood as institution’ but had failed to see how our patriarchal, non-feminist friendly society had warped my own conceptions of mothering and made me second guess my own abilities to be both a feminist and a mother. I know this is in part due to the way that mothers are still a fairly denigrated bunch in the public world and also in the academic world in which I labor. Work is supposed to come first, and whether that work is feminist or not, often being a mother is seen as a hindrance. As books such as Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia suggest, if one has children, it is better kept a secret. In ways I have taken this advice to heart. As proof, this past semester, my office mate of two years was shocked to learn I have two children. When she was bemoaning how difficult it is to juggle teaching, publishing, and parenting and I agreed wholeheartedly, she replied in astonishment “I didn’t know you had kids.” The sad thing is that I took this partly as a compliment knowing I had done what Ms. Mentor (the author of the above mentioned book) advises for academic survival – I had kept my kids a secret and was successfully carrying out my job as a Women’s Studies Professor as a ‘mother in hiding’. Yet, as my office-mate’s comment sunk in as I drove home, I began to feel angry that I had to hide or at the very least not discuss the ‘mother’ part of my identity. How would my kids feel, after all, if they knew they were a dirty secret I had to keep from colleagues?

With my students, it is different. They do not judge me negatively for being a mother – in fact, I think it helps humanize me and gives me ‘street cred’ when we analyze key Women’s Studies topics such as reproductive freedom, childcare, education, etc. And, even though being out of the mom closet seems to be more acceptable in academia these days, there are nevertheless those higher up – the deans, the provosts, the presidents – who one hesitates to share their mommy side with. While society seems to believe a male can do any job and be a father too, a woman’s job is often endangered on many levels when she becomes a mother. Any weakness is invariably blamed on the fact she is a mother while the strengths, widening perspectives, and multi-tasking mastery she gains from motherhood are rarely acknowledged. Coming to these realizations has changed my work politics – I now refuse to hide in the closet and am out about being a mom. If ‘Dean So and So’ sees this as a drawback, s/he can kindly review my positive teaching evaluations and/or publication record. I refuse to any longer pretend that I can’t be both a good mother and a good professor.

I have also learned that there is no need to give up my feminist activist hat – that, in fact, I never did. If anything, being a mother has made me more of an activist. I now feel obligated to raise my children to be activists in their own right and to, as the well known Gandhi quote prescribes, be the change they want to see in the world. Thus, on the drive to school, at the dinner table, while grocery shopping or at the park, we discuss politics (big and large), worker’s rights, the evils of Wal-Mart, how Hummer’s are a blight, and how our president, (in my son’s words) “is really dumb.” We analyze sexism in television and movies, homophobia on the playground, and racism in music lyrics. Not a day goes by that politics is not part of my mothering.

In fact, I now realize that while I feared my feminism had gone dormant in those early years of being a mom, that my politics has affected the way I parent since the day my children were born. From refusing ‘gender appropriate’ toys to my deliberate attempts to use the same tone of voice, the same type of compliments, and the same frequency of touch for both my daughter and son, I tried to treat them both as equally human – rather than as ‘girl’ and ‘boy.’ As they aged, I encouraged them to have friends across gender, race, class, and ability (a feat our segregation happy society certainly doesn’t make too easy). Once they entered educational institutions, I quickly became the mother every teacher dreaded – the one who brought in studies on linguistic theory showing the detrimental effects of always using male pronouns, male examples, and putting males first (as in the ubiquitous “boys and girls”). The one who was at the principles door the minute she heard the term ‘faggot’ and ‘lesbo’ were being used by the 3rd graders to insult one another. The one who complained each year over the way Thanksgiving was presented – “No kids, the Native Americans were not ‘so happy’ when the pilgrims arrived.” The one who has her son bring in a Cesar Chavez posters with a prepared speech to supplement the curriculum and whose daughter refuses to partake in any ‘boys against girls’ activities.

My maternal activism spreads beyond institutionalized education though. For example, one memorable encounter happened at the local roller rink just after the ‘all girls’ and ‘all boys’ skating time. One of my son’s friends is a female who identifies as male, but, due to her parents insistence, still ‘looks like a girl.’ You can imagine the befuddled response of the roller rink manager when I insisted that segregated skating enforced gender norms and isolated youths not identifying with their ‘given’ gender. When he said that this policy could not be bent even this once, my son and I decided he should skate during all girls skate just to see what would happen. Even though he was wearing one of his signature pink t-shirts, the skate referees were on him in no time, whistling up a frenzy. I won’t forget how angered he was over our failure to win this fight. “It’s ridiculous mom,” he fumed. “Who cares if a boy wants to skate during girl time or vice versa? Those rules are stupid.” However, though we lost the roller rink war, the bigger battle is being won on a daily basis – the battle of teaching my son and daughter about the injustices of the world and the necessity of fighting them, even when we won’t always win.

Our longtime girlandboycotting of Wal-Mart may be one of these battles that will be a long time in the winning. When the kids were younger, they would tell me how such and such toy would be cheaper if we got it at Wal-Mart, how all their friends shopped there, how the teachers recommended it for school supplies. However, as I have supplied them with more and more facts about unfair working and wage conditions, they became as resolute as myself that we should not shop there and now also actively encourage others not to do so. In fact, when visiting Grandma last summer, they gave her a thirty minute lecture regarding the evils of Wal-Mart after she took them there for some beach toys. “Mom, grandma made us go to Wal-Mart,” was how my seven year old daughter greeted me when she got off the plane. “We’re sorry. She made us go in. It was awful.”

And, each year, our everyday activist practices grow as I learn from my students about new areas of feminist concern or new sources of activist knowledge. This past semester, an animal rights activist told me about the video targeting KFC, Killing for Cruelty. Now, my son LOVES chicken and had been bemoaning the fact we no longer ate at KFC after hearing about their inhumane practices. However, once he watched the video, he was a convert. When we drive past, he reminds me “We are never going there, mom.” Nope, kid, we sure aren’t.

Just a few days ago, my daughter spent hours on a short poem entitled “How Hummer’s are Horrible” and asked if we could photocopy it to place under the windshield wipers of all the Hummer’s we see in parking lots (our town is Hummer crazy). In addition to trying to rid the world of Hummer’s, she is a little ‘linguistic cop’ who listens out for any sort of language that denigrates females. “My teacher is STILL saying ‘You guys'” she frequently complains when I pick her up from school. Last Christmas she sent a whole table full of relatives into silence by refusing to pass the gravy unless properly addressed. When her great-uncle requested her and her female cousin please pass the gravy by saying “Hey guys, please pass the gravy,” she responded, “Neither of us are guys in case you hadn’t noticed. If you want the gravy, you will have to ask in a way that does not insult me as a girl.” Now, while no doubt many at that table saw my seven-year-old as talking back to her elders with far too much sass, I swelled with pride. “There she is, my budding little feminist fighter” I thought to myself.

My ten year old son is no stranger to feminist analysis either. After seeing Shrek 3 he mused, “Know what I really liked about that movie, mom?” “What?” I asked, expecting to hear about when Gingerbread man pooped out a gumdrop or one of the many other scatological gags he is still so fond of.”I liked that they made the females strong. Fiona and all the others, they kicked butt. Why don’t they make all movies like that? It’s dumb they always make the boys the strong ones.”

In moments like these, I feel in my gut just how political the maternal is. It is the politics of raising a feminist son who not only analyzes big, outer world issues, like how unjust the US occupation of Iraq is, but who also daily looks through the world via a feminist lens in order to critique everything from cartoons to the actions of his schoolmates and teachers. It is the practice of raising a daughter, who, at age seven, decided to petition Nintendo to rename “Gameboy” into “Gamekid” with the following letter:

“Dear Nintendo,

My name is Naomi and I am 7 years old. I got a Gameboy as a gift and I really enjoy playing the games. But, I think calling it “Gameboy” makes girls like me feel bad because it seems as if you assume only boys will want to play. I suggest that you please change the name to “Gamekid.” To convince you that I am not the only one who feels this way, I have gathered 142 signatures below.”

Maternal feminist politics, I now happily realize, infuses the day to day mothering of my kids, as well as my voting choices, my teaching practices, my scholarly work, my buying practices, my language choices, and so on. As a mother, I have never really taken off my feminist lenses, they may have become fogged for a while, but now I see clearly that motherhood and feminism coexist beautifully and are, in fact, more powerful together than apart.

What if the future was filled with fat people? Oh the horror! A review of WALL*E

In my earlier post about this film, I lamented the heteronormative focus apparent in the preview and the normative gendering of WALL*E and EVE. Now that I have seen the film in its entirety, I am glad to report the gendering/hetero romance did not play the prominent role I assumed it would given the preview. And, I was happy the film critiqued Wal*Mart, ooops, I mean BuyNLarge, in such a funny, thought-provoking way. However, I do have a bone to pick: the representation of fat people as the embodiment of over-consumption, sloth, greed, and mindlessness.

I had quite a few reactions to my earlier post, many of which argued that the film was not as bad from a gender perspective as the preview makes it out to be. I agree. The film is not as hetero-romance focused as the preview suggests, and for this I was glad. (Although I was disturbed that the hand holding scene referred to in my previous post involves WALL*E holding EVE’s hand without her knowledge or consent as she is in ‘shut down’ mode. Seemed kinda stalker-creepy to me). Overall, the movie didn’t ram the romance script down the audiences throat, but I do agree with one of the readers from the previous post that this romance thread was unnecessary.

Also, to the film’s credit, there was a certain level of gender transgression going on. EVE was the savior, not WALL*E. She, like some futuristic Disney prince, had all sorts of tricks up her robotic arm that allowed her to save WALL*E multiple times. And, unlike Disney princess flicks, both the female and male characters were allowed to play the ‘damsel in distress’ and the ‘savior prince.’ And – even better – not a princess dress in sight!

I also enjoyed Wal*Mart of the future, BuyNLarge, being lambasted throughout the film. The skewering of mindless consumerism and unimpeded corporate expansion (love the “BuyNLarge Outlet Mall Coming Soon” sign on the moon!) gives the movie a positive environmentalist spin- one that doesn’t trade in the “Buy Organic” or “Go Green” message that by buying more stuff we can save the planet. This anti-consumerist, anti-corporate theme was great. Yet, things went a bit sour for me once the ‘baddies’ who consumed too much were represented as mindless fatties. In comment threads around the blogosphere, this representation seems popular with many fat-phobes. For example, Carrie at Filling the Well refers to Walle as “Pixar’s first horror film” (without explanation). Then, in the comments section to this post, a fat-phobic reader agrees with the film as horror “if you count the physical state that the human race has come to in the movie.” Roger Ebert’s review also traded in attacking the fattie (odd given that he is a fatty himself!). He argues that the fat humans of the future “resemble those folks you see whizzing around Wal-Mart in their electric shopping carts.” Great Roger, insult two groups with one phrase, fat people and disabled people.

Jessica Melusine, in her post about the film, got it right I think. She asks in a letter of complaint penned to Pixar “Do you know what it feels like seeing a shipfull of fat people who exist to show how dissolute and horrible and wasteful people can be?” As she continues, “It is horrible when you see the only bodies shaped like you as things to laugh at, as living examples of as a culture, how shoddily we treat the earth. There’s no complexity, no understanding, just an easy punchline.” I agree. Pixar could have done far better here.

The mindless consumerist, perpetually-plugged-in human is a scary (and all too real) representation. However, did Pixar have to choose fat bodies to represent these futuristic humans? In so doing, they are perpetuating many of the same fat stereotypes that Kung Fu Panda traded in. Namely: fat people are lazy, fat people eat all the time, fat people are dumb, fat people are out of shape, fat is unhealthy, etc. (For an analysis of the anti-fat message in Kung Fu Panda, see Melissa’s Shakesville post here or my previous post here.)

In fact, it would have made more sense to have these plugged-in-consuming-all-the-time future humans be surgically sculpted in the extreme. This seems the more likely scenario given the way consumerism and the beauty imperative go hand in hand. Then the film could have also critiqued body norms and the crazy excesses people are employing to modify their bodies via technology. I think this narrative has far more possibilities than the endless consumption of food in a cup.

So, while any film that pisses off the far right this much must be doing something right, it also did some things not so well, and some things downright wrong.

In the right category:

  • Critiques consumersim and corporatism
  • Great gadgetry and nostalgia factor
  • Strong characterization of the robots
  • A fem-bot that is as strong/smart (or more so) than the male-bot
  • A representation of humans as coming in more colors than white

In the not so well category:

  • Focus on unnecessary hetoro-love narrative
  • Stereotypical representations of gender/beauty norms
  • Glorification of explosions/violence (especially via EVE’s arm/weapon)
  • The captain of the Axiom white and male (wow, really pushing some envelopes there!)

In the downright wrong category:

  • Equating fat bodies with laziness, over-consumption, and mindlessness

Overall, I think the film deserves one baby f for its inclusions of certain feminist ideals and premises. EVE is a strong female character (if a bit too trigger happy with that arm) and WALL*E shows a tender, affectionate, nurturing side that male characters are often not given the chance to show in films. For this, I like the film. But, note to Pixar: enough with the gender norms and fat phobia already!

What if WALL*E and EVE lived in a future populated by transgender queer robots? A (p)review of WALL*E

“700 years into the future mankind will leave our planet,” announces the husky voiced narrator of the WALL*E preview. Oh, so does that mean womankind and transkind will be sticking around on old mother earth? Apparently not, according to the imagery in the video. The only ‘life’ left appears to be WALL*E HIMSELF – yeah, because didn’t you know robots have to subscribe to the gender binary, too?

Early in the preview, WALL*E purviews the trash-filled landscape of earth and a bra blows into his face, covering his eyes. Ah, what a nice metaphor for the boobified view of the male-gaze. If this image doesn’t scream “poor WALL*E needs him some sexually objectified female-bot to satisfy HIS HETERO NEEDS,” I don’t know what does.

Poor WALL*E is lonely (we learn as he glimpses some heteronormative scene on TV) but “At last my love” EVE arrives. (YES, she is flipping named EVE for goddessake!) Looking like a large white tampon with blue eyes, or perhaps a roboticized white penguin, Eve has a female voice and, as the preview hints, she and WALL*E fall in love. They are seen sitting on a bench holding hands with a heart that reads “WALL*E + EVE” lasered into a nearby trash can. Sigh. Gotta love the originality of heteronormative gender socialization pixar-style.

If this film involves WALL*E somehow ‘saving’ EVE I am going to toss my popcorn. Or, if EVE brings about the ‘fall’ of humankind I may just have to altogether renounce my soft spot for Pixar films. Woody – I love you – but you never treated Bo Peep that well anyhow!

I am far from knowledgeable on sci-fi and robot representation, but I am wondering, any cyber readers out there know of robotic representations that are gender variant and/or queer? Don’t know about you, but I think C3PEO and R2-D2 would make a cute couple. Better yet, how about some robot loving that defies the gendered/hetero/coupledom set up altogether? Doubt we will see it anytime soon at the Cineplex, certainly not when viewing WALL*E by the looks of it.

What if one is not born, but rather becomes, a non-feminist?

As Simone De Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, notes, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” But, in the case of feminists, I think they are actually born and then ‘unmade.’ I doubt girls are born feeling they are ‘naturally defective’ as Aristotle argues they are. Likewise, I doubt boys are born feeling they are the superior sex. Rather, one is ‘made’ into a woman (and distanced from being a feminist) via a constant onslaught of messages that define one as the Other. One is ‘made’ into a man via living and breathing in a society that perpetuates male privileges. (for more on male privilege see here and here) Thus, this making into ‘woman’ and ‘man’ is societally constructed and maintained.

Bodies do not come in only two varieties although we like to act as if they do. Nor do they come in only feminine-women and masculine-men versions. If we did not learn before we even left the womb that woman are the secondary sex, perhaps we would not have to talk about ‘click moment’s’ with feminism because we would all still be feminists!

Although I am a card-carrying social constructionist, I think being a feminist may be one of the most natural identities – perhaps that is why they try to beat it out of us so hard! Is it such a stretch to think that humans might be born feeling they are not better or worse than any other human but equally deserving?

I have long joked that I was born a feminist as I can’t recall any one click moment, but a series of battles, arguments, and feelings of “what the f is wrong with this world” as I grew up. From questioning the unfairness of class inequality and the exploitation of migrant workers during elementary school (I lived in a migrant farming town divided along class/color lines) to wondering why I wasn’t supposed to play with ‘those Mexican kids,’ I was already flaunting my feminism cred in grade school. I refused to have a different curfew than my brother in high school – didn’t seem to me just because you had a penis you should get to stay out later. To the dropped jaws of my college professors, I wrote feminist essays in every single class, asking why anthropology acted as if the world was made of men only, why literature focused on DWMs (dead white males), and why psychology acted as if the female brain was substandardly different. To the chagrin of my family, I balked at the suggestion that mothering was more important than an academic career and refused to buy into the ‘women are meant to nurture’ crapola that culture hawks at us all the time.

Today, I frustrate my children’s teachers (and my students) by asking them to stop saying ‘you guys’. I hunt down principals and tell them they need to put a stop to the use of homophobic language on the playground. I annoy gym instructors by asking them to change their music selections (call me crazy, but I don’t like to work out to songs glorifying gang rape.) I call out people for their sexism, racism, able-ism, body-hating, xenophobia — and guess what? They don’t like it. I am ‘too opinionated.’ I need to ‘mellow out.’ “Do you always have to talk about feminism” they whine. Well, yeah. It’s like a religion. I live and breathe it every day. It is like nourishment – I would starve without feminism.

There are so many definitions of feminism that I love, it is hard to pick just one. Many of my favorites comes from The Feminist Dictionary by Paula Treichler and Cheris Kramarae.

I agree with Nawal el Saadawi’s claim that “as a radical feminist…you should oppose imperialism, Zionism, feudalism, and inequality between nations, sexes, and classes.” Feminism is not just about sex/gender but about all forms of social inequality and oppression/privilege.

I also like Peggy Kornegger’s description of feminism as “A many-headed monster which cannot be destroyed by singular decapitation.” Guess what crazy feminist hating trolls? You can’t kill feminism! It’s a hydra – as soon as you cut of one head, another will grow back. This ‘multiplicty of feminisms’ is another thing I love about feminism. There are so many varieties feminism puts 31 flavors to shame. From anarcha-feminism to eco-feminism to womanism to third wave feminsm to radical feminism, each flavor has something yummy. Try them all, pick one, or rotate! Hell, get a quadruple cone of feminism and delight your feminist taste buds!

The Combahee River Collective’s argument that feminism must be “actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression” and seek to develop “integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that major systems of oppression are interlocking” is another classic. The intersectional approach to feminism is one flavor I cannot live without – it’s my mainstay.

Charlotte Bunch’s argument that feminism is “an entire worldview or gestalt, not just a laundry list of ‘women’s issues’ is another favorite of mine.” As Bunch argues, “Feminst theory provides basis for understanding every area of our lives, and a feminist perspective can affect the world politically, culturally, economically, and spiritually.” Yes, it certainly can. And once you re-place your feminist lenses stolen from you by the culture/society/history/institutional white supremacist heteronormative imperialist patriarchal matrix that defines ‘reality,’ you will never look at the world in the same way again.

See, you were born a feminist, we all were, and if haven’t already done so, please find your way back.

*This post was inspired by a call at The Feminist Underground for feminism definitions and musings. Thanks for the inspiration Habladora!