All for Animals

I was a bit of weird kid, maybe even a rebel as a child because I didn’t like to conform to the typical girl roles. Even as an elementary student, I never liked wearing jumpers, skirts, or “girlie” barrettes in my hair. I preferred tennis shoes over sandals, and plastic swords over Barbie dolls. True, I did have a Disney princess phase for a while, and I loved watching Disney movies as a kid, but most of the time I looked up to the strong, powerful, heroic male figure coming to save the day. Honestly, I’d rather be Davy Crockett than his wife Polly. I like the idea of being a lone ranger, doing whatever you want, out in the wild open spaces and independent of society. So yes, it looks like media got the better of me and seduced me into thinking that the male roles were the best-because most of the time they were. Griffin is right on when he said, “[children’s] play may and often does reinforce parental values but it also contains a counter social potential; it may be used to express a child’s feelings of outrage over the expectations imposed upon him or her by the social formation, over the pressure to conform to rules that constrain instinctual life, and frustrate personal desire”. (117). Looking back, my parents never pressured me into being any one particular person or type of person, but I think it was outside of the home, you know, society, that was the bigger pressure. I wasn’t outraged, I think that’s too strong of a word, but I was bothered by the expectation that a lot of my girlfriends preferred the princesses over the princes, the Polly Pockets over the Legos, and if I wasn’t interested in that sort of stuff, I was out of the loop. But these feelings I had obviously weren’t the first for girls. From what Griffin says, it looks likes the coonskin caps were popular with the young girls, in fact preferred over the “Miss Davy Crockett Snow White Bunny Fur” caps. He says, “…certain girls resisted the redirection of the advertisements. Life’s essay on the Crockett phenomenon included a photo of a young girl in a coonskin cap brandishing a rifle. Clearly, at least some girls were ignoring how the adult world would have preferred them to use Davy’s image”. (116). Maybe he’s being a bit sarcastic here, I’m not sure, but I still believe that there were definitely girls that rebelled against societal conforms.

 

I think, as I sit here and reflect my childhood, the lack of strong female characters in media wasn’t the biggest issue for me. In general, the gender boundaries were not the issue at front as a child. What I surrounded myself with was not so much prince and princesses but adventures about animals, or at least animal companions. I was really into Winnie the Poo, the book series Henry and Mudge, and Warriors (about a clan of cats), and other novels like Shilo, Where the Red Fern Grows, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, and My Side of the Mountain. My favorite Disney movie was Lion King (1994) and the Disney Channel original move Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993). Like most people of color, I had another barrier besides gender roles, and that was race. The only Asian “princess” (she’s not even a princess) is Mulan, and as much as I admire her strong female characteristics, it bothered me that whenever my friends and I played Disney princess games I was always Mulan. (Okay, she’s pretty badass, but it is hard being automatically given a part because of one’s race). Even the strong female characters in today’s media are predominantly white and as a kid I felt awkward telling other people how I’d love to be Meredith in the Indiana Jones series because I was afraid of getting comments like, “you can’t because you’re not white”.

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As a grew up, I grew out of that fear and learned that stuff like that isn’t worth fussing and worrying over because a human being is more than just the color of their skin, but if you can imagine as a child and not having that confidence, it was tough. I think that’s why I preferred hearing stories about Clifford, watching The Aristocats (1970) over The Little Mermaid (1989). As Griffin points out, “…one question yet to be answered is how nonewhite children related to the figure of Davy Crocket-neither the contemporary press, nor Margaret J. King’s work on fad seems to acknowledge that children who existed were outside the white, middle-class, suburban paradigm” (114). Truth be told, I didn’t have a lot in common with Davy Crockett except his thirst for adventure and independence, which today, I look at myself and say, “hey, that matters a lot more than looking like him”. (But it mattered twenty years ago).

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 I think because of the race barrier pertaining to media, I connected with animals who were identified by species, and did not depend on skin color, but rather fur which is hidden under skin. Wanting to be or play an animal wasn’t as limitless as wanting to be or play a human character.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “All for Animals

  1. Interesting analysis! The lack of representation in the media you consumed (at least the media depicting humans) made you more resourceful for your heros. Cartoons depicting animals, however, are still extremely gendered. How did the gender stereotypes portrayed in the films intersect with your racial identity? Did gender roles still influence which characters you identified with?

  2. Marga’s questions are excellent ones — did the lack of female “signifiers” (or at least really visible ones) make cartoons and animal narratives more palatable/tolerable? Or did you still identify with the male characters?

  3. Marga is definitely right in saying that a lot of the cartoon depicting animals are very gendered–I mean look at The Lion King, and most of the the animal media I mentioned has a strong male lead.(Henry and Mudge, Winnie the Pooh etc…) I think, because most of the animal media was male centered, I ended up identifying with a lot of the male characters, however not all the time, and it wasn’t necessarily because those characters were male. I didn’t think, “Oh, because Tigger is a boy, I want to be like him”. I thought, “because he’s funny, goofy, and a good friend” I like his character. That said, animal films do exclude females from having those attributes, but I think at the time I saw the gender issues in animal cartoons as separate from the gender issues we encounter in films about people.Today, I don’t think that, but back then, I was not aware because animals were disguised behind fur, and well because they were completely different species than humans.
    A strong female animal character I identified with is the character Sassy in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. She has a very independent, strong, (yes caring) and, by her name, sassy as well. She sort of represents a female character who can stand up for herself, and is very independent of her other two companions Champ and Shadow. However, (an here’s proof of my ignorance of media/gender influence in the media as a kid) she plays the smaller of the animals: the cat, who in many folk stories is the clever, mischievous, feline character who gets chased by the dog-the loyal, brave, man’s best friend character. Not surprisingly, Champ and Shadow are both males. So….there we go.
    Marga, when you asked the question, “how did the gender stereotypes portrayed in the films intersect with your racial identity” do you mean human films or animal films? With human films, I think I was a bit blinded from the gender issues because I could never identify with the female leads in movies because a majority of them were Caucasian. (Again, I know better now obviously) As I mentioned, even though I grew up with two loving parents who didn’t conform to stereotypes, I allowed the outside world/media to get the better of me. I’d watch a movie with a strong female role, but afterwards push it aside because I was more upset that I didn’t look like her instead of the limitations Hollywood put on her. Does that kind of make sense?
    Today, I don’t think that at all, but I’m being honest, back then I did.
    That’s why animal films appealed more because it was animals versus humans, and then gender issues were more apparent because I didn’t have the race barrier. I do remember when I read the Warrior series thinking, “Why didn’t the author(s) have a female cat as the lead role?” Ironically, the series was written by three female authors under the one pseudonym Erin Hunter.

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