Protagonists are male; I didn’t wear makeup as a kid

30 Jan

Apologies for a long delay in posting; we just came back from our meet-the-family/honeymoon vacation with baby. Here’s a quick post on neither baking nor math; both should return soon.

As a kid I played with my brothers all the time.  I distinctly remember playing with those little matchbox cars and having them talk like transformers to each other.  I always picked the pink car because she was the “girl” hot wheels.  This is ridiculous to me now, since we had 20 or so cars and they didn’t have faces or anything indicating their genders besides color.  And it’s not like 19 cars were blue and one was pink; they were all different colors, designs, etc.  But I was fixated on the pink one.  Looking back, did I just have a favorite car, or did I feel like the other cars weren’t for me?  If this post was just this anecdote, I’d say that I just had a favorite car which happened to be the pink one, and my brothers didn’t share the same obsession over any single car.  But.

We also played with legos.  We had two little hair clipons that you could put on your person to make them a girl, and we also had one head with lipstick and mascara.  I didn’t use that head because I didn’t (and still don’t) like makeup.  So every time I played, I’d put a hair on a person to make them female, which meant that our default Lego population were all male (comically statistically unlikely number of bald men in the Duong Legotown at any given time).  It also meant that girls couldn’t be firefighters, policemen, or pirates, since those all had separate hats and you could only wear one at a time.  This was zero percent a big deal to me as a kid, and is some percent a deal to me now.  I would be remiss not to link to Anita Sarkeesian’s video on this here.  And here’s part 2.

I was the youngest and did and liked everything my big brother did and liked, but I never got into Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Gargoyles as much as he did.  I loved Sonic the Hedgehog and Tails (a two tailed fox sidekick, I think?), but then the cartoon came out and it turned out Tails was a boy too, and my interest waned.  We played Secret of Mana often on our Super Nintendo, which was a super fun multiplayer RPG, and my brother would be the Boy main character and I would play Girl or Sprite.  I also loved Super Mario Bros 2 more than the other installations of the series, because I could play Princess Toadstool (and she could fly which was badass!)

As a child, I wanted characters who reflected me, or who I could aspire to be, or who I could relate to.  I didn’t want to be the sidekick all the time, but I was, mostly because I was younger but partially because I was a girl, and by default girls are sidekicks or trophies and boys are heroes.  Girls are heroes in girl-oriented products/games, but protagonists are male in general audience products/games.

I wondered whether this last statement is true, so I looked at my three month old baby’s books.  Turns out animal heroes are also by default male.  For instance, the Very Hungry Caterpillar is a he.  So is the Moose and the host in If You Give A Moose a Muffin, Spot the dog, Max in both “Max Explores Chicago” and “Where the Wild Things Are”, Duck in Dooby Dooby Moo (and the two other books in the series), the baby in I Love You Through and Through, Bear in Bear in Underwear, the dinosaur in Thesaurus Rex, and of course Bruce the bear bully in Big Bad Bruce.  I’ll note that the premise of the Dooby Dooby Moo series is that Farmer Brown (male) has a bunch of cows (female) who type, but the main actor of the series is Duck, who is a he.  I counted 12 of Ian’s books with male protagonists.

Girls are heroes in girl-oriented products/games, but protagonists are male in general audience products/games.

How about both?  Where is Baby’s Belly Button, the Tickle Book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Introductory Calculus for Infants, and Head to Toe all include both male and female leads characters.  The collection of Dr. Seuss Books, Count to Sleep Chicago, Hippos Go Berserk, Noneuclidean Geometry for Babies, and Possum Come a Knockin’ all don’t have male or female leads.  So that’s nine in the both or neither category.

What about female?  Nope.  None of his books have a female main character.

To be fair, a friend did gift us The Munschworks Grand Treasury of stories, which includes multiple female protagonists.  But that’s for when Ian is a bit older (also I haven’t read any of them yet).

My husband pointed out that this is what happens when we don’t have a gender neutral pronoun in English, implying that “he” is the default pronoun.  But that’s exactly my point.  “He” is the default.  So my son will get to be the hero, and use all the matchbox cars, and be Optimus Prime or Bumblebee or Rafael or Leonardo or Sonic or Tails or Ash Ketchum or a lego pirate or firefighter or policeman.  And if I ever have a daughter, I’ll have to figure out what to tell her so that she can be all these things too, and doesn’t feel like she can only be the pink car or the lego figures with hair or Princess Toadstool/Peach.  Or buy her a whole new set of toys catered just for girls, because boys and girls are apparently so fundamentally different that this face

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 10.51.54 AM

somehow only reflects half the population, at least when I was a little kid trying to play.

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3 Responses to “Protagonists are male; I didn’t wear makeup as a kid”

  1. cousin thu January 30, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

    So very true, Cuz. I guess there is Dora the Explorer, and I’m not sure how much it’s marketed towards girls specifically. However, the fact that I could only come up with one possible example for young kids is a huge problem. For preteens a great action cartoon with primarily female heroes is Legend of Korra— but that’s not Ian’s generation.

    If we’re going to reach true social gender equality, we need to teach boys that girls are cool and powerful. Girls already think boys are cool and powerful and inhabit all the important spaces. We’re all deeply socialized by the media we consume, and the media is falling behind still.

  2. Edward January 30, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    Thank you for posting this.

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