Category Archives: Dealing with reality

‘Wow! Am I so ready for this change?’

When I first watched Frozen I was pleasantly surprised. At least, it’s the women who sort their crisis: Sven doesn’t get there in time, not that he could do anything if he did. And Anna is after all pretty plucky, despite her stupidity over evil Prince Hans. And the whole Frozen story is about how we deal with fear and how love and acceptance can resolve this – positive and hopeful, if naive. So, I’m not a Frozen hater (well, I am in that – If I see one more bit of merchandise….hear that song…. Argh! kind of way), but something I read this week made me think some more and question whether the films our girls are watching are really moving forward in terms of their portrayal of women.

Linguists (Fought and Eisenhauer) have completed a study which reveals that increasingly – with the exceptions of Tangled and Brave – Disney films over the last 30 years have seen women speaking for considerably less time than men; Frozen sees men speak for 59% of the time and The Little Mermaid, a staggering 71%. Yet, back in the days when Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty hit the celluloid – in spite of their subservient roles and appearance-motived plots – it was the reverse, with female characters speaking the vast majority (71% in Sleeping Beauty, 60% Cinderella) of the lines.

Now, part of me immediately recoils from this conclusion that the proportion of lines given to women is critical in this debate for several reasons: it’s obviously down to the story – the three good and one wicked fairy in Sleeping Beauty are all women. Looked at from the male perspective, Cinderella doesn’t have step-brothers for instance (although it is interesting that Cinderella’s father is cut out of the plot which doesn’t help the gender imbalance). It’s obviously the case that what the genders say and how characters evolve is the critical factor in how roles are being defined. And these stories are set in the “olden days” where people didn’t have women diplomats and women  administrators.

We can’t make the past a Feminist idyll. And the beauty and romance of enjoying stories from the enchanted age of castles and frilly ball gowns is still one to watch even if there aren’t men changing nappies and women changing tyres.

Linguist Karen Eisenhauer, who co-wrote the report thinks Disney has shown a tendency of seeing men as “the norm” (great line!) but the serious point being made was that when Disney go about choosing more incidental speaking characters – shop keepers, fishermen, diplomats or just funny characters – these are usually men. So you may well have strong female leads, but women have the crises, they don’t just live; they don’t have small, comic parts; they are not simply there.

I think it’s fair to say that Disney should be on guard against immediately chucking a man into a role which could be filled by either sex.  Report co-author Professor Carmen Fought continues:

“We don’t believe that little girls naturally play a certain way or speak a certain way….. “They’re not born liking a pink dress. At some point we teach them. So a big question is where girls get their ideas about being girls.”

Now, I seriously tried not to gender-stereotype my children. I don’t know about you, but I could not get my son interested in pushing a dolly in a pram, and his main interest with the plastic cooker was mending the doors with his Bob the Builder tool kit. And with my daughter, I resisted pink…honestly, but it was like squatting in front of the Niagra Falls – personally I think our children aren’t quite so easy to deter from the stereotypes and there seem to be some ingrained tendencies, much as it bemuses and faintly concerns me.

But that caveat aside, clearly what our children watch – especially as these days it dominates parties, toys and every little thing you buy – does influence them greatly. The study also shows how women are valued far more for their attitudes and abilities than their beauty in recent years, and to be honest that matters to me far, far more than how many lines they have.  Worth noting that the study shows that the two films in recent years which have bucked the trend for female lines – Brave (74% women) and Tangled  (52% women)- have both been written by women and Disney is clearly aware of the sensitivities.

Thinking about this study though, has left me drawing a slightly different conclusion about how to model inspirational women: it’s not so much about the predominance of a character (in so much as the lines) or the casting, it’s the choice of story made into a film which needs greater consideration.

I think we need more female writers and directors to generate the sorts of films that hold up for our children women of strength, passion and integrity. At the same time, I certainly don’t want a ‘Feminist agenda’: let’s also see men of strength and integrity and women and men working together – be great if that was “the norm”.

So what do you think? Does it matter how much women are on screen? What determines how children view gender?

 

You may well want to take a look article from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/25/researchers-have-discovered-a-major-problem-with-the-little-mermaid-and-other-disney-movies/

 

 

 

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Is Santa real and do Angels have feet?

This season is so alive with wonderfully powerful and magical stories. Children and adults alike have their imaginations charmingly tickled as they strain their ears to hear sleigh bells in the night sky, or engage with the image of glowing hay surrounding  an adorable baby and baaing, fluffy lambs.

But as they grow up they want to know the answer to a question never far from their lips the rest of the time….Is it real? Sure you’ll agree that they ask it about as often as “Are we nearly there yet” on a car journey don’t they?

If it’s not real, what do they lose? What do we lose as parents, otherwise trying to make Christmas as magical and wonderfully mysterious as possible?

Why do we tell stories? Stories can show us truths and teach us things. Stories can be a way we deal with things we don’t understand. Stories can entertain us and we can lose ourselves in them and imagine we’re the characters. Stories can be inherited traditions, long cherished as part of our culture’s way of connecting across time with deep truths.

Do stories necessarily lose their potency if they are found not to be based in truth? Now, I’m not a philosopher as you know, so we won’t go into the whole ‘What is Truth?’ discussion here! But as far as our children are concerned, the question they – at some point – come to ask us about all the wonderful stories they hear, is whether the figures of Santa, God, Mary, Jesus really exist or existed and whether the events really happened.

I wish we adults had such meaningful conversations as our children. There was apparently a big discussion in the playground this week about whether you had to believe in Santa if you believed in God. The two were seen as inextricably linked. The whole idea of one package of beliefs going with another is a fascinating can of worms isn’t it?

Untitled design-9The other week I was playing the role of Mary in a dramatisation for local schools. (I always wanted to at school…didn’t know I’d only get to be Mary at 37! Not me above by the way!) I was rather tickled by one boy’s comment, that the elderly man playing the Angel Gabriel, couldn’t possibly be an angel. He added indignantly, “I saw his feet!” 

 

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We all have our own take on how to deal with reality and stories. My personal thoughts for what they’re worth, are that when my children ask me if Santa’s real I tell them he’s not BUT with a strict warning not to burst anyone else’s bubble. We still have loads of fun with Santa pictures on practically everything around the home; singing ‘When Santa got stuck up the chimney’ a zillion times, and leaving mince pies out for Santa, with a knowing chuckle that it’s really Daddy. But faced with a point blank question about what’s true and what’s not, I feel I need to answer.

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And if that means I re-examine my own beliefs about the account of the first Christmas and if I have to explore what I really believe about angels and how much I think stories within the Bible are figurative or imaginative models,  and how much they’re true to real life events, then so be it. It’s a good result for all of us.

And of course, if you don’t believe the Christmas story, then why would you confuse your children when they ask you if that’s real? But that’s just always puzzled me.

I want my children to decide for themselves what’s real. But they do look to us for opinions on the way. They ask for a bit of a steer  about what really happened versus what is a story of Disney-like fantasy.

I will tell my children I don’t believe in Santa. I will tell my children I believe that Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in very humble circumstances long prophesied by spiritual people through the ages – something which never fails to excite me. I will tell them I find believing in angels – especially the gold winged flying variety – really tough! (And of course, when we look a little deeper we may see that this version is more due to Victorian artists than Biblical accounts.) 2

But what an opportunity…whatever your beliefs, to be able to explore with your children how a story is never simply JUST a story, and perhaps never simply true.

Some stories can have more basis in fact than others. Some can be literally true, although they’re bound to have some spin on them. Some can be figuratively true in that they point to truth. And of course, if we separate Santa from St Nicholas we see where both the Santa and the Christmas story connect:  bringing kindness and joy to the world, irrespective of race, wealth or beliefs. We need both stories, and what bits you think are true is inevitably the compelling discussion of the holidays both for children and adults. May feel a bit daunting, but I think it’s worth grabbing the bull…or the reindeer…or the oxen…..by the horns/antlers/horns!

Please do share your thoughts – how do you deal with Christmas stories with your children? At what point do you tell them about Santa? and what have you told them about the first Christmas?3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why did it happen?

“I don’t want to go on school trips outside this country?” I knew that was when we were finally going to have the Paris conversation with my 7 year old.

Year 6’s trip to France has just been cancelled. This means, inevitably, the whole school from 4  years up somehow has to know why.

The night before, my daughter, popped her head round the door to ask “Will the world end?” Apparently two 4-year-old boys were discussing it?

I keep my children away from the news. I would prefer to be their filter at this stage in their childhood. But cocooning them also has a price: we need to actively be the filter.

My son wanted to know “Why did it happen in the first place?”

This may be that first news story that winds him; that makes him realise we are vulnerable; that makes him see the world as a dangerous place, and that frightens him.

I think there’s disbelief for many children that young. They want to know why? Why could Year 6 go on the school trip last year, but next week it’s suddenly too dangerous.

Change and permanence are key concepts children have to assimilate into their daily life. Sometimes there will be a supply teacher that won’t be so helpful as their own teacher. Sometimes football will be cancelled because of the weather. These changes can throw them.

But sometimes, bombs and guns will kill people simply going about their daily lives in normally safe countries, very similar to our own. How do they have any framework for dealing with that reality?

By “Why did it happen in the first place?” perhaps my son was also saying “How could everything so dramatically change….just like that?”

Nothing happens just like that. I didn’t say this to my son at the time. I was fumbling around for the right words. ( If you ever think that writing this blog means I’m able to come up with coherent and helpful answers on the spot, you’d be very much mistaken.)

On reflection, I’m thinking how children that young are still grappling with the cause and effect of not sharing, let alone the cause and effect of behaviour across millennia, races and continents. But to understand how this particular trajectory of violence started in the first place, we need to understand humanity, and – posture as we all do about this from time to time – we really can’t come close.

So, how could everything so dramatically change? It all changes when a group of people wants another group of people to live their lives a totally different way and won’t allow the other people to say they disagree.

Perhaps that’s the element of human behaviour we do all understand, however it’s disguised or presented and however inconceivably grotesque are the means used to try and achieve that control.

“Will the world end?” How can we answer that?

I bet there have been children asking that for hundreds and hundreds of years. Maybe your Grandad did during the war when he had to run outside in the cold and dark to the shelter in the garden?

Sometimes it feels like everything is changing. Sometimes we can’t imagine how things will get back to normal and we won’t feel like this.

We understand human beings can do terrible things. But just as much, if not more so,  human beings have a deeply ingrained resilience: like an inbuilt hope, that made them run soup kitchens on bomb sites, and today makes them distribute clothes and food to refugees, defend Muslims subjected to abuse on trains and, sacrificially, and with no thought for their own safety, go back into the Bataclan theatre having escaped, to rescue friends.

The pain of loss can never go away. But showing love gives hope: hope that humans can find a way to live together with different views at no-one’s expense.

Our capacity for faith, hope and love is immense. “But the greatest of these is love.”  

Somehow, if our children can leave our “Paris conversations” with hope in people’s capacity to love, rather than with quite so much fear of their capacity to break hearts and lives; if  our children can leave these discussions with an awareness of people’s resilience, to say, ‘We will carry on and care’, then I hope they will, somehow, be empowered by seeing good overcoming evil.

How have you been dealing with this with your children? What sort of questions have they asked you? Please do share your thoughts.