In college I minored in Film Studies, a degree many would dismiss as useless. But I've loved movies my entire life, so I genuinely enjoyed studying them. It was, however, less-than-pleasant to go to the movies with me, only because I provided unsolicited commentary on everything. For one of my last film courses, I wrote my final paper about the sexism in Disney's fairy tales, long before I was familiar with toxic masculinity. Now, as I watch movies with my kids, I cringe. Turns out, a lot of children's movies that perpetuate toxic masculinity. Bummer.
Lately, watching television shows and movies with my kids has proven to be more difficult than ever. Once I started paying attention to all of the messaging about gender roles, I now see issues and problems everywhere. I mean, how blind could I have been? The answer, unfortunately, is very. In college, I realized how problematic children's fairy tales were (and still are). Now, as an adult, I have come to understand how problematic most media messaging is in general. Sure, it may have taken me longer than others to get "woke," so to speak, but as the old adage goes: better late than never.
Truth be told, I am sometimes miss the days when I could blindly watch movies and shows without feeling nauseated by the deeply rooted sexism, toxic masculinity, and hyper-femininity. Now, I sit by my daughter when she is watching something and partake in something I've dubbed as "active viewing." I comment throughout the show or movie, explaining to her what is wrong with each stereotype and message. It's obviously annoying to her, but I believe that is my responsibility as an adult. This way, she won't grow up quite as blind as I was. So with that in mind, and because dissecting the messages we receive on a daily basis is always a good thing, here are some problematic kid movies that deserve a healthy dose of scrutiny:
'Beauty And The Beast'
Watching Luke Evans' portrayal of Gaston was an uncomfortable experience for me, as an adult. Mainly, I was miffed at how toxic his personality was (seemingly way more toxic than I remember), but also because I brought my 8-year-old daughter to the movies to watch this film. It was a Disney film, after all. What could go wrong, right? I should have known better. Instead, I erroneously and naively assumed that a 2017 version of the film would outgrow problematic stereotypes. Despite the self-proclaimed feminist, Emma Watson (whom I love by the way) taking the lead role, the film is as sexist and as full of toxic masculinity as it ever was. An emotionally abusive Beast and a repulsive "manly man" Gaston overshadowed any glowing female lead.
Shrek was supposed to be a parody of the stereotypical fairy tale. It featured a strong female character and a goofy male lead. Still, the fact that Shrek's entire mission in the movie was to capture Princess Fiona for Lord Farquaad in order to get his swamp back proved that no matter how kick-ass a princess is, toxic masculinity will prevail.
Little Rascals has it all: “He-man womun haters club,” multiple scenes where boys and girls discuss their gender differences, blatant gender stereotypes, "romantic stalking," and, of course, "winning" the girl. The main character, Alfalfa, is constantly made fun of by his friends who disapprove of his love for a girl, Darla. The movie is full of anti-girl rhetoric, anti-gay jokes, and penis humor. And, let's not forget, the kids in the film are all elementary-aged, to really put things in perspective.
Mulan is a great movie in so many ways, but one of its songs and sentiments is incredibly toxic. Arguably, the most popular song in Mulan, "I'll Make A Man Out Of You," sang by Shang during a training montage in which he trains soldiers, is seeping with male toxicity. One of the lyrics, "You're a spineless, pale, pathetic lot/And you haven't got a clue/Somehow I'll make a man out of you" uses the psychological conditioning to incite toxic masculinity by preying on men's insecurities of not being a worthy enough man.
'The Princess Bride'
Once again, the audience is forced to view a woman is a prize to be won. In The Princess Bride, one of my favorite films, the men fight each other, start wars, kidnap women, and seek vengeance. The men of Princess Bride display some of most stereotypical aspects of toxic masculinity, which is a shame, because I remember it being so endearing and fun to watch.
"It's my house and I have to defend it," says Kevin McCallister in a blatant display of toxic masculinity. He's a little kid, so why not just call the police? Also, Kevin watches violent Westerns and uses violence to prank the robbers. Kevin displays a lot of this "manliness," like flexing in the mirror and putting on aftershave, but at the end of the day he's just a child mimicking what he believes will make him "tough" and "grown up."
'The Christmas Story'
The most beloved holiday classic focuses around a boy wanting a gun and praise for fist-fighting. If those things aren't toxic, I don't know what is. Also, Ralphie's "Old Man" fights with everything — from the furnace, to the package, to the neighbors dogs — aren't, um, healthy.
Casper was probably one of my favorite movies as a kid. I loved Devon Sawa, and even though he was in the movie for only a few minutes, I re-watched those few minutes over and over again. I recently watched Casper with my daughter and I totally did not realize how toxic some of the parts were. Casper's uncles constantly harass him for being sensitive and kind, and portray some of the most unfavorable aspects of masculinity. Not cool, uncles, Not cool.
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