by Sharon Choksi
Why do I applaud the latest GoldieBlox video about heroes? Because my daughter thought Katniss was a boy.
Yes, GoldieBlox. YES! You are absolutely right that “all girls deserve to see themselves as heroes” but our girls simply do not see enough examples of female action heroes. The impact of that hit home when my daughter assumed one of the few examples out there, Katniss from The Hunger Games, was a boy. So if anyone thinks girls aren’t noticing (and being affected by) the gender disparity in our culture’s heroes, think again.
In their latest video, GoldieBlox re-imagines the heroes from famous action movies as women (think everyone from James Bond to Indiana Jones to Rocky). It’s a fun and powerful way to drive home the point that ALL of them were men. Then they share the statistics – only 12% of protagonists in big-time, blockbuster films are female. But you don’t need data to know that something needs to change. You just need to know this story about my daughter.
When my 10 year old daughter was reading The Hunger Games, she kept referring to Katniss as “he” – despite the language in the book making it pretty darn clear she’s a girl. My daughter had never seen the movie (or even a trailer), so the only clues she had about Katniss’ gender were the words in the book. But the messages she had been exposed to throughout her life – about boys being the main characters and the ones to save the day – were clearly stronger in her head than the female pronouns used on the pages. In her mind, Katniss was a boy.
I can still remember the look of utter disbelief and confusion on my daughter’s face the first time I told her Katniss was a girl. She was already multiple chapters into the book, and was telling me something about Katniss by saying how “he” did this and “he” did that. I asked her several times, “you’re talking about Katniss, right?” The answer was “yes” each time, with increasing frustration in her voice that seemed to say “Why isn’t my mom understanding? She read the book!” My daughter had clearly formed a mental picture of who Katniss was – and it was a hard one to change. We ended up having the same conversation about Katniss’ gender 3-4 more times over the next several chapters before my daughter finally starting talking about Katniss as a “she” and not a “he.”
During these discussions, I’m pretty sure I had the same look of disbelief on my own face! I had raised my daughter to believe that girls and boys are equals. I had exposed her to a variety of strong and ground-breaking women (real and fictional). I had even started Girls Will Be with my siblings to fight gender stereotypes in girls clothing, and we picked our brand name because we wanted to send the message that girls will be…so many different things (beyond sugar and spice and everything nice). Including heroes!
All-in-all, we had more than your average number of conversations in our house about gender stereotypes in clothes, toys, movies, and more. My kids seemed to ignore society’s messages about what they were “supposed” to like, with my daughter playing flag football and my son loving the color pink. Yet, here we were. If my own daughter could assume Katniss was a boy, I began to think that the messages kids receive outside the home about what it means to be a girl vs. a boy must be even more powerful than I thought.
So what can we do to change those messages? Watch the latest GoldieBlox video with the girls and boys in your life, and talk about it afterwards. Share the video with your friends. Support the work of The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to make sure more movies are made with female heroes. Use resources like A Mighty Girl to seek out movies and books with strong female protagonists.
Together, let’s work to make sure all kids (girls AND boys) know that girls can be heroes too!
Co-Founder of Girls Will Be