So I was watching Glee the other night, waiting desperately to see if Brittany and Santana would show some sign that they were still together. As I tried to peer into the minds of Glee's creators and discover their subversive intent in having the lesbian character Santana dance to a song with romantic lyrics about boy/girl love with the gay-in-real-life Ricky Martin, it hit me: TV is not activism. I mean, critiquing TV can be activism, but TV programming itself exists, by and large, in the service of profit, not activism. In recognition of TV's persuasive powers over "impressionable youth," there is a long history of the "after school special" and the "very special episode" of family sitcoms. But the structural inequalities and relations of rule responsible for the most urgent cultural problems of our time run way deeper than the politics of media representation.
You may have seen these ads last week from Atlanta's Strong4Life Campaign, which attempt to let kids (and their parents) know that they are fat and shame/scare/bully them into just stopping being fat already.
My goal in writing this series was to delve into the intersections of feminism, parenting and pop culture, and I did my best to tackle as many topics as possible in my eight weeks here. (Although of course, I'm still left staring at a laundry list of things I wanted to write about...isn't that always the case?)
The lessons shared in Free to Be... You and Me are not only timeless, they are also incredibly essential to remember in today's world. When we have young boys being targeted by Fox News writers for wearing pink toenail polish, and large companies that continue to push gender stereotypes, I think it's time for a little refresher course in what it truly means to be free. With that in mind, I present to you five lessons I have learned, and continue to hold dear, from Free to Be... You and Me.
We're (not so) slowly creating a new social contract where oversharing has become de rigueur. Blame it on the popularity of reality TV or the easy access the Internet provides—either way, we're currently at a place where a video of a mom intentionally terrifying her young son while he belts out Britney Spears has over 10 million hits on YouTube.
Dressing up and pretending to be an adult is a natural part of childhood. Adults (just like fairies, kings, or queens) hold a bit of allure and enticement for young kids, making it a treat to pretend to be them for a while.
Yet, in today's consumer-driven culture, the notion of "aging up" kids is happening in a way that has taken all the fun and pretend out of it. Clothing that is marketed towards kids, especially girls, looks less "girly" and more like smaller versions of outfits found in the tween and teen sections of stores.
As Disney continues to sell their princesses (and make no mistake, they're selling a brand, not just characters), they continue to show us that people will eat up these negative messages as long as they're packaged in an appealing way—in this case, in pinks and purples and lots of sparkle. It's amazing how far they will actually push it.
Now, maybe there's a bigger subtext that I'm missing. I'm coming at this as a mom and a feminist, not necessarily as a comic book reader, so perhaps I don't understand all the nuances of this world—I'll own up to that. But when my son is starting to find himself interested in all things "Super," then I feel my opinion counts for something. We're barely scratching the surface of superheroes—there is a whole lot more out there that is even more sexist, and racist—but just what we've seen so far has left this feminist mom clutching at her non-existent pearls.
This trend of remaking childhood classics holds no nostalgia for me. It only holds anger that companies feel that they can update a part of my childhood in order to double their profit margins and, in the same breath, insult my child by suggesting he won't enjoy something with a simple, timeless message.