Today at brunch my roommate told a story I could hardly believe, though I suppose I shouldn’t really be surprised at this point. Apparently family friends took their young son to see Disney’s Frozen, but walked out of the movie within the first fifteen minutes or so. What prompted this family to leave the theater?
It was a princess movie.
My eye literally started to twitch. I didn’t realize that parents would get up and walk out of a movie because it’s a princess movie. According to them, their kid was bored.
Shocking. I wonder why????
That isn’t a coincidence. That definitely isn’t some inherent fact of the world. Boys are not naturally bored by stories about or for girls. No way. That is a completely conditioned response. Partly by the lack of positive female-driven stories (both children’s and otherwise), but also by the parents! Of course your son is going to find a princess movie boring when YOU have been walking out of them! You might as well pay for a billboard that says “Son, stories about women just aren’t worth it. Don’t listen. Don’t pay attention. Not worth your precious time.”
Of course, stories about men and boys are universally enjoyable. Everyone loves to sit down and watch Woody and the gang in Toy Story or Mr. Fredericksen and Carl in Up. They’re not “boy movies,” they’re just kids’ movies. A movie about two sisters, though? Girl movie. Princess movie. So worthless that parents aren’t going to force their poor boy to sit through it.
Now Frozen is not a perfect movie. I personally didn’t think that it lived up to the standard of movie that Disney is known for putting out, and it was hugely problematic besides, mainly for its appropriation of Sami culture. So I’m not standing here saying that Frozen is some kind of perfect feminist triumph that every child should be exposed to because it will radically change how they view the world. The average kid, however, isn’t going to have those qualms about it. If the child can typically sit through a 90-minute film, Frozen is going to be plenty engaging.
By walking out of that theater, those parents are making the assumption that because the movie is about two sisters, it won’t be a good movie. It won’t be something their son is interested in. When you’re taught from a very young age that only certain stories are worthy of your attention, and all those stories feature men, that is a very serious perspective you’re setting your kid up with. The message is so clear; women don’t deserve your attention the same way men do. That message translates outside of media. It might not seem like a big deal that a boy only wants to watch stories that feature boys, but that is not an attitude that he will grow out of! It’s just an attitude that just morphs into something more serious. Now, instead of only listening to stories about men, he’s only listening to news reports by and about men. He’s only giving credence to studies done by men. He thinks that issues revolving around men should get precedence. That is how we get statistics like “Men were quoted six times as much as women were on reproductive health issues by media outlets during 2012 elections.” Of course they were. Men are the only ones that we can listen to, right? They know what they’re talking about, and they always know better than women. Even when they’re talking about women’s reproductive health!
Children are not born into this world with preferences for media. There isn’t some genre gene. “Oh no honey, I think little Bobby got your preference for crappy reality TV!” “Well then he must have inherited his hatred of reggae music from you, dear.”
Kids’ preferences for media, especially really young kids, are shaped by their caregivers. They watch whatever is given to them – what their parents, teachers, and daycare workers put on. That is how they learn what they like and what they don’t. Parents not only have to think about what messages they send with the media they do pick, but also what messages they send with the media they don’t pick.