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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cranky Feminist Biddy*: WTF Smurf Edition

Dear Missy and Lee,
Please forgive me for subjecting Kadin to a little bit of extra feminist commentary on the Smurfs bedtime story. I apologize for any delays in the onset of sleep but stand by my message.
Old Biddy

For the rest of you who haven't been paying attention to the upcoming Smurf movie and marketing onslaught, count your blessings. Anyway, Missy and Kadin are visiting. Kadin got some new story books tonight, including the Smurfette book. I happened to read it to Kadin tonight, thinking it would be mellow nightime fare full of blue gnome like creatures bumbling around. But no, it's more like a Smurfized version of Adam and Eve, with a few extra Adams, more sexism and a makeover thrown in for good measure. The (male) Smurfs were living in a state of grace, getting ready for winter. It was a veritable sausage fest. The evil wizard created a female pseudo-Smurf (aka Smurfette) to make them fall in love with her and lure them all out so he can catch them. Smurfette looks like the other smurfs but has frizzy black hair. They let her live in their village and even help her paint her house purple but she doesn't really fit in and they think she is too bold. After her various plans to lure them to the evil wizard fail, she tries to flood the Smurf village but gets trapped in the deluge. The Smurfs save her and she begs their forgiveness. They magically transform her into a real smurf and give her a major makeover in the process. She becomes sexy and blond, with Barbie hair and a cuter dress and some kickin' heels. Then they all fall in love with her and the senior Smurf comments that maybe the solution is worse than the problem. Do 4 year olds really need messages like that? Upon some advanced interwebz surfing I verified that this is indeed the same plotline in the older version of the Smurfs, and it even resulted in the term "the Smurfette Principle" being coined. That was 20 years ago. Not much has changed. It's not like the Smurfs are some classic tale, or Hollywood never rewrites plot lines to make their product more marketable. A little modernization would've been in order here. How about approximately equal numbers of male and female smurfs, or even genderless Smurfs, doing their thing and outsmarting the evil wizard?
Prior to that, we had watched some stupid cartoon show in which the main plotline was the evil villain was ruining guys' reputations by saying they really had female names or wore pink socks. I apologize for the non-age appropriate show choice - I should have stuck with shows I recognized.
Anyway, I'm always an outspoken feminist old biddy, but I just finished reading "Delusions Of Gender" by Cordelia Fine so I was still fired up from that. I won't do a book review here, but one of the issues that she addressed is that we don't live in a gender neutral society, and little kids are exposed to a lot of messages about the differences between men and women, and what is expected for each gender, and that influences their behavior and personality from a very early age. With this non-controlled environment, it is hard to know what is hardwired and what is programmed. This is of interest to me, partly because I have had to deal with a lot of veiled sexism during my career, and partly because it seems like the world that little kids are exposed to is even more gendered than it was when I was a little biddy. Meanwhile, us adults are bombarded with books like "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" and scores of neurological studies ("neurosexism") which may or may not be any more predictive than measuring someone's brain size and using that to predict intelligence, but are nonetheless hyped by the media and used to justify all sort of things.
I won't claim to be free of gender bias - like all of us, I am a product of the times as well as my upbringing and experiences. Hell, I probably even talk to my cats slightly differently since they are females and not males. I'm not a neuroscientist and do not know if men's and women's brains are really all that different or not. However, I do know that I have no patience for shitty sexist drivel like the tale of Smurfette.

* First in a series of many

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