With so many ideas popcorn-ing around in my head, I thought I would share some of them in an open letter to you—my readers. Traveling gives me great perspective—where I’m going, where I’m coming from, as well as the particulars of what leaving my departure city (home aka Berkeley, CA) and arriving in a new city (Orlando, Las Vegas, New York have been my most recent destinations) tell me about my environment, what I can possibly expect, and further about myself. That said, I write to you now almost two months since my last post ready to share with you a few of my thoughts, insights, and hopes for the coming year ahead.
For my visit to Orlando, I was held captive for 5 days at the Walt Disney World Resort for my organization’s Annual Meeting where absolutely everything was magical, including the shuttle I rode from the airport to my hotel (dubbed the Magical Express). To be clear, as much fun as this may sound to some the focus of the trip was work, first and foremost. Although there was fun had, I hesitate to highlight the fun since the entire time there I felt a tug-of-war going on inside my body and brain. Like many of my counterparts, I grew up with Disney. In fact, the films The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Pocahontas are some of my favorites that stir-up fond memories of my 5th grade play as well as sing-alongs and quality time with my younger sister. Fast forward almost fifteen years later and my relationship with Disney has definitely changed. Simply put, it’s a love/hate relationship. Since these days I find more to hate than love when it comes to Disney—I gotta give a shout out to my critical lens that makes it impossible to not analyze their films!—I’ll start off with the positives. Hmmm… what do I love about Disney?
After days, in fact weeks, of thoughtful consideration and observing my surroundings while encapsulated in the World of Disney, I realized that my love really is better categorized as nostalgia. I’m really a big kid at heart who enjoys a happy ending, believes in magic, and welcomes the use of music to tell a story. Disney and its films provide such an animated escape. Nevertheless, in doing so, these same films are carelessly sexist, perpetuate patriarchy, continue the hetero-centric script, and has limited racial or ethnic representation, which often falls into the category of stereotypical (i.e. I saw this play itself out time and time again at Disney’s numerous “themed” hotels), and. I’m by far not alone in such analysis (See Further References) and I’m confident that I wasn’t the only girl to watch these films and proclaim, “I don’t just want to be a princess!”
I say “just” because I also know I’m not alone in wanting to be loved, taken care of, and seen as beautiful; however, the key difference is that I’m not willing to simply be a princess at the cost of having to be passive and docile. Furthermore, it has been document by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, the ratio of female to male characters in Disney films exceeds the average represented in children’s media as whole, which is 1 female to every 3 males. “These ratios have a real effect: Decades of research shows that kids who grow up watching sexist shows are more likely to internalize stereotypical ideas of what men and women are supposed to be like” (Wilson, 2010). Even Pixar who initially touted a break from the princess love story (aka fairy tale), has done little to deconstruct the numerous stereotypes found in Disney films. In sum, these family movies disseminate damaging gender, racial, and sexuality norms that make it difficult for girls to feel smart, strong, and bold and for boys to stray from hyper-masculine expectations, which triggers the larger question: what is the media, in particular Disney/ABC (1 of 3 media giants), doing to provide positive images of girls and women?
Your initial inclination may be to point to the new espnW blog (that could eventually become a channel) and is touting itself as the “destination for women who are passionate sport fans and athletes;” however, the majority of posts from what I can tell are female writers writing about men’s sports. Granted it’s a start yet at what cost? In my opinion, the idea of getting our own channel is taking a step back for women’s sports and further agreeing to the idea that it’s okay to segregate us from the mainstream sports media, especially at time when the UCONN women’s basketball team is on par to break the longest winning streak originally set by the UCLA men’s basketball team and there is hardly any buzz. So, why does this matter?
In theoretical terms, the media are facilitators of cultural reproduction who transmit cultural norms and values by being as Friere (1998) argues, “certified possessor[s] of legitimate knowledge.” Based on this fact, it is traditionally unquestioned that these powerful and profit-seeking corporations are “programming” our minds with what “is” and “is not” acceptable. Even so, this is a much bigger question than I can answer, yet for me (and I hope you) it’s a stark reminder of how important it is that we all take responsibility for creating positive images and in particular, ones that depict the spectrum of femininity, race, and sexuality that is indeed among us. That said, I hope it makes you think twice about the gift you’re giving your daughter, sister, mother, or female friends this holiday season. In fact, I suggest some recent posts from the Ms. Magazine Blog as additional reminders of what I mean: Gendering Toys is Good for Nobody and More Sexy Toy Makeovers.
And then there was Vegas—the 21 and over version of Disney World. In my opinion, there’ s no need to get into the particulars of the city here except to say there is a reason it’s been coined “Sin City” with sexualized women as the focus and everywhere you look. However, I did find it an ironic destination for the 2010 WAC (Western Athletic Conference) Women’s Volleyball Tournament. I mean, young and athletic women in short spandex…need I say more?
I recognize that this is my first mention of sport thus far. However, I believe to discuss the (in)justice within sport, and in particular women’s sport I find it easiest to start from our everyday experiences, especially my own. As I mentioned earlier, it was while watching Disney movies that I realized I didn’t just want to be a princess, yet it was through sport that I learned that I could be much more than an athlete. I could be a teammate, a friend, and a leader. What’s more, it wasn’t just games won, but knowledge, skills, and so many teachable moments gained that I would run a thousand suicides and stadium stairs again (maybe not all at once) for the numerous opportunities I’ve received as a result.
One such opportunity took me all the way to New York City just weeks ago to serve on the Advisory Group of the GLSEN’s Sport Project, which is set to launch in early 2011. The mission of the project is to assist K-12 schools in creating and maintaining an athletic and physical education climate that is based on the core principals of respect, safety, and equal access for all students and coaches regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This is a mission that is dear to my heart for many reasons, and I consider it a true honor to share my perspective and knowledge with a leading organization like GLSEN to accomplish such a mission. Plus, I’m ecstatic that I will continue my blog via the IOU Sports website during the coming year, which as I’ve mentioned before is a true labor of love that allows me to not only write but also stay connected with what’s happening in sport.
Time provides perspective and with time I’ve come to realize that during the last two months of amazing professional and personal experiences and travel that the day-to-day skills I rely on now as a professional are the same ones I learned and honed over the years as an athlete. Such skills include time management, listening, working with others, the art of taking criticism, the need to communicate with my teammates on and off the court, and most importantly, the power of my voice. The recognition of my voice is directly connected to the confidence and self-esteem I also gained by participating in sport, and now this voice has sport to thank since it has the opportunity to bring to light the various topics and issues that continue to affect the diverse spectrum of female athletes as Title IX, the threat of the lesbian label and the need to perform one’s femininity, as well as the obesity crisis our country is facing while funding continues to be cut for physical education and sport in an era of “No Child Left Behind.”
That said, I recently learned from a Women’s Sport Foundation letter the shocking statistic that “if a girl doesn’t become active by age 8, she has only a 1 in 10 chance of doing so later in life.” In my mind, that’s reason enough to rally our girls to get them involved and active in both physical education and sport so that every girl can reap the numerous benefits and opportunities that I (and many others like myself) have received. So this holiday season and New Year, I urge you to think about what magical change or difference you can make for a girl or group of girls to get her and her peers active in sport and physical education!
My journey has become an adventure,
Thanks to school and the motivating power of sport,
I found my authentic self,
A place to call home, and now…
My dreams are coming true!
~ One Love & Happy Holidays
CALL 2 ACTION: Although Rally for Girls was over a week ago, I encourage you to consider the following question: What did you win by playing sports?
Once you’ve had some time to reflect, I suggest taking it viral by sharing your thoughts here, on Facebook, Twitter, your own blog, an email to family and friends, or the “old-fashioned” way of having a simple conversation.
Further References Re: Disney’s Corporate Power:
Third Time Still Not the Charm for Toy Story’s Female Characters by Natalie Wilson (6/24/10)) — https://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/06/24/third-time-still-not-the-charm-for-toy-storys-female-characters/
Feminist Film Analysis 101: A Case Study of “Despicable Me” by Natalie Wilson (8/23/10) — https://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/08/23/feminist-film-analysis-101-a-case-study-of-despicable-me/
Disney Ride Still Makes Light of Sex Slavery by Natalie Wilson (10/22/10) — https://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/10/22/disney-ride-still-makes-light-of-sex-slavery/
Toy Story 3 on DVD–More Jessie, Please? By Natalie Wilson (11/1/10)— https://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/11/01/toy-story-3-on-dvd-more-jessie-please/
Disney’s Male Execs To Stop Making Movies Starring Girls by Margot Magowan (11/23/10) — https://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/11/23/disneys-male-execs-stop-movies-starring-girls/
Mickey Mouse Monopoly: http://www.mediaed.org/assets/products/112/transcript_112.pdf
Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Wilson, N. (June 2010). Third Time Still Not The Charm For Toy Story’s Female Characters. Retrieved on November 17, 2010 from http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/06/24/third-time-still-not-the-charm-for-toy-storys-female-characters/.