*Warning* – contains spoilers about the movie “Turning Red” as well as “Brave,” “inside Out,” and “Encanto.”
Imagine something with me for a moment. Imagine there is a movie about an adolescent boy who discovers that he has magic shapeshifting powers to become a fierce, powerful animal. The males in his family have had this power for generations because a deity granted the power to a male ancestor in order to help him protect his family from enemy invaders. The boy has to learn to control the amazing power and potential of this fierce warrior alter-ego. What’s the next part of the story?
Would he save his family from an evil ruler trying to harm them?
Would he save his town from an earthquake that almost destroys a stadium full of people?
Would he save his city from an evil power that wants to enslave the population?
Or… would he get in an argument with his dad about going out with his friends and end up doing intense emotional labor to heal intergenerational dysfunction in his wider family?
Do you think boys and men would ever, in a million years tolerate that last option? This boy superhero uses his superpower to… do emotional labor for his family. The end.
What about this scenario:
Imagine a prince who is a crack shot archer. How does he end up using his amazing archery prowess in the story?
Does he protect his village from attacking enemies?
Does he make a really difficult shot to bring down a treasure-hoarding dragon that is burning Laketown?
Does he rob from the rich to feed the poor, and defeat the greedy local nobles?
Or… does he win a contest to avoid getting married and then spend the whole movie arguing about it with his dad, finally to reconcile at the end?
Do you think boys and men would ever stand for that last scenario? The amazing young archer spends the whole movie… arguing his right not to get married. The end.
Here’s another one:
A magical family all has superpowers, granted to protect them from violent people who surround their land… except for one boy. He somehow didn’t end up with a superpower, so he feels ashamed and embarassed. The family is in danger – there are threats from the villainous people outside their village, and the family’s superpowers no longer seem enough to keep their village safe. The boy goes on a quest to find what is needed to save his family and their village from ruin.
Does he find a magic spell that only he can weild?
Does he find a magical weapon that teaches him how to protect his village?
Does he find a magical beast who joins with him to protect the village?
Or… does he heal intergenerational trauma for his wider family through intensive, thankless emotional labor?
How would that last one go over, do you think? A young boy goes on a quest to save his village from enemies…. and gives everyone some psychotherapy to get along better. The end.
One last scenario:
A boy moves to a new state. He’s struggling to make friends and settle in to his new home.
Do we watch him gain confidence by joining the sport and impressing his teammates?
Do we see him stand up to a bully and gain the respect of some nice kids?
Does he befriend a wise mentor, who teaches him inner strength and impressive karate skills?
Or… does the movie show us his conflicted inner feelings as a way to highlight the different layers of emotional labor involved in childhood?
I mean…. honestly…. can you imagine male moviegoers putting up with that? A movie where the entire point is understanding the intricate emotional workings of a boy?
Movies about emotional labor can be helpful IF they make visible the previously invisible work females have traditionally done AND demand that it be better valued as well as shared equally by males.
But…. folks… can you see the imbalance here? If Encanto didn’t have such catchy songs, no one would care much about it, no matter how likeable Mirabel is. Inside out was clever, sure. But the stereotypes of which emotions are male vs female detracted terribly, and in the end, the alter-hero Joy does just what our culture demands females do: tons of thankless emotional labor on behalf of her community. Brave, Turning Red…. these movies had a lot of good in them, and so much potential. They could have used the archetypal hero journey to give girls role models for being so much more than the village mules.
Because that is what females are groomed to be: mules. We are groomed to do constant, unpaid, unthanked emotional (and domestic) labor on behalf of our communities. Capitalism demands that domestic and emotional labor be valueless. Our culture trains females to devalue ourselves in order to prevent us from demanding that our massive labor be recognized and compensated. We are also expected to endure abuse (just like these female movie characters) from community members who desperately need our help but cannot admit it.
These movies describe and proscribe the mythological, archetypal norms and values of our culture. They describe the way females are devalued, and they reinforce that devaluation. They act as ideological indoctrination to keep females subordinate, in the same way that limiting female religious symbols in Christianity to “Mary, meek and mild” and the occasional “God who is like a gentle Mother” describes and proscribes subservient, passive roles for females.
Studios are finally making movies like Frozen, Frozen II, Moana, live action Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Star Wars 7,8, and 9. Good. Make more. Our girls need to see females in archetypal hero journeys that bring liberation and justice to all forms of oppression. Our planet needs saving!!! And Christianity needs to lift up the feminist voices within the tradition, lift them way, way, way up. Here’s one such voice – taken from the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of Scottish Gaelic, prayers, songs, and charms from the 19th century, here is a collection of lines in praise of Mary:
Thou glorious Mother of the Stars
Shield of every dwelling, shield of every people
Since thou art the star of night
Lighten me in the darkness
Since thou art the sun of day,
Encompass me on land
Since thou art the star of angels,
Watch over me on earth
Thou art the Queen-maiden of the sea
Thou art the river of grace
Thou art the well-spring of salvation
Thou art the star of morning
Thou art the star of watching
Thou art the star of the ocean
Thou art the star of the earth
Thou art the star of the [kin-dom]
Thou art the corn of the land
Thou art the treasury of the sea
Thou art the cup of wisdom
Thou art the well-spring of health
Thou art the sun of the heavens
Thou art the moon and the skies
Thou art the star and the path
Of the wanderers
Since thou art the full ocean
Pilot me at sea;
Since thou art the dry shore,
Save me upon land.
Shield of every dwelling, shield of every people
Mayest thou shield me by day and night
O bright and gracious Queen of heaven.
…That’s more like it. Amen.
BIO: Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.
14 thoughts on “All these sexist movies turn me red by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”
Magnificently argued and presented, Trelawney..and the prayer is exquisite…Thank you so much for your sharp insights to the core of these issues.
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Thank you, Stephanie. I just think the different cultures Disney is trying so hard to represent more lately… they deserve to be represented in ways that are worthy and timeless. <3
Very interesting! Your argument is both cogent and realistic–like, men would never ever ever act out your suggested healing scenarios. All the boys–and in some ways men never grow beyond adolescence–want to do is be heroic, at least in the eyes of submissive women who worship them. And movie audiences. Phooey. Dumb dumb dumb. This is why I haven’t seen a movie in a cinema since Mary Poppins Returns (2019) and I do not stream anything, especially superhero movies.
Thank you thank you thank you for this excellent post. Would any Hollywood producer or screenwriter read it and pay attention? I both hope so and doubt it. I live within driving distance of Hollywood. It’s all appearance up there. And traffic. Lots of traffic.
Bright blessings to you and all your work. Beautiful prayer. She is indeed the Mother of the Stars–the ones in the sky and also the ones on the sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard. Haha. Bright blessings!
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Thank you, Barbara! I’m glad you enjoyed the prayer, too. Heheh good point about the stars! I agree about Hollywood… such a dysfunctional industry, very hard to make a dent in any way. We need heroes more than ever… healthy ones liberated from patriarchy! Bright blessings to you, friend! <3
Such a beautiful prayer to Mary who obviously remained as Goddess in the hearts of many Scots well, well into the years of Christianity. John Knox would have certainly hated this prayer!.
Your analysis of these shows is spot on! So very, very much of what comes out of the entertainment industry is nothing but propoganda for patriarchy and violence. I am continually starting series on the various streaming networks only to abandon them soon, as their dark vision of violence and hate unfolds. Where are the shows that give us a vision of a functioning, loving and balanced world – that present loving ways to resolve conflict?
I recently started watching “Foundation” based on Isaac Asimov’s science fiction story. I was super offended by this show’s portrayal of a planet dedicated to the Triple Goddess. It presented a goddess who demanded extreme suffering in order to receive her blessing and for those who could not withstand the suffering – well then they just died. Yes Goddess represents birth, death and rebirth but not in this way! Another show that I chose to leave.
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Yes, where are they? In the garbage pail of course – “too boring” – the culture wants violence and hatred and that’s what we get. sure reveals who many people have apparently become….
Thank you, Judith! I agree, we need stories to paint a vision of the world we want to build and live into. Have you seen Moana or Frozen 2? Or Raya and the Last Dragon? They do a great job of this kind of visioning, it’s really beautiful and powerful. Ooh, I get shivers just thinking about it. I hope storytellers of JustPeace can get the chance to tell more liberation/redemption mythology — for all our sakes! <3
Yes, yes, yes! There are so few movies, tv shows, novels, etc. that portray women realistically and positively. I know there are wonderful screenwriters, directors, and producers out there who would make the kinds of productions that raise female characters up and show better ways of responding to life’s challenges, but I imagine they find it difficult to get funding or distribution, and when they do get movies or shows made it’s so hard to find them to see them. Women are over half the population and the entertainment industry is just writing us off. Thanks for shining a light on all this and for quoting that beautiful prayer. It made my day!
Thank you, Carolyn! I’m glad the prayer lifted you – it lifts me so much!! I agree, there are gifted storytellers in our world… they need to be given a big platform so their transformative, healing work can grow! Women need to stop pandering to patriarchy and tell our stories our own way! <3
“These movies describe and proscribe the mythological, archetypal norms and values of our culture. They describe the way females are devalued, and they reinforce that devaluation…. etc etc”
I’ll say – this is why I don’ watch movies –
Incredibly powerful post – Thank you.
Thank you, Sara. I love movies, but I’m very picky, as you see! Same with music, books, etc… well, it’s our right to have high standards, isn’t it? We deserve art that lifts our community and helps us thrive. Blessings to you. <3
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I’m going to have to sit with this take for a while, because as a mother of two young children who has watched these movies with my kids, this is not how I experienced any of them at all. If anything, I see these female heroines as playing tremendous roles in guiding their families to a perspective that is liberated from patriarchal limitations and mindsets, which prioritize big, solo heroic gestures in the first place. Far from being thankless, the very last scene in Encanto, for example, is the family honoring the protagonist for all that she’s done to heal them. In Red Panda, a multi-generational group of women learn how to embrace their magical powers because of the work of the young female – and again, I don’t see it as being thankless at all. To me, it’s part of the real work that needs to be done to save our planet. It’s only thankless and unimportant if we choose to agree with the idea that intergenerational healing is less important than fighting a dragon. I personally don’t – in fact, it feels like some of the most important work I can offer my family and my children, and is just as likely to have a powerful impact on future generations who come after me as me working on gun control measures and climate change issues, or any of our other current dragons. It’s this work that frees us to more powerfully fight those dragons in the first place.
Would boys tolerate these options or see them as a real example of heroism? Yes, I think they might. I think my 7-year-old son certainly would. I don’t think he sees this as a “woman’s work” at all, or else he wouldn’t want to watch Encanto over and over again as he does now. We’ve had some really special and important conversations about how everyone has special gifts. In fact, I’ve felt a little bad that so many of the great kids’ movies these days are starring powerful girls! He’s not into superheroes, and I worry that he needs to see strong, compassionate boys in movies more often – not ones that are fighting dragons or being some solo hero but who are also committed to healing the community and the family. I really loved Coco for that, and Miguel is not off fighting dragons or saving the world. He’s doing intergenerational healing work, too.
I think you’re also forgetting that the “strong” one in Encanto was female. There’s a matriarch of the entire family. The one who healed people with her food was female. The one had the power to control the weather, for goodness sake, was female! I honor your conclusions and I always like seeing and experiencing different perspectives, but I see something very different. I do love that prayer, though. Thanks for reminding how amazing the Carmina Gadelica is.
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Thank you, Sara. I don’t watch movies anymore. The prayer about Mary is beautiful. It bothers me that there is so little information about women in the Bible. We never heard about Mary’s ride on a donkey at 9 months pregnant or about the childbirth labor I imagine Mary endured.
Ok, so that was the culture at the time the New Testament was written, a time when women were often considered chattel. But what about today? Have you ever heard those kinds of curious thoughts voiced by women? To perhaps be an inspiration for women?
“Capitalism demands that domestic and emotional labor be valueless.” All well said and well noted. Money is the determinant of value in our world and by that standard, women and our work are valueless.
I just read about an adolescent in FL who was deemed too immature to have an abortion and the state is trying to force to her become a mother. Not a wit of LABOR will be compensated in any way. In fact, quite the opposite, she will be looked down upon and treated as “less than.” It makes me so angry I have trouble coping.