The new Lego movie, while featuring a compelling female charter, Lucy/Wyldstyle, doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test.
What is this, you ask? A simple 3 point criteria 1) Are there at least two female characters? 2) Do they speak to each other… 3) about something other than a man?
I hold a few other things in mind. The predominant tension of the LEGO movie: follow the instructions *exactly* versus creating freely? That and the heavily criticized pinkification of what used to be universal, gender neutral toys. Friends, Ninjago, Star Wars…LEGOs are no longer instruments of creation and imagination, they are tools of stereotypical gender role assignment. Do we really want plastic the medium through which our kids learn what it means to be boy, girl, human?
In fact, while I really enjoyed the movie [read: bawled my eyes out at the end], there were a few cheap shots. The movie’s creators are white men, all. There was her exaggerated hair tossing which I know was intentionally ridiculous. But I scrinched up a little at one instance of subtle but pointed mockery of Lucy. Did you catch it? It was all about her name during one chase scene. Vitruvius listed all the different incarnations she tried before settling on Wyldstyle, and she’s all ‘I was struggling with my identity.’ Blech.
Her boyfriend Batman is also kind of a prick, to which she is blind/willfully ignorant. Just like all us women, such a weakness for bad boys. But I digress.
Pink Marketing is an actual ad term
Many of us saw the above 1981 LEGO ad go viral recently. Digging a little deeper, I was struck by how far we’ve not come. Regressed, for sure. The little girl in the ad looks just as I did in 1981…a tomboy. Jesus, when was the last time you heard that quaint, nostalgic term? Girls that dress neutrally today are seen as having gender issues.
“Only having boy haircuts, wanting to be a boy — that’s more than being a tomboy. It’s closer to a gender-identity problem.”
Horseshit. It’s not an identity problem. It’s a societal problem. Even little kids get that in our culture, boys’ things are ‘better’. And by better, I mean original, the standard. Think of sports teams…there are the Tigers and the Lady Tigers. You may as well print I have Lady Parts on those jerseys.
Function over form
Sometimes it’s just a question of functionality. I know plenty of little girls [including mine] who prefer to shop for clothes in the so-called boys section. The threads are comfier, roomier and often more boldly designed. For kids who like to climb trees, ride bikes and do other ‘masculine’ things like not sit still and color, knit or click together pink blocks, function is more important what side of the fitting room wall they found the clothes.
Starting the media literacy conversation early
Check out another great TED talk. Colin Stokes wonders How Movies Teach Manhood. It’s an insightful peek into what it means to be critical thinkers about what ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ movies teach. Upshot? Choose carefully, and talk about the biases that may come up.
Think this is all fuzzy and cooshy kids stuff? No way. Money talks. The top grossing movies of 2013 all passed the Bechdel Test, adult and family movies alike. Hollywood is finally getting the hint…all voices matter. It’s not altruistic; it’s capitalistic. One time where what the market wants and what is actually the right thing overlap wonderfully.
But what of this toy problem, after all? Check out my next post on choosing better toys. Not a feminist take, even [Lesbian Barbie, anyone?]. The best toys are un-gendered and universal…developmentally appropriate, creative and flexible.
Meantime, what did you think of the LEGO movie? Let me know in the comments.