This past weekend I had my future step daughter and her cousin over for a sleepover. After dinner and showers, I had the girls pick out a movie while I made them popcorn. The girls chose the 1996 version of 101 Dalmatians. The smell of popcorn drowning in butter got the best of me, so I decided to sit down and watch the dalmatians. I am glad I decided to. Every time I decide to watch a movie again, I see things I missed before. This time I found myself questioning a central part of the story: the "villain."
Within 15 minutes of the movie, under-the-radar fashion designer Anita meets with Cruella De Vil. Villainous Cruella is interested in Anita’s dalmatian-inspired designs and invites her into her office to talk about changing the line from stripes to spots. Cruella wanted to know how Anita flew under the radar for so long and how she’s worried about her one day being scooped up by the competition. Anita says she she is faithful to Cruella and the only reason she would ever leave would be if she met someone and started a family.
I literally paused the movie. Remote in hand, I turned to the little girls with sleep in their eyes and I told them what Anita said was not okay. I told them they don’t have to choose between starting a family and doing what they love to do. Who was really the villain here? Was the villain Cruella the (crazy) fashion giant who owns her own company or the horribly scripted Anita saying she couldn’t do what she loved and have a family?
What was different in the 35 years since the original movie? Now in 2013, seventeen years after the remake, we’re still in the same boat. Cruella was an heiress who morphed into an evil entrepreneur boss. Another gem of a message for little girls: Women who run companies are witches.
Early in May 2013, Disney got into hot water by attempting to change the look of their newest princess Merida from their 2012 film, Brave. Merida was a different kind of princess, one who refused to get married at 16, had a bow and arrow and didn’t wear makeup. When Disney was “inducting” Merida into their equivalent of a Disney princess hall of fame, they drastically changed her look. Merida got an eye lift, cheek implants, a smaller waist, bigger hips and thicker eyelashes.
These stories are just a few examples of inspiration for a fictional Disney ride, “Detours Into the Dark Ages.” I have this image of myself holding back a group of little girls from blindly getting onto a ride that could warp their view of what a woman is and who she should be.
The examples described above are what drives me to bring awareness to gender inequality. I want to be part of something that tells young girls not only follow their dreams but ignore that inner voice telling them they can't. I know that voice all too well.
I feel like I have ridden “Detours Into the Dark Ages” one too many times. Where am I now? I am off the ride and ready to shut this thing down.