Friday, May 6, 2011
Recently, my son asked me why, since there are so many myriad T-Shirts and other signs that say "Girls Rule" and "Girls Rock," there were not shirts that said "Boys Rule?" (It was a little bit like when my daughter, a knee jerk feminist in her own way, expressed anger that Barack Obama and not Hillary Clinton got the presidential nomination -- "But we have never had a woman in the White House!" We had to explain that not only women have been oppressed and that it was still pretty darn good to get an African American man there.) I explained to my son that there had always been an assumption that "boys rule" and that that had made it important to say that girls were cool and girls could rule. But, still. What is a little boy to think? Girl power has worked so well as a merchandising tool for the younger set that girls truly do rule in most media. iCarly, Hannah Montana and other cool tween girls dominate cable TV. The boys in these shows are generally full-blown idiots, virtually unable to function in the world (both Carly and Hannah's brothers), or they are crafty liars who succeed only through deception (Zack or Cody in the Disney series). The girls, however, are smart and strong and funny. In even the smartest children's lit, there has been a sea change in how boys and girls are represented. In the Magic Tree House books, two kids time travel to help Merlin and his sister Morgan le Fay find treasures for the library in King Arthur's court. It is nerdy and historical stuff and we love it. The girl, Annie, is intuitive, good with animals, and fearless -- she plunges into every adventure with the absolute certainty that she will come out okay. Her brother, by contrast, is more bookish, and a bit afraid. He can't move forward without doing research and even then is usually pushed by his younger sister. Neither fits an exact boy-girl stereotype. But there is a way in which we can no longer imagine the boy as fearless, or an adventurer. In order to allow girl power, he has to give up some of his power. So, what do tell our sons? "Move aside, it's your sister's turn?" Or "Nobody rules, at least not by virtue of their sex." But, can we say that really?