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Why Female Movie Leads Matter For My Sons’ Future

Jun 6, 2019

Representation in media matters. More and more, we're seeing women in front of the camera and behind the scenes, equal pay for equal work and a more gender-balanced workplace. The impact of this on young girls and women is immeasurable. Coupled with the insistence on better representation for people of colour, the LGBTQ community, body shapes and people with disabilities — more than ever young people can see themselves on screen.

My hope is this normalization will extend past the theatre seats, when they are receiving assignments from their female bosses.

I am thrilled the girls in my life get to experience this — but I am equally happy that my young sons do, too. It isn’t enough for girls to see female-led movies and feel inspired. If we want to make a real dent in the global gender imbalance, we need to undo the messages we have continually sent to our boys that they are meant to hold more power.

Most parents would never overtly tell their sons that they are better than girls, or that they deserve to hold more agency in the world than their daughters. When asked, I’m sure most families would say, and genuinely believe, that they are raising their sons, daughters and non-binary children to be equal, and that’s a good thing. It’s certainly a step up from the not-so-distant past when parents made no effort to hide their double-standards.

But the uncomfortable truth is that we are still inadvertently raising our sons to feel they have and deserve the upper hand.


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When I went to buy my son an Avengers shirt, I was crestfallen to discover that many of the options removed the female characters in the shirts aimed at boys. There were already too few female characters in the movie, and then the merchandise not only failed to feature them for boys the way they did the male characters, but actively removed them from the group shots. It was the same for Paw Patrol and even the new Star Wars, despite the main character in the new franchise being female.

Increasingly, they cite female characters as their favourites in movies or TV shows. We don’t shame them or try to redirect them the times that they don’t — it is perfectly acceptable to favour a male character.

I decided then and there that I would make an active effort for my sons to see female leads. I wanted women in power to be normalized for them. My words on the subject alone would not be enough to counteract the subtle messages they were receiving in the world. They needed to see women in positions typically reserved for men without it being a big deal — without it even being noticeable. They needed to come to expect it. They needed a world in which it was more glaring when women were missing from the narrative than when they were centred.

We went to Star Wars, so my oldest son could see Rey in action. We watched Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp, A Wrinkle in Time, Into the Spider-Verse, Bumblebee — any movie we could find that had at least an acceptable level of representation for women in non-stereotypical roles. At home, we scoured Netflix for positive examples, finding favourites like She-Ra, Trolls the Beat Goes On and Teen Titans. Soon, we will be bringing our boys to see Captain Marvel.

When we discuss these movies, we don’t say, “Isn’t it great they included female characters.” We don’t want it to be exceptional, or like a bone tossed by the still largely male-led film industry. Instead we discuss how awesome those characters were in their own rights, without mention of their genders. We don’t call attention to positive representation as remarkable, but rather point out examples of when it isn’t. When there's a movie with too few women, we discuss how that hurts the movie and people as a whole. When female characters are included fairly in the merchandise, we buy it. When they aren’t, we call it out. The goal is for this to be the norm and sexism to be the anomaly, and that starts with normalizing gender balance for both our boys and girls.


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It’s working. This Christmas, my sons were as excited to receive action figures of female characters as they were their male counterparts. My youngest son went as the Wasp for Halloween. Increasingly, they cite female characters as their favourites in movies or TV shows. We don’t shame them or try to redirect them the times that they don’t — it is perfectly acceptable to favour a male character. The point is that the playing field is level and the choices are equal, just as it is fine for girls to love pink as long as they aren’t socialized to believe they should. When one of my sons announces a male character is his favourite, I simply agree that character is awesome, and declare that one of the female characters was my favourite.

When I went to buy my son an Avengers shirt, I was crestfallen to discover that many of the options removed the female characters in the shirts aimed at boys.

We aren’t at the point yet that equal female representation is normal rather than exceptional, but by taking our boys to these movies, we're trying to make it less taboo and in turn less subconsciously emasculating for women to be in power. My hope is this normalization will extend past the theatre seats, when they are receiving assignments from their female bosses. While we empower our girls to go for these positions of power and insist upon being treated as the equals they are, we can show our boys that a shift to equal power is not just good but expected.

To media-makers: keep producing these movies and TV shows. To activists: keep pushing for equal representation in front of and behind the cameras. To movie-goers: put your money into these productions — show them with your wallets that we want more of these. And to parents: make these movies normal and expected for your children, no matter their gender.

Article Author Heather M. Jones
Heather M. Jones

Heather M. Jones is a mom of two, wife of one and writer of humour, biting social commentary and everything in between. She lives in Toronto with her family, and two cats who are decidedly not friends.

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