Archive for The F Word

Why We Love: Wreck-It Ralph

We’ve been through the Frozen fever and spent a lot of time watching Tangled, but whilst I think these are pretty good films, with better themes and concepts than the earlier Disney princess movies, I am LOVING our latest Disney obsession – Wreck-It Ralph.

Eponymous protagonist Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the 9-ft tall, 600lb “bad guy” from the arcade game Fix-It Felix Jr.  Disillusioned with his bad guy status and propensity to wreck everything in sight, whether he means to or not, Ralph sets out to find himself a medal so that he will gain the sort of recognition Felix gets from the other inhabitants of his game.

In a similar way that Toy Story before it showed us the secret life of toys, Wreck-It Ralph shows us what happens to the characters in the arcade games after the arcade has closed.  Travelling through a central atrium, the characters can visit different games, although of course they must return to their own game in time for it to be played by the customers, lest they risk their game being perceived as broken and switched off.

In search of a medal, Ralph visits Hero’s Duty, a war game where the player must battle fearsome “cybugs” in order to win.  Ralph’s clumsiness sees him end up in an escape pod which then crash lands in another game – Sugar Rush.  Sugar Rush is a racing game set in a wondrous candy-land and it is here that Ralph meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a glitch in the computer system who wants nothing more than to be able to race but who is shunned by the other racers because she isn’t a real character.

So far, so predictable, I suppose.  We know Ralph and Vanellope will become friends, even though they don’t seem to like each other at first.  We know that he will help her to race but that there is likely to be some kind of problem, quite possibly a betrayal.  We know that both of these rejects will end up being accepted by the people around them and we will all learn an important lesson.

"I'm bad and that's good.  I'll never be good and that's not bad.  There's no one I'd rather be than me."

“I’m bad and that’s good. I will never be good and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”

In and of itself, that’s a pretty good storyline for kids and I like it.  But it gets better.

What I really like about Wreck-It Ralph is the many ways in which it subverts traditional gender roles, both overtly and subtly.

Firstly, there’s Calhoun (Jane Lynch), the commander of Hero’s Duty.  She’s tough, she’s fearless and of course, being voiced by Jane Lynch, she’s freaking hilarious!

"Fear" is a four-letter word, ladies! You wanna go peepee in your big-boy slacks, keep it to yourself!

“Fear” is a four-letter word, ladies! You wanna go peepee in your big-boy slacks, keep it to yourself!

Calhoun is also the character who gets the guy at the end, proving not only that strong women like romance too, but also that you can find love in the most surprising of places.

Less overtly, the arcade customers are refreshingly gender non-conforming.  We see a girl kick some ass in Hero’s Duty and then when she wants to play Sugar Rush – a game decked out in neon pink, where almost all the avatars are female – she gets sent away by two boys who claim they are going to be playing on it all day.

Best of all, [SPOILER WARNING] when Vanellope discovers that she is actually the princess of Sugar Rush who was transformed into a glitch through an act of sabotage, she rejects her pink dress and her role as ruler of Sugar Rush, suggesting instead that they should have a constitutional democracy and that her green-hoodie-wearing self is the “real” her.

"Look, the code may say I'm a princess, but I know who I really am, Ralph, I'm a racer with the greatest superpower ever."

“Look, the code may say I’m a princess, but I know who I really am, Ralph, I’m a racer with the greatest superpower ever.”

In a world full of “beautiful” princesses with ridiculous waistlines and questionable relationship choices, Wreck-It Ralph is a really refreshing change.  For those of us concerned about the “pinkification” of our girls (and of course the inverse “blueification” of boys) there really is a lot worse you could see than Wreck-It Ralph.  On top of all this there are the frequent retro gaming references that will go way over your children’s head but will make you chuckle.  Wreck-It Ralph is definitely a film we all enjoy.

I Can’t Wait to See The Search Stats on This Post

Occasionally, you find a line in a book that can make you laugh out loud.  The following quote from Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to Be a Woman’ did just that when I read it on our honeymoon, almost causing me to spit my mojito out my nose.  (I didn’t, of course, because that would have been a terrible waste of alcohol.)  In it she describes her husband’s response to her newborn daughter’s rather immensely poopy nappy.

My husband approached her nethers, tentatively, with a wet-wipe, and then slumped back, looking defeated. ‘Not only have I got to clean all … this out,’ he said, looking on the verge of mania, ‘but I don’t even know what I’m cleaning. What are we going to call it? We can’t call it “cunt”.’

‘Her NAME is Lizzie!’ I said, shocked.

She goes on to talk in detail about their dilemma with what to call their small daughter’s ‘girly bits’, a conversation L and I have had ourselves.  I don’t remember having a particular name for my private parts when I was little.  I knew my brothers had willies, but I’m not sure what terms I used for my own anatomy.  Of course, as I grew up I discovered the variety of different terms that exist – some cruder than others – and obviously somewhere along the line I learnt the correct anatomical names.  I’m pretty sure the word ‘penis’ was always used interchangeably in our house with the word ‘willy’, but I’m not sure when I first learned the word ‘vagina’.

Recently, we had a conversation about a three-year-old child we know who was exclusively using the word ‘vagina’ to talk about her private parts – obviously this was how her parents had taught her to refer to it.  We thought it was kind of weird.  I mean, obviously that is what it is, but it seemed odd – and maybe even made me feel a bit inexplicably uneasy – to think of a small child using that word.

Interestingly, just a few days later I read this article after seeing a link on Twitter.  To summarise, it says that by using pet names for private parts, we are disempowering our children.  According to some, using euphemisms instead of the correct anatomical terms, creates a sense of shame attached to those body parts, which then – although this seems quite a jump – will make girls more prone to molestation and/or an inability to say ‘no’ in sexual situations.

But is it the use of euphemism that really creates the sense of shame about those body parts?  We use a range of nicknames for other body parts too, but if I tell the girls to close their peepers or ask if they bumped their noggin, at least they have the song ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ to ensure they also know the correct names.  There’s no song about vaginas.  No song for kids anyway.

(Now you’re wondering what song for adults I’m referring to.  I can think of at least one.  Cast your mind back to the early Noughties.  Remember the Bloodhound Gang?  They released that single that went “You and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel” – you’re welcome for that ear worm by the way – and on their album (no judging!) they also had a song about vaginas.  It was probably highly misogynistic, but this was back in the heady days when feminism and everyday misogyny just weren’t really on my radar – although of course they should have been.  It had in it the classic line:

“It’s hard to rhyme a
Word like vagina”

But I digress.)

The article I read (and linked to earlier) did really make me think.  Are we doing our children a disservice by not using the correct anatomical language?  Will it be possible to both employ a cutesy euphemism for everyday use whilst also ensuring our children know the correct names for all the parts of their bodies?  Is it the name that creates the sense of shame around these body parts, or is it our own awkwardness in discussing them openly and honestly?

It’s hard enough to find a palatable name even when you are thinking about nicknames.  There are many (MANY) words used to refer to both female and male private parts, some of which are cutesy and some of which are definitely of a more sexual (or derogatory) bent (hence Caitlin Moran’s husband’s issue with referring to their daughter’s sex organs as her cunt!).  It seems pretty standard to use the word willy for a boy’s parts, but a nice, innocent term for a girl’s seems harder to come by.  As we were discussing the various terms we had heard, nearly every one seemed to have an alternate meaning or be close to another word.  Minnie, for example, just makes me think mouse.  Although that’s probably preferable to my friend’s shock and surprise when her Year 8 French teacher introduced them to her new baby daughter, Felicity – that was the term her mum had always used for her private parts growing up and she had no idea it was also a girl’s name!

I’m undecided now, on where I stand on the whole thing.  I suppose that – like many things – moderation is the key here.  It is essential we do teach our children the right words for things – particularly so that they are able to communicate effectively when it comes to the health of their bodies, but I’m not sure that there is really something inherently wrong with using a nickname.

What do you think?

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Shit, did I say sex? I meant gender. (Yes I did just pull my own take on the classic “SEX! Haha now I’ve got your attention” gag. So sue me.)

So, yes, gender is the topic of the day.

As you will know from reading this blog, I have twin girls – and if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you probably wish I’d stop clogging up your feed with pictures of them in ever so slightly different poses. Before they were born, we didn’t know what flavour of baby we were expecting, so the few clothes we did buy were all pretty gender-neutral.

IMG_2220

Gender-neutral but still oh-so cute!

They were born in the height of summer and it was so hot we would often take them out in just a vest or romper. And there we were, with two teeny tiny babies – suddenly the biggest tourist attraction this side of the London Eye. Everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – wants to see your tiny twin babies. You can’t walk down the High Street without being stopped at least three or four times. And the first question on everyone’s lips? “Are they boys or girls?”

I started to get annoyed. Of course they were girls. I mean, we all know that babies do pretty much all just look like babies – genderless little balls of cuddles and vomit. But surely – SURELY – people could tell that my two little darlings were princesses, not princes!

A lot of the clothes we were given as presents when the girls were newborn all fell clearly into the girly category and I started to shy away from dressing them in anything that made it less than obvious they were two little girls – of course, this didn’t stop one old gent in the shopping centre stating that Claudia “must be the boy” because she was the one who wasn’t crying (at the time!), despite both of them being dressed head to toe in pink.

So time has passed and still the majority of their clothes remain pretty feminine. But the Winter has set in and with it the near constant wearing of these gorgeous Mamas and Papas pramsuits that were bought in the sale. Beautiful, a bargain to boot and very gender-neutral.

pramsuits

So whilst the girls might be wearing the prettiest dresses ever underneath them, when we are out and about all anyone ever really sees is the white pramsuits. And so we’re back to the same old question. Interestingly, people often now say, “Are they two girls?” and whilst one of the toys Immie has clipped to her buggy seat is pink, none of the others are, which leads me to believe they must be basing at least part of their assumption on Claudia’s facial features.

Anyway, ultimately, I kinda got over it. If people stop and admire them, I mean, WHEN – and not for any reason other than by virtue of them being twins, before anyone accuses me of being big-headed – I just get in pretty quick with the fact that they are both girls and it just removes any embarrassment on anyone’s part.

Pick these babies out of the line up - which are girls and which are boys? (Sorry, I've no idea either, these are just random stock photos I stole off the internet).

Pick these babies out of the line up – which are girls and which are boys? (Sorry, I’ve no idea either, these are just random stock photos I stole off the internet).

So, to get to the point of my rant (and I do have one), the girls have been invited to a birthday party. It is the third birthday of our friend’s son and it will be the first special occasion the girls have been to (if you discount Christmas).

When we first talked about going, I got excited and suggested they could wear their superhero babygrows that I had bought them a while ago in a size too large because they hadn’t worn them yet. However, my wife pointed out they also had their tutus that had been sent over for Christmas from their Auntie and Uncle in Australia that they had worn on Boxing Day, which – although also a bit too big – were more like “party clothes”. I acquiesced.

However, when we received further details about the party, we discovered it was ‘Superheroes & Fairies’ themed. “Great!” I said. “So they can wear their superhero outfits!”

But my wife still wasn’t convinced. “But they could still wear their tutus. We could get them some fairy wings to go with them. If they wear those superhero outfits, everyone will think they are boys.”

This was true, I had to agree, so I went out in search of fairy wings that might be suitable to fit a baby. As I did, I became increasingly more uncomfortable with them dressing up as fairies. They would look dead cute in the superhero outfits, they would be far more comfortable and if anyone thought they were boys, why, surely we would correct them. I quite hope that when they are older they want to dress up in “boy” outfits as much as they do in “girl” ones. I don’t know why, but it feels like this is setting a precedent.

If people do assume they are boys because they are dressed as superheroes, is that our problem for the way we have chosen to dress them, or society’s problem for giving the diktat that those dressed as Spiderman and Batman must be boys?

My discomfort wasn’t helped when I came across this display in Debenhams.

I didn't take any more pictures for fear of being accused of industrial espionage, but the other side of the Boys' display was all Lego and the other side of the Girls' was soft toys. Seriously.

I didn’t take any more pictures for fear of being accused of industrial espionage, but the other side of the Boys’ display was all Lego and the other side of the Girls’ was soft toys. Seriously.

I know I’m starting to sound a bit like a lefty, liberal Guardian-reader (oh wait, I am one!), but actually this is a significant issue. Gender exists, I’m not going to dispute that, and I actually think it’s quite important – for example, I don’t particularly agree with the principles of the family who kept their youngest child’s sex a secret from not just the world, but also other family members, in order to somehow make that child freer from the constraints of gender. Gender is important. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be a huge trans community who wish to change their bodies to match the gender they were born with. But what does need to be noted is that gender, much like sexuality, is far more on a spectrum than the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ allow for. I’m not the girliest of girls, but I do like pink, although you will most often find me in shades of blue, grey and brown. I would probably describe myself as being on the feminine side of tomboy. And as a child I actually would have enjoyed some – and not all – of the toys from each of those displays.

See, it is hard to quantify.

My girls are girls because that is the body they have been born into. That is their sex (ah, see we did get around to talking about sex eventually), but when they get older, they will be able to describe their gender to me and I hope I will give them adequate language tools to be able to do so.

So does it matter if I don’t dress them “like girls” for this birthday party?  Does it matter if I do?  Babygrows would be more comfortable, but as my wife pointed out, they can wear those anytime, whereas the tutus are a bit more of a ‘special occasion’ outfit.

Part of me – the slightly obstinate part, I’ll admit – wants to take them as superheroes now, almost on principle.

What do you think, Internets? Does it matter if people think they are boys? Should I stick with the construct of gender that matches their sex until they are old enough to tell me otherwise? Is the gender issue completely beside the point and I should just put them in what looks cutest?  Am I just making this into a “thing” when it doesn’t need to be one?  Which outfit would you choose?

Spiderbaby and Batbaby

Spiderbaby and Batbaby

Stars and stripes - the pink fairy and the purple fairy

Stars and stripes – the pink fairy and the purple fairy

 

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