How culture teaches girls what it means to be female.
Growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, journalist, essayist, and TV and film critic Chocano (Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?: The Serial Monogamist's Guide to Love, 2003) felt “unreal, peripheral in my own life, trapped in a dream not my own.” As a girl, she was supposed to identify with fairy-tale princesses, but she felt like Alice in Wonderland, living in a world of contradictions and illogic. The iconic princess, she came to realize, was “limiting, oppressive, infantilizing.” As she argues persuasively, that image of the princess—eager to be rescued by her prince—continues to pervade. Combining memoir and cultural critique, Chocano finds much evidence that movies and TV send a message undermining girls’ empowerment. Although women “might be smarter, more responsible, and more together than men now,” the movies profess that men are still happier “because this was still a man’s world.” Among the movies she examines are Pretty Woman (a “shameless American capitalist version” of romance), Lars and the Real Girl (“the weirdest Pygmalion story ever told”), Fatal Attraction, Flashdance, My Best Friend’s Wedding; she also looks at the TV show Sex and the City and its “media-created stereotypes.” Now raising her own daughter, Chocano worries, rightly, that ideas about women’s sexuality “have become narrower, more rigid, and more pornographic in their focus on display and performance.” She finds that “the porn aesthetic, combined with the underrepresentation of more multidimensional female characters,” skews girls’ conception of gender roles. Even the children’s movie Frozen, which her daughter saw about 30 times, sends mixed messages. Its protagonist is supposed to be powerful, but the movie insists that “power is perhaps the most unnatural trait for a girl to possess.” A girl’s “greatest mission,” after all, is to be as attractive as she can be by transforming herself “into a trophy.” Independence leads to “solitude and loneliness,” creativity to madness.
A sharply perceptive look
at the myths that constrain women.