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I’ll hold my hands up: my children get a lot of screen time. Don’t get me wrong, we use it to our advantage – I try to put something educational on every so often, and we advocate (monitored) YouTube time to stimulate conversation and imaginative play. But generally the TV is on in the background of most things we do, and it has definitely become more important to me in recent years to really think about what kinds of characters my children are seeing when they watch. I have compiled a list of characters from films and TV programmes who have qualities I want my children to learn and – more importantly for them – they actually enjoy watching.
My daughter is very much in to anime at the moment, and we are loving working our way through Studio Ghibli’s collection. Kiki’s Delivery Service is an absolute hidden gem that we love to snuggle up and watch on a rainy afternoon. Kiki is a thirteen year old Japanese witch who has come of age for the tradition of spending a year on her own, away from her family. She and her feline friend, Jiji, mount her broomstick in search of a brand new town, where they can begin their own independent adventures. After a rocky beginning while trying to find her feet in the town, Kiki begins an air delivery service atop her broomstick and the residents of the town fall in love with her kind heart and can-do attitude. We love this film because it is charming and entertaining, and as a mother I personally love it because Kiki shows initiative, ambition and her plans don’t change when a boy begins to fall for her.
I’m sure most readers will have seen Brave by now, but just in case: Merida is a curly haired vixen who also happens to be the daughter of a King, and she sure as hell isn’t ready to accept a life of fulfilling feminine expectations. She is talented with a bow & arrow and knows her own mind. I love that this is a film about a Princess who doesn’t need to find a Prince to be happy.
Moana is one of my family’s favourite films. The songs are probably the best in a Disney film, in my opinion, since Princess and the Frog (and Tiana only didn’t make this list because it does have that Disney ‘falling in love’ ending) and the characters are fantastic. Moana is the daughter of an island chief, who is about to come of age and take up her father’s role as the leader of the Polynesian island she calls home. However, Moana has bigger dreams than her father expected: the sea is calling out to her and she is desperate to hit the waves. When her island begins to suffer and resources are dwindling, Moana takes to the ocean to find a solution – and makes friends with Maui the demi-God along the way. There are a whole string of adventures that follow and I won’t ruin the storyline for anybody who hasn’t seen it, but rest assured Moana is a headstrong lady who is wise and skilled beyond her father’s expectations, and she has amazing sarcasm to boot. She is definitely somebody you want your kids idolising.
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Maybe it was the red hair, or just the fact she could spin an extraordinary tale at the drop of a hat, but Pippi Longstocking has always been my idol. Pippalotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking (I promise I didn’t Google that! NERD!) lives with her monkey, Mr Nelson, and a horse named Horse while her father is out sailing the seven seas. There are a whole range of versions of Pippi’s story, but my favourite is the 1997 animated film in which Pippi befriends Tommy and Annika and together they foil a couple of crooks (think Home Alone) and the resident busybody Mrs Prysselius who is horrified by Pippi’s independence, seemingly uncouth nature and outlandish tales of life around the globe, and feels that Ms. Longstocking would be better off in care. Pippi is a hero because her wild stories turn out to be true, she is completely self-sufficient, she is super strong (she carries her horse above her head with one hand!) and outsmarts anybody who tries to tell her she’s wrong. And she does it all with a sweet smile because she is completely oblivious to the fact that anybody WOULDN’T like her.
Angelica finally got her comeuppance the day she met Susie Carmichael, her smart-mouthed counterpart who wasn’t willing to give in to any of Angelica’s tantrums. Though Susie wasn’t in The Rugrats as often as the other characters, she was actually there from season two and carried on into All Grown Up, the spin-off series. Susie was a brilliant counterpart to Angelica because she was wise beyond her years and she didn’t mind saying what she thought – yet had such a good heart that even Angelica couldn’t resist becoming her best friend.
Did anybody else read The Borrowers as a child? It was one of my favourite books. I remember collecting tiny bits and pieces from around the house and creating a tiny Borrower home inside a shoebox as a child, and I would almost quite like to do it again! Arrietty is another character who has been recreated over and over again, but my current favourite version is Studio Ghibli’s bad-ass teenager who has killer style and amazing Borrowing skills. Arrietty befriends the sickly boy who has been sent out to a house in the countryside to live with his aunt, despite the absolute rule that Borrowers should never be seen by ‘beans’ (human beings). Soon the members of the household become suspicious that the ‘little people’ they have heard about in legends are truly living within the house, and Arrietty and her family must find an alternative place to live. Arrietty is an awesome role model because she is skilled, ambitious and true to herself.
No collection of feminist characters would be complete without our favourite bright yellow SJW, Lisa Simpson. I need not introduce Lisa, but just in case: Lisa is the middle child in the Simpson family, who is MENSA-ready at the age of eight and is on a constant quest to change the world for the better. She is a talented jazz musician, a great example of wit and sarcasm (qualities I want EVERY girl to grow up to have!) and is the perfect example of somebody who knows her cause and isn’t willing to stray from it.
And finally, the only adult in our group – who remembers Miss Grotke from Recess? Miss Grotke was fantastic because she was intent on teaching children the truth, helping Recess achieve the label of one of the most progressive children’s programmes of its time. Miss Grotke was clearly a feminist, illustrating really important subtext in the literature she was teaching her students, but she also seemed to me to be somebody who wasn’t brainwashed by the curriculum and was willing to stray if she felt it was in the best interests of the children. For example, when required to submit a presentation to her class on the history of Thanksgiving, Miss Grotke fulfilled her role entirely – but using subtle wording to ensure that the class knew the real truth about the ‘noble Native Americans’ and the ‘undeserving European savages’. Miss Grotke is absolutely somebody every adolescent feminist needs in his or her life, and I hope that all of you reading this can be the Miss Grotke for the young person in YOUR life!
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