When R was very little, her sitter brought over one of those sweet little Disney films to watch together. It was around the time when she was seeing movies for the very first time. And even as a small child, she was apparently paying close attention to the tube.
I came home ready to take her out in her stroller, maybe to the park, maybe just a walk. She loved being zoomed along the bumpy hills, and she had particular favorite bumps for her zooming. Her great desire at the time was to learn how to fly, and she thought that if I pushed fast enough, she might lift off someday.
But not this time. When I went upstairs to collect her, I found that my precious daughter had made herself a collar from part of one of my shoes, and had wrapped it around her neck.
"Ladies don't go out!" she proclaimed, and refused to go out into the world.
Her plan, like in the movie she was watching, was to not leave the house until she had had puppies. Lady and the Tramp did that to her after one viewing.
Now, maybe that's adorable to somebody, but I had never seen Lady and the Tramp before. So R and I sat down and watched the movie together. In this revolting little horror movie, 'Jim Dear' gets 'Darling' an adorable puppy. 'Darling's face is never shown until the end of the movie, after she's given birth to a child. These are the humans in the movie. Then there are the dogs...
R kept her eye on the female dogs. She paid no attention to the males. There was Lady, who as we have seen, is supposed to stay inside. And there was the sultry Peg — the seductress of the streets (played by Peggy Lee), who ends up at the Pound, about to be euthanized any minute for roaming free on the streets with the boys. Great message to little girls: good girls stay inside; bad girls go out in the streets and get themselves murdered. Even a three year old can get the message in one viewing.
But just in case little girls have missed it, there's Mary Poppins to the rescue. This time, it's the mother who's out on the streets. Horrors! And her children are in desperate need of a nanny. Good nanny stays with the kids. Bad mother is out on the streets. No one ever remembers just what mother is doing out there, but guess what — she fighting for women's right to vote. Bad mommy learns her lesson, however, and at the end of the movie, she tears off her suffragette banner, turns it into a kite, and stays home. Problem solved. Lesson learned.
Around the same time, I happened to see Fatal Attraction, which was all the rage scaring men half to death. But the real horror of the movie is this: Fatal Attraction is just another repackaging of the Lady and the Tramp / Mary Poppins motif — but for the older set, just in case the message didn't get through when we were little girls.
Here too, there are two main female characters — the good woman who stays at home, and the bad woman who goes to work. And here too, vivid, and graphically explicit, the evil working woman gets her due — this time (if I remember it correctly) she is done in directly by the sweet homemaker herself.
Scary movie, yes, but not because Glen Close is terrifying. No, scary movie because it's no different from the lesson little girls can get from horror shows like Mary Poppins and Lady and the Tramp. But it's these latter movies (the adorable ones) that are all the more frightening than films like Fatal Attraction — precisely because we don't notice what they're doing to our precious daughters!
R gave up her longing to fly — but she found another passion: After the Lady and the Tramp fiasco, she started analyzing what she saw on the tube. She was still three at the time. Suddenly, she refused to watch Sesame Street, proclaiming that it was "just for boys." There were no girl-puppets for her to identify with, and worst of all, Big Bird was a cheat.
Big Bird a cheat?
"Big Bird has pink legs, but he's still a boy," she complained. She was incensed by this. It was a real betrayal. Even the color pink had been usurped.
At the moment, my daughter is trekking the Gobi Desert, so I guess she survived Disney. She still pays close attention to the tube. And when she sits me down and orders me to watch, I do just that. Strange as it may sound, I learned my outrage by my daughter's side. She did not, as convention might have it, learn her outrage from me.