How popular culture continues to feed incorrect visions of womanhood

I recently found two movie reviews very insightful. And, as the father of three daughters, I took them quite seriously, because both of them suggested that young girls were being fed an incorrect view of what it means to be a woman. These were two big movies of 2012: ‘Brave’ introduced Disney’s newest princess, and the ‘Twilight’ saga roared to its conclusion.

Rachel Held Evans wrote about Brave. I really enjoyed the movie, bought the DVD for my youngest daughter for Christmas, and have encouraged her to add Merida to the full set of Disney princesses she already has. I like Merida, and for the same reasons Rachel did: Merida is a flawed princess, with deep complexity, she stands up for herself and her life is not defined by her relationship to men.

But I also agree with Rachel’s main concern about the movie: the men in the story are portrayed as buffoons. It is not necessary that for women to be strong, men must be weak. But this is often how it is portrayed in movies: women only step up when the men fail.

Which leads to the second review that caught my attention. In fact, it was a response to a review. Mark Driscoll is a Christian pastor based in Seattle, Washington who has been making quite a name for himself in his views of men and women. He believes that men must lead, and women be submissive; and he has a vision of Christian marriage that feels a lot more like an idealised American suburb in the 1950s (possibly Stepford?) than the Bible. He spends a lot of time dealing with issues of sexuality, too. And he didn’t like Twilight – he described it as sick, twisted, evil and dangerous and to teenage girls what porn is for teenage boys.


PostersBut Beth Felker Jones, writing for Christianity Today, disagrees. She agrees that the Twilight movies are not edifying and are possibly even dangerous. But she disagrees with Mark Driscoll about the reason. For her, the real problem with Twilight is how it portrays women. In particular, the main character, Bella lives a life completely centered on the guy she loves – completely absorbed, she gives up everything for him. This is what many teenage girls are being fed in popular culture. Brave specifically fights against that story – but only by portraying men as completely useless. Twilight goes in the opposite direction.

“What is most terrifying [in Twilight] is not the supernatural but the stuff of fallen nature, the story in which women are made not for God but for men.”

Beth says, “I believe that Driscoll’s teachings about gender — teachings that take cultural stereotypes about femininity and masculinity and call them ‘God’s will’ — feed the same beast that allows Twilight to flourish. To focus critique of Twilight on the fact that it is a vampire story gives a free pass to the mistake at the heart of the story, that in which a boyfriend or husband is confused with a savior….

If anything, Twilight is more idolatry than pornography. It feeds the colossal, fallen fantasy that a girl can find a savior in a boy — if only she gives up everything. The boy will only have to be a culturally prescribed masculine fantasy — strong, jealous, with iron self-control. This idolatry is built on the same platform that Driscoll stands on when he mocks ‘soft, tender, chick-i-fied church boys’ or when he says that good married Christian women will bring the artifacts of porn — real porn, mind you — into their bedrooms to please their husbands….”

There are many movies and books that portray strong, healthy women who live, work and love alongside strong, healthy men. We should be embracing those stories and showing our daughters how to be the type of women the 21st century really needs. And when our daughters (and sons) watch Brave and Twilight, we should help them see the myth, the unreality and the distortions in the stories.

What movies do you think young girls should be watching?

2 thoughts on “How popular culture continues to feed incorrect visions of womanhood”

  1. Carl, I actually never watched Freedom Writers. You’re another person suggesting it – I think I need to sometime soon! Thanks.

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