"Boys don't like female lead characters." I hear crap like that ALL THE TIME and I'm calling BS. Why do I hear it? A couple of reasons. One, because I have a son. Two, because Pixar has released its first film featuring a female lead, Brave. I could go on an epic rant about how much I disagree with this sentiment, but I thought instead I'd give some concrete examples of why, at least in the case of my own family, boys will watch movies and read books featuring girls.
My son (let's call him C) is very much a "typical" boy. He can MacGyver a weapon out of anything, loves superheroes and fantasy, is a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and is currently obsessed with all things Lego. It is true that because he has an older and younger sister (and said older sister is really into princesses) he is surrounded by girl "stuff" more than boys without female siblings, but I don't think that is all that is at play here. It's not like he's in preschool sensitivity class, we just don't restrict toys/books/movies based on gender.
Case #1: Brave
I wrote about Brave earlier this year and since that post, I have had to replay the Brave trailers for C many times. Especially this one:
"But his sister wants to see this movie," one might object. However, C and I discovered these videos together first, then shared them with her. He was a fan all on his own and not once did he say anything about this being a girls movie; it's just a movie he wants to see. He is like me and loves action and magic, and this movie is chock full of both.
It's a children's classic. The Wicked Witch, a Wizard, a motley crew gathered to complete a journey, and a kickbutt young farm girl to lead them - oh no, wait. It's a farm girl who gets a pair of pretty shoes, goes for a long walk and defeats the big bad with cleaning supplies. And the boychild was enthralled.
C sat on the edge of his seat. He wanted to know if Dorothy would win against a witch. If she would get to go home again. He didn't care that Dorothy was a girl. That there wasn't a boy in the story at all. There wasn't even a cool sword. He just wanted to know what happened next.
This might seem like a strange bit of evidence, but I'll throw it out here anyways. We found the old He-Man and She-Ra cartoons on Netflix. We actually discovered He-Man first and the kids were hooked right away. Then we found the She-Ra movie and that series went into the rotation. The cool thing for me to see is that for C, these series are interchangeable. He likes both and is just as likely to choose She-Ra as He-Man. It has lots of action and people with superpowers. That's a slam dunk as far as he is concerned.
Case #4: Isabella vs Candace
C loves Phineas and Ferb. He even sleeps with an Agent P stuffed animal. Isabella and Candace might not be the leads on the show, but they are important characters. They are also very different.
On the other hand, C loves Isabella, Fireside Girl extraordinaire and girl next door. She is a constant fixture in the boys adventures and more than holds her own. C doesn't mind that Isabella has a crush on Phineas because she is much more than that. In short, she is awesome, whether she is lending a hand in the construction of an amazing invention, leading her other Fireside Girls on a mission, or saving the galaxy. C happily watches Isabella centric episodes and if we could find Isabella merchandise he would want it for his collection (seriously, Disney, get on that).
After observing C's reactions to female characters, I have to say that for him, it's about the story and having well-rounded characters, not that every movie he watches or story he reads has to have a boy lead. He definitely wants to see boy characters and he is well aware of the boy vs girl dynamic (much of it as an easy way to differentiate himself from his older sister), but he doesn't run from the room when we watch Tangled or Beauty and the Beast. I have to wonder that much of the "boys won't follow female characters" comes from parents who are caught up in the strict boy-girl stereotype and can't fathom a girl who likes to wear blue, much less a boy interested in a **gasp** princess movie. Just as it does girls a disservice to restrict them to only media targeted at their gender, or worse, at some stereotypical perception of what they "should" like, the same is true for boys.
For now, that's where I come in. Not in trying to "make a point" and only show him female-lead stories, but in providing him access to stories that are engaging and hold his interest, no matter who is in the captain's chair. I for one can't wait until he is old enough for Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan and Kate Milford's The Boneshaker among many others - stories that have strong female and male characters and are just fantastic reads.
Jaye Wells recently tweeted about this subject, and I think this sums it up best, "The problem is not are boy stories better than girl stories. The problem is we presume stories have a gender at all. Stories are about people. People with penises, vaginas, tentacles or antennae--doesn't matter. Stories help us know how to be more human."
So, I'm taking C and his sister to see Brave, a movie that features a girl but more importantly features a vibrant character, and we all couldn't be happier about it.