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My niece has gotten really into the barbie movies and Disney movies. However, all the old Disney movies often have terrible lessons to teach girls (looks are more important then intelligence, you should wait for the perfect man to sweep you off your feet and fix your problems, you should stick around and try to fix the 'beast' who abuses you, selling your voice to a witch for a stranger you never met is a smart idea etc etc). The barbie movies are better, especially some of the newer ones, but some of them still tend to be overly focused on fashion and looks rather then substance or have some other less desirable role models.

Now my niece is a smart 5 year old and willing to talk about things, so I would like to explain to her what part of these movies I don't like and why she should know that she can do more then what she sees in these movies. However, I find that I have trouble articulating the issues that are wrong with the movie in a way that she can easily understand.

For instance the other day she wanted to play snow white, which I told her I didn't want to because I didn't like the movie. She asked me why, but even while I tried to explain it she mostly seemed to not get why I didn't approve of the movie. She offered to play a different game any ways, because I said I didn't like the movie and she was kind enough to not want to make me play something I didn't like; but I feel I failed to take the opportunity to explain to her how she should aspire to more then being rescued by a prince.

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    Why do you let her watch them? – A E Dec 25 '19 at 11:01
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    @AE first she is my niece, so I don't get to decide what she watches when I'm not around. Second, if she desires to watch them I don't know If it's right for me to prevent her. If I'm going to encourage a child to be open minded and also critical thinker I have to do it not by controlling everything she consumes, but arming her with the skills to recognize what is right in the media she consumes and what isn't. I can hardly convince her about the importance of being open minded to everyone if I also tell her some media, or items or people, are so deplorable she shouldn't even see them. – dsollen Dec 26 '19 at 15:11
  • When she's old enough, watch "Hansel and Gretel - Witch Hunters" with her :-) – gnasher729 Dec 27 '19 at 19:14
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I think that 5 years is a bit too young to be having long intellectual conversations about gender stereotypes. You also don't want to be curmudgeonly about it.

Instead, how about getting into her game, and then using it to challenge the stereotypes as part of the game.

So for instance she wanted to play "Snow White", in which a young princess is thrown out of home and winds up living with 7 dwarves and doing their housework. You could try throwing in questions like

  • Why was it so important to the queen to be "the fairest of them all"?

  • Why is it always women doing the housework? Why couldn't the dwarves do some too?

  • Why did the Prince fall in love with her? Her beauty? That approach didn't work out so well for her father did it?

Then see if she will play the game differently, exploring the issues raised. That, after all, is what play is supposed to be about.

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The problem with stereotypes is often not apparent in isolation. There's nothing inherently problematic about doing housework, caring about your appearance, or even being rescued. The problem lies in being reduced to this. Without the bigger picture, it may be difficult to walk through that exact story line and pin down the problems.

If she's open for the discussion, and from your writing I take it she may well be, you could sit down with her and go through, say, the entire Disney catalog. Or all of the movies in her shelf (or I guess the top N movies by popularity or something - I assume the shelf is digital and vast). And you decide some tropes you want to look out for. Such as: what proportion of movies have a female (or female-coded for non-human animated films) lead character? What proportion of movies include female characters at all? Of the films with a female lead, in what proportion are they actually completely powerless objects who exist only for a male character to desire or rescue?

The problem is not with the depictions themselves, but the fact that they're so commonplace as to be accepted. I think a five year old is certainly old enough to get why that's a problem and - if having their eyes opened to it - being able to recognize and roll their eyes at such tropes in future movies.

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