Katha Pollit is an established columnist and a critic known for her works such as “Hers” in the ‘New York Times’ and “Subject to Debate” in ‘The Nation Magazine’.
She is also a prize-winning poet and author of several essays, mostly on feminism. In her essay “The Smurfette Principle”, Pollitt displays her discontent with the media’s tendency to display sexism in children movies, books, and animations. According to her, media perpetrated sexism defines females as a weak or less significant gender, especially in scenes where heroism is the main subject.
To open her argument, Pollitt uses her experience with a 3-year old daughter, Sophie, during the Christmas holidays in 1990. She bought Sophie a cassette of “The Little Mermaid”, a pre-school animation movie that depicts the role of Ariel, a mermaid that gave up her voice to get real legs and try to marry a prince. The author argues that even though the mermaid is the main character in the movie, her gender limits her role as a hero, which makes her take a background position.
According to the author, this example shows how the movie world is dominated by the sexist ideas. She encourages the reader to investigate this issue by visiting a kid’s section in any video store. Thus, it is obvious that one will find few movies starring a female character, whether it is based on animation, cartoon work, or live performance. In addition, even in commercial television, most cartoon and puppet shows are dominated by the idea of male heroism, which makes women play a less significant or backup role.
From her analysis, Pollitt has realized that modern shows are highly sexist and only based on two major aspects – male dominated heroism or organized into “Smurfette principle”. The second aspect is the most relevant issue in her argument. She seeks to explain sexism in the media and the movie world.
The argument, called the “Smurfette Principle”, attempts to describe the type of stereotypes in the modern movies in which a single female accents a group of males. According to her, the role of a female is important but normally placed in the background while largely dominated by males. When author examines several examples of the modern shows, she realizes that the roles given to males depict them as strong, wise, outgoing, active, and vigorous.
On the other hand, the roles given to females indicate a high level of discrimination. Females are depicted as quite, humble, harmless and mostly unable to protect themselves. She uses several examples to show how female characters take the role of a “little sister” to male characters. A hero must protect the “small sisters”, even when the characters are non-humans or fierce monsters.
This principle applies in the modern societies because the media, especially commercial television, is an important tool in perpetrating sexism in the entertainment sector.
Pollitt argues that commercial television is used to discriminate against women by giving them some minor roles. For instance, she uses the show “Shining Time Station”, in which the male characters are strong train engines while female characters are small passenger cars. In addition, “Sesame Street” portrays sexism because the major and important roles are given to males.
In addition to these movies, the author presents some evidence of sexism in the children books and literature. For example, she states that most children books portray female characters as less outgoing than their male counterparts. Even the books about girls are only set as subsets of other books that display males as heroic characters.
From her observation, the author attempts to examine the impact of sexism in the children movies and literature on the young audience. According to her observation, the phenomenon has a significant impact on children. For instance, she reports that children often ask questions when they watch or read these materials.
As such, Sophie has noted the sexism in literature because she associates girl characters with being timid, little and less outgoing. In addition, Molly, a 4-year old daughter of Anna, doubts her mother’s position as a doctor because she believes that women should be nurses and not doctors.
These are some examples of the impact of media sexism on children and the society in general. The author seems to be deeply concerned with the stereotypic presentation of women and their roles in movies and literature, especially those targeting children. In essence, her argument is justified because it is based on the issues that affected movies and literature materials in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, it is clear that most films in those days were dominated by sexism that portrayed females as the ‘weak’ gender.
However, it is not necessary to agree with the author, especially when one considers the modern themes and characters in books and movies. In the contemporary context, most of these materials have changed significantly in order to give women a leading role and avoid bias, chauvinism, and sexism. Therefore, one should agree with the author’s argument when analyzing the older materials, which depicted females as weak, less outgoing, inactive, and sometimes naive.