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Five Feminist Movies Your Kids Should See

It’s always refreshing to see family-friendly films that give positive portrayals of girls and women. Too often, it seems, girl characters are pigeonholed into predictable stereotypes or are virtually absent from a world of proactive, funny males. The majority of family classics, even some highly enjoyable ones, are pretty boy-heavy (think Home Alone, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Little Rascals, Richie Rich, Toy Story) and others tend to show women as some sort of “damsel in distress” needing a prince charming (think Cinderella, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid). The following five movies are my personal favorites for kids because they feature multi-dimensional, strong, and proactive female characters, and give a much more realistic message to kids about how awesome girls really are:

1) Tangled- Disney has taken a lot of heat for showing poor representations of women in most of their princess movies, and rightfully so. But Disney’s 2010 film Tangled offers a fresh alternative to the cartoon worlds of weak and vulnerable women-- Repunzel is assertive, goal-oriented, brave, and is the true hero of the movie. Often when female protagonists are represented as heroic in children’s movies their characters are masculinised in some way; she is either a token tomboy in a group of boys, uniquely physically strong, or generally ‘tough’—she can punch and kick her way out of trouble just like the boys can. However, Repunzel’s strength is that she is determined, kind, smart, thoughtful, resourceful, and compassionate, and with these qualities she is able to escape her tower and make her dreams come true (and yes, fall in love—but landing a man is never her goal, and happens only after they’ve developed a deep and sincere friendship).  

2) Hairspray- The 2007 musical movie is terrific for starting a dialogue with school-aged kids about many important subjects: body image, race, and discrimination, to name a few. Tracy Turnblad is a perfect role model—she doesn’t fit into our typical standards of beauty, is bold yet good-natured, has talent and passions, and stands up for what is right even when it’s the unpopular thing to do. The film also gives some very loose historical context about racial discrimination in the 1960s, and features a number of strong black characters who fight for equality while staying positive and passionate about life, family and friends.

3) Little Women- Strong, independent, and complex female characters are surprisingly elusive in a lot of popular family films, but Little Women (1994) offers not one, but five, fully developed female leads. The four March sisters have totally different personalities and goals, and together with their mother are completely self-sufficient and supportive of each other while their father is away at war. It takes place in the 1800s, so is a period piece—but we all know that old-fashioned expectations of women to prioritize marriage over personal achievement still aren’t completely extinct, and Jo March is a wonderful example of a young woman who challenges society’s norms in pursuit of personal fulfilment.

4) Freaky Friday- This movie has never exactly been heralded as a feminist classic, but it gives pre-teen and teenaged girls some great messages about relationships and identity. In this 2003 remake film, high schooler Anna Coleman (Lindsay Lohan) and her therapist mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) have switched bodies after falling under some sort of weird, fortune cookie-induced curse, and are destined to live their lives as each other until they truly see life from the other’s perspective. One of the best parts of the movie is when Anna’s long-time crush, Jake, stops liking Anna and falls in love with her mother after the switch—representing to young girls that it’s personality and not looks that matter. Anna is also a total badass; she has her own unique style and sings and plays guitar in a rock band. She’s also a noticeably better person after taking a walk in her mother’s shoes, reinforcing the importance of empathizing with your parents.

5) A League of Their Own- This 1992 comedy-drama about the women who played in the short-lived WWII era All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is awesome, but probably only for slightly older and more mature kids. All of the women in the film are fiercely talented baseball players, but face a constant uphill battle to be taken seriously in the male-dominated world of professional sports. Even when they’re met with mockery and objectification, the girls in the film stay committed to each other and to the game that they love. There are also some great male characters in the movie, like Tom Hanks as the washed-up baseball player and Rockford Peaches’ team manager, who goes through a transformation from sexist and spiteful to a strong and supportive advocate for the girls on the team. The film offers a fascinating look into a piece of history that is frequently ignored, and is a bittersweet but fun account of 1940s women who boldly challenged gender roles. 

These films all feature strong, ambitious, and complex female characters from a wide range of historical periods. In some, challenging traditional gender roles is central to the theme, and in others, the bold and well-written female characters make a strong enough statement just by being themselves. These films show smart women and girls solving conflicts by exercising physical and emotional strength, but never using violence. They can all be used to start conversations about gender or just to enjoy, and are guaranteed to be much more satisfying and enjoyable than the 13th sequel to the Transformersmovie. But we need more films like these that star or feature women of color—besides Hairspray, unfortunately this list admittedly portrays a pretty whitewashed view of the world. Any suggestions?