Wild or sulky?

Where the Wild Things Are was a book I loved as a child, and it has been one that we have read over and over again to our boys, so much so that we have the call and response down pat: “And Max said…” “NO!” And everyone loves jumping on the bed when the wild rumpus starts. So naturally we were very excited by the idea of the film and went as a whole family.

And my response…well, it is just a bit boring. Actually, quite boring. After a bit I was dying for Max to get back on his private boat and sail away, and it wasn’t just because the 3 year old was climbing all over me – I couldn’t take it any more. Yet I wouldn’t say it was a bad film; the costumes were brilliant and the photography lovely (though I could have done with a little less shakily hand held) and the light was beautiful and the performances were good (I especially thought that Max was great)…but it just didn’t quite have the plot to sustain it. And not only that, but that the conception of the idea of “wild” was one which didn’t gel with me, and the overly depressive nature of the wild things just added to the boredom.

A few reviewers I have seen have argued that it is a film “about” children or one which captures the essence of childhood, but I am not sure that I agree. It seems to be a view of children from someone who doesn’t like children, and/or doesn’t know them well enough to be able to capture the roundedness of children. Yes, children do get sulky and be difficult and get lonely and grumpy, but they also have this amazing joy and wonder and kindness and happiness. In fact, children are more often happy and intrigued in my experience than sulky and sad. The film failed to capture those kind of ideas. For me, the wildness of children is their variability and changeability – one moment they are thrilled and happy, the next the depth of despair and then five minutes later they have engaged with something else again. The endless downer of the wild things and the dude-ish tones made it all rather more teenage – a ‘Where the Emo Things Are’ interpretation of the film. There were glimpses of something else, particularly in the characters of KW and Carol, but mostly it was drowned out by the over all doleful tone.

The thing that interests me the most is Maurice Sendak’s involvement in the film and thus overt approval of the approach. His books for me always captured a little more mischief and joy that the sullen depression of the wild things. Max’s sneak attack on his sister’s friends is more like it, but that seems to disappear largely when he hits the island.

But sadly, overall, it is not a film I would see again, or recommend to anyone. Which is not the childhood magic one had hoped.

Gender stereotyping starts early

I am so sick of this trend in articles around children which goes “boys are all energetic and can’t sit still while girls are little angels who draw pictures and speak nicely.” The Sydney Morning Herald seems particularly prone to it with another prime example yesterday. Yes, small boys are aliens and other total twaddle. Actually, this is just plain and simple gender stereotyping, and stereotyping which reinforces the social construction of gender identity. If we are constantly expecting boys to behave in certain ways, that is the behaviour we see, notice and comment upon and it is the behaviour we expect and encourage in our boys.

Guess what, I have three boys. And yes, they can be boisterous, and shoot people and run around and jump on top of people. But they can also spend ages quietly and carefully constructing lego or railway tracks or Little People towns; they sit and draw for ages on end and do craft completely self inspired; they assist with cooking and carefully cut vegetables or mix batter. Boys are just a likely to have quiet time as girls. And guess what, I know plenty of girls who run and jump and get involved in bashing things and play in the dirt. And I know boys (unfortunately, not mine) who can’t abide getting their hands or clothes dirty.

This rush to stereotype, to place children within categories inevitably acts to reproduce the gender roles that are all around the children. My boys loved pink until they hit 5, when suddenly they learnt from the slightly older kids that pink “was a girly colour.” My oldest boy had a fairy themed party at 4 and wore pink fairy pyjamas and often got around at childcare in a long pink dress over his other clothes. While you don’t want your kids to be social misfits or socially excluded, it is sad how quickly school and the schoolyard forces them to conformity. It was a very sad day recently when the middle child came home recently and told us that “fairies are girl things.” All three boys have dolls, and have at one stage or another mothered them as much as any girl does (including breast feeding them when I was feeding younger siblings).

While some people rush to say nature, the influence of socially constructed expectations is everywhere for children. From the television they watch to the presents people give them, the expectations are made clear. without removing your child entirely from the social reality around them, there is no way to escape it. Even those of us who actively think about these things can’t help but in tiny ways reinforce the way society is to our children. We can fight some of the larger more obvious things (actually fairies are for everyone, and many famous fairies are male – think Oberon) we are part of this society, at least partially trapped in its ideological constructions. breaking down those understandings and assumptions is a long term project, not something that can be immediately overcome with pink pyjamas and dolls for presents.

And I do understand my boys – well as much as any grown up can understand a child. They certainly are not aliens to me.

The modern child

So last night I was admiring some new D&D figures that my partner had bought, in particular a new unicorn for Frala (that’s my D&D alter ego. The unicorn’s name is Fion).

My eldest son noted my attention to it.

Quoth he: do you loooove that unicorn, Me-Me.

Me: Yes, I do.

He: Do you love it so much you’re gonna marry it?

At this, of course, I had to take the opportunity to disabuse Sebastian of the need to get married.

Quoth I: No, I’m not going to marry anyone because I believe that marriage is an outdated and patria….

At this point, he cuts me off…

He: Well, do you love it so much you are going to choose to spend your life with it?

That left me come-backless. At least he’s learnt something from the rhetoric.