Beyond Superheros: Why You Must Watch “The Incredibles 2”

Beyond Superheros: Why You Must Watch “The Incredibles 2”

This week I’m in Sydney for the Feminist Writer’s Festival and I had planned to repost an older blog post that pretty no one read. It’s lazy, but practical in the midst of an incredibly busy and blustery week. However, last night as I flew over from Perth I watched The Incredibles 2 and was so taken with this lovely little film that I changed my mind and decided to write about it.

Confession: Life is tough at the moment. I’m in The Queen Victoria building, waiting for my coffee to arrive. I slept in until 9am. Seriously, 9am? And am a free agent until six when the first lecture of the festival starts. Pity me.

The Incredibles 2.

The first Incredibles movie is one of my favourites. Anyone with small people in their lives will know what it is like to have to continuously watch the same trite, vacuous and irritating animated films on repeated loop for say… ten years? The Incredibles was one that I got into. It’s take on life after superdom. That is, life after the romance, the adventure, the thrill of the chase. Married life. Family life. How do we reconcile our young, beautiful former selves with this ragged person just trying to hang on. This, all mixed in with a super cute super-hero storyline.

The latest iteration of The Incredibles somehow does it better again. This time we follow the rebooted career of Elastogirl (The mother, wife and carer of the Incredibles family). The husband and wife team reverse roles and while there’s nothing new in that plot-line it is handled so beautifully and poignantly that I almost forgot I was watching a kids’ film. The film begins with the family saving the city from “The Underminer” (where the first film ended). When the action scene ends, the family is arrested. Superheros are still illegal. The insurance won’t cover the damage of their intervention. Now homeless and unemployed the family is destitute. This is when Elastogirl is offered an opportunity to raise the image of superheros through a suit-cam and PR campaign. Like the first film, the superhero plot is an absolute aside to the relationships and identities this film is exploring.

It is overwhelmingly exciting that the protagonist of a kids’ superhero movie is a middle-aged mother-of-three who is trying to recapture her own sense of self as autonomous and important while balancing her need to care for her family. Layered over this is the equally amusing but touching narrative of Mr Incredible. He too struggles to give up his past identity in order to do maths homework, care for a baby and steer his teenage daughter through adolescence. COupled with this is his own identity crisis in which he must manage his ego and expectations as he is outshone by his previously second-fiddle wife. While the film draws on familiar jokes about a father’s inability to cope in the home it swiftly dispels the rather insulting notion that it can’t be done. Mr Incredible adapts, learns and copes in order to give Elastogirl the space and the time she needs to thrive outside the home.

This film is funny, beautifully made, and full of pop-culture references. It engages with the social and political sphere in its ongoing storyline about doing what it right versus what is legal and the way that governments and legislation can lose sight of people.

Why do I think this film is important?

This film is about family. It is about the relationships that make us who we are. It doesn’t valorise youth and beauty. Nor does it dismiss its young characters as incapable or reliant. Rather, The Incredibles 2 is a film I want my children to see because it shows a family working together to navigate life and reminds us that every member has value, both within the family and as a member of the larger community.

 

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‘You Belong, We’ve Got You’: Can advertising to women change the message?

‘You Belong, We’ve Got You’: Can advertising to women change the message?

We’ve all heard them. The positive body-image messages being shouted from the rooftops. The idea that ‘you are enough’ is slowly seeping into our collective consciousnesses. We say it but in our heart of hearts do we actually believe it?

So, if ‘you are enough’ is just a platitude, a bumper sticker, a thing as elusive as weight loss chocolate and imaginary as the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, how can we shift the message to make it tangible and believable?

It isn’t enough to tell women that they are just fine the way they are. I sometimes wonder if the constant telling is part of the problem. It feels like a trick. Like your mum telling you that your five-year-old drawing is the best she has ever seen. It’s nice. It feels good and your love her for it but even then, deep-down, you know she has to say that.

It’s this fault line between good intentions and our own sense of the truth that I think we (or at least I) are detecting in some of the body-positive rhetoric that is circulating. My *bullshit* meter is twitching.

We even try to fool each other. Maybe fool isn’t the right world. No, it’s ourselves that we try to fool. I will, with complete sincerity tell a friend that she is beautiful. I don’t care what size she is, whether she wears makeup or how she dresses. I honestly DON’T CARE.  I just don’t look at those indicators. To me, the women in my life are all the things we are supposed to love about other people: funny, kind, smart, sweary, cynical, jaded, (okay, maybe some of these might just be my criteria), HONEST.

Yet, in the same instant, as I extol their virtues I will remind myself of the number on the scales that morning. Those three vicious little numbers that glow like a possessed demon-child and spew-forth all the self-loathing and inadequacies that I would never impose on other women, and that, from the best I can tell, other women don’t impose on me.

Why is the body-positive message only partially grafted onto our consciousnesses then?  Why can’t I succumb to a sense of self-approval that lets me stop whining and just get on with the business of my life? Once again, this is where story (for me) comes into play.

Storyline A:

Once there was a beautiful princess. She was meek and mild with flowing golden hair and a teeny-tiny waste. She liked men (NOT women they were all against her), but not too much. Just enough though, that the first one to come along and do something nice for her would do. Babies, babies, babies (we think, the stories don’t go that far). Blah. She dies (probably killed by a younger female rival), the end.

After a while, women decided that this story sucked, so with a ‘little’ convincing (thousands of years) they were able to shift it—somewhat.

Story-line B:

Once there was a beautiful woman. She was quite smart (just the right level, in certain areas) and always made time between her long work hours, perfect children, home and career to get her hair and nails done. She always looked amazing in active-wear and never missed a workout. She was so supportive of her partner’s amazing career—without her they’d be nothing. Babies, babies… blah. She dies, the end.

Better?  A little?

My story-line:

Once there was a girl. She liked school and was pretty good at it. She met the person that understood her and together they shared a family They like to travel and do sport together. She isn’t perfect, but that’s irrelevant because she is healthy and they are happy.

At least, that’s the gist it what I want my story to be, but damned if Story-line B doesn’t keep sneaking in there. Why? Because Story-line B is sill the one (to a greater or lesser extent) that we see out there: on TV, in the movies, books, and advertising. (I promise I’m getting to the point soon!)

Obviously, Story-line B is about as subtle as a heavy mallet smashing you over the head when spoken out loud, but it pervades (like a soft, soothing mist) through the images and stories that surround us. If telling us that we ‘are enough’ isn’t working because everything else we see suggests that we aren’t. So how do we fix it?

I had one idea.

Appeal to capitalism.

I won’t shop in certain shops because, based on their advertising, I assume that they won’t have any sizes or styles that fit me (I’m an AU12, US8). Especially sportswear (because only really slim ladies play sport, right?).

I’m going to ping Lululemon here. For years (and even in an earlier blog post) I have scoffed at their advertising and their merchandise. It’s only for tiny women. I don’t know more than three women who could, or would wear such skimpy clothes, etc… etc… moral high-ground, angry feminist, feelings of sadness and shame. 

Then I had reason to actually go into the shop. I gave the (admittedly young and tiny) shop assistant a hard time about never being able to find anything to fit. But then it did. It was attractive, supported my body-shape and was (choking on my own self-righteousness, splutter, splutter) comfortable. So, they did have clothes in their range that fit me, and women bigger than me. Their advertising, however—with the exception one set of slightly heavier-set legs on their website— had completely alienated me.

My challenge to advertisers, then, is this:

Stop telling me I’m ‘enough’ (see Dove’s campaign for real women.) It’s condescending and cynical. Don’t market ‘plus sizes.’ Don’t stop marketing to the thin, muscular, power-women that intimidate me so much (they actually do exist and also deserve nice clothes.) Just advertise ALL of your range. Show women in your small sizes AND in your larger sizes (trust me, selling me a size 12 or 14 that I have seen only a size 4 model NEVER ends well). That is, show us what you sell. I don’t need an explicitly body-positive message, a pat on the head or a special campaign. Like everything, just include me. If you make it in a fourteen, or a sixteen, or a twenty show me a woman that size wearing it. She’s not a ‘plus-size’ model by the way, she’s just a model.

And to those shops that assume women bigger than fifty-five kgs don’t exercise—your time is coming to an end (and you are missing out on a profitable market-share.)

Check out these guys as an example of amazing advertising to women. Their mission statement at Active Truth says:

“….We believe in size inclusivity and not segregating plus size activewear and standard activewear ranges…”

While some normalising buzz words could be removed there (plus-size/standard) at least this company is making an effort to change the story they are telling. The big brands in women’s clothing could learn a lot and gain customers without actually changing much.

Actions speak louder than words and inclusion speaks louder than platitudes.

(I get the irony of this last sentence btw.)

 

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Standing Up to Fear: Why Losing in Competition Can Help Others

Standing Up to Fear: Why Losing in Competition Can Help Others

Over the school holiday break my family and I, along with a large contingent of people from my taekwon-do club made the trek to Sydney to compete in the 7th ITF Taekwon-Do World Cup. I was a late entry (thanks to recent surgery) and so my preparation for this event was far from ideal. The reality was, however, that the chances of this massive event coming so close to home any time soon is remote, so for better or worse, it was competition time. The competition was a massive success for our club and it was a privilege to part of such an awesome team.

Just a little back-story:

As a young martial artist, I didn’t compete. It wasn’t part of our club culture. In fact, it wasn’t permitted. I entered my first TKD competition when I was thirty-one, after a six-year break from training, and less than a year after having had my second baby. I got hurt—no surprises there.

Since then I have entered the odd competition, most of which were club-based. They made me so nervous that I finally decided that I simply didn’t have the temperament for competition. Besides, I was overweight and over-the-hill. It was better to leave the competitive stuff to the young ones.

Back to the World Cup:

After four months off for surgery, I had a mere 3-4 weeks to prepare for this competition and at a reduced intensity, I stood up in front of a thousand competitors and gave it a crack. The results (personally) were as good as were to be expected. I lost my first round of patterns, I lost my pre-arranged (choreographed fight, like in the movies) and I failed to complete any of my board breaks. Bummer.

There were many positives, however: I remembered my pattern and while it wasn’t the best I have ever done I didn’t let my extreme anxiety completely overwhelm me; the pre-arranged was pretty good and pretty fun; my power-breaking was by no means a disgrace. Of all the women that entered across all division only three or four made their breaks. Mine attempts came close and I didn’t injure myself—so I’m counting that as a win. I also got to coach many of my fellow competitors, the highlight of which was being in the coaches chair when my husband smashed his special technique competition to take gold (jumping really high and kicking a target).

At key moments across the tournament I asked myself the question “Why?” Why do I put myself in stressful situations for which I am hopelessly under-prepared, and leading to an inevitable sense of self-disappointment? There are a few reasons:

1: I’m an idiot.

2: My instructor is very persuasive.

3: I am constantly banging on that older women aren’t irrelevant and should put themselves out there more often.

4: To encourage other female members of my club (of all ages) that they should get up and try even if they’re scared. I’m proud to say that our team was almost an even split of female:male competitors.

5: I’m an idiot who doesn’t like to give in.

The highlight of the tournament for me came, however, at the after party.

Imagine this: hundreds of young, fit, competitive athletes who have been training for many months and have travelled from all over the world are finally let off the leash. That’s right, by nine pm the little pub where the function was being held was transformed into a shirts-off, dance-battle mosh-pit as everyone let off their pent-up steam.

As I stood having a few drinks with my friends, a lovely lady who was the ring coordinator for one of the rings I had competed in came up and said hello. She told me that she had enjoyed watching my pre-arranged sparring and that it was exciting to see women actually competing. She didn’t like competing, she said, because she was never sure if she would have an opponent or if her opponent would be twice her size.

And suddenly my disappointment in my own performance didn’t matter.

I had achieved something important and tangible.

 

P.S. Apparently we are going to compete in the next World Cup: Slovenia 2020 here we come.

 

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“Girls Shouldn’t Play Soccer”: Why the Narratives Boys Tell Need to Change

“Girls Shouldn’t Play Soccer”: Why the Narratives Boys Tell Need to Change

We’ve all seen the leaf twirlers or cloud-gazers at kid’s sports. Their parent’s despair on the sidelines, hands clenched in hair, faces contorted in disbelief as the ball sails past their whimsical child who, lost in their own little world, is enjoying the outdoors and the sunshine (half their luck). Just this weekend, the coach of my son’s under 9s team had to remind one of his players to “stop looking at the puddle and pay attention to the game,” and don’t get me started on “the floss” as an on-pitch move. That’s not my daughter though. She’s been playing soccer since she was five and has always been one of those kids who takes sport seriously. She gets in the centre of the action. What she sometimes lacks in technical skill she makes up in sheer tenacity and that’s a valuable attribute in a team member. Skills can be taught, bravery is harder to come by.

Sadly, however, she’s never been able to find a team in which she truly fits. For three seasons she had been the only girl in her team, and while I wouldn’t say she was bullied in an overt way, she was certainly excluded from the camaraderie, fun, and friendship which should come with being part of a team. The sense of belonging and inclusion inherent in the shared experience of training, winning, and losing together just wasn’t there.

Come Sunday mornings she’d work hard to get herself into a good field position. She’d read the play, see her team mate making a run up the outside and she’d run forward, ready for the cross in front of an open goal. She’d call for the pass but nine out of ten times (that’s a generous statistic) her team mates would prefer to take on three or four defenders and be dispossessed rather than take a chance on her. As the seasons progressed she became increasingly demoralised. Stomping off the pitch at the end of each game, barely containing her tears.

This year we decided things needed to change. We were going to find an all-girls team for her to join, one that preferably played in an all-girls league. Early in the New Year our club contacted us. It was happening. They were putting a junior female team together and invited our daughter to come down and join. Even though it was an under 13s team (very different from under 9s) we were confident that as a tall, moderately experienced player, she would be fine. Even better, there was going to be a female coach.

She was delighted. She came away from the first training session buzzing. The other players knew her name and even complimented her for being a fast runner.

They actually talked to me.

By the time the season was ready to start the team didn’t have enough players and the club made the decision to open it up as a mixed team and therefore play in the mixed league. Fine we thought. The team is still more than half girls and it’s about friendship after all.

This team had some amazing female players. Girls that were tough and fearless, that threw their bodies into the game and took on male players twice their size. We didn’t have a great season in terms of results but we were happy that our daughter was making friends, improving her skills, and refusing to be daunted by playing against boys three years older than her. It was impressive.

Until that is, the last two matches of the season.

Before I launch into what happened with our players let me add a side-note here. We lost our female coach at about the half-way mark because of, you guessed it, bullying by some of the parents. Sigh. I firmly believe it is our job, as parents of junior players, to support that elusive person who has volunteered their time, mental energy, and Sunday sleep-ins to help our kids enjoy their sport—the coach. This coach copped it from every direction and I’m not surprised she moved on. So, the bullying came from the top-down.

Back to the kids.

In the second-last match of the season, our star defender, a girl in a specialist soccer programme at high school broke down crying at half-time. She didn’t want to go back out there. Her mum mentioned that she’d been having a tough time at school because she was being bullied by the boys in the soccer programme. As a result, her confidence had been slowly eroded over the course of season. Compounding the discrimination and harassment she was receiving at school it turned out that one of the boys in her own team, a boy she had spent the last five months training and playing with, had also been bullying her, telling her that: girls are useless. They shouldn’t play soccer.

(Between you and me, this boy is not much chop on the pitch. I’d take the girl over three of him.)

For the final game of the season the team faced a rival club who delighted in sledging and ridiculing their opponents. Some of our kids gave up entirely, many ended the game in tears. As the coach debriefed the group and thanked them for their hard work all season, he encouraged them to put the other team out of their thoughts. Let it go. It’s done. Walk away.

Then one of the girls said this:

These boys bully me at school. Now they are bullying me at soccer.

How can she walk away? Come Monday morning it would all be back again.

So, the season ended on a devastating low. From the hope at the beginning of the year that these girls would enjoy their sport, make friends, and fit in at last they had to keep fighting against discrimination. They experienced and witnessed it at all levels. From the other teams (all boys), from a parent group that bullied the female coach out of her role and, worst of all, from the members of their own team.

So, what am I getting at?

So much focus is put on trying to boost girls’ confidence within sport. We all talk about how important sport is for girls’ physical and mental health. The Australian Government’s “Girls, Make Your Move” campaign is just one example. We continuously send girls the message that they need to try, they need to join in, they need to stop being intimidated by boys. The message is that they need to take responsibility for stopping the bullying and the discrimination. But when do we tell the boys some honest truths?

They aren’t always the best or most talented members of the team.

They aren’t the ones who get to decide who is included and who isn’t.

They need to change their attitude to include and encourage girls into sport.

They need to accept that the girls have just as much right to be there as they do.

Many girls are trying. I’m so proud that my little ten-year-old refuses to be intimidated by thirteen-year-old boys. I’m proud of the talented girls at my Taekwon-Do club that compete hard and love and care for each other. But how many times can someone be excluded, belittled, and discriminated against before it’s too hard to keep going? This started when my daughter was five, at ten I’m exhausted on her behalf.

 

 

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Exploring the Fear of Failure/Success Binary on a Rusty Bike

Exploring the Fear of Failure/Success Binary on a Rusty Bike

I’m sitting in a coffee shop around the corner from my kids’ school. You know the type: laid-back tunes piped around a rustic brick room, with polished concrete floors; bespoke, slightly wonky furniture that has been cobbled together from salvage yards and roadside collections; and eclectic jars and pots with cuttings of succulent plants from the owner’s granny’s garden. It’s a surprisingly creative space and I like to come here after I’ve dropped the kids off to reconnect with the adult world. The one that doesn’t involve yelling, begging, huffing and scraping hard-set cereal off the kitchen bench.

This coffee shop backs onto my local bike store, and I have my old (emphasis on old) mountain bike in the boot of my car. It needs some serious repair work and I was hoping to get it up and running. But I’m not at the bike shop. I’m at the coffee shop, sitting on my own, procrastinating. What is that about? I squirm around the uncomfortable knowledge that I’m frightened. Frightened of putting my bike into a bike shop for a service—think about that for a minute. That is all levels of strange. I mean, it’s a bike shop. They fix bikes. They want me to drop my bike in.

So what is it that I’m scared of? My bike is old and I’ve let it get out of shape (hmm, is there metaphor in that perhaps?). I don’t want the man in the bike-shop to laugh at me. I don’t want to be ridiculous. I want to be taken seriously. I don’t want the man in the bike shop to see me as a failure. Wowsers, that is some over-thinking. Yet, that’s how I roll.

My mind jumps immediately to another time I was frightened to face people. A few years ago I got into great shape. I lost twelve kilograms, was exercising heaps and people commented on how well I was looking. But then I didn’t, so I wasn’t.

*Crickets*

I struggled psychologically to return to my sport because I knew that my friends at training couldn’t help but notice that I’d dropped the ball, so to speak. I panicked about facing that community again. What would they think? That I was lazy? Greedy? I almost didn’t go back. This speaks to a different fear.

Most people have heard of the fear of failure. It goes along the lines of  “I am frightened of failing, so I won’t try in the first place.” Hand in hand with this is the fear of success: “The more I succeed, the bigger my failure when I fall.” I used to mountain bike all the time, but now the bike-shop guy will think I’m a chubby, useless middle-aged mum. I was slim and strong, now the people I train with will think I’m over the hill and won’t respect me as much. The two feed on each other, and even knowing that these are the thoughts I am projecting onto myself doesn’t stop them from running rampant with my self-confidence.

As I sit in this coffee shop I can’t help but imagine how this self-destructive paralysis plays out in other aspects of my life. How do I overcome it? Try and care less? Push through the fear? Click publish, or send, or apply before my brain has time to wind itself up? People aren’t laughing. People don’t care because, in reality, they are too busy dealing with their own lives to spare much thought for that extra ten kilos, rusted chain or pending job application that seem to loom so large in my thoughts. And if they do care? So what? The challenge lies in pushing past self-doubt, past worrying what other people think, and being okay with showing the fractures in that carefully constructed and maintained self that we put forward to the world.

Easier send than done.

P.S.

I did take the bike in but sadly its deterioration was terminal.

On a positive note, I get a new bike.

 

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