I recently had the pleasure of talking with Brenda Chapman during the Empowering Girls panel of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival. Brenda is an American writer, animation story artist, and director. In 1998, she became the first woman to direct an animated feature from a major studio, DreamWorks Animation‘s The Prince of Egypt. She directed the Disney·Pixar film Brave, becoming the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Brave was a very special movie to me, as it was the first film I watched with my daughter that depicted a female protagonist who claims the right to her own life, body, and story. Listening to Brenda’s perspectives on creating that story, as well as what has shaped her as a feminist and a writer, was truly a gift of an experience, and I am thrilled to be able to share it with you. So pull up a chair, get a cup of tea, and prepare for a good read—this is a conversation to savor.
Periodically, we see a woman in the news asking, with incredulity, what year it is. Do we really, in this year (2012 or 2015 or…), have to be asking this question or fighting this battle? Wasn’t this resolved long ago? Haven’t certain rights been won—like the right to vote and the right to sexual autonomy—so that we can use them as bedrock upon which to build a future, secure in our knowledge that equality and America go hand-in-hand? Well, yes. And no. Progress comes in waves, and after each wave there is a counter-wave. Because progress works this way, we hear and see the same ideas—and fight the same battles—many times in a century.
The love and nurture of your authentic self is a radical thing in a patriarchy, especially for a woman. Patriarchy teaches women to reduce our sense of self, to become small physically and emotionally. We are encouraged to hide ambition in the cubbyhole of marriage, to seek validation of our internal sexuality from an external world that wishes to chew it up and spit it out rather than validate it, and to never listen to our internal voice, the one that says, this is my truth. A girl growing up in our current patriarchy, awash in these messages yet also fed their anecdote if she is fortunate—has a lot to figure out. And she must do so within the context of social media, which I have nicknamed Patriarchy’s Playground—a place where a girl becoming a woman must navigate the line between self and other while still learning, and becoming, who she is. The more she knows about the pitfalls that await her, the better. And the more she learns the radical art of self-love, the less vulnerable she will be to a world that wants to chew her up and spit her out.
The term mansplaining, unlike gaslighting, has entered mainstream conversation: according to Lily Rothman at The Atlantic, it first appeared online shortly after Rebecca Solnit’s piece in the LA Times, “Men Explain Things to Me.” Ms. Solnit didn’t use the term in her article, but she described a prime example of mansplaining, in which a man described her own book to her without acknowledging that she’d written it. The term is used so widely that it is misused: sometimes it’s used so broadly that it could apply to any situation in which one person is condescending to another, and sometimes it is completely misdefined, as it is in many of the definitions in the urban dictionary, one of which asserts that man-hating women use the term to spread their man-hating. Despite these misunderstandings, mansplaining is easy to spot, as any woman who has experienced it can tell you.
Sometimes, in debates about sexism or other forms of discrimination—particularly online—people will use a tactic called gaslighting. The term comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, in which an abusive husband repeatedly dims and brightens the gaslights in their home while telling his wife he has no idea what’s happening, causing her to question her sanity. In an argument or debate, a person using gaslighting will try to make his opponent think her perceptions are skewed or wrong. Gaslighting is not always conscious—it can be used unconsciously as a defensive reaction. However, it can also be used consciously, as a manipulative tactic.