Yesterday, I was at the grocery store in the checkout line, when I saw a Disney book about how Tinkerbell and her fairy friends “Nature’s Little Helpers.” Intended to interest small children in being environmentally conscious, the fairies, all female, help nature go about its daily tasks. The connection to the nymphs of Greek mythology at once is evident. Nymphs were essentially fairies that embodied parts of nature: water, trees, etc. They were almost always female, and often played the role of temptress to the male gods. These Disney fairies play on the same idea; they tend to nature and are connected with nature because of their being female.
Why is this a problem? First, the book connects women to nature on the basis of biology, the idea that women are naturally nurturing. This suggests that only women can really take care of nature, because they are better suited for it than men. Second, by linking women and nature, they suggest that being Green is ‘girly,’ when in fact being Green should be gender-neutral.
“Nature’s Little Helpers” ties women and nature together in harmful ways: it assumes that women are caretakers of nature because of an inherent nurturing ability and it feminizes the teaching of environmental studies, even interest in nature. I have no doubt that Disney intended for this book to up its Green profile, but its message is as harmful as the Disney princess line. We should be teaching children about nature without gendering the process.
Lisa Seyfried is recent graduate of the George Washington University Women’s Studies Master’s Program. Her interest is in the intersection of women and the environment, and generally helping the world to become a more just and sustainable place. She is also a blogger at Silence is Complicit.
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