Growing up in Southern California, I genuinely believed Disneyland was the happiest place on earth. As a child I was fortunate enough to have many outings there with family and continued the tradition with friends into my teens. I knew all the words to the songs on my favorite rides, and had my traditions of taking time to enjoy the small and weird details, like looking up at the dirty foot of a pirate sitting on a bridge while my boat would float underneath.
It never occurred to me as a little girl to think it odd that the only women featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride were “wenches” being auctioned off, or chased by men. I could say the same thing about learning about the Presidents of the United States in history class. I wish I could say that a younger me questioned why they were all men, but in my recollections, I just accepted it as the way things were.
This trip down memory lane might seem random, but my mind immediately wandered there when reading recent news about sexual harassment in the tech world, sexist tweets sent by the President towards a television host, and obviously, Disney’s decision to change aspects of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. This last week, Disneyland, the White House, and Silicon Valley - three incredibly influential places - all served as examples of how women are treated in society, and proved that unsurprisingly, we still have a long way to go.
President Trump’s personal attack against Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, got the majority of the headlines last week. Unless you were living under a rock, you probably heard that Trump expanded on his typical media bashing to call Brzezinski “low IQ crazy” and claimed that she was “bleeding badly from a facelift” over New Years while at the Mar-a-Lago resort. Joe Scarborough and Brzezinski fired back with an op-ed in the Washington Post denying the President’s version of events and saying that Trump is “not well”. There were also disturbing details about a National Enquirer story which the President allegedly told the morning show hosts he could make go away, if only they would call.
The episode is probably not over. After all, Trump continued tweeting juvenile insults at the television program into the weekend. While the President seems like a troubled individual, the sad truth is that we have a man occupying the White House who doesn’t respect women, and voters were ok with it. The President belittles women by attacking their looks, hormones, and bodies, and then the women surrounding Trump have to defend his actions. I wonder what assumptions little girls around the country are making now based on the example being set by the President.
The problem is of course that Donald Trump is not an outlier, as any woman can tell you just based on her personal experiences. But for those needing “proof”, it came in the form of a New York Times report detailing sexual harassment in Silicon Valley. Multiple women spoke on the record and even named names, detailing their experiences with unwanted advances while interviewing for jobs or trying to get funding for their businesses.
Negative stories about the tech world and the attitude towards, and general lack of women are nothing new. While there are a lot of people actively working to change it, sexism is acknowledged as part of the culture for now. What’s particularly disappointing is that these are the people who are leading us into the future. Silicon Valley is supposed to be a beacon of progress and innovation, but is instead proving to be a hotbed for male chauvinism and self interest. Just check out this piece from Danny Gold for AJ+ about rich techie doomsday prepping, and you’ll see what I mean about the narcissism. The message is, sorry kids, fend for yourselves.
And so finally when I read an article last week about Disney changing a famous scene on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride from an auction of women, to forcing locals to hand over their valuables, I suddenly felt guilty. My knee-jerk reaction was to be outraged that this symbol of my childhood was being tampered with. The sign reading, "Take a wench for a bride" will be removed and a redhead female character will also now be featured as a pirate herself. Who cares, it’s just a fantasy ride, I thought. Everyone knows that even real pirates were by no means champions of gender equality, why sanitize something for political correctness? I couldn’t believe that something so innocuous warranted public attention.
Then I thought about the other news that I had found so disturbing, about the President and the tech industry treating women like objects. I’m sure the depictions they saw of women and their treatment when growing up seemed harmless too. The truth is every example makes an impact, and no gesture is too small when setting a tone. So in a week of setbacks, let’s at least applaud Disney on this step, you never know what a difference it could make to a President, entrepreneur, or anyone else down the road.