Pixar Releases Turning Red, Generates Way More Meta-Commentary re: Their Audience Than Anyone Was Ready For

Disclaimer: I have not seen this film and probably never will.

In the classic vein of Drama I Do Not Have Time For, Turning Red has overtaken my social media stream this week as equally outraged and delighted parents, all women, weigh in with their takes. Were it not for the surprising diversity on display in these strong opinions, I would have gone on my (usually not very) merry way. But I swear, at this point the movie itself simply cannot live up to the hype any way you dice it: the social narratives about the meta-narratives in the movie have already been worth the popcorn investment.

Some people say the movie normalizes grooming teenagers for sexual abuse. Some people say it normalizes much-needed discussions of topics that never should have been taboo. Some people say it promotes “harmful stereotypes” of mother-daughter relationships. Others say it depicts their true-to-life experience of abuse so accurately that it would be triggering to watch!

I can’t verify the accuracy of any of these evaluations without watching the movie, and I’m just not interested in the movie one way or the other, so I’m not going to even try. What I am here to do, however, is to point out that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I love the fact that Pixar has created something that highlights how different our vantage points often are—and how easily we overlook, dismiss, or ignore the perspectives of others in favor of exclusively focusing on our own.

Speaking as a repentant abject Judgy McJudgerson, myself.

Just because someone has a different take on something doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Just because someone thinks I’m wrong doesn’t mean I’m wrong. And… just because I think someone else is wrong doesn’t make them wrong, either… in and of itself.

But it might be wrong of us to write each other off just because we see things differently.

That’s actually the one thing that bothers me in the review linked above: it doesn’t grant that there are other takes on the mother/daughter dynamic in the movie.

I really like and appreciate this mom’s assessment of the movie overall, though. She’s pretty even-keeled. She owns her part in how the media showed up in her home without a trace of either self-shaming or deflecting (SO GOOD!). She can handle talking about puberty with her kids, whether or not she or they were prepared to do so (way to think on her feet and rise to the occasion!). She’s honest and real about what she didn’t like or appreciate about this experience for her family that she legit wishes had gone differently (yes, she is entitled to her own preferences, likes and dislikes!). She doesn’t mud-sling or denigrate Disney/Pixar but clearly communicates the simple facts about her prior expectations for their movies and describes, again very simply and calmly, how those weren’t met, and how, given that experience, she will plan to approach their media differently in future—and clearly describes how she would like them to handle such media of theirs in future, too, in case they would be willing to consider that.

These are all hallmarks of respectful, mature conversation. Brava!

Then, near the end, there’s that part about “harmful stereotypes of relationships with mothers and daughters.”

Well… ok, Redemption Unveiled Podcast. I see why you say that. I totally see how this negative depiction of a parent-child relationship could have scared you and your littles and damaged the sweet, trusting rapport you have worked so hard to cultivate with them. That is truly unfortunate, and I am sorry. Nobody warned you and you got signed up for this ride without your knowing consent and now you’re stuck doing damage control and that’s a shame. It is. I mean that.

But, uh, there’s something you need to know… depictions of negative, destructive, harmful parenting, are not… stereotypes.

They are just truths that you, and especially your children, are very blessed to not have present in your immediate family.

That can’t be said for a lot of people. Particularly… a lot of kids out there.

Kids who do indeed, for very good reason, feel just like this character you’ve quoted from the movie (that part I can legit comment on since you kindly shared it): “I’ve been obsessed with my moms approval my whole life. I couldn’t take losing it, but losing you guys feels even worse.”

Friend, I’d like you to know that I wish somebody, even if it was just some cartoon movie narrative, had presented me with this life lesson as an option when I was a teen.

It might have saved me from another two decades of solid grief, abuse, and arrested development.

Here’s the thing: some kids actually need stories like this to tell them the truth about their parents. Even, maybe especially, when those kids have grown up to be adults and still don’t know any better.

Because their parents sure as heck aren’t going to tell them.

And their parents’ friends sure aren’t going to tell them because, well, they’re the parents’ friends, and we have a society full of grown-ups more willing to look out for the interests of their fellow grown-ups than for the vulnerable children being exploited in their midst.

Sometimes we need stories from people who’ve never met us and never will to speak the truth that we desperately need to hear that not a single person we actually know will ever say.

That is why I am fundamentally grateful Pixar is creating stories like this, even though you may not be.

I am sorry this movie was a waste of your time, and I’m not denying that it was; it clearly was. But it’s not going to be a waste of someone else’s time. In fact, someone else out there really needs to see it.

And you know what? It would not be a waste of your time… for you to sit down with that person, whether a child or an adult… as an engaged and observant and supportive and quiet and listening friend… and watch this movie with them. And talk about it.

Ask them how it spoke to them. Ask them if it resonates at all. Ask them how safe they feel at home, how seen they feel, how respected they feel. Ask them if they just want to talk about any of it.

Maybe start with just that last one first.

And then really, really listen.

Because, friend, if someone had done something like that for me when I was a kid–if that kind of appreciation for different, unfamiliar, even uncomfortable perspectives on stuff like this had existed when I was a kid–maybe you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation today.

Maybe we wouldn’t have to.

Maybe you would still accidentally stumble into the misfortune of having your own kids unnecessarily exposed to this subject matter… but maybe then you would be better equipped to have a conversation about how, sadly, parents like that do exist, and the kids of those parents need love and help, and because your kiddos have good and kind and loving parents… they can grow up to be good parents themselves and maybe even show hurting little kids like that what it is to be truly loved.

Gratis.

P.S. Also can you please not use sarcastic quote marks to discredit the main character whenever she talks about her true self? Because, um, that tells survivors of child abuse (like me) that they don’t actually know themselves and what they’ve gone through… even though nobody else could possibly know everything they’ve gone through as well as they do. Let’s all please keep in mind that God designed each individual human to be literally the best-qualified human on the planet to know who he or she is… because God did not make people to be a hive mind. Nobody gets to know my mind and heart and life like I do, and I don’t get to know that about anybody else. Nobody but God has that insight (Jer. 17:9-10).

Kthanxbye.

Child Hunger

It can be hard to recognize child hunger
Says the billboard


[Uncooked ramen

The smallest serving of nuggets off the dollar menu

Cream cheese on a sleeve of crackers on a days' empty stomach, gift of parents

The gap between near satisfaction
And feeling loved]


you removed your eyes
you couldn't stand tears

What Happened to Me Was Wrong

Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence, guns

TIL:

Marching around the house with firearms for fun/show, at *least* in a domestic abuse context, is what is known as an implicit threat that says, “I can kill you whenever I like.” It’s a show of power, control, and intimidation.

Giving a revolver, “even” an unloaded one, to an infant, and having them play with it in your lap, is a show of power/control/intimidation that says, “I can kill this kid whenever I like.” It’s a threat.

Killing animals, including/especially family pets, whenever one feels like it, is a show of power/control/intimidation that says, “I can kill and take away things you love whenever I like.” It’s a threat.

Beating a screaming, puking toddler because they got up in the middle of the night to tell you they had a stomach ache, and dragging them down the hall through their own vomit, and throwing them in the cold shower to hose them down while they continue to scream and cry, and screaming AT them throughout this, is child abuse.

 

My father did the first three things. My mother did the last.

All of this behavior is horrific and inexcusable.

And I need to call it and know it for what it was.

 

If something like this happened to you, you can know the truth about it. That will be your first step to recovery.

 

The Nature of Healing

Today my children and I read “How the Bear Clan Learned to Heal: An Iroquois Story” from Angela McAllister’s A Year Full of Stories. It goes like this:

Three young hunters were running home one evening, when a rabbit jumped out ahead of them and sat in the middle of the trail. The hunters stopped. They’d already caught plenty of game, but each one reached for his bow, plucked an arrow from his quiver, and shot at the rabbit. To their surprise, the arrows returned without a spot of blood.

As they reached for a second arrow, the rabbit disappeared. In its place stood a bent old man.

“I am sick,” said the old man weakly. “Help me find food and a place to rest.” The young hunters didn’t want to be bothered by the old man. Ignoring his plea, they put away their arrows and ran on down the trail. They didn’t notice the old man turn and follow.

When he reached the hunters’ settlement, the old man saw many lodges. In front of each lodge was a skin hanging on a pole. This was the sign of the clan within.

The old man stopped at the lodge of the Wolf clan and asked the elder woman for shelter, but she wouldn’t let him in. “We don’t want any sickness here,” she said. So he shuttled on.

The young women at the Beaver lodge insisted they had no food to share. The Turtle clan and Deer clan both sent him away. The old man asked for help at the sign of the Hawk, Snipe, and Heron, but everyone shook their heads.

Night fell, and the air grew cold. At last, he came to the lodge of the Bear Clan. When the Bear Clan mother saw the sick old man, she lifted the blanket at her door and welcomed him inside. She gave him a bowl of warm corn mash and spread soft skins for him to rest on. The old man was grateful. The next day, he told her what herbs to fetch from the woods to make him well, and soon he was healed.

The old man stayed with the Bear Clan mother, but a few days later, he became sick again. As before, she cared for him. He told her what roots and leaves to use for medicine, and she made him well.

Many times the old man fell ill: once with a fever, another time with pain, then a rash and a cough. Each time, he instructed her about the flowers and plants to use for his condition and she listened and learned well. Before long, she knew more about healing than anyone in all the clans.

One evening, as they sat together under the stars, the old man gave the clan mother thanks. “I was sent to earth by the Great Spirit to teach people the secrets of healing,” he said. “You were the only one who showed pity and welcomed me at your fireside. Now I have taught you how to use plants and roots to heal the sick, and from this day, all the other clans will come to learn from the Bear Clan how to heal, and the Bear Clan will be the greatest and the strongest of all.”

Then the clan mother was filled with joy. She gazed up at the sky and thanked the Great Spirit for his precious gift. But when she turned again to the old man, he had disappeared. All she saw was a rabbit running away down the trail.

The abuse survivor sphere has taught me just how true the lessons of this story are.

In order to help others heal, I must listen to them share their needs. I must acknowledge, understand, and meet those initial needs–and I must be prepared to meet many more varied needs as they are gradually expressed.

I must understanding that healing takes a great deal of time, and that if I want to become a good, capable, effective agent of healing, I have to commit for the long haul.

I must maintain a posture of humble attentiveness that whole time. I should constantly expect to need to take in new information and apply it.

I have to be willing to go out of my way again and again and again to bring in resources to help the wounded.

I should expect the recovery to be lengthy and involved and taxing, primarily for the hurting party, but also for me.

I should understand that what I gain from the privilege of caring intimately and faithfully for someone is a greater gift than I could ever give them. That I am not the source of their rescue and restoration: God is. When I enter into another’s suffering, I witness the work God forges in the interplay between their expression of needs and hurt and my acceptance and tending.

In the comprehension brought about by that witness and engagement, I am renewed.

And most importantly, I should understand that healing is primarily the work of the wounded. I am the student and the servant. The one healing is the healer. I follow her lead and provide support–but she does the work of knowing her pain, choosing her struggle, and asking for help.

I might provide resources, treatment, time, expertise: but she is the one who heals.

We best serve our wounded when we entrust them with their own fates: when we affirm their agency, their autonomy, their responsibility as their own primary caretakers.

When we defer to them like this, we learn a great deal about how also to look after ourselves.

Published at The Salt Collective

Last week I was honored and grateful to tell a larger part of my story publicly for the first time. The Salt Collective provided a broad platform for me to share, certainly a larger audience than I’ve ever had; and the encouragement, kindness, support, and practical editing help that I received from Nathan Roberts was invaluable.

The essay this collaboration produced is a heavily modified version of a blog post I originally published here. The end product connects further details of my own history and experience to the broader issue of religious gendered abuse and how it is unwittingly harbored and enabled by systemic abuse and shame culture within American Evangelicalism.

The consequences of rotten roots are far-reaching. If we wish to restore the church, we must protect and rescue our most vulnerable. The healing of our community begins and ends with the healing of the wounded individuals within it.

Read my essay here: I Survived a Rural Evangelical Daddy Cult