Challenging Of Gender Stereotypes In The Film Whale Rider

The film Whale Rider challenges the perception of gender stereotypes, cultures and traditions through the means of the main character, Paikea.

Challenging perceived gender roles in society is like moving pieces on a chess board, each move takes precision, strategy and thought if you want to triumph over your opponent. Paikea challenges the perceived gender roles in society by fighting Koro’s stubborn traditions and beliefs about their culture. Pai demonstrates her courage, leadership, persistence and strength through the film. She shows that she can be even stronger than the boys and sets an ideal role model for children everywhere. These days we still picture nurses as women and fighter pilots as men, it’s time to flip the board and play a whole new game.

“When she was born, that’s when things went wrong for us.” Whale Rider. From the first moment Paikea came into the world, Koro’s expectations dropped, “She’s no use to me” Koro said. He wanted a boy not her, so when Paikea’s twin brother died Koro’s plan of a new male chief died with him. Even though Paikea was next in line for chief she wasn’t a boy, so Koro forbid her from doing anything relevant to the topic of chief. Pai believes she is destined to become her people’s first female chief, but she must overcome the rigid gender stereotypes set forth by her traditional grandfather, Koro, and prove to him that she can learn the ways of her ancestors and lead her people. Koro’s stubborn stereotypes are what need be challenged in our society today. According to The New York Times 2018, most children grow up thinking girls have some jobs and boys have the others because that’s what they’re taught by social media and the people around them. Challenging gender stereotypes isn’t just talking about how it could change, it’s actually changing how people look at gender roles by your actions. This is what Paikea did, she stood up to her grandfather Koro and confronted his beliefs on gender roles by completing all of the challenges the other boys couldn’t and proving that she can be more strong, witty and determined than the other boys could ever be.

Koro wore his whale tooth necklace steadily during the film, and forward to the end of the film, he used it as a test for the first-born boys in the village to show their genuine leadership. Koro lead the children out to a cove out in the ocean and tossed his necklace into the water, clarifying that the boy who returned the necklace to him would be their people’s new leader, as elected by their ancestors. When none of the boys were able to bring back the necklace, Koro sunk into hopelessness thinking the ancestors could no longer hear him. Without Koro knowing, Pai went to the same cove a few days later and was triumphant in retrieving Koro’s whale tooth necklace from the ocean floor, demonstrating to Koro and herself that she was the rightful leader instead of the boys.

As a female, Pai was excluded from any weaponry, especially the Taiaha because it’s a traditional weapon. Weapons are more than just a tool used for fighting but are a vital indicator to status and prestige. Koro taught the young boys the ways of the Taiaha but forbid Pai from participating in these lessons. She still went forward and found another way to learn, soon enough after weeks and weeks of determination and practicing. 'In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness. It was waiting. Waiting to be filled up. Waiting for someone to love it. Waiting for a leader.' Pai said this, knowing she would be that leader. Pai consistently prevails over her male classmates throughout the movie in one challenge after another, but Koro’s traditional beliefs will not permit him to see beyond the stubborn gender stereotypes hard-wired into their culture. Through these scenes Pai shows incredible strength and persistence to overcome her grandfather’s perceived gender stereotypes. As a female or even a male in the real world it can be the same, men aren’t thought of to be stay at home dads because after all they should be out working and playing the traditional role of a ‘man’ while women should be the ones staying home with the kids because that is what they are ‘supposed to do’. Boys who are “sissies” are mainly looked down on, while girls who are thought of as “tomboys” have both feminine and masculine traits and interests and ergo do not disrupt gender stereotypes as greatly. Boys also bring out unfavourable reactions for shy behaviour, supposedly because this behaviour disrupts the male gender roles in society. We get these stereotypes off influences like social media or even our own cultures that have been taught to us at a young age.

Kids can be anything. Girls can be strong, boys can be strong. Girls can be sensitive and boys can be sensitive. Women can be Firefighters, Men can be childcare workers. To see kids growing up and embracing these feats makes for such a brighter and healthier future environment for everyone. Paikea fought to change the gender perceptions of her grandfather so she could be recognised as the leader she always believed she could be. So let’s flip the board and make a whole new brighter, gender stereotype free world for everyone to live in. 

16 August 2021
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