Tuesday, September 6, 2011

'frenemy' or 'in which I rant and rage a bit about a word in a colouring book'

So I was flipping through my nieces colouring book a few days ago, a Barbie Thumbelina thing with a usual girlified story- there were fairies (all girls of course, with impressively short dresses) and a little girl with a mobile phone and make up (don't they all?), and they teach her to be nice (as all girls should be) and how friends should behave (by showing first what they shouldn't be like. Sarcastic and bitchy. You know, so they can imitate them later) and save the fairy habitat (save the environment; but not by being less of a consumer, of course) but not before the girl gives a fairy a makeover (because being a magical creature doesn't mean you're pretty enough) and some part of the story involves her talking on the phone to her 'frenemy'.

Mind you I gathered all of the above info from few words and pictures in a colouring book, I've never seen the movie so correct me if I'm wrong. As I understand, it all comes good in the end and the spoilt little girl understands true friendship etc, etc.

Most of it I could brush aside (with slightly gritted teeth and only a tiny rant) but what made me stop was a picture of the main character on the phone, with the caption "Makena talks on the phone to her frenemy'. Now I don't know if this is vital to the plot of Thumbelina. I don't know if the conversation was vitally important, or if they became friends in the end. What I do know, is that I am not comfortable with the word 'frenemy' entering into the lexicon of 5yr old girls. No.

For those unfamiliar with the word, which has (oh joy) a draft entry in the online Oxford English Dictionary;
Frenemy; one who pretends to be a friend but who is actually an enemy. Other sources include definitions of rivalry and competition.

So. Yes. Where can we start with all the things that are wrong with this? Shall we begin with how it is difficult enough as children learning about friendship and how make and keep friends, without introducing a concept like 'Oh, btw, your friend can also be your ENEMY.' And that this is not only acceptable, there is a word for it.

Or maybe we could illustrate how over the years the culmative effect of society and media and the beauty ideal has made females more and more competitive and judgemental in the way only women can, which makes us turn on each other (even in a friendly way ie. "oh that woman can eat cupcakes and never put on any weight. Don't you just hate her?"); and perhaps we ought to be working on changing that instead of introducing another word to support and encourage this kind of two-sided bitchy competitiveness?

Or I could make the argument that I have seen firsthand ( I worked with school-aged children for years and watched them play and interact every day) how children pick this stuff up. And why shouldn't they? They are learning about the world and their place in it, and everything is a potential clue. They emulate, they want to fit in, they take what social roles they have been given (for girls- relationships are very important). Having a word like 'frenemy' will encourage more young girls to fit that description, when they could be learning how to overcome differences, understand each other and be honest about their feelings. I could also point out that it is teaching children that it is normal to have and endure toxic friendships.

I have no vendetta against pink or fairies, and would have bought that colouring book too (my niece does love it so), but I am mindful of what is being served with it. Even if the invention of such a word was necessary, to include it in a children’s book is, to me, damn negligent. I just hope that we can recognise such madness and have honest conversations with children and let them know that this is not normal. Your friends should be loving, supportive and, well, friendly. You may not get along with some people, and that's ok too. But your friend should never be your enemy.

It makes me cranky.


  1. I love this post, and couldn't agree more! I have so many issues with the horrible messages that the media/etc send our children, and now having a little girl, I am even more mindful of this sort of thing.

  2. Hear, hear! I completely and totally agree with you and it is so refreshing to read a thought-out opinion about such matters.

    It really is outrageous what passes as appropriate entertainment sometimes -- especially that which is aimed at girls. Is no one paying attention? Does no one care? Frenemy?! Phst.

  3. Couldn't agree more. I am just beginning to navigate this world with my daughter. I am made to feel like a weird parent for sheltering her from that kind of stuff (don't get me started on the whole princess thing), but it is nice to know that I am not alone in that sentiment!