Why We Need More Honey Lemons
By Julie Saxton
First of all, if you haven’t seen Big Hero 6, go see it. While Disney may have whitewashed some of the characters from the originally Japanese comic, they still retained half-Asian main characters (voiced by – amazingly – half-Asian actors). They also kept a relatively racially diverse cast, with the group of six heroes including an African-American boy, a Latina girl, and two Asian characters.
For now, I want to focus on the Latina girl, nicknamed “Honey Lemon” by one of the other heroes. Honey Lemon looks like a slightly nerdy Barbie doll. She’s tall and thin, with long blonde hair and big green eyes. She is truly a ray of sunshine, tending to wear bright colors and constantly acting bubbly and happy. However, Honey Lemon, as sweet and bubbly as she may be, is also highly intelligent and an extremely talented chemist. Her purse serves as a tiny chemical lab in which she can concoct mixtures on the go.
So why is she such an important character? Not only does she serve as a role model for young Latina girls who may find their ethnicity underrepresented in movies and TV shows, but she also serves as a role model for all young girls interested in STEM fields. Obviously the “chemistry” she does is highly unrealistic, but your average five-year-old probably would not even notice. Instead, she would see bright colors, exciting things happening, and a peppy, brave, motivated girl using her smarts to save the world.
Honey Lemon demonstrates that science can be fun and cool, and it doesn’t mean that you need to be more “nerdy” or “tomboyish” to love science. Her character has great potential to encourage young girls to join a field in which women are highly underrepresented, especially in engineering and math fields. Even though there are more women in Honey Lemon’s field (women make up 44.2% of chemists) compared to other STEM fields, this is still a minority. Young girls hear that they aren’t as good at math or science than boys and learn almost exclusively about male scientists in school. Only recently have important women scientists like Rosalind Franklin and Margaret Hamilton had their stories told. While many girls do make their way into science, the role models they have are great but few. Who’s to say we wouldn’t have many more women scientists if we had more characters like Honey Lemon, giving science-oriented girls the initial boost of encouragement they need?
Honey Lemon is indeed fictional – unfortunately we cannot currently conduct chemistry experiments by pushing some buttons on a high-tech purse. But she is also the first step in encouraging young girls towards a STEM career and making them feel happy, confident, and proud of themselves and their work. We need more Honey Lemons on TV (Big Hero 6 spinoff show anyone?), more in books, and more in movies. We need more campaigns encouraging girls to be more active in STEM. We need more women scientists to speak to girls in these campaigns. We need more real life Honey Lemons in the world, and that could start with the original perky, kickass chemist herself.