Girls gone missing: kids’ movie posters in 2011

The year is 2011. You are a seven year old girl looking out the back seat car window. Unless you catch a glimpse of ‘Hoodwinked 2′ or ‘Judy Moody’ these are the pictures you see. In your world, boys are front and center. You are a sidekick or just not there at all.

Update: I’ve updated Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Kids Films in 2011 to include posters that had not been released over the summer when I initially posted the gallery.

I also, sadly, added Harry Potter. I love Harry Potter and love Hermione, but it is true, as commenters pointed out, the movie is clearly Harry’s quest, Harry is the star. The newly added “Hugo” also has a strong girl character, but token strong girls are not enough. Harry Potter and Hugo are also both titled for the male star, whereas Disney execs famously switched the title of Rapunzel to Tangled specifically not to highlight the female star. It’s amazing to me that this blatant sexism goes on in media marketed to little kids.

When kids see, again and again and again, that girls are relegated to supporting roles, both genders learn that girls are less important than boys. This is a terrible lesson for a new generation of children to be learning.

Movies included in the Gallery are ‘appropriate’ for little kids. My three daughters are ages 2 – 8.

 Disney's Winnie the Pooh movie poster

60 thoughts on “Girls gone missing: kids’ movie posters in 2011

  1. You should write an article about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (that’s Friendship is Magic, NOT the generation 3 abominations!). It’s a very female-empowering show that not only provides positive female role models, but it’s very kid-appropriate, as well. :D All of the characters (ponies) are smart, are willing to stand up for themselves and for their friends, and are always trying new things and going on adventures. Yes, there’s a fashion-forward one, (Rarity) but she’s not a girly-girl fashionista. In fact, she runs her own business making clothes. Heck, in the first episode, she drop-kicks a manticore in the face! Plus there’s Applejack, the ranch-hand and apple farmer who’s a tough go-get-’em girl that’s proud of her work and her family. Twilight Sparkle, who loves books, science and astronomy, and Rainbow Dash, of course, the fastest pegasus in the sky who wants to fly professionally. Then there’s Fluttershy, who’s a lovable wallflower that takes care of animals, and Pinkie Pie, who always cheers up her friends and works in a cake shop. While the characters sound stereotypical, they’re just not. And it’s not just a “women is better than men show” either. The characters are real, complex, and have true personality. It’s very well-written! Check it out! It’s a great show, and it has great animation, as well. Please watch atleast the first season though, as it gets a lot better after the first few episodes. Plus, it was made by Lauren Faust, (a proud feminist) who created The Powerpuff Girls. :D

  2. I know that this is an old post, but I felt compelled to point this out: The especially bizarre thing about the poster for Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, is that the Chipmunks’ rival band (which is made up of their female counterparts, who were introduced in the second of the three movies), The Chipettes, are in the movie right alongside Alvin & Co., so why aren’t they on the poster?

  3. Screw the movies, let them eat books! My daughter grew up on lot of ‘adventure-girl’ books (Crilly’s ‘Akiko’, Naifeh’s ‘Courtney Crumrin’, Zita the Space Girl, Meridian, Harriet the Spy) and cartoons (Powerpuff Girls, Jenny the Robot, Atomic Betty). Stuff WAY better than g’dawful kids movies is out there; go out and dig some up.

    Tho there ARE some good kids movies with strong girls (Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Totoro, Spirited Away, Matilda)

  4. Pingback: Girls missing from kid’s movie posters | Media Action Media

      • Hi Bestlearningever,

        I hope you’re right! Mirror, Mirror looks like it has a stronger Snow White but the Queen obsessed with beauty and all her jokes about it (Julia Roberts, is SO old and ugly) makes my stomach turn. Maybe Snow White and the Henchman is better?

        MM

  5. You missed Soul Surfer, based on a true story and safe if your running a PG house. Yes there is religion in it, but take into account the movie is based on the young lady’s life, and this was a part of her life. But you can safely watch it without feeling preached to, or an overwhelming urge to race into a church. Secretariat was from 2010, but streaming online now, also a very good movie that we enjoy.

    • Hi Rob,

      I didn’t include “Soul Surfer” because the combination of the subject matter and that it’s not animated make it too old for my kids (young kids). It looks like a great movie though.

      MM

  6. You make a good point, but I really think you also miss the point. American and world society has totally bought into the notion that the normal way for human beings to act is in accordance with an over-masculinized male stereotype. As proof, all you have to do is look at the attitudes of the so-called feminist movement, which routinely dismisses “feminine” characteristics as irrelevant in the modern world; rather, woman should act more like men, because that is what is “normal”.

    We really need to spend more time figuring out what it means to be a human being; only then will we be able to understand what it means to be a man or woman.

    • Your point is valid but I think you might be a little presumptuous of the feminist movement. For sure there are some involved that will portray “feminine” characteristics as negative but as I understand it most feminists value both feminine and masculine characteristics.

      “We really need to spend more time figuring out what it means to be a human being; only then will we be able to understand what it means to be a man or woman.” Thumbs up to this!

      • Hi E. Scott,

        We’re talking about kids here. Kids who see males characters everywhere and females limited to supporting roles or gone missing all together. Both genders learn that boys are more important than girls.

          • Well that’s where you’re wrong. Some of the most important characters are minor ones. Ones you rarely see, but if they hadn’t existed, the plot wouldn’t either. If Lily Potter never existed (Harry wouldn’t to begin with, but ignoring that), Harry wouldn’t have gotten any help from Snape and Snape would probably be a loyal Death Eater. She’s important as she’s mentioned time and time again and was part of the huge secret J.K.Rowling was keeping. She was also immensely important to the main character; he even named his dauther after Lily. How could she not be important when SHE was THE ONLY REASON he survived?

          • Hi Victoria,

            Please! Obviously characters with minor parts can be crucial to the narrative. To say Lily Potter is as important as Harry in the series because he wouldn’t exist without her is really ridiculous.

            Margot

  7. I love this site! I totally agree with the premise of the “invisible girl’ in movies. Moreover, women in movies are not represented enough either for that matter. Gena Davis has been a great activist in shining a light on the disparity of substantive roles for women in moves, aside from the side-kick, love interest types.

    I also really appreciate Everett’s posts and his realization, as a father of 2 daughters, of just how rampant sexism really is in every fabric of society. I only wish there were more men like you, Everett, because things would change a lot more quickly and for the better, if there were!

    Let’s not fool ourselves about boys not going to a movie where a girl is the central figure, because, for example, the WOMAN who wrote the brilliantly successful Harry Potter series was fearful that boys would not read her book if they knew it was written by a woman, so she put her initials “J.K.” rather than her given name as the author. What puzzles me is that, despite all of the so–called enlightenment men say they’ve achieved, the majority still don’t recognize the insanity of encouraging, promoting, or teaching young boys to view women in such a derogatory, demaning way and how, as a result, society has suffered terribly for it.

    Just look around–civilization has been cheated immeasurably because of the continued oppression of women and their role as half the human race in governing how we live. Which leads me to believe that men would rather destroy the world than have a woman in charge of it. In the end, we ALL lose equally, which is probably the only time women and men will be equal if they continue with the pervasive misogyny that has gripped the world.

  8. …and I will add that the fact that it’s silent makes it FAR more destructive, more insidious. If people stood on a platform and said, “girls, you’re no good,” they’d have the opportunity to say, “the hell we aren’t, we’re great.” But people don’t come equipped with filters to block these silent messages. They set in before you realize you’re seeing them. Even if you’re already sensitized to it. You may take notice of the sexism in movie posters, but in the time it takes you to notice a few dozen posters, a hundred other sexist messages you’ll never even remember already sneaked past your nonexistent filters.

    • Everett,

      Totally agree about the silent, insidiousness. You are exactly right. It’s no fun attacking lovable cartoon characters, people get so pissed off at me. I understand why. In many ways, they are great movies. But the girls are more and more invisible and I find it so disheartening that more parents aren’t up in arms. I mean Arthur Christmas? Happy Feet 2? No reason to have practically all male casts. Its horrible.

      Margot

  9. Thanks for this. This silent, insidious sexism enrages me. I’m the father of two daughters, and although more recent books have begun to correct this problem, children’s literature is filled with mostly male characters, and especially animal characters are almost ALWAYS portrayed as male, including animals which in nature are NEVER male, such as in a book I read to my daughter in which a worker bee is called “he.”

    Since my young girls can’t read yet, I regularly change the gender of male animal characters from male to female so that they can feel a bit more sense of identification with the characters in their favorite books. Later they’ll realize these characters are “actually” male, but that’s fine–they’ll have had several years of seeing plenty of female characters before they realize that, essentially, there are hardly any real female characters in fiction.

    It took me about two years to retrain myself so that when, upon seeing a bird flying above or a squirrel running across a field, I would regularly say “there she goes!” (It was so ingrained in me by linguistic convention to see ALL animals as automatically male that for two years I’d say, “there he goes–er, unless it’s a girl!”–and I was thinking about this from the first week of my daughter’s life.)

    It’s a disgusting situation that makes parenting girls much harder. The message that girls aren’t as important is insidious and as part of the cultural air we breathe, it’s guaranteed to seep in, outflanking our best efforts as parents, but we’re never going to give up the fight.

    I used to scoff at my “feminist” friends’ complaints about the pervasiveness of sexism in the culture. Now as a father of two girls I see it, and holy cow, they were right. It’s everywhere, and it angers me.

    • Everett,
      Have you read the graphic novel “Clan Apis”? Perhaps one of the best science graphic novels ever made. And yes, all the primary characters are female bees. One could argue the sole male drone is a bit stereotypical, but hell, drones in bee hives ARE lazy leeches with only one job. :)

      Jay Hosler’s Sandwalk Adventures also has a female lead character, but is a bit more techincal and only a 4/5 star (IMO) versus the 5/5 star Clan Apis.

      I make a note to myself whenever I hear about a good movie or book (or video game!) with a female protagonist, for my 9 year old son. Currently going through the Tiffany Aching series from Terry Pratchett.

  10. Mothers are Missing too!!
    Margot, I haven’t followed your blog yet, but I’m assuming that you also noticed that there are no good mothers in Disney movies (or most traditional fairy tales). The mothers are either evil stepmothers (Lady Tremaine in Cinderella and stepmother in Hansel and Gretel who orders her husband to lose the kids in the woods), or evil queens (queen in Snow White, Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, Ursula in Little Mermaid), or they die like Bambi’s mother, or are imprisoned like Dumbo’s mother. There are plenty of wise and kind and gallant fathers, but good mother figures are missing. Go figure!

    • Good point. I’m kinda glad there’s so many father figures in kids movies because there’s so many missing or fair weathered father’s, advertisements and songs sending the message that moms do all the work

  11. I’m sorry, but this male vs. female thing is a little absurd. Even if anybody cared besides adults, you would have to admit that of the 10 males, 3 are penguins, 1 is a cockatoo, 1 is a teddy bear, 1 is a chipmunk, 1 is a rabbit, 1 is a gnome, 1 is a cat, 1 is a car, 1 is a frog. That might make them males, but it hardly makes them boys or men. Neither my son nor my daughter liked or disliked any of these movies for anything but their lack of decent storyline.

    • Hi lehma,

      Imposing gender stereotypes on penguins, cockatoos, teddy bears etc is exactly the issue. Look at Wall-E and Eve, they are ROBOTS yet Hollywood decides to make one act like a boy and one act like a girl. (The male, by the way, gets the main part and the movie named after him.)

      Girls do look for female characters to identify with, who are supposed to represent them. The female characters are then made into toys, embossed on clothing (diapers etc), and food packaging.

      MM

  12. I agree with almost all you say about women. But one movie you say is male dominated is Tangled. Repunzel is the star of the movie, it’s about her leaving her tower despite her fake mother telling her not to.

    • Hi Corey,

      I was writing about how the title of “Tangled” was changed from “Rapunzel” to hide the female star.

      Disney, traditionally, allowed females to star if they were princesses. With Disney’s switch of the title to Rapunzel, the company announced they would no longer be making princess movies.

      Thanks for visiting Reel Girl.

      Margot

  13. Half of these are representative of pre-existing stories… and why does the gender of the lead role matter? Children should be able to find inspiration and encouragement from characters regardless of gender. (not that modern films are necessarily the best place to be liking for that anyway.) I rarely see roles in the media that have strongly distinguishable physical traits similar to my own, apart from my anatomy, and these things aren’t generally what sticks out about a character or makes them relatable.
    Maybe there’s something I’m missing, please let me know so I can try to understand another pov (:

    • HI Rachel,

      I agree it would be great if children found inspiration in any kind of character and in some cases they do. But kids are self-centered, they are looking for reflections of themselves out there in the world, they are learning what is a boy and what is a girl. These are all topics that are fascinating to young kids. Then the cartoons for older kids (and other shows) solidify so many gender-stereotypes its kind of amazing.

      Margot

      • In that case, shouldn’t it be the role of the parents (rather than that of the children’s movie industry) to reinforce the importance of identifying with those who are reflections of themselves in personality, wit, or intelligence rather than gender?

    • Certainly a girl can find inspiration in a male character. And there is nothing wrong with a movie in which the main characters are make. There isn’t even anything wrong with 100 such movies. What is a problem is when those 100 movies are lined up against, say, just 3 or 4 female-centered movies. It’s not the individual male movie that carries the female-disempowering message. It’s the ratio. And that’s why the message is invisible and maximally dangerous.

      Likewise there’s nothing wrong with a princess movie. What’s disturbing is the lack of any OTHER kind of female-centered movie. If there are 10 girl movies and two are princess movies, the message is “girls do all kinds of things.” if 9 of 10 are princess movies, the message is “there’s only one kind of female protagonist in the world.” the message is cumulative, not the fault of one movie.

      That’s why the criticism is properly leveled at studios, not at the director of one particular film for failing to make the film we insist he/she make.

  14. I disagree that boys are the center of anything. In fact, for the past decade, they haven’t been anyone’s center. Prior to my son being adopted by me, he stated that the message he repeatedly got from society was that boys were seen as bad and lesser than girls. It wasn’t until he came into my life that he began to feel good about being a boy. His wasn’t an isolated experience, it is quite common, but boys get the message very young that it is unacceptable for them to voice it. In my work in the fields with children of all ages, I see that there is a strong hatred of boys and contempt for them. There are so many Girl Power groups and campaigns, self esteem groups for girls, books and shows for girls empowering them and even anti-boy products like the “Boys are Stupid” t-shirt line that advocate for violence against boys. When I saw the “Boys Are Stupid” products in stores and complained, the managers did not seem to see any problem with a children’s backpack or t-shirt that read, ‘Boys are Stupid, Throw Rocks At Them.” Can you imagine if the same were said about girls? It would be all over the media!There are no boys self esteem groups, Boy Power groups or books about boys feeling good. There is something wrong in our society when our children do not feel good about themselves, girls or boys. Society must stop with the gender divisions. Maybe the movie line up is an attempt to reinvolve boys in society as they have been marginalized for too long- They are doing poorly in all areas of life, are labeled and drugged in epidemic amounts as if being a boy is a disorder. If society does not reach out to boys and balance the Girl Power equation, these boys will grow into broken, depressed men.

    • HI Laurie,

      I agree that restricted gender roles are ultimately bad for everyone. Polarizing genders results in stupid stereoptypes all around. That said, I have to disagree that boys are or have been marginalized. It’s pretty clear that men rule the world– they occupy the top positions in government, finance, and art, and have for a long time. That is the reason why they get most of the roles in the movies.

      Margot

      • Is it economic? As in, do girls still go to films with boys on the poster, but boys won’t go to films with girls on the poster?

        • T,

          That’s what Disney would say. I think if Disney/ Pixar didn’t work so hard to segregate boys and girls based on manufactured gender stereotypes kids, and the adult they become, would be better off. Put some girls on the poster! Make them cool, actually doing fun stuff. Make them funny and smart.

          Margot

      • I know this article and comment are old-ish, but I just laughed out loud when you said that boys aren’t marginalized, after Laurie VERY clearly pointed out situations in which they are. Boys ARE told from when they are little that girls are better behaved, nicer, even smarter.
        It’s evident from that comment that you’re very comfortable in your little world where women are SO oppressed, and men have the upper hand in everything.
        Not to mention, you wouldn’t like it so much if being a leader was FORCED on you, and it was hammered into your mind from day one that you are a failure of a woman if you can’t be a strong leader. Men are in higher positions because they have taken them, and will continue to as long as there is this pressure.

        • Hi Riley,

          If I didnt respond to a similar comment to your, I just completely disagree. I am anything but comfortable in “my little world where women are SO oppressed.” I don’t think you can force being a leader on anyone. To me, being a leader is realizing your inner passion and have the skills and confidence to realize it. I don’t know what being a leader means to you.

          MM

    • Your totally right and these problems feed each other. With out esteem boosters or encouraging groups/songs/books /clothing /TV shows /commercias ect. For young boys like we have for girls they don’t become as emotionally secure enough to appreciate a well rounded adult and the battle continues. We now totter instead or teeter

  15. it’s no better when we grow up, either. makes me wanna set something on fire. patriachy bbq, anyone? sigh. good thing i have so many strong, righteous women in real life.

    good post. thanks.

  16. Can I recommend Studio Ghibli films for girls in the front seat? Particularly for younger ones “My Neighbour Tortoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, both lovely films that can be watched over and over again. This subject is very dear to my heart and it doesn’t improve much when we grow up, does it?

      • I can’t think of a single Studio Ghibli film that *doesn’t* have a strong female lead character! Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Cat Returns, Whispers of the Heart.

    • Huzzah, Roxy! I SO concur: Studio Ghibli (Miyazaki-san) is a first-rate place to find films/stories with strong female characters who do things even though they may be difficult, grow in strength and character throughout the film, and triumph personally as well as heroically. More power to Hayao Miyazaki, and his non-traditional belief in strong women!

      Aside from this, I agree there is a dearth of (strong, healthy-minded) female leads in film. I do like the “twists” on traditional fairy tales, in which the lead is independent (Ever After is one of my favorites), but these are too few and far between. Many (mostly female) authors are busily creating new, powerful female characters in fiction, but it will take some time before Hollywood catches up. May I suggest some women consider the take-over of U.S. studios? I know there are enough women out there who can do the job–let’s find a way in! (P.S. I am a woman who worked in the field in construction when there were very few of us, raised a son on my own, and am raising a young daughter also on my own. I understand the fight–I’ve been fighting it for ages!)

      It’s time for us to stop working from behind the scenes, and step in front of the crowd.

  17. I know it’s kind of off subject, but if it makes you feel any better, I can’t find any clothes for my sons that aren’t either splashed with cars, sports or junk like that or sized for five-year-olds, but designed for pre-teen boys…not even a plain blue shirt without a logo. No, its not because the store ran out, its because they didn’t buy any to begin with. And it’s EVERYWHERE I GO. The only place to get cute boy clothes is at one particular baby-store chain, and I refuse to shop there because I’d like to continue eating dinner on a regular basis.

  18. This stuff – especially laid out so barely as here – just makes me want to weep. It also makes me seriously think about changing my views about what is and isn’t appropriate for my (five year old) daughter to watch. Currently, I keep her away from anything remotely ‘grown-up’; so no High School Musical, no Glee and other stuff it’s clear plenty of her classmates watch. But seriously? I keep these things away from her, essentially, because they (at least at times) deal with subject matter I think is inappropriate for her age, but I’m thinking more and more about what is gender appropriate – and aminated films from large studios are clearly not that. They don’t represent her AT ALL (even with her white privilege), and on the rare occasions they do, she’s a sexy sidekick doing nothing more than making up the numbers (jeez, even when the Toy Story franchise managed to find an actual role for a female character, the short accompanying the film at the cinema had two male ‘blobs’ ogling women in swimsuits – I mean, c’mon!!!). I make an effort to find films with girl leads, but even that is virtually meaningless when what she sees as soon as she steps out the door is the clear message that her experience is not interesting, not note-worthy, not worth writing large on screen, is merely an addendum to the real male action. At least Glee, for example, has plenty of female leads and however they’re portrayed (and yes, naturally, I have issues!), at least they’re there, as real people in their own right.
    Hmm. I really am going to have to think about this one…
    Love the site, btw.

  19. I always hated that when LadySmurf was good she was blond, but when she was bad she turned into a dark-haired girl. Oh, look, girls can only appear in TV when they are blond and beautiful and nice (and look at her pose in the poster)!!!

  20. Pingback: Víkendové surfovanie « life in progress

  21. Interesting observation. On a slightly related note, I’ve been trying to borrow someone’s daughter to take to see the Judy Moody movie because I really want to see it, but I think a 30-year-old woman going to see it alone might look lame.

    • I haven’t read the Judy Moody books but I thought the movie (except for the extreme, blinding whiteness of the characters with the exception of Steve Urkel in a grown up role) was pretty good. Judy is her own person, she has her own girlish without being girly style and I liked it. But I’d have liked it more if my 7-year old black daughter wasn’t even more underrepresented as a 7-year old white girl-child.

      • Dawn,

        Thank you for your comment. The lack of girls of color in cartoons is truly pathetic. It seems like things will only change significantly when women of color into top positions/ power positions in Hollywood. Oprah has done what she can but she’s one person! I wish people realized more that kids movies reflect the race and gender of the people making the movies.

        Also, thanks for your review of Judy Moody. I’d only read about in People. I will see it, though probably on pay per view.

        Margot

        Margot