Racist stereotypes get disclaimer, sexist ones still funny in kids cartoons

If you watch “Tom and Jerry” on DVD, before the cartoon begins, a disclaimer appears on the screen informing the viewer that while some episodes show racial stereotypes, they haven’t been censored because editing them out would be denying the racism ever happened which is worse than showing it. There is also an introduction by Whoopi Goldberg, which does not come on automatically but can be selected on the menu, essentially explaining the same thing.

The racism in “Tom and Jerry” is often shown when a character gets too close to an explosive, it goes off, and he turns up in blackface. Ha ha ha.

I know this because I have three daughters ages 2 – 8. A while ago we saw a “Tom and Jerry” episode on TV (no racism in that one.) They loved it, and I enjoyed it as well.  I liked the old fashioned, no bells and whistles animation, and I thought the classical music accompaniment along with the minimal dialogue was pretty cool. So I bought them a couple of DVDs full of cartoons.

But as we watched them together, not only was there some racism, but in all of the episodes, there were practically no female characters. If one did finally saunter onto the screen, she was so sexualized with her bow-red lips curling and spidery eyelashes incessantly batting as Tom and Jerry competed over her, I wanted to put my hands over my daughters’ eyes.

The non-sexualized female in Tom and Jerry? That would be the African-American one, Mammy Two-Shoes, most often shown headless with a pink ruffled apron snugly tied below her large breasts.

So why is there no disclaimer that appears on the screen about the female stereotypes in “Tom and Jerry?” Where is the introduction from Gloria Steinem explaining the historical relevance of this distorted gender stereotyping as a product of its time?

Unfortunately, the reason that there’s no disclaimer and no introduction is because sexist stereotypes in kids’ cartoons are just as accepted in 2012 as they were sixty years ago.  Sexist jokes in animation are, apparently, still hilarious. In fact, if you go to theater right now, you’ll be treated to two of them prominently featured in previews for upcoming films: one about how girls can’t fight in Madagascar 3 and an ugly woman joke in The Lorax.

Keep in mind that these movies are made for kids. Parents, do you really want to pay $10 a pop so your sons and daughters can be taught to laugh because girls supposedly can’t toss a pillow or aren’t skinny enough to be pretty?

What can you do about the rampant sexism in animation? That girls have basically gone missing from kids’ films? If you’re in a theater and you see one of these sexist jokes, start with calling out: NOT FUNNY. Do it for your kids.

Update: I’ve gotten a couple comments on SFGate about how in her foreward, Whoopi Goldberg refers to “women.”

It’s clear that the emphasis of her intro is race. She talks about the how “racial and ethnic differences were caricatured in the name of entertainment” and how people were made fun of “especially when it came to racial and ethnic groups.” She talks quite a bit about Mammy Two Shoes and the talent of the actress who voices her as well as the artist who drew her. She never refers to the sexualization of women and girls. I never get the impression that this is the kind of stereotyping that she is referring to. Because the racism in “Tom and Jerry” is worse, more blatant, and less accepted today, just as with Tintin, it gets called out while most of sexism is allowed to pass unnoticed. The same kind of sexism is rarely called out when it appears, as it often does, in animated films today. You can watch Goldberg’s intro here.

27 thoughts on “Racist stereotypes get disclaimer, sexist ones still funny in kids cartoons

  1. Pingback: TASK 4: INDUSTRY CODES AND LEGAL PRACTICE – Representation (race, gender, age, socio-political background) | Eddy Idriss SEC-Animation

  2. First of all, stereotypes can not be ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’ because those have to do with complex claims about moral or existential inferiority. Being bigoted or ignorant is not the same thing as being racist. Secondly, a lot of racial and gender stereotypes are funny. Stop living in sissy egalitarian land and unwind some tension. Anyone who *Can* be offended *deserves* to be offended. Being offended is the ultimate ‘you do it to yourself’. I am sick of pansy retard land that thinks we have to make everybody comfortable. Some people are fat, stupid, ugly, lazy and incompetent; and some of them were born that way. Is it their fault? Who the fuck cares? In reality, as opposed to Communist Heaven, these things matter to people.

    • Hi Rocky James,

      Huh? Stereotypes can be racist and sexist, in fact that is usually what they are. They are not complex but simplistic. Bigoted and ignorant often does mean racist. You sound pretty ignorant yourslef.

      MM

      • I don’t think he’s ignorant, he’s being honest. People have really reached the cry wolf stage on “sexism” and “racism” in 2014. People are sick and tired of it since the leftist government ant the media call someone racist or sexist every 5 seconds.

        It’s gotten obnoxious, and people are not reallyimpressed anymore with blogging their progressive sainthood. That makes people roll their eyes. Anyone can blog, and anyone can set themselves on an anti-racist and anti-sexist pedestal. It’s the favorite pass time of today’s self-absorbed blogger culture and it’s becoming a joke.

        • Sexism and racism are prejudices and stereotypes based on someone’s sex or skin colour. It has nothing to do with the “leftist” government or “leftist” media…

        • ^^^You are absolutely right…I better not find out my Tom & Jerry are taken off television because of ignorant people such as yourself @margotmagowan…I am black and I do not find anything in this show to be offensive. This is one of the ONLY good cartoons still on the air today. It sure will be a shame when America takes away everything good we ever had. Granted, this show was created and aired in a different time period, but, thats what makes it so entertaining and unique. This makes me sad. Get over yourselves.

  3. Ok just to start out um to be correct the 1st tom and jerry that came out was about 2 men whom where friends goin and doin things together. The name tom and jerry should say that the show is about two ppl or animals who are males. Honestly I believe the point of the bows eyelashes and colored lips is to show that is a female. I grew up watching things like tom and jerry toonheads and just about anything that came on cartoon network. I personal never once thought I was too fat or too weak for anything. I have wonderful parents who raised me and knew me watchin cartoons was not a babysitter or there to teach life lessons but for entertainment. If u find something offensive bout

    • I meant is u find anything offensive in something simply don’t allow ur children to watch it. You want to see more female cartoons. Then watch the powerpuff girls. Oh and I don’t see anything wrong with the blackfaced thing it was show that they almost got their face blew off. Its hard to express what is goin on when the main stars don’t talk. Since its black its racist. if it was red it would be too graphic. And if was all blown where he was missing something it would be making fun of disabled ppl. When none of that was intended. And if u want to get deep what about olive off popeye she went back and forth between two men and had them fightin for her but yet she wasn’t all that tall skinny flat chested big nose and school teacher hair.

  4. Obviously, you don’t comprehend the difference between a joke and a personal opinion. Willam Hanna and Joseph Barbera knew this and they used it well. It is a matter of fact that they said themselves that their sense of humor didn’t reflect their personal opinion, that’s something you don’t comprehend.

  5. ““especially when it came to racial and ethnic groups.” ”

    I just noticed a specific sad realization one can make about the perversity of racism from this phrase.

    Whites also constitute a race, caucasian is also an ethnicy, but no one would ever be expected to believe this statement refers to them too, neither is Whoopy really doing it.

    Why is that? Because it is natural for someone to be white, it is natural for someone to be caucasian, they are the default; so much so, in fact, that no one would conceive they exist as a racial group, they just exist as people and race doesn’t play a factor, they are neutral.

    When a person speaks of race, they can only mean the “other” races, you know, the races that differ from what is unquestionably normal. Caucasian is normal and generic, it isn’t even referenciable as a separate group; anything else is specific, and something of major importance for the people inside that group, since one can not talk about them without refering to it.

    Sort of like a character is assumed to be male unless something specifically calls for it to be female, like a bow or eyelashes. Because male is everything, and female is the same as male + a difference, where the difference must be something associated with that quality of “femaleness”. “Other than maleness.”

  6. I don’t care about the old films’ sexism. That was the sign of the times. I care about sexism in modern films!!
    God forbid a little girl should see a female cat bat her eyelashes. She’ll probably grow up to be a prostitute now…
    (Seriously, how dumb do these people think kids are?)
    And Tom & Jerry was created for adults in 40’s and 50’s!

    • Fanatic,

      It may have been a ‘sign of the times’ but kids watch it now. Furthermore, sexism is just as present in animation today as it was that long ago. Kids learn from what they see and they are mimics. I don’t think watching this will make them grow up to be prostitutes but it certainly communicates that the most in important thing for afemale is what you look like, that you get to play a part if you’re “pretty,” if you get noticed by a male. Otherwise, you’re just not there.

      MM

  7. Honestly, I never got the blackface as a kid, they don’t look like black people at all, it’s so highly caricaturised it’s irrecognisable.

    • Aninha,

      I agree and I’m thinking that’s why its not so damaging to have that image in the cartoon and see kids watch it, it doesn’t mean anything to them. Whereas the sexism clearly teaches girls only get a role if males think they’re pretty and what’s important is how they look. I’m curious what others think about this?

      MM

    • Hi Scarlet,

      I don’t love picking on kids cartoons. Many of these films have spectacular animation and they’re very well done. But that’s part of the problem, the messages are so sexist and they’re marketed to kids.

      MM

    • Hi Scarlet !

      There is a little mistake in your thinking: Not people like Margot ruin everything there is to enjoy about life, it´s this kind of movie/cartoon/article … whatever, which does. Margot is just making us aware of this shit.

      I´d rather know what´s going on and not stay ignorant. Even if I don´t like it …

      Regards, Trip

      • I call shenanigans!

        Tell you what, Elmer Fudd is a white male and a moron. This is sexist and racist to white males! Why The Three Stooges are too. This continues on today to your Homer Simpsons and every dad on a current sitcom. Boys have to grow up with the impossible standards of masculinity and muscularity of half naked men like He-Man and the Jolly Green Giant and all of those hyper sexualized male super heroes in skin tight clothing like Superman.

        Why can’t cats, and mice and dogs just get along. They all have to live up to this ancient war that isn’t theirs. We condition them to dislike one another. Why don’t they make Tom & Jerry cartoons where they are best pals?

        This all pc bs, one of the greatest evils around today and it needs to be stomped out. And what the hell is wrong with batting ones eyelashes? Guess what? People do that. People also fight over someone else’s affection. So what?

        What is really dangerous for kids these days is Dora the Explorer. It has them talking to the TV , thinking it can talk back to them. IT also brainwash them, and nullifies intellectual growth. I’d rather have my kids watching full on uncensored Tom & Jerry, Looney Tunes, Betty Boop and Popeye than that drivel.

        • Hi Scarlet,

          I’m not asking for females to be portrayed in some “perfect” way, I’m asking that they be there at all. They’ve gone missing.

          As far as being PC, I’m trying to open these worlds up, not close them. Females get shoved into the same limited roles again and again and again. The same stories get recycled. I’m asking for much more creativity, not less.

          MM

  8. You’re absolutely right that the racism is getting called out while the sexism is ignored, and that’s horrible.

    But I take serious issue with the racism disclaimer as well. As you said, these shows are marketed TO KIDS. The racism disclaimer about historical significance might hold water if it were for some museum collection or project designed to be viewed by adults trained in rhetorical analysis, but I think it’s irresponsible to slap that label on a set of cartoons and hand it over to minds that are still trying to determine what they see in their CURRENT world, minds that are not yet prepared to identify, analyze, and contextualize the atrocities in the past in a subverted, cartoonish representation.

    • Balancing Jane,

      Yes! I agree. I was thinking with the blackface maybe the kids don’t get it? But then I thought people say that a lot about sexism, it’s “over their heads” and I disagree.

      MM

    • It should be noted that old-school “Looney Tunes” and “Tom and Jerry” wern’t specifically made with kids in mind. They were shown in theaters as fillers before the feature began, meaning it was meant to appeal to adults as well as kids on the side.

      Chuck Jones famously said “We weren’t making them for kids or for adults, we were making them for ourselves”.

      Because they were fillers, the executives (that’s not Disney) pretty much left them alone and didn’t give a crap, only that the cartoons are good.

      • JFL,

        The disclaimer an commentary obviously also seem to be geared towards adults, not kids. But kids watch. Also, the sexism in “Tom and Jerry”– boys are the stars, girls are the sidekicks if there at all, is a pattern consistent with kids films.

        MM

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