Females 51% of population but minority of imaginary characters and real life power positions

Until early this year, there was just one lone female M & M. The green one.

Then just before the Superbowl Time Magazine reported on the debut of another, bringing the female-male ratio to 1: 3:

“M&Ms already has characters based on the other colors in its candy rainbow (red, yellow, blue, orange and green), but until now the candy has gone largely male-centric. Green has been the lone female. Brown will join her, with high heels in full view.”

I suppose we grateful she’s not Mrs. Brown and that she’s wearing glasses. I hope with those pumps that it’s before Labor day.

Unfortunately, M & Ms are just another product where female characters are not only sexualized but presented as a minority.

Here’s a Goldfish package from Pepperidge Farm showing three males and one female.

Here’s a new set of LEGO minifigs. Harley Quinn, on the far left and not shown in her underwear is also female, making the ratio four males to two females. In the whole set, I count three times as many males as females.

In her film, Miss Representation, Jennifer Siebel Newsom argues that there’s a connection between sexualized images of women in the media and lack of women in power positions.

I agree with this, but it goes beyond sexualized images. It’s images at all. The imaginary world has done something really scary. Females are 51% of the population, but in cartoon images marketed to kids, except for the pink ghetto, females are presented as a minority. This illusion is dangerous, because it normalizes the lack of females. We expect it and accept it.

We’ve become so used to seeing females presented as a minority that we hardly notice it anymore. We don’t question it. Even worse, our kids don’t.

Look at this poster for “Arthur Christmas:”

It’s typical of movies made for kids for males to star and also to represent the majority of characters.

The lack of female characters exists in most products marketed to kids whether its toy characters, cereal boxes, or animated films.

Here are some stats from the Geena Davis Institute on the lack of girls in animated films. Here is Reel Girl’s Gallery on Girl Gone Missing From Kids Movies in 2011.

Do you think the lack of female imaginary characters could have anything to do with what Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg calls the aspiration or ambition gap between boys and girls?

The other place in America besides the imaginary world where females truly are a minority? Leadership positions. In almost all professions in the top positions, women don’t make it past 16%. Here are stats on that.

Could the lack of females in these two worlds be connected?

Why do you think in imaginary worlds created for kids– worlds populated by singing lions who befriend warthogs, rats who cook, and toys who come to life, worlds where anything should be possible– females are restricted to a minority? Why does the lack of females in the imaginary world, of all places, reflect the same lack of females as in power positions? How do you think this gender gap affecting kids imaginations and aspirations? Why are we allowing this gender gap to happen?

8 thoughts on “Females 51% of population but minority of imaginary characters and real life power positions

  1. I would imagine that is a self reinforcing loop at this point.

    When we were kids almost all of the cartoon characters were boys so boys and girls that were around them grew up to create more or less new versions of what they had grown up with.

    Also, in the ’80’s the cartoons aimed at girls were sort of unwatchable for boys, my litlle pony was bad enough that it became a joke in the male dominated tech culture. (The tech news site slashdot has an “OMG Ponies” theme that they traditionally run April 1st.)

    I suspect that in order for this to change there needs to be Frank Baum type person that is determined to make a new set of myths for children.

    Boys don’t seem to have any trouble reading Tamara Pierce’s Lioness quartet books, even though they frequently get listed in lists of best books for girls.

    You are probably right that this is just laziness.

    • Hi Visitor,

      totally agree…since doing Reel Girl, I have come to believe it comes down to creating narratives with strong, powerful, smart, active, choicemaker girls. I am writing a middle grade book. I would love to be Frank Baum. I have not read Tamara peierce yet but I am looking forward to it. I have bought a couple of her books.


  2. Ya know… I personally think if the child is interested in a movie, it shouldn’t matter what gender the movie is “marketed” to. I just went to see Ghost Rider – my daughter and I loved it, as did my husband – but my son talked through the whole thing. That’s very much a “guy” movie. It looks, however, like I’ll be seeing the Lorax movie when it comes out on DVD, because neither child is interested.

    Alice in Wonderland, however – Johnny Depp aside – is very much about a strong female – and my entire family has watched it multiple times. We still love it.

    What it comes down to is this: We have to push our daughters to make their own choices, and the same with our sons.

    Re the Legos… I always threw out the little people when I was younger – they annoyed me. I wanted to put my Weebles, my Barbies, my little green soldiers in my creations – forget their ideas of people.

  3. I agree. People just assume that if girls don’t show up as much in media, must be because they don’t want to, I mean, after all the world has always been fair right?

  4. One arguement I always hear is that girls simply prefer to see boys or have no problem seeing them get all spotlight, but boys on the other hand, rather see other boys. So the media is just really giving everyone what they want. To counter that, I made a list of male lead movies vs female lead movies, with their respective main characters (listed all the male for the male lead movies, and all the females for the female lead movies). It is clear from the number count alone that it’s not the same thing for a boy to decide not to care for girl characters and for a girl to do the same with boys, like you mentioned yourself, girls would have to stay in a pink ghetto.

    If you want, I can send you a link.

    • Hi Aninha,

      I think that reason is total bullshit. Girls don’t mind seeing boys because they are trained to and their options are limited. All kids are self-centered and want to see themselves reflected. Also, the female parts are often stupid i.e. Friends LEGO. Finally, parents sexism makes it OK to take girls to “boy” movies but not to take boys to “girl” movies, combined with the stupid female roles. And finally, finally– why would parents let 5 year old boys determine that 5 year old girls are not allowed to be represented in movies??? Give me a break!


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