Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2012

I’ve been avoiding writing this post. I knew that female characters in children’s movies were not faring well in 2012. Not in number and not in stature. But I kept hoping. Hoping that somehow, before January, something would change, a slew of movies were going to appear from nowhere, stats would magically shift.

Yes, we got “Brave” this year. Thank you director Brenda Chapman for making Pixar’s first movie ever with a female protagonist. I’m sorry that you, one of the only women to direct animated movies produced by a major studio, were fired half way through production and replaced with a male director.

But “Brave” is just one movie. The exception proves the rule. It’s December now, and sadly, it’s time for me to admit that once again, in the movies made for children in 2012, girls go missing. In staggering proportions, males are consistently front and center; females are mostly sidelined or not there at all.

If you look at the gender placement in the images on the movie posters below, the meaning of “marginalized” couldn’t be more clear. Remember, these are movie for kids. So when your children go to the movies, they are learning, time and time again, that boys are more important than girls.

For those of you who say there are alternative posters that I didn’t put in Reel Girl’s Gallery, you may find them on Google images, but these are the ones I saw all around San Francisco. Even if you find a poster on Google featuring, say, Tooth, the one female Guardian out of five (a typical gender ratio, by the way) that’s a pretty pathetic argument for her relevance.

For those of you who say the posters below do not reflect the movie, that the movie has a strong female in it, maybe even two, maybe three, you are, most likely, referring to the Minority Feisty. No matter how many Minority Feisty there are in an animated film, they are represented as a minority. The irony is, of course, that females are not a minority, not a special interest, not even a fringe group. Females are, in fact, half of the population. Girls are half of the kid population. Why aren’t they represented that way in movies made for children?

I call the Minority Feisty “Feisty” because that is, invariably, the adjective reviewers use to describe the “strong” female character in an animated film. “Feisty” is diminutive. It is what you call someone who plays at being powerful, not someone who is actually powerful. Would you ever call Superman “feisty?” How would he feel if you did?

The role of the Minority Feisty, like a cheerleader or First Lady, is to help the male star along on his important quest. Children need to see females front and center, as protagonists, as the heroes of their own stories.

Finally, even apart from the movie, these posters– and ads– are their own media. Whether or not your kid goes to the movie, she sees these posters everywhere. The movie poster is one of the reasons that I was so thrilled about “Brave.” Finally, San Francisco was papered with an image a daring girl, an image marketed to kids. Obviously, the biggest impact of a narrative is made when kids get to know the character through the movie and then see that character on clothing, food packaging, and toys.

As you look at these posters, imagine the reverse, the gender ratio and the character placement, switched; the movie’s title reflecting the female star. Would you do a double take? How many of us grown-ups don’t even notice the dominance of male characters anymore? How many of us experience the annihilation of females as totally normal, not to mention adorable and child-appropriate?

There is no good reason for the imaginary world to be sexist. Or is there?

Only 16% of protagonists in movies are female; only 16% of women make it into power positions in almost all professions across America. Children’s movie posters, and of course the movies themselves, are an effective way that we acclimate a new generation to expect and accept a world where females go missing.

Out of the 16 posters for children’s movies in 2012 pictured below, just 4 represent movies starring females: “Mirror, Mirror,” “Brave,” “Secret World of Arietty” and “Big Miracle.” The “Big Miracle” poster diminishes Drew Barrymore pretty effectively. I loved “Arrietty,” as I love every Studio Ghibli film, but was surprised to see the boy so big on the poster.

I did not include YA movies, my three daughters are ages 3, 6, and 9. I’m not including “Oogieloves” because it’s an interactive song/ dance film, though it really annoys me that out of 7 Oogieloves, just 2 are female. I did not include “Toys in the Attic,” the dubbed Czeck stop-action film from 2009, because it is really creepy, disturbing, and not recommended for young kids.

Here’s the Gallery:


Related posts:

Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2011

The curse of the Minority Feisty in kids’ movies

Pixar’s female problem: Please stop asking ‘What about Jessie?” (Great post by Peggy Orenstein on the Minority Feisty issue)


23 thoughts on “Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2012

  1. One thing to notice is that the females in the posters don’t look straight at the viewer, why is that? Or that’s just in this particular gallery?

  2. I really love this post. Especially this sentence “Children’s movie posters, and of course the movies themselves, are an effective way that we acclimate a new generation to expect and accept a world where females go missing.”

    Just to push the issue a little farther, I wonder if there is a steady trend in this kind of gender representation. Are there high points and low points that have some correlation with societal trends? Is there a steady increase/decrease in the number of significant female roles in children’s film?. I grew up during the Disney Renaissance, and despite the issues you could certainly take up with those movies, there wasn’t a lack of female representation. I’ve heard Wreck It Ralph described as a means of pushing back against the Disney princess stereotype of Disney animated films, basically an attempt to draw in a male demographic. Could we see a trend of animated children’s films directed towards boys as a similar attempt to push back against a perceived gender imbalance? Though, personally, I always find perceived gender imbalances that favor women a suspect argument.

    I was recently reading a NY times article on women in film. Picking up one of the threads of that article, it’s interesting how Disney princesses are seen as a niche but Pixar films with their mainly male protagonists are seen as four-quadrant films that tell universal stories.

    • Hi Cat,

      “It’s interesting how Disney princesses are seen as a niche but Pixar films with their mainly male protagonists are seen as four-quadrant films that tell universal stories.”



  3. Have you considered that in “The Secret World of Arrietty,” the girl in question is less than 3 inches tall, and the boy is a regular human? There’s a reason for the disparity.

    • Hi Eriansaint,

      Yes, I see that having the boy big “makes sense,” but that is so often the reason given why girls are margianzlized, it’s “accurate.” That’s why, for example, there are no pirate girls in a pirate movie. With this imagem they could’ve done the poster just with Arrietty. There is, in fact, a poster like that I found on Google, though I never saw it anywhere in real life.


    • Hi Ian,

      I agree “Wreck-It Ralph strayed from gender stereotypes and I loved that. I posted 2 blogs on the movie and the gender matrix. Studio Ghibli came out with “Arrietty” this year and you comment made me realize I posted the wrong draft, and it is corrected so thank you!


    • You maybe right, but if you look at the poster it seems to gear towards boys by how there are none of the female charcters (Calhoun and Vanelloe) featured.

      • Hi Jen,

        there is another poster with a small Vanellope (I know, I know, she IS small, and Ralph is big, the poster is just “accurate”) and a small Calhoun, Clearly, on that poster, Ralph is front and center as well.

        It is pretty amazing to me that all of the “bad guys” and bad “guys” on this poster. Can you imagine that ratio gender reversed? In the movie, there is one bad female but she has no lines!


  4. I don’t spend a lot of time with kids, so this is disappointing news. Thanks for sharing. Here’s one thought I had: isn’t it interesting how when there are girls in lead roles (as in Brave), their purpose is to “be a strong female woman in an oppressive patriarchal society”? One would imagine that women could play other lead roles, like, say, being a pirate, or raising the dead, or fighting dragons. I know I do.

    • Hi Hannah,

      Yes, I HATE that. I mean, once in a while its OK, but this is the FANTASY world. Why not SHOW gender equality?


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