This year, children will get to see Smurfs 2:
See that lone, blonde Smurfette surrounded by 5 male Smurfs?
This is a poster for just one of 21 children’s movie posters coming out in 2013. All but 4 movies for young kids feature male protagonists. Of the “female-centric” films, “Dorothy of Oz” lists 7 famous male actors at the top of its poster. “Epic” shows the female protagonist surrounded males. Only two movies with female protagonists are titled for the female while 10 of the 16 movies with male protagonists are titled for the male star. Please look at Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013. It looks like this year will be the worst one for female characters in movies for young kids since I started Reel Girl.
Back in 1991, feminist critic Katha Pollitt wrote about the ‘Smurfette principle‘ for the New York Times: the idea that kids’ narratives too often allow just one lone female character to exist in a group of males.
Here is the “progress” 22 year later: girls are half of the kid population, but in movies for young children, females are presented as a minority. If you see an animated film today, it’s likely to include one or two strong female characters who reviewers will call “feisty.” In “How to Train Your Dragon,” Astrid; in “Toy Story,” Jessie; in “Ratatouille,” Colette. She’s supposed to make us feel like the movie is contemporary and feminist, unlike those sexist films of yesteryear. She is the Minority Feisty.
The problem is that because Pixar or Disney has so magnanimously thrown in this “feisty” female (who may even have some commentary about sexism or male domination) we’re no longer supposed to care that almost all of the other characters in the film are male, including the star who the movie is often titled for and usually his best buddy as well. The crowd scenes in the film are also made up of mostly males.
There can be 1, 2, or 3 Minority Feisty in a children’s film. (The term is like “fish,” it can be singular or plural.) Whatever the number, the gender ratio will heavily favor male characters.
Parents, the next time you watch a children’s movie, try not to let the “feminist” character(s) distract you. Except for the pink ghetto, in children’s films females are presented as a minority. This is the definition of marginalized. When your children go to the movies, they learn that boys are more important and get to do more things than girls.
On tvtropes.org, a link to my blog described the Minority Feisty as “essentially a more modern take on the Smurfette Principle.” In response, someone protested: “the term Minority usually points to racial minority as opposed to gender.”
Exactly. Females are not a minority, yet they are presented as one in films for children. Why?
Here is an interesting correlation: 16% of protagonists in movies are female. All across America, in most professions, women at the top don’t make it past 16%. Children’s movies normalize an entire new generation to a world where females go missing.
See “Pixar’s female problem: Please stop asking ‘What about Jessie?,” a great post by Peggy Orenstein on the Minority Feisty issue