‘Monster University’ sidelines females in plot about rival fraternities

When Pixar writers (Robert Baird, Daniel Gerson, Dan Scalon) showed the script for “Monster University” to producers, or execs at Disney, or whoever you go to up and down the chain of command to get the green light, did it occur to anyone, anyone at all, that making a movie about rival fraternities might make girls, half of the kid population, feel a tad ignored?

Here’s a pic of OK, the geek fraternity on campus, featuring our buddy-stars: Mike and Sully. “Monster University” centers on this group.

OK

Here are the rivals of OK, the BMOC frat, ROR, led by Johnny Worthington, the one with the horns.

ROR

Rival frats. I am not kidding. That’s what this movie is about. So here on Reel Girl, I don’t have to even analyze or point out how or why this narrative is sexist. After watching it, I’ve got to conclude that in spite of the token “Brave,” Disney/ Pixar really doesn’t give a shit about including females in its narratives in a significant way.

Like most animated movies today that star males, “Monster University” features an excellent Minority Feisty. Dean Hardscrabble is played by Helen Mirren, and she is a bad ass, terrifying and complex. I loved her. I wish she had more lines and more scenes.

Monsters+University

What do you think the chances are that Dean Hardscrabble will get her own spin off movie? (Sort of like how Puss In Boots got his own movie after no less than 3 Shrek movies.) Perhaps Hardscrabble will get a prequel, like “Monster University,” where we see how she grows up, changes from a scared little kid into the fierce and powerful monster she is? Along with the help of a courageous and devoted team of females, of course. See that film coming soon to a theater near you?

I’m also a fan of the librarian, a Minority Feisty who has a brief but impressive part.

Librarian2

Another Minority Feisty I liked is Claire Wheeler, the Greek Council President.

MU-Greek-Council-Claire-Crop

Claire isn’t fabulous, but she can be funny. She doesn’t do anything stupid or offensive.That area is totally covered with the look, name, and poses of the PNK (get it?) sorority: pink and purple, mini-skirted, furry boot wearing girls. I dread the toys and sippy cups.

Monsters-university-PNK

“Monster University” is all about a competition but you hardly notice or care when females get eliminated, as they all do. We don’t get a chance to get attached to any of the female competitors.

There is a cooler sorority, HSS. Its role in the movie is even smaller than PNK, and it gets eliminated earlier. Again, the event is hardly noticed except that Mike and Sully’s frat advances.

Monsters-University-HSS

A Minority Feisty I hated? Ms. Squibbles, Squishy’s mom. Throughout the movie, she is shown in curlers and a housecoat, cooking, doing laundry, or driving a minivan.Think the “Ms.” is feminist? Nope, the moniker is to elucidate her single status. I didn’t think Pixar could get any more gender cliched, but at the end of the movie, Ms. Squibbles actually gets engaged (to her son’s frat brother, no less.)

monsters-university-mothers-day-disney-pixar

Before the movie even starts, Ms. Squibbles shows up in an ad for Swiffer. That’s right– a cleaning product. All the males are sitting on the couch watching football when a hot dog with ketchup gets dropped on the floor and Squishy says: “You guys, my mom just cleaned this place!” The ad could be worse, I suppose. Squishy cleans up the ketchup himself, and Ms. Squibbles dirties the floor up again cheering the team. It’s got that tiny speck of feminism within a sexist framework that we’re supposed to be grateful for. Here’s the ad.

I haven’t seen any Minority Feisty from the movie pictured on posters around San Francisco, where I live. Most show Mike, but some show Mike and Sully. The Leapfrog educational games also feature Mike and Sully.

monsters-university-movie-poster

I’m bottom feeding for images to be grateful for in “Monster University,” but I found a few. There are pink and purple male monsters in this movie. There are also male monsters with eyelashes. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell if a monster was male or female until she spoke, a highly unusual situation for an animated movie, even one about cars or robots or planes or fish or monsters, of course. Thanks a lot, Pixar/ Disney. My three daughters and I are super grateful.

Reel Girl rates “Monster University” ***SS*** for gender stereotyping

27 thoughts on “‘Monster University’ sidelines females in plot about rival fraternities

  1. Pingback: Monsters University: Glass Half-Full | The Achilles Effect

  2. Hi Margot,

    I know this is very very much off-topic. but I can’t find anywhere else to address this issue. This is an issue that many feminists have: slut-shaming and femmephobia. I know that yes, you hate gender stereotyping. I hate them too, but gender stereotypes are cultural norms of specific time periods. So basically, modern day definitions of femininity and masculinity are just modern day definitions. Stigmatising anything associated with women is not feminism, it does not fight against gender stereotyping. It just fuels animosity between women, if anti-feminine women believe themselves to be superior to women who conform to gender stereotypes. Especially when women who wear make-up, skimpy clothing, and high heels are shamed for doing so. If that if what they enjoy wearing, so let them be. In fact, slut-shaming to closely tied to victim blaming in rape culture. The misogynist attitude that women who are scantily clad deserve to be raped for wearing “provocative” clothing in the first place. Is is sexism if women can’t have the freedom to wear what they like without being victimised. Slut-shaming and femmephobia are forms of internalised misogyny, that even feminists can be potential perpetrators of them if they’re ignorant. These would be better explained with the links below:

    http://parrotbeak.tumblr.com/post/50359020333/dear-merida-supporters
    http://parrotbeak.tumblr.com/post/51711227574/valkyrieeira24-fawnthefeminist-in-all
    http://parrotbeak.tumblr.com/post/53832126566/kinkyturtle-avri-wallflower-sourcedumal
    http://parrotbeak.tumblr.com/post/32753013976/if-you-choose-not-to-participate-in-the-trend-of
    http://yourfaveisproblematic.tumblr.com/post/45761093757/taylor-swift (Something extra about Taylor Swift)

  3. I was thinking a little more about this post after I found it from the link on Feministing, and I came up with some ideas that Pixar could have used that maybe would have been less stereotypical and included more female characters.
    One option Pixar could have taken was having co-ed fraternities/sororities. The sorority I was a member of is co-ed and I have several “mister sisters.” The fraternity that we often worked jointly with is also co-ed so my big and little brothers are, in fact, women. I know co-ed greek organizations are not very common, but they do exist.
    Pixar also could have had them be members of rival clubs, rather than greek organizations. I can understand why they did go greek with the film being set at a college though. I haven’t seen the movie, but maybe groups from different colleges could have worked as well.

    • Hi Beth,

      I love that you are thinking up alternatives. This is exactly what we should be doing, coming up with new ideas instead of getting stuck in this recycled sludge. I also love your idea of co-ed frat/ sororities. Movies, toys, clothing are already so gender segregated, the fact that Pixar chose a gender segregated narrative drives me bats.

      Margot

  4. I absolutely agree that there should be more female centered media for our children (and us as well). That said, Monsters Inc. was about Mike and Sully. How would you expect a prequel to be about anyone other than Mike and Sully? OF COURSE this movie’s main characters were male. It is a prequel to an already made movie about 2 males. Supporting or not, I loved that the greatest scarer of all time who was revered tremendously was none other than Helen Mirren. The 2 sororities were indeed stereotypes. That said, the 2 fraternities (other than the one of misfits) were stereotypical jocks and preppies. If they HAD to stereotype, at least it went both ways. That wasn’t cool either, but at least they didn’t pick on the girls. I’m just sayin’. I didn’t find the plot offensive in the least. I was involved in the greek system and, no, much of what went on was certainly not fodder for a children’s movie. Pixar chose to focus on the goal of going to college, studying hard, and the comraderie that can come from collegiate social organizations. It was G rated for sure. My girls left asking if people college was really that great. I guess I’m just saying that we should fight to get more characters in our media like Merida, not look for something to pick on in Mike and Sully. It didn’t lift girls up, but it didn’t tear them down either. I’m going to choose to pick my battles on this issue and this one isn’t it. Almost dillutes the argument in my opinion when you turn everything that isn’t “Brave” into a disappointment and a battle. Lighten up on this one.

    • Hi Robin,

      If the buddy-male protagonists of “Monster University” didn’t dominate the pattern of movies for kids, or even if it were half, I would have no problem with it. Every movie can’t be Merida, but Merida is the ONLY female protagonist Pixar has ever had in a movie! Yes, “Monster Inc” was Mike and Sully, but if we keep saying “Well, that movie left out girls, so it ‘makes sense’ that this one would too’ this sexist ratio will continue for 700 more years, according to the Geena Davis Intsitute. The issue of the sexist series/ sequel is the point I was making about 3 Shrek movies (male protag) and then the spin off is Puss In Boots! Yes, the Helen Mirren character is great but the definition of a Minority Feisty. Her presence is supposed to make us not care that once again, the film lacks a female protagonist.

      Margot

  5. Pingback: “In Defense Of…”: Why Some People Don’t Need Defending | (The) Absolute

  6. Pingback: Weekly Feminist Reader

  7. Male characters are sidelined in female-dominated movies, too. So what? I find other things wrong with this movie than just that. This movie promotes male stereotypes as well as female ones. I don’t see anything permanently damaging about it, but it seems lazy to me. Like, writers you couldn’t come up with anything better than that? Don’t you think the whole frat boy rivalry cliche is played out, and further- doesn’t really have a place in kids’ movies? I was looking forward to seeing this movie, but the horrendous plot- not the sexism- convinced me not to.

    • Hi fourth,

      Female characters are allowed to dominate in the Pink Ghetto, media made only for girls, whereas movies where males dominate are considered mainstream and for everyone. Girls are trained to watch and listen to stories about boys but boys are not trained to listen to and watch stories about girls. All kids learn that males are more important than females.

      I agree the story is lazy. I am so sick of it and bored by it. Its totally cliche and unoriginal.

      Margot

  8. Hello,
    I would still love to take my son (10) to see it, as he LOved the original M.I.
    What kind of dialogue would you recommend before/after the movie to encourage him to not just enjoy his viewing experience, (he is a kid after all), but also to think critically about it. I strongly believe in teaching our kids about messages in the media and have done so with him since he was small. As being a consumer is inevitable, I want him to be an aware and conscious one :)
    Thanks
    S

    • Hi S,

      I wrote up this list of questions to ask your kids for the blog at Ms

      http://msmagazine.com/blog/2011/11/29/14-questions-to-ask-in-choosing-a-movie-for-your-kids/

      Before I took my three daughters, I said: Pay attention to what girls are doing and what the boys are doing, are all the girls pink? Are they brave? Are they leaders?

      I totally get wanting to take your kids to the movies and I try to teach mine to be critical, I think they are great at that now, even my 4 year old. Though I really, really wish there were not so many “teachable moments” and that they were able to see more irls being strong, brave, leaders,a nd protagonists.

      Margot

  9. I agree with Margot about Miyazaki films. I’m pleased to show them to my girls. His worlds are very gender-balanced. Very rarely are there true villians. I love all of his films. So good, and they always leave you with positive feelings. He is also great at capturing the innocence of childhood in very whimsical ways. I just love his characters.

  10. Whoever wrote this has wayyyy too much time on their hands. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. I’m taking my little girl to see this and I’m pretty sure she won’t feel “left out” lol so stupid

    • Hi Rose,

      Your daughter may not notice girls are sidelined because she is so used to seeing girls go missing, it seems normal. Do you think you or your kids would notice how many girls there were in a mainstream movie that featured brave female buddies and rival sororities? It would be a stand out.

      Margot

  11. I’m very disheartened about all of this. My nearly 3-year-old son LOVES Monsters, Inc, and I was thinking about taking him to Monsters University as his first theater experience. But I don’t want him getting used to a fantasy world where girls don’t exist, even though there is already a dearth of girls in all of his favorite movies: Cars, Up, Wall-e, Shrek, and so on. I was really encouraging him to like the Incredibles (which he did for a time) despite it being a little more violent/scary than I’d like, because it featured Helen–a mom who was also a complete badass who was intelligent, resourceful, powerful, and loving. But I would love to see movies give my kid a little girl who is a complete badass so he can see how a “peer” handles challenges. (One of the reasons why I love Boo in Monsters Inc).

    In some ways, I thought being the feminist parent of boys (our second son is due in the fall) would be a little easier. But that would only be the case if I just wanted my sons to grow up ignorant of their male privilege. No, I don’t have to combat the Cinderella Ate My Daughter issue (although I’d kind of like to get my kids some Barbies as a subversive act, considering how much my son enjoyed dressing and undressing the dolls belonging to a female playmate), but I can’t just let male privilege go unremarked if I want my boys to be feminists. I have to remember that feminist parenting is constant work, whether you have daughters or sons.

      • Hi Erin,

        I am angry that females are hardly ever allowed to be protagonists in movies for kids. Is calling me angry about this supposed to insult me? Women aren’t supposed to be angry? Or moms aren’t supposed to be angry? Or I’m not supposed to get angry about something as trivial as a cartoon? If it were just one cartoon, I wouldn’t be, but its a repetitive pattern that teaches kids that boys are more important than girls.

        Margot

      • Frankly, I’m more worried that the little girl I nanny is four and already thinks she “isn’t supposed” to play with cars or go see Star Wars than that @Erin is worried about raising her boys to respect women.
        I think preschool is a little young to believe it’s an actual rule that “girls can only be in pink movies.” And it seriously concerns me that media companies are at best too lazy to consider the impact of only creating good female characters in “pink movies.”
        If you ask me, @Erin isn’t “just” an angry woman, she’s a “justly” angry woman.

    • Hi Emily,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Boys also lose out from these gender stereotypes and it really sucks that are kids see them all the time. Have you tried showing your son Miyazaki? What I did with my kids is I just put it on even though they protested and once it started, they loved it.

      Margot

    • Hi emily,

      It’s so important to show boys movies about strong girls– and books, TV, games, etc. So happy you are making an effort. It’s why gender segregating girl empowerment won’t overcome stereotypes either. I wrote this to you on Reel Girl’s Facebook page but try showing your sons Miyazaki, his films are so great. Just put in on, even if he protests and he will be totally into it very soon.

      Margot

    • You are absolutely right. We can’t stop at seeing, it takes a lot of dedication to follow through and bring these issues to light for our children too, girls and boys both. When they know better they can do better.