Every time I see a poster around town advertising the upcoming animated movie “Planes,” my heart sinks. A couple months ago, I posted the sexist preview for the movie on Reel Girl where the fastest plane refers to the slower planes as “ladies.” Here’s part of the dialogue:
Plane One: What’s taking this guy so long? Is he really as good as he says he is?
Plane Two: No, better.
Plane One: Whoa! Who was that?
Plane Three: (Descending fast on top of the other two) Well, hello ladies. Ready to lose?
Plane Three goes on to leave the “ladies” in the dust. There are no female characters in this preview at all.
Here it is if you’d like to watch for yourself. You may want to ask your children to leave the room.
The message to kids who watch this mini-movie is that females are losers, not leaders. They can’t compete. Why does my 4 year old have to see a movie made for children where characters are mocked as female to indicate their inferiority?
Is the justification for this sexism that it’s just “true:” the fastest men in the world are faster than the fastest women, and my daughter should know that? The joke “makes sense,” it’s “realistic.” Is it also realistic that planes talk to each other? Why, when it comes to sexism, do people suddenly become so concerned about realism?
Here’s the problem with the repeated pattern of sexism in movies for kids. Narratives involve a hero who goes through challenges to reach a goal. Every kid– and every person– is the hero of her own life. At the most basic level, heroes act, make choices, and take risks. Narratives (and art in general) inspires us. Maybe my daughter’s big risk today will be reaching out for that elusive fourth monkey bar, trying a potsticker for the first time, or telling another kid to stop teasing her. Any of those acts will feel huge to her, just as sitting down at my desk and starting the next chapter of my novel feels huge to me. If I were to show my emotion, I might put myself at the foot of Mount Everest. Narratives are metaphors. They aren’t just a life compacted, but a moment, expanded. Sexism has no part in that story, especially as a repeated pattern, marketed to little kids, where males, again and again, are font and center, while females get stuck in supporting roles, on the sidelines.