‘When the worst thing we say to a boy is he throws like a girl, we teach boys to disrespect the feminine and disrespect women’

I’ve blogged twice about the sexist preview for “Planes,” and after seeing the movie today, I’m afraid I’ve got to blog about this awful scene once more. The sexist scene actually opens the movie. It sets the tone for the whole film, which is the opposite of what I thought the scene was going to do. When I saw the preview, I thought the plane who mocks the slow flyers by calling them “ladies,” was having a moment of arrogance. The movie would redeem him when he went through his transition. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. The sexist joke is his fantasy, the fantasy of a humble crop duster with a fear of heights who wishes he were a racer. The scene is sexism in fantasy world in sexism in fantasy world. Isn’t that meta? It’s the dream sequence of a “likeable” character. Can you imagine a hero making a racist joke and being likeable? In a movie for little kids? Yet, that’s how much sexism we have to wade through before females are allowed to win a race in animation. Here’s the text/ preview, all voices are male:

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.

Today, in the New York Times, Frank Bruni writes about his discussion with Chris Kilmartin, author of “The Masculine Self.”

“We start boys off at a very early age,” Kilmartin told me during a recent phone conversation. “When the worst thing we say to a boy in sports is that he throws ‘like a girl,’ we teach boys to disrespect the feminine and disrespect women. That’s the cultural undercurrent of rape.”

“Planes” teaches kids just that, and that’s only the beginning of the movie.

Following the sexist fantasy in “Planes,” the narrative progresses exactly as “Turbo” does, the movie for kids that came out just a few weeks ago. Dusty, the male protagonist of “Planes,” is told by his friend he’ll never be a racer: “That’s not what you’re built for.” This is the same conversation Turbo has with his brother who tells him that because he’s a snail, he can’t race. But guess who proves the naysayers wrong, that the hero can do anything, soar to the highest heights, be brave, courageous, and make his dreams come true? Unless, of course, he happens to be a “lady.”

Today, if you see a movie for children, it will most often have a male protagonist, while females, who are, in fact, half of the kid population, are presented as if they were a minority. Within that minority, there will be a strong female or two who reviewers will invariably call “feisty.” I call these characters the “Minority Feisty.” The trope has evolved from the Smurfette principle in that there is often more than one, and she is presented as strong. But rarely is she the protagonist. Her power, lines, and screen time are carefully and consistently circumscribed to show that she is not as important as the male star. Still, the Minority Feisty is supposed to pacify parents, making them feel that, unlike those sexist films of yesteryear, this movie is contemporary and feminist.

There are strikingly similar Minority Feisty in “Planes” and “Turbo:” Dottie and Paz are both mechanics and both shown in blue. Isn’t that progressive? At first, I thought these mechanics were a coincidence. Then I realized that “female mechanic” is classic Minority Feisty. All the parents watching can think: look a female mechanic! Isn’t that wonderful? And then overlook that Dottie and Paz exist only to help the male hero accomplish his quest in movies that marginalize and demean females.

The actual race in “Planes” is totally dominated by male competitors. There are just two female racers: Ishani and Rochelle. “Turbo” has only one, and I missed her name. Both female racers in “Planes” are objects of lust for the males who have bigger parts. One scene is an extensive serenade/ mariachi sequence that sends Rochelle, the pink girl plane, into fits of desire. I thought I was going to throw up. Everyone else in the theater was laughing.

In both “Planes” and “Turbo,” there is an evil champion male rival who is the protagonist’s major competition. In “Planes,” he’s called Ripslinger, “the king of racing.” In “Turbo,” the role is filled by the macho Guy Gagne. Why not do something wild and crazy and put a female in the evil champion role? Dusty’s mentor, his major relationship in the movie, is also with, surprise, surprise, another male: Skipper. Turbo is guided to winning by Tito, a taco maker, who is also cursed with a brother who doesn’t believe in him but comes to see his gifts by the end of the movie. Nice parallel, huh?

There is actually a third movie about a competition this summer. “Monster University” is about rival fraternities. Rival fraternities. Not one of these movies shows kids that females can win. Even worse, as I began this post with, “Planes” mocks female competitors as losers.

Why do parents put up with this repeated sexism in movie after movie?

There’s an excellent post about “Smurfs 2,” yet another male dominated movie for kids that came out this summer, in The Atlantic: The Banal, Insidious, Sexism of Smurfette.

In The Smurfs 2, there are a lot of Smurfs. And they all have names based on their unique qualities. According to the cast list, the male ones are Papa, Grouchy, Clumsy, Vanity, Narrator, Brainy, Handy, Gutsy, Hefty, Panicky, Farmer, Greedy, Party Planner, Jokey, Smooth, Baker, Passive-Aggressive, Clueless, Social, and Crazy. And the female one is Smurfette–because being female is enough for her. There is no boy Smurf whose identifying quality is his gender, of course, because that would seem hopelessly limited and boring as a character.

These characters, originating as they did in mid-century Europe, exhibit the quaint sexism in which boys or men are generic people–with their unique qualities and abilities–while girls and women are primarily identified by their femininity. The Smurfs 2, which premiered last weekend and came in third at the box office, doesn’t upend the premise of Smurfette…Today, a blockbuster children’s movie can invoke 50-year-old gender stereotypes with little fear of a powerful feminist backlash.

 

The author doesn’t expand beyond “Smurfs 2″ as far as the sexism marketed to children in movies this summer, but the erasure of female characters is shockingly consistent. And shocking in that it’s not shocking. Not only is there no fear of powerful feminist backlash, when I write about this annihilation in kids’ movies, I often get comments like: You call yourself a feminist? Why don’t you write about something more important than cartoons? Who cares?

About the rape culture, author Kilmartin is paraphrased in the New York Times:

It’s not DNA we’re up against; it’s movies, manners and a set of mores, magnified in the worlds of the military and sports, that assign different roles and different worth to men and women. Fix that culture and we can keep women a whole lot safer.

Kids learn from what they see again and again and again. You can tell girls that they can be anything they want to be until you’re Smurfblue in the face, but if you don’t show them, your words are meaningless. Why not show kids more movies where powerful females win? A crop duster can win a flying race around the world and a snail can win the Indy 500, but a female can’t win anything? What does that teach children? That “you aren’t what you’re built to be” unless you’re built a girl. Suddenly, your options get pretty limited.

Why, I want to know, is the imaginary world, a place where anything should be possible, so sexist? Why aren’t more parents demanding gender equality for their kids during this crucial period in their lives?

Reel Girl rates “Planes” ***SS*** for gender stereotyping

Watch sexist previews for “Madagascar 3,“Pirates : Band of Misfits,” and “The Lorax.”

See Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing from Children’s Movies in 2013

 

 

9 thoughts on “‘When the worst thing we say to a boy is he throws like a girl, we teach boys to disrespect the feminine and disrespect women’

  1. Pingback: The One Big Lie Of Storytelling | Lynley Stace

  2. Part of the reason why there is a greater gender disparity among animal characters than human characters is that most of the female characters in fiction are human, even when the work of fiction has animals in its cast as well as humans. If the work of fiction has an all-animal cast, there are usually a few female animals in the cast, but if there are humans in the cast, the humans in the cast are usually closer to gender parity than the animals in the cast. If there is one or a few female characters in the human-and-animal cast, most or all of ther are going to be human.

    For example, most of the female characters in Cinderella are human, the female mice are few and minor in role, and the dog, cat, horse, and the main mice are all male. Among the human characters, the female ones play a more major role, but among the animal ones, only the male ones play a major role.

    In Ratatouille, all the female characters in the movie are human. The female rat, Celine, only shows up in two video games, the game based on the movie and Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure.

    Also, most of the Disney Princesses’ animal sidekicks are male because of the greater greater gender disparity among animal characters.

  3. There is an article from the Miami Herald called Animals to Hollywood: Get it Right. In the article, he proposes a rule for animal characters in the same vein as the Bechdel Test and your Magowan Test. One of the rules states that you should get the gender and gender ratio of the animals right. So, the snails in Turbo should’ve been a hermathrodite, the worker ants in A Bugs Life, Antz, and Ant Bully should’ve all been female, and Mooseblood the bloodsucking mosquito and worker bees in Bee Movie should’ve all been female. There were hornets in The Penguins of Madagascar who were portrayed as all male, but like ants and eusocial bees, all workers of eusocial wasp species are female.

    In most other species in real life, including the human species, the sexes (male and female) are evenly distributed. Some species, like gorillas, donkeys, toads, turkeys, zebras, and walruses, are shown disproportionately male in fiction. Other species, like rabbits, cows, foxes, mice, chickens, and cats, show a fair number of female characters when it come to gender representation in fiction.

    So, when the major players of a movie, whether animal, human, or both, are either all male or follow the Smurfette Principle (one female in a group of three or more males) or Minority Feisty (can be more than female character, but females are still in the minority), you’re getting nature and the world wrong in a very major way.

    Animals to Hollywood: Get it Right link: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/16/3566729/animals-to-hollywood-get-it-right.html

    • Hi Nebbie,

      I created my own Magowan Test based on Bechdel. Bechdel doesnt really work for little kids. The Magowan test is: (1) At least two females who are friends (2) go on an adventure (3) and don’t wear revealing clothing.

      Margot

  4. In Japan, there is a show for kids called Super Sentai, with new story and character every year since 1975. The Power Ranger are based on this show, and apart from one year, there is always at least a woman between the heroes. And, lately, two women in 5-people teams. Not perfect, but not so bad. This year there is only one woman, in a 5-people team, because this year they are supposed to be very strong, and more than one strong woman is not realistic (in a show with ancient robot dinosaurs). Not only that, there is not a character with the color yellow, because:
    “Seeing how modern Yellows have been female, we couldn’t have a male Yellow. If the Yellow was a male, the kids would probably think is feminine and we wanted to avoid that”
    http://henshinjustice.com/2013/02/18/why-there-is-no-kyoryuyellow/
    So, the girls can have adventures, but they can’t be as good as the males. And they have to wear pink.

  5. I have all sorts of problems with Disney’s current crop of writers. It goes far beyond sexism. Watch Disney’s tween lineup and just try to keep up with the number of incidents of dishonesty and disrespectful interchanges, all to a jolly laugh track. And so our kids learn that it’s okay to act that way, as long as it’s for a laugh, and we wonder why society ends up as it is.

    And go all the way back to Cars 2. We saw that the summer that it came out, the week after we saw Mr. Popper’s Penguins. MPP was rated PG for poop jokes, except that just about every 3 year old makes poop jokes and everybody poops. Cars 2 was rated G, despite the fact that it featured a James Bond-type plot, complete with assassinations and abductions. If the same movie had been made with actual people instead of anthropomorphized cars, it would have been rated R. My complaints to Pixar and the MPAA went unanswered.

    So, wake up call, Disney writers! You’re writing for impressionable children. It’s not funny or acceptable for them to sass their parents. It’s dishonest, and may even be fraud, to lie about your circumstances in order to get free things. Violence is never okay for kids to watch. It’s not okay to insinuate to them that women are lesser than men.

  6. The female Minority Feisty snail in Turbo goes by the name Burn.

    Do you think that there were more female protagonists and significant female characters in 90s cartoons than in cartoons and movies since 2003 or not?

    For example, the 90s TV show, Animaniacs had Dot Warner, Slappy Squirrel, Mindy, Katie Kaboom, Rita the cat, Marita Hippo, and Minerva Mink as its female protagonists. The comics had Hello Nurse as a main protagonist as well. A fair number of the minor characters are female as well.

    Slappy is not only one of the few elderly protagonists in cartoons, she is also one of the very few female ones as well.

    Rita the female cat and Runt the male dog were both main characters of equal importance in all episodes featuring them except “Kiki’s Kitten.” In that episode, Rita, not Runt, was the main character. The antagonist gorilla, Kiki, and the mean alley cat are also female.

    By the way, the episode “Kiki’s Kitten” features one of the few female gorillas in cartoons. Most gorillas in fiction are male. Two other female gorillas in animated works include Terk and Kala from Disney’s Tarzan.

    • Hi Nebbie,

      In the post, I was referring to the female racer in the Indy 500, not Burn, who is, indeed, a Minority Fesity in “Turbo.”

      I didn’t have kids in the 90s and wasn’t watching this stuff, but Genna Davis Institute stats show its getting worse for females in kids media. Yous are definitely more gender segregated than ever. Part of this is due to the mass production of the same narratives with apps, games etc.

      Margot