Yesterday, when my three daughters and I went to see “Minions,” two lingering questions I’ve had– are they really all male and if so, how did they come into being– were answered.
So, yes, now I know: the minions are all boys. When I’ve complained in the past about the utter lack of female minions, commenters responded that they’re “genderless.” In kidworld, where everything from robots to cars to planes are assigned a gender, I doubted this was the case, but I watched the new movie carefully just in case I was mistaken, that the minions were an exception to this rule. Guess what? Not only does every minion mentioned have a male name, but they are also repeatedly referred to as boys with lines delivered like: “Growing boy creatures need their strength” or “Good luck in there, boys!” or “Buckle up, boys!” So, please don’t waste your time emailing me that a 6 year old kid won’t notice what gender these creatures are.
Now, for question #2. The movie opens with a scene where the minions seem to evolve from amoeba like creatures that come out of the sea. Clearly, no female is involved in their reproduction. A male narrator describes their creation story and also how and why minions came to be: to serve an evil master. As evolution continues on the screen, we hear the narrator introduce “man.” We then see a caveman, followed by a series of other male leaders including a pharaoh and Napoleon. Around this point in the movie one of the minions, I think it was Bob, emerges from the sea wearing a pair of starfish on his chest in the first of several breast/ female jokes. Another minion sees Bob and quips: “He’s an idiot.”
Right after the narrator assures us this is going to be the same old, same old narrative we always see where one male saves the world, announcing: “One minion had a plan and his name was Kevin” I turned to my oldest daughter, who is 11. I told her I had to take a bathroom break and to watch for any female character who speaks, as none had come into the movie yet at all. My daughter responded, “Mama, the villain is a girl.” She was referring to Scarlet Overkill who she was familiar with from the many, many previews we saw of the movie. I, too, had high hopes for Scarlett even though as the only main female character in the movie, I was pretty sure she would be limited by the narrative to a Minority Feisty role.
For those who aren’t familiar with Reel Girl, Minority Feisty is the term I’ve assigned female characters in children’s movies. These females are “strong” and therefore often referred to as “feisty” by reviewers. “Feisty” is a sexist adjective. A reviewer would not label a male character, such as Superman “feisty.” “Feisty” refers to someone who isn’t really strong but plays at being strong. “Feisty” isn’t a real threat to any power structure. The Minority Feisty can refer to one or more female characters in a movie, the point being that though there can be more than one, females are shown as a minority population. The Minority Feisty represents our slow, slow, slow progress from the Smurfette Principle, a term coined by feminist writer Katha Pollitt. The Minority Feisty serves to pacify parents, so we can sigh in relief and say to ourselves: “There’s a strong female or two, this movie is feminist!” And thus, we’re all supposed to ignore and forget that girls– half of the kid population– are reduced to a tiny minority in the movie and almost never represent the protagonist.
Scarlet Overkill is one of the WORST EVER representations of the Minority Feisty. The male narrator introduces her at Villain Con: “There’s a new bad man in town and that man is a woman.” Then Scarlet is on the stage in her red dress and stilettos, saying: “Hey, a girl’s got to make a living.” She is the keynote speaker at the conference, defined as “the world’s first female supervillain.” Before Overkill came to town, she tells us, it was believed that “a woman could never rob a bank as well as a man.” Overkill proves them wrong, so YAY feminism, right? Let me remind you that the minions represent a fantasy world where little, yellow pill shaped creatures have sprouted from the sea. Why, why, why in “Minions,” and most other children’s movies, do we recycle sexism into so many stories that are otherwise imaginative and creative, because “that’s just the way it is in the real world?” Why does Scarlett Overkill have to be represented as an exception to her gender? Why can’t we show children a fantasy world where gender equality exists? “Minions” does the opposite, reproducing and in fact, managing to exaggerate sexism so that females have hardly any place or representation in the world at all.
You wouldn’t think it possible, but things get even worse for sexism and Overkill’s character. She wants the minions to steal the crown for her because she wants to be a princess– not a queen!– “because everyone loves princesses.” Is any kid watching this movie going to get a message of female empowerment from this single, sexist character? If you still have doubt, at the end of the movie, this first female greatest villain of all time, cedes her status to Gru who you know from the “Despicable Me” movies. It is he who is the real greatest villain of all time, Overkill’s 15 minutes are up.
I’m appalled and disgusted that movies like “Minions” are allowed to be made in 2015 and shown to little kids, teaching a new generation to expect and accept a world where girls go missing. If you think I’m overreacting, imagine the reverse: A movie about three female characters– Kara, Stella, and Becky, who lead an all female tribe. They defeat the first male super villain ever, while pursued in a world populated by hundreds of female villains, groups of all female police officers, troops of all female guards, and visit English pubs where almost everyone– except for the pink suited king– is also female. Would you notice the sexism? Would your kids? The fact that the lack of females in children’s movies– from protagonists to crowd scenes, from heroes to villains– isn’t glaringly obvious to us and our children shows how sexist the world is. In the fantasy world, anything is possible, even gender equality. If we can’t even imagine it, we can’t create it. Unfortunately, “Minions” teaches kids, one more time, that females don’t matter much at all.
Reel Girl rates “Minions” ***SSS*** for gender stereotyping
(Photo features 2 of my daughters, ages 6 and 8)
In the 5 years since I started Reel Girl, I’ve never done this before but comments on this post are now closed. Generally, I let most commenters post because the imbeciles inadvertently prove all of my points. But I’ve reached a point where there are too many trolls who repeat the same comments over and over and over, the same arguments (if they can be called that) which I’ve already rebutted numerous times. My energy needs to be focused on writing and creating, not reacting and responding.