Linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer released statistics showing that even when females star, males get more speaking time in Disney Princess movies. Quartz reports:
Even Frozen, the 2013 mega blockbuster starring two princess sisters, gives women only 41% of the dialogue. The only exceptions to the female-minority rule are Tangled and Brave, whose female characters speak 52% and 74% of the lines.
Back when “Frozen” came out, I blogged: Just as marketing intended, boy thinks central character of ‘Frozen’ is the Snowman. Olaf, a talking snowman, was featured front and center on most of the movie posters my three daughters and I saw around our city of San Francisco.
Now Fought and Eisenhauer have published a study to show that even when females star in movies, males get more lines. This particular kind of sly sexism found in contemporary kids’s media is a version of what I call the Minority Feisty.
What is the Minority Feisty? If you see an animated film today, it will usually include a strong female character. Or two. Or maybe even three. But however many females there are, there will always be more males. Females, half of the human population, will be depicted as a minority. Females will get less lines and less screen time. The token strong female character (or two or three, you get the point) who shows up in the film, 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.
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.
“Feisty” isn’t a word that describes someone with real power, but someone who plays at being powerful. Would you ever call Superman “feisty?” How would he feel if you did? (The Quartz article I link to in this post refers to these characters as “sassy” and “plucky.” Same idea– strong for a girl.)
In this century, Katha Pollitt’s Smurfette Principle has evolved into the Minority Feisty. There are a few more females than there used to be, but imagine if the gender ratio presented in kids’s movies was reflected in the real world. Is that a world that you want your kids to live in? Parents, be on the look out for the Minority Feisty. Teach your kids how to identify her. Don’t let the sexism fool you or them. Don’t let a new generation of kids experience sexism as normal and grow up to expect and accept a world where girls go missing. And don’t forget to ask your kids this: Why does the imaginary world have to be sexist at all? If rats can cook, unicorns prance around, and lions befriend warthogs, can’t we picture gender equality?
See Peggy Orenstein’s post: “Pixar’s female problem: Please stop asking ‘What about Jessie?,” on the Minority Feisty issue