Like the all male “Minions” featured in no less than 3 blockbuster movies, Roald’s Dahl’s giants in his book The BFG, coming out as a movie directed by Steven Spielberg in July, are 100% male.
My 7 year old daughter and I were reading The BFG when we came across the first illustration of 8 giants, all hairy and shirtless, sporting a distinct caveman look. “Are there no girl giants?” we wondered. “There must be!” insisted my daughter. “The moms.” Not thrilled that the mother role could be the only way female giants were essential to the story, I took her point. Still, I was pessimistic about the appearance of any female giants. I’d been burned in the past. I held on to the same hope that the minions weren’t all male until, in the last movie a male narrator confirmed for me, and all the kids watching, that minions have no mothers as well. They evolved from amoeba-like creatures. They came out of the sea.
By the time my daughter and I reached to page 51, Dahl let us know for sure: There are no female giants in the story at all. Disturbed by his poor grammar and vocabulary, Sophie, the girl kidnapped by the giant, asks the BFG he had a mother to teach him. The BFG responds in shock, almost disgust:
“Giants don’t have mothers! Surely you is knowing that.”
“I did not know that,” Sophie said.
“Whoever heard of a woman giant!” shouted the BFG, waving the snozzcumber around his head like a lasso. “There never was a woman giant and there never will be one. Giants are always men!”
Sophie felt herself getting a little muddled. “In that case,” she said, “how were you born?”
“Giants isn’t born,” the BFG answered. “Giants appears and that’s all there is to it. They simply appears, the same way as the sun and the stars.”
I hope Spielberg’s adaptation lacks this sexism and that at least half of the giants in the movie are depicted as female. I especially hope that millions of kids don’t hear the line: “Whoever heard of a woman giant! There never was a woman giant and there never will be one. Giants are always men!” I’m not optimistic. In the trailers for the movie, I’ve seen only male giants.
Why do I want half the giants to be female? After all, they’re villains. They eat children. They’re ugly and brutal and mean. Don’t I want females to be heroes?
Yes, but that’s not all I want females to be.
Defending his sexist minions, creator Pierre Coffin said: “Seeing how dumb and stupid they often are, I just couldn’t imagine Minions being girls.” Simon Ragoonanan of Man vs Pink responds, “I read Pierre’s comment as ‘I just couldn’t imagine girls being funny.” Not only do I agree with him, I want females to be depicted in the incredible range that males are: funny, serious, fat, thin, old, young, good, bad, geeky, heroic and on and on an on. Once you put female characters in a box, they’re always in a box, limited, stereotyped, and hardly there at all. Because all of the giants are male, females get far less lines than males. Earlier this year, a study was released that shows in children’s movies, even when there is a female protagonist, males almost always get more speaking time.
The BFG has “a strong female character” in Sophie, but besides the queen, those two are the only major female characters in the whole story. The queen is only in about a quarter of the story. Besides the all male giants, there’s an all male army. Sophie is a Minority Feisty, a sexist phenomenon that often fools parents into thinking they’re watching a feminist movie when they’re watching a sexist one. I define Minority Feisty as this:
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. The token strong female character (or two or three, you get the point) reviewers will call “feisty.”
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.
If the male dominance in The BFG was about one book (or one movie) it wouldn’t be a problem, but this sexism is part of a pattern that is so repeated and normalized, we don’t even notice it. With so many girls gone missing from children’s media, we’re training a new generation to expect and accept this sexism. We’re missing a huge opportunity to use creativity to show them that the world could vbe another way. Once again, I ask: Why does the imaginary world have to be sexist at all? If rats can cook, unicorns prance around, and lions befriend warthogs, why can’t we picture gender equality?