I really wanted to say great things about “Despicable Me 2,” so I’ll start with the positive. This movie made me laugh a lot. As far as personal enjoyment, I had a lot more fun watching “Despicable Me 2” than I did watching “Monster University.”
It was great to see a movie with my three girls about three girls. Except “Despicable Me” isn’t really about three girls. It’s all about Despicable Me AKA Gru, the star of the movie, played beautifully by Steve Carell. Before you protest as I go on to call “Despicable Me” sexist, please read this next sentence carefully: If the male protagonist with females limited to supporting roles was featured in just a few children’s movies, or even half of them, I would have no problem with the gender roles. The problem is that kids hardly ever get to see a female protagonist in movies made for children. The fantasy world, where anything should be possible, is sexist and unfortunately, “Despicable Me 2” is no exception to this rule.
The villain in “Despicable Me,” is also, surprise, surprise, male. I admit, this guy totally cracked me up. First of all, his name is El Macho. When Gru describes him, he says, “El Macho died in the most macho way possible, strapped to a shark, flying into a volcano.” Hilarious and only when I write this, do I remember sharks don’t fly.
Though I was kind of uncomfortable with the Latin lover stereotype– Macho’s open necked shirt reveals a hairy chest and he wears a huge gold chain– I delighted in the gender play.
There is more gender play in “Despicable Me 2” that could’ve been great– and that’s why I wanted to say good things about this movie– but again and again, instead misses the mark. Gru is a single dad of three girls, so there’s a lot to work with there. But just like “Monster University” had sororities with cool characters, but then gives them minimal lines and screen time, “Despicable Me” doesn’t pull off gender equality. It doesn’t try to.
The movie opens with a princess party (ugh) for Agnes, the youngest daughter, and Gru is dressed as a fairy princess. Again, I laughed when I saw him, but frankly, seeing a female dress up in pink frills ought to be be just as ridiculous. But it’s not, of course. A female looking like this is normal and expected in kidworld.
The minions also dress up as females to comic effect, as a maid and also in a grass skirt topped with a pair of coconut shells, to give just two examples.
I laughed during these scenes too, but the whole “boys dressed up as girls, how hilarious” joke solidifies all kinds of gender stereotypes. I wish we could leave it out of kids’ movies. There are so many ways to get kids to laugh without teaching them this one.
Gru’s spy partner, Lucy, is a pretty good Minority Feisty. She’s smart, brave, and enjoys adventure. But Lucy is clearly Gru’s sidekick. After the initial capture, she follows his lead and becomes his love interest.
There is a truly awful scene where Gru goes on a date with the superficial Shanon, and Lucy shoots a dart in Shanon’s ass. All kinds of unfortunate things happen to Shanon after that, and this part of the movie I didn’t find funny at all.
As far as Lucy’s lipstick taser which you’ve seen if you seen a preview, I for one, am sick of lipstick as a symbol of female empowerment. When Pat Benatar sang about a notch in her lipstick case 25 years ago, it was an original and ironic image. Now it’s a cliche, as overused and tired as an empowered woman ripping off her corset. Though I admit, I did laugh again when, in a desperate moment, Gru uses Lucy’s taser and she calls out “You copied me.” The final insult: the movie shows Lucy as the classic Damsel in Distress, strapped to a rocket and shooting into a volcano, and Gru, of course, saves them.
I liked the three girls, loved that there were three of them, and the oldest is named Margo.
I would LOVE to see a movie where these three are the stars with Margo as the protag and Gru in the supporting role. Universal, are you listening?
Before you comment on this post, let me say three things:
(1) I like this movie. I love going to the movies in general. That’s why I started blogging about them. Like Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency who makes videos about sexism in gaming but loves to play: I criticize media because I enjoy it. I want it to be better.
(2) I am not advising you not to take your kids to see these movies. I thought that was obvious because I blog about taking my own kids to see these movies. I try to teach my kids to watch with a critical eye. If the movie is sexist, I usually will not see it again, rent it, buy it, mention it much and try to avoid buying my kids games or clothing with the characters. If the movie has a female protag, I will buy a lot of that stuff. Some movies, I do avoid, for example, I didn’t go see “Oz” or take my kids. I couldn’t take what they did to Dorothy and Ozma, but that was a personal decision as yours, of course, should be.
(3) I wrote this already, but the problem is the repetitive pattern of marginalized females. The pattern, okay? Kids learn from what they see, through repetition.
In children’s media, females, who are half of the population, are presented as a minority. That is why I came up with the term Minority Feisty. Often, today, there is not jut one token female (as with the Smurfette Principle) but several and she is “feisty” ( a demeaning way to describe strong, usually reserved for females, and often used by film critics describing females in kids movies.) But the Minority Feisty is not enough. If we keep moving along at this slow rate, the Geena Davis Institute reports, we won’t have gender parity for 700 years. Your kids won’t experience it, nor will their kids, nor will their kids, on and on.
“Despicable Me” is a classic example of this sexist pattern. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of male minions. Why are there are no females? These scenes are so funny, my favorite parts of the movie, but females are excluded from them.
Two great posts came out this week about sexism in film and the Minority Feisty issue:
The U.N. women’s agency is teaming up with actress Geena Davis to support the first global study of how women and girls are portrayed in family films, saying the images have a strong impact on how females see themselves. Lakshmi Puri, acting head of UN Women, says “the dearth of female characters of substance in the media means children are being taught that girls and women ‘don’t take up half of the space in the world.’ Please read this if you haven’t yet. It’s pretty exciting.
The other great post is from the New Statesman: “Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else’s.”
Please don’t be distracted by the Minority Feisty in children’s movies. She is there to distract you, to make you forget the lack of female protagonists. To the point the New Statesman made, and I have made numerous times on Reel Girl: We are all heroes in our lives. We all have our dragons to slay. But too often, women are trained to find a man in power, someone we can rely on to do the scary deed for us, instead of taking the risk ourselves. No risk, no reward, right? Except that women often don’t get the same cultural rewards men do for being heroes.
In fantasy, a world we can control, why can’t we show children a place where females and males are treated equally instead of perpetuating sexism? If we can’t imagine equality, we can’t achieve it.
Reel Girl rates “Despicable Me 2” ***S*** for gender stereotyping
Update: Just learned there will be a 2014 spin off of “Despicable Me.” YAY, I thought, a movie starring the three cool girls: Agnes, Edith, and Margo, just like I hoped for. But no. It will be a movie about the all male minions. Read about it here.