‘Rio 2′ is 5th kids’ movie of 2014 to star male protagonist

Before I saw “Rio 2,” I was holding out hope that Jewel, the bird played by Anne Hathaway, and her husband, Blu, played by Jesse Eisenberg, would be equals in the movie, meaning actual costars. I stuck with this possibility partly based on what I saw in the movie poster.

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While Jewel is posed coyly with a submissive head tilt and a pink flower on her head, she’s still front and center, right there with Blu. (All the other characters pictured on this poster are male.) I checked the synopsis for “Rio 2″ on imdb.com:

It’s a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel and their three kids in RIO 2, after they’re hurtled from that magical city to the wilds of the Amazon. As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel, and meets the most fearsome adversary of all – his father-in-law.

 

Not as promising as the poster, but still, when I counted 18 children’s movies in 2014 starring males, while just 6 star females for my annual Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies, I initially put “Rio 2″ in its own category.

Well, I’m sorry to report that I’ve seen the movie with my kids and “Rio 2″ is Blu’s story. He’s clearly the star with all the screen time, he goes through the transition, and it’s his wits that save the world. So make that 19 children’s movies in 2014 that star males.

I have three daughters, ages 5, 7, and 10, and they’ve seen 5 movies so far this year: The Nut Job, The Lego Movie, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Muppets Most Wanted, and Rio 2– Every single one features a male protagonist. Just in case you were wondering, only 5 children’s movies have come out so far this year. So once again, when our children go to the movies, they’re learning that males star while females belong in supporting roles. And — surprise, surprise– each children’s movie so far this year features Minority Feisty: female characters whose number are in the minority compared to males, but they’re allowed to be “strong” in these supporting roles. Usually, that means the females play a crucial part in helping the male complete his quest. That is, in kidworld, females are permitted power as long as its circumscribed. If you read Reel Girl, you know I call these female characters Minority Feisty because not only are they in the minority, but they are always referred to by critics as “feisty,” a seriously diminutive adjective. “Feisty” doesn’t describe anyone who is really strong but someone who plays at being strong. Would you ever call Superman feisty? How would he feel if you did?

To wit, in an article about Anne Hathaway in last week’s people magazine, the journalist writes:

There have been other big changes as well for the actress who reprises her role as the feisty macaw Jewel in the new animated film ‘Rio 2.’

 

Here it is in black and white.

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I make this point because the sexism in children’s movies is a ridiculously repetitive pattern, yet hardly anyone calls it out. The sexism is so obvious that paradoxically, it’s become invisible, the pink elephant of kidworld that gets ignored. If males starring and females supporting happened just sometimes, or even half the time, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but this sexism is relentless in narratives are created for kids.

Once again, I ask: In the imaginary world, anything is possible, so why is it so sexist? Why can’t we show children a magical world where there’s gender equality?

Reel Girl rates “Rio 2″ ***H***

See Reel Girl’s Galleries of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies:

2014 http://reelgirl.com/2014/01/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2014/

2013 http://reelgirl.com/2013/01/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2013/

2012 http://reelgirl.com/2012/12/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2012/

2011 http://reelgirl.com/2011/07/heres-a-visual/

 

Every dog needs a boy: ‘Mr. Peabody and Sherman’ continues pattern of sexism in kids’ movies

“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” repeats the same old sexist pattern of so many kids’ movies where male characters get to star while females are stuck on the sidelines, in supporting roles.

Let’s start with the title of the movie: “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” Note this title features the name of not one, but two, male stars. That’s right– “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” is yet another father-son story. While movie studios strategically switched the title of “Rapunzel” to “Tangled” and “Snow Queen to “Frozen” to hide female stars, the marketing for “Peabody” showcases males, and I’m not only referring to the movie title. I live in San Francisco, and here’s the poster that my three daughters and I see all around town:

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Major close up of two male stars. Compare that to “Frozen,” one of the rare children’s movies to feature not one but two female protagonists. Anna and Elsa get buried in the snow. The marketing implies that Olaf, the snowman, is the star of the movie.

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A major problem with this sexist marketing is that even if your children don’t see the movies, they see the posters. From this media, kids see that boys get to be front and center while females get sidelined or are invisible all together. The repetition of these gendered images teaches all children that boys are more important and get to do more things that girls.

Like most children’s movies, “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” features a Minority Feisty. The Minority Feisty is “a strong female character” (or two or three) who plays a crucial role in helping the male star achieve his quest. There may be more than one Minority Feisty in a movie, but there are always a minority of female roles compared to male roles, even though girls are one half of the kid population. The purpose of the Minority Feisty is to make parents overlook the lack of female protagonists, because, hey, at least there’s a strong female in the narrative. To really get how sexist this gender ratio is, imagine gender flipping the characters. How likely is a it that a studio would put out a movie called “Ms. Peabody and Sharon” with a close-up of the two female stars on the poster? When is the last time you saw a children’s movie advertised with two female stars in the title and a just two females in the poster all around your town or city?

I blog a lot about a particular trope in children’s media that makes me crazy called “riding bitch.” While male characters often soar through the sky on all kinds of magical creatures, from dragons to hippogriffs, female characters usually are put in the passenger seat, not steering or deciding where to go, just along for the ride. Even though I’ve noted this trope endless times, I was shocked by how sexist it is in “Mr. Sherman.” Here’s what happens in the movie. Mr. Peabody, Sherman, and Penny go back in time to visit Leonardo da Vinci. Penny sees da Vinci’s flying machine and, as the Minority Feisty is wont to do, she hops on. Sherman is afraid but follows. Penny flies through the sky and whoops in delight while Sherman shrieks. My 7 year old daughter saw this scene in the preview and told me about it, she was so excited. But here’s the bummer:

Yes, Penny starts out flying the machine, but then she encourages Sherman to try. He refuses and she repeatedly tells him that he can do it. When Sherman continues to shy away, Penny lets go of the steering wheel, and they almost crash before Sherman finally takes control. This is the length the female character goes to put the male back in the driver’s seat. Sherman flies and he’s great at it, until Mr. Peabody sees him and says. “Sherman! You can’t fly!” reinforcing that all Sherman needed was a good girl to believe in him. When Sherman crashes, da Vinci runs up to Sherman, who is with Penny in a pile of debris, and says, “You are the first man to fly!” At no point does Sherman say, “No, actually Penny is the first woman to fly.” ARGH. What do my kids– and all kids– learn from this narrative? The same thing they learn from the whole goddam movie: it is the role of the female to help the male, to make him feel good and secure in his role as star, while she is happy and content as the sidekick; that’s where she belongs.

Lean In and Girl Scouts just started a “ban bossy” campaign which I love. But how much hope do these organizations have of getting a different message across when narratives like Penny’s are mass-marketed to little kids?

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There’s a lot more I didn’t like about gender in “Mr. Peabody.” Penny goes back in time, not to meet a suffragist or Joan of Arc or Queen Elizabeth, but to be the child bride of King Tut. That narrative is all about her wedding. UGH. If they wanted to do ancient Egypt, couldn’t she at least have encountered Cleopatra? Time and time again, Penny is a damsel in distress/ Minority Feisty who gets to play a small– but crucial role– in her own rescues, and is ultimately saved by Sherman again and again.

The last line of the movie pretty much sums up how males are front and center while girls go missing. Mr. Peabody, watching Sherman go off to school, says, “Every dog needs a boy.” What about a girl? What about at least saying “kid” or “child”? Instead, females don’t exist at all.

I get that this movie is a remake but that’s no excuse to recycle sexism for a new generation of kids. We had three Shrek movies (the first, of course, based on an original story) and in each one, Fiona, a Minority Feisty, gets a smaller part. This is a typical interpretation of “remake.” By the last Shrek movie, the narrative devolves into another father-son story (co-starring Justin Timberlake.) There was a spin off, and still, it was not Fiona, but Puss In Boots who got his own solo movie, featuring the Minority Feisty Kitty Softpaws. When will Kitty get her own movie? Ever? Do your kids even know who she is? The other problem with remakes is that when girls star, in each new incarnation characters like Strawberry Shortcake, Dora, the Powerpuff Girls, get “makeovers” where they get less powerful and more sexualized.

Once again, I write this: I would not have a problem with “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” if it were just one narrative. The problem is the repeated pattern of sexism that kids see again and again and again. Children learn through repetition, and I am beyond sick of this sexism marketed to kids. If you want a refresher of how many movies for kids star males versus how many star females take a look at Reel Girl’s Galleries of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies:

2011 http://reelgirl.com/2011/07/heres-a-visual/

2012 http://reelgirl.com/2012/12/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2012/

2013 http://reelgirl.com/2013/01/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2013/

2014 http://reelgirl.com/2014/01/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2014/

Reel Girl rates “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” ***H***

 

 

 

‘Smurfs 2′ and the Minority Feisty: Bad Brunette vs Good Blonde

My expectations were low but “Smurfs 2″ surpassed them.

Not only does “Smurfs 2″ feature the famous posse of too many to count males accompanied by just one female, but this movie is all about fathers. A movie for kids centered on fatherhood could be great, but when the Smurfs are already so creepily male dominated, the erasure of mothers is alarming and disturbing. The good, golden-haired female pitted against the evil, dark-haired female trope, central to “Smurfs 2,” is so tired in kid fantasy world (not to mention the grown-up world) that I was slack jawed to see it again, even though, of course, I shouldn’t have been. That’s why it’s a trope, right?

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Did you know that evil Gargamel created Smurfette as a ploy to infiltrate the Smurfs? That’s right, Smurfette, the only female Smurf, isn’t even a real Smurf. It’s only when Papa Smurf comes to care for Smurfette as a daughter that he uses a magic potion to transform her. At that point, not only does he change her skin to blue but her hair to blonde, thus becoming Smurfette’s true father.

papa-smurf

“Smurfs 2″ opens with that backstory and then brings us to present day with a scene showing the Smurfs gawk at Smurfette as she swishes her blonde locks around in slow-mo. But there’s trouble in paradise: every year on her birthday, Smurfette is haunted by a dream in which she once again turns evil, and her hair, once again, turns brown.

vexy

Cut to Gargamel who has created/ fathered a new race: the Naughties. Evil, dark-haired Vexy has a similar mission to Smurfette’s years ago. Gargamel sends to Vexy to infiltrate Smurfville to recover his “daughter,” hoping that Smurfette will reveal to him the secret potion Papa Smurf used to turn her into a Smurf, thus Gargamel can create Smurfs himself.

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Cut to the human world where Patrick is having a birthday party for his son, Blue, to which his father, Victor, arrives. (Got that? Three generations of males.) Victor serves the kids corn dogs that happen to be fried in peanut oil. A young party guest has an allergic reaction, and the celebration is ruined. That’s the latest in a long line of events that lead to Patrick’s deep frustration with his loving but bumbling father. Turns out, Victor is not Patrick’s biological father, but his step father. Patrick’s “real” father walked out on him years ago. So you see, the conflict of true paternity experienced by Smurfette– wondering if her “real” father Papa Smurf or Gargamel– is mirrored by the Patrick’s own dilemma: can his step-father be his “real” father?

Both Papa Smurf and Gargamel essentially “give birth” without any need of females, kind of like our own Judeo-Christian creation myth and its independent and endlessly resourceful male God. While Smurfette has no mother at all, Patrick’s mother is hardly mentioned in the movie. I couldn’t even tell if she’s dead or alive.

Now, for the good news. There are three Minority Feisty in this movie. This was my first Smurf movie so I don’t know if that’s a record, though the pathetic female to male ratio is of course where the term, the Smurfette Principle, originated from. In case you don’t know what Minority Feisty means here’s a cut and paste from Reel Girl’s review of “Planes.”

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.

Smurfette spends most of the movie as a captured damsel in distress who the male smurfs, and mostly male humans, must rescue, but like most Minority Feisty, she has her moments of courage and brilliance. Also, upon befriending her enemy, Vexy, while Smurfette never says, “I want to stay with you because I can’t stand being the only female in Smurfville,” she does express joy at having the sister she never did.

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Grace is another Minority Feisty. She’s Patrick’s wife, Blue’s mom, and she’s cool and brave. But the central human, with the conflict and the transition, not to mention the lines and the screen time, is clearly Patrick.

Vexy is an okay Minority Feisty. I enjoyed her badness and watching her transition. Did you read that part about transition? We now have–are you ready– 2 female Smurfs! And Vexy stays brunette. Thus with “Smurfs 2,” the Smurfette principle truly evolves into the Minority Feisty: two females and one of them is a bad-ass. Is that progress or what? According to the Geena Davis Institute, at this rate, it will be only 700 years before we get gender equality in the fantasy world.

Reel Girl rates “Smurfs 2″ ***SS*** for gender stereotyping

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

 

 

‘Despicable Me 2′ latest children’s movie to star male, limit females to supporting roles

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.

Despicable Me 2

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Cheerios box shows kids girls gone missing

My four year old daughter loves Cheerios, and last night, my husband brought home a new box. Excited for breakfast this morning, we got it out. Here’s what we saw on the front: Shrek, Puss In Boots, and Donkey, 3 male characters from “Shrek.”

cheerios

“Shrek,” a movie starring a male and titled for the male, has two sequels. Where is Fiona, Shrek’s co-star (though I admit that moniker is stretching it) on this package? Puss In Boots got his own eponymous spin off movie. Perhaps that’s why he made it on the DVD/ package? “Puss In Boots” is a buddy movie starring Puss’s frenemy, Humpty Dumpty. Kitty Softpaws is a great Minority Feisty in that film, but where is her own movie, titled for her? Have you ever heard of her? Do your kids remember who she is?

Besides “Shrek,” there are 3 other Cheerios collectible DVDs where we can “catch up with all our favorite DreamWorks characters.”

Unlike other cereal brands that have their own mascots, a cast of no less than 100% male characters, Cheerios borrows its crew from DreamWorks. But, apparently, these favorites don’t privilege females either, to say the least. “How to Train Your Dragon” pictures a boy and his male dragon, the two stars. We do see a girl riding bitch. Then, there’s “Kung Fu Panda” starring…Kung Fu Panda! And finally, Madagascar showing 6 male characters: the zebra, lion, and 4 penguins. Where is the hippo, the Minority Feisty in that movie?

Hippo does show up in the “fame game” on the reverse side of the box.

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See, there she is down on the left. There are 8 characters and she is the only female. The game your kids play is “match each character to what they are famous for.” While characters are known for “Training the Furious Five” or “Being the Dragon Warrior,” what’s the hippo known for? “Loving a Giraffe.” No joke. Incidentally, my six year old daughter told me that hippo’s feelings are not reciprocated; giraffe never wants to dance with her.

See that little box to the right with the Croods character? He’s one the males from that movie too.

I write this a lot, but if this Cheerios box were one of many images kids see, it would not be a big deal. But again and again, kids see females go missing. It’s totally normal in their world. They don’t think anything of it and neither do we. But females are half of the population, so why are they presented as a tiny minority in kidworld practically everywhere outside of the Pink Ghetto? It’s an annihilation that acclimates a whole new generation to expect and accept a world where females go missing. Hey, Cheerios, can you make at least half of the characters on your box female? There’s no reason for the imaginary world to be sexist.

 

Rick Riordan and the persistence of the Minority Feisty

My nine year old daughter is tearing through the Rick Riordan books for the third time. Third time. She’s obsessed. She reads them at breakfast and then in the car on the way to school. She’ll forget the book at school and beg me to go to the bookstore down the street and buy her another because she can’t imagine getting through the night without huddling under her covers, reading, with her flashlight. Of course, I refuse, so she calls up her seven year old cousin who is also addicted and asks to borrow it. She won’t give it up because she’s reading it.

Middle Grade experts recommended that I read Rick Riordan since I am writing an MG book and he has “perfect pacing.”

I read the first three and liked them very much. The characters and stories are compelling, and I’ve always loved Greek Mythology, though there is a challenge for female characters in a series based on legends of a patriarchy. That patriarchy is not something in the background but an integral part of the narrative. In the three books I read, there is a lot of talk about “the big three:” Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. When I blogged about Lightning Thief, I rated it ***H***.

There is a strong female character, Annabeth. It is striking how similar the gender ratio and relationships are to the Harry Potter series: two boys and a girl who are BFFs. This is the essence of the Minority Feisty set up: there is a girl and she is strong, so we can all sigh with relief, but she is not the protagonist. She helps the male on his quest.

I know, don’t judge a book by its cover, but but there are so many Riordan books, and so many covers. Let’s check them out and see what they have in common.

The Lightning Thief:

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Here’s the movie poster from 2010:

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Sea of Monsters, the second book in the series:

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Here’s the movie poster, coming out this year and shown in Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013. On Google, you can find posters with Annabeth, but I doubt that is the version our kids will see around town. This movie, like the Harry Potter movies, prominently displays the male protag’s name.

Percy Jackson 2 Sea of Monsters

Next in the series is The Titan’s Curse and the cover shows a solo male astride a magical creature. It’s a beautiful, exciting image and a thrill females in the imaginary world rarely get to experience:

the-titans-curse

Battle of the Labyrinth:

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The Last Olympian:

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So that’s the first Riordan series: 5 books, 2 movies, male protag/ male star, male solo on 4 out of 5 books. Male’s name in the title every time. Once again, I am a fan of Riordan. These books are great. But just imagine your kids– girls and boys– getting the opportunity to read a fantasy series of 5 books with a female protag, her female BFF and male BFF helping her on her quest. And just to be clear, this series is the definition quest narrative.

Girls fare better in the Egypt series: The Red Pyramid is narrated by siblings Sadie and Carter. Though there are more males than females, there is another very cool female, Zia. I wish the book was all about her. The cover is good, too. Sadie makes it on, though behind Carter.

Riordan_Red pyramid

And now, my favorite Riordan cover: Throne of Fire.

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The Serpent’s Shadow also has a pretty great cover:

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The next Riordan series, Heroes of Olympus, goes back to the standard Minority Feisty imagery. Here’s the first cover. See those three on the cover? They are not Percy, Annabeth, and Gus. They are Jason, Piper, and Leo. Guess who the protag is?

The Lost Hero

In Son of Neptune, Percy is the protag again, and this time, his friends are Hazel and Frank. It’s remarkable how consistent, persistent, and repetitive the Minority Feisty model is in the imaginary world.

SoNcover

Are you ready for the next one, and this is the BEST one, really according to my daughter and her aunt: Mark of Athena. YAY. A female makes it into the title! There are 7 main characters in this one and 3 are female. Less than half, so still the Minority Feisty, but not a bad showing for the consistent sexism in fantasy kidworld, right? But check out the cover:

The_Mark_of_Athena

WTF? No girl riding a pegasus and the owl of Athena fading into the background. ARGH!

 

 

 

The Smurfette principle ‘evolves’ into the Minority Feisty

This year, children will get to see Smurfs 2:

smurfs-2

See that lone, blonde Smurfette surrounded by 5 male Smurfs?

This is a poster for just one of 21 children’s movie posters coming out in 2013. All but 4 movies for young kids feature male protagonists. Of the “female-centric” films, “Dorothy of Oz” lists 7 famous male actors at the top of its poster. “Epic” shows the female protagonist surrounded males. Only two movies with female protagonists are titled for the female while 10 of the 16 movies with male protagonists are titled for the male star. Please look at Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013. It looks like this year will be the worst one for female characters in movies for young kids since I started Reel Girl.

Back in 1991, feminist critic Katha Pollitt wrote about the ‘Smurfette principle‘ for the New York Times: the idea that kids’ narratives too often allow just one lone female character to exist in a group of males.

Here is the “progress” 22 year later: girls are half of  the kid population, but in movies for young children, females are presented as a minority. If you see an animated film today, it’s likely to include one or two strong female characters who 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. She is the Minority Feisty.

remy3

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, including the star who the movie is often titled for and usually his best buddy as well. The crowd scenes in the film are also made up of mostly males.

There can be 1, 2, or 3 Minority Feisty in a children’s film. (The term is like “fish,” it can be singular or plural.) Whatever the number, the gender ratio will heavily favor male characters.

Parents, the next time you watch a children’s movie, try not to let the “feminist” character(s) distract you. Except for the pink ghetto, in children’s films females are presented as a minority. This is the definition of marginalized. When your children go to the movies, they learn that boys are more important and get to do more things than girls.

On tvtropes.org, a link to my blog described the Minority Feisty as “essentially a more modern take on the Smurfette Principle.” In response, someone protested: “the term Minority usually points to racial minority as opposed to gender.”

Exactly. Females are not a minority, yet they are presented as one in films for children. Why?

Here is an interesting correlation: 16% of protagonists in movies are female. All across America, in most professions, women at the top don’t make it past 16%. Children’s movies normalize an entire new generation to a world where females go missing.

 

 

See “Pixar’s female problem: Please stop asking ‘What about Jessie?,” a great post by Peggy Orenstein on the Minority Feisty issue

 

 

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

In 2012, I waited until the last possible minute. It wasn’t until December that I posted Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing from Children’s Movies in 2012. Even though in the age of the internet, the facts were impossible to miss, I kept hoping that, somehow, I’d overlooked something.

This year, I’m going to face the upcoming year of multi-million dollar sexism marketed directly at my three daughters– ages 3, 6, and 9– head on, in January.

Of the 21 movie posters for young kids pictured below, only 4 appear to feature a female protagonist; 16 seem to feature a male protagonist and 10 are named for that male star. In one case, “Peabody and Mr. Sherman,” the movie is titled for its 2 male protagonists.

Of the 4 movies starring females, just two are titled for the star. It’s the small budget 7 million film from Moscow, “Snow Queen,” that was brave enough to name its film after a female. “Frozen” is the title chosen for Disney’s version, the same movie studio that changed “Rapunzel” to “Tangled,” to obscure its female star. Fittingly, in the poster for “Frozen,” the woman’s image also fades into the background.

Both “Dorothy” and “Epic,” buffer the female on the poster with males, Epic with a constellation of them and “Dorothy” by listing no less than 7 famous male actors.

The poster for “Planes” may look mysterious, but it comes from the producers of “Cars,” a movie which had many more male than female characters. Tellingly, the preview for “Planes” doesn’t show a single female character.

From the position of characters on the poster in “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2,” it looks like the male is the star, but maybe, hopefully I’m wrong. When you look at the poster, try to imagine a gender flip, the female in front and the male’s legs and hip in the female’s red-carpet-ready pose. That image will make you laugh.

If you are going to argue that there could be strong females in all of these movies, even if they are not the star of the movie, that’s not the same. Please read The curse of the Minority Feisty in kid’s movies.

“Saving Mr. Banks” is coming out in 2013 but does not have a poster yet. On imdb.com, it’s described:

Author P.L. Travers travels from London to Hollywood as Walt Disney Pictures adapts her novel Mary Poppins for the big screen.

That movie could be really cool. But why, why, why is the movie called: “Saving Mr. Banks?” If there is a female protagonist in this film, could she be concealed any more?  I know the androgynous “P.L. Travers” is how the writer’s name is shown on her books, but Mary Poppins came out in 1934. The writer had to use the initials to sell her book. Of course, J.K. Rowling opted for the same tactic years later, but hasn’t her success done anything for women writers? The year is 2013. When are writers going to be able to come out as women? Finally, and I hate writing this, and I hope that I’m wrong: From what I see on the internet it looks like the protagonist of the movie is, in fact, Walt Disney played by Tom Hanks.

There’s a movie I’ve heard of with no poster and I’m not sure if it’s coming out: an indie, English dubbed release of the French movie “Ernest and Celestine”

I have not yet seen any of these movies. As I’ve written about a lot on Reel Girl, movie posters are their own media. Even if a kid doesn’t see the movie, she sees the ads drive by her on the sides of buses or loom above her pasted on walls. She hears the movie titles. Not to mention, she sees the protagonists on TV, cereal boxes, diapers, clothing, toys, sheets, and in video games.

The posters below are found from Google images. There are multiple posters, and I chose the one I’m predicting that I’ll see around town. Whenever I see a movie poster on a bus or wall with a female character solo, front and center who is not surrounded by multiple male characters, or when multiple female characters are shown, I rush to post the sighting on Reel Girl.

As you look at the posters below, ask yourself: Who looks like the star/ leader/ protagonist of this movie? What would this poster look like if the positions, number of male characters, and title references were switched to female characters? Why are females, half of the kid population, presented as a minority in children’s films? Why is the imaginary world, a place where anything should be possible, sexist at all?

So here we go.

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

Monsters University

MU

 

Despicable Me

despicable_me_2_movie_poster_01

Smurfs 2

Chapter 14 smurfs-2

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson 2 Sea of Monsters

 

Leo the Lion

leo

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

cloudy-with-a-chance-of-meatballs-movie-poster1

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

sherman

Frozen

frozen

The Hobbit: There and Back Again

kinopoisk.ru

Escape From Planet Earth

escape_from_planet_earth_ver2

Jack the Giant Slayer

jack-the-giant-slayer-poster

Oz the Great and Powerful

OZ-The-Great-and-Powerful-Movie-Poster-oz-the-great-and-powerful-31464719-511-755

The Croods

croods_xlg

Epic

epic

From Up on Poppy Hill

poppyhill

DofOZ_IDW_ad.indd

The Snow Queen

The_Snow_Queen_Movie_Poster

Planes

Planes

Turbo

Turbo Movie Poster

Batman The Dark Night Returns

batman-the-dark-knight-returns-part-2-poster

Tarzan

tarzan-poster

Boys will be boys, girls will clean up

blue milk blogger saw her three year son watching the Australian animated show for toddlers “Bananas in Pyjamas.” She blogs:

I was so bewildered by it that I ended up watching the whole episode again on iview to be sure about what I was seeing.”

In the series, there are two banana adult figures and three bears, 2 girls and 1 boy, all friends. In the episode blue milk saw, the boy bear buys a Super Bear costume and then causes all sorts of trouble, getting caught up in his imagination and believing he really is a superhero. The bananas try to help out a little, but don’t get too involved, knowing they get to return home soon. So the clean up is left to the girl bears.

blue milk goes on:

Tellingly, the little girl bears deal with these problems in a way that doesn’t involve Super Bear having to know about it because he would only cause more mess if he tried to help and because they do not want to hurt his dignity or spoil his fun. Worse still, his fun interrupts their own fun and plans and when they express some irritation about it all the Bananas encourage them to be careful not to ruin the boy bear’s illusion of himself as a superhero. It wouldn’t have particularly disturbed me as a story if it was about a parent or uncle cleaning up after the little boy teddy bear…But the sight of two little girls doing the cleaning up and taking care of, instead of  having fun and adventures themselves? And the idea that the little boy got to experience the thrill of danger while the little girls got to worry about him? It all struck me as so, so wrong.”

First of all, I am amazed, once again, though I know I shouldn’t be, how universal sexism in kidworld is. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid in Australia or a kid in the USA, if it’s PBS or Disney, if it’s a movie or TV: except for the Minority Feisty, boys will be boys and girls will clean up.

The TV show blue milk describes really irks me because my whole blog, Reel Girl, is about protecting the imagination of children (and hopefully, eventually, the adults they grown into.) I guess you could look at this episode as enlightening: Look, this is just what happens in real life. Males are encouraged and supported by the world to imagine and act; females are not. But somehow, I suspect three year old children don’t get irony.

The curse of the Minority Feisty in kids movies

If you see an animated film today, it’s likely to include a token strong female character or two who 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, including the star who the movie is often titled for and usually his best buddy as well. The crowd scenes in the film are also made up of mostly males.

“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 Smurfette Principle has evolved into the Minority Feisty. Now instead of a “token” female in a children’s movie, we may see a few females sprinkled around, a “minority” of them. Parents, the next time you watch a children’s movie, try not to let the Minority Feisty population distract you from the limitations female characters are almost always forced into. Ask yourself: Is the female the protagonist in this film? Does the narrative revolve around her quest? Or is she there to (play a crucial role in) helping the male star achieve his goal/ dream?

Imagine if the gender ratio presented in movies for kids was reflected in the real world. Girls would be a minority. Is that a world that you want your kids to live in? Why does the imaginary world have to be sexist at all?

See Peggy Orenstein’s post: “Pixar’s female problem: Please stop asking ‘What about Jessie?,” on the Minority Feisty issue

See Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2014 http://reelgirl.com/2014/01/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2014/

2013 http://reelgirl.com/2013/01/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2013/

2012 http://reelgirl.com/2012/12/reel-girls-gallery-of-girls-gone-missing-from-childrens-movies-in-2012/

2011 http://reelgirl.com/2011/07/heres-a-visual/