If a stormtrooper had no epic, would he exist?

This morning, my three daughters had Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast. Today, I’m not going to blog about the male Honey Nut bee or how there are no female mascots at all on children’s cereal boxes– that’s right ZERO– because I’ve done that before. I won’t get into how my husband said, as the girls fought over who got to place the brave adventures of Honey Bee in front of her bowl, that cereal boxes are a kid’s first newspaper. Today, I’m blogging about the coveted prize inside the box. What did my kids get? A stormtrooper pen.

Stormtrooper

So here’s my question for you: If there were no “Star Wars” double trilogy (is there a better word for the length of this epic?) would a kid covet a stormtrooper? If toy makers filled the shelves of Target with these white, faceless figures, would kids want them without Hollywood blockbusters providing a context?

The answer is no. To sell a toy, having a story helps a lot. It’s all about the narrative. Next question: Where are the narratives where girls get to be heroes? Where are the narratives, the epic trilogies, the Hollywood blockbusters, where girls get to star? If you think of a female character who is shown, front and center, again and again, who is she? What image comes to mind? Is she, perhaps, a princess?

The gendered toys marketed to children are a symptom. The disease is that girls have gone missing from narratives, sidelined and marginalized, in literature, religion, art, and politics, for thousands of years. In 2013, the consistent narrative where girls get to exist is, still, as the princess.

Yesterday, when I wrote about Goldie Blox selling stereotypes, people told me, if I don’t want pink and princess I should just go to the “boy” aisle. But the problem with the “boy” aisle is that there no female protagonists to be found there. Whether it’s LEGO or a coloring book, whether the product is from the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, or the Justice League, female characters are in the minority if they exist at all.

My seven year old daughter wanted a LEGO set. We went to three stores, and found no LEGO where girl figures or girls’ stories were the basis of the game except for LEGO Friends, which we found in the “girl” aisle. What epic, magical adventure were these girl figures engaged in? They were at a cafe. My daughter also completed a set where they were at a bakery. I just bought her a third set where the girls are at a high school.

alice

My older daughter, after getting frustrated with the LEGO choices, opted for The Hobbit set which includes a male Hobbit, a male wizard, and 5 male dwarfs. No females at all.

Hobbit

Toymakers claim when they put “alternative” toys on the shelf, they just don’t sell. This is why I ask: If a stormtrooper had no “Star Wars,” would he exist? Where are the narratives where girls are seen having epic adventures? Until we fix that problem, we’re going to keep seeing gendered aisles at Target.

Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2012

I’ve been avoiding writing this post. I knew that female characters in children’s movies were not faring well in 2012. Not in number and not in stature. But I kept hoping. Hoping that somehow, before January, something would change, a slew of movies were going to appear from nowhere, stats would magically shift.

Yes, we got “Brave” this year. Thank you director Brenda Chapman for making Pixar’s first movie ever with a female protagonist. I’m sorry that you, one of the only women to direct animated movies produced by a major studio, were fired half way through production and replaced with a male director.

But “Brave” is just one movie. The exception proves the rule. It’s December now, and sadly, it’s time for me to admit that once again, in the movies made for children in 2012, girls go missing. In staggering proportions, males are consistently front and center; females are mostly sidelined or not there at all.

If you look at the gender placement in the images on the movie posters below, the meaning of “marginalized” couldn’t be more clear. Remember, these are movie for kids. So when your children go to the movies, they are learning, time and time again, that boys are more important than girls.

For those of you who say there are alternative posters that I didn’t put in Reel Girl’s Gallery, you may find them on Google images, but these are the ones I saw all around San Francisco. Even if you find a poster on Google featuring, say, Tooth, the one female Guardian out of five (a typical gender ratio, by the way) that’s a pretty pathetic argument for her relevance.

For those of you who say the posters below do not reflect the movie, that the movie has a strong female in it, maybe even two, maybe three, you are, most likely, referring to the Minority Feisty. No matter how many Minority Feisty there are in an animated film, they are represented as a minority. The irony is, of course, that females are not a minority, not a special interest, not even a fringe group. Females are, in fact, half of the population. Girls are half of the kid population. Why aren’t they represented that way in movies made for children?

I call the Minority Feisty “Feisty” because that is, invariably, the adjective reviewers use to describe the “strong” female character in an animated film. “Feisty” is diminutive. It is what you call someone who plays at being powerful, not someone who is actually powerful. Would you ever call Superman “feisty?” How would he feel if you did?

The role of the Minority Feisty, like a cheerleader or First Lady, is to help the male star along on his important quest. Children need to see females front and center, as protagonists, as the heroes of their own stories.

Finally, even apart from the movie, these posters– and ads– are their own media. Whether or not your kid goes to the movie, she sees these posters everywhere. The movie poster is one of the reasons that I was so thrilled about “Brave.” Finally, San Francisco was papered with an image a daring girl, an image marketed to kids. Obviously, the biggest impact of a narrative is made when kids get to know the character through the movie and then see that character on clothing, food packaging, and toys.

As you look at these posters, imagine the reverse, the gender ratio and the character placement, switched; the movie’s title reflecting the female star. Would you do a double take? How many of us grown-ups don’t even notice the dominance of male characters anymore? How many of us experience the annihilation of females as totally normal, not to mention adorable and child-appropriate?

There is no good reason for the imaginary world to be sexist. Or is there?

Only 16% of protagonists in movies are female; only 16% of women make it into power positions in almost all professions across America. Children’s movie posters, and of course the movies themselves, are an effective way that we acclimate a new generation to expect and accept a world where females go missing.

Out of the 16 posters for children’s movies in 2012 pictured below, just 4 represent movies starring females: “Mirror, Mirror,” “Brave,” “Secret World of Arietty” and “Big Miracle.” The “Big Miracle” poster diminishes Drew Barrymore pretty effectively. I loved “Arrietty,” as I love every Studio Ghibli film, but was surprised to see the boy so big on the poster.

I did not include YA movies, my three daughters are ages 3, 6, and 9. I’m not including “Oogieloves” because it’s an interactive song/ dance film, though it really annoys me that out of 7 Oogieloves, just 2 are female. I did not include “Toys in the Attic,” the dubbed Czeck stop-action film from 2009, because it is really creepy, disturbing, and not recommended for young kids.

Here’s the Gallery:

 

Related posts:

Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2011

The curse of the Minority Feisty in kids’ movies

Pixar’s female problem: Please stop asking ‘What about Jessie?” (Great post by Peggy Orenstein on the Minority Feisty issue)

 

Girls gone missing: new previews

This poster for “The Hobbit” is all over downtown San Francisco where I just was with my 9 year old daughter and her entire class on a field trip. What’s missing here?

I know, I know, it’s not Hollywood’s fault. I should blame J. R. R. Tolkein instead. He created the series around mostly male characters. But before I go into Tolkein, I want to know: Have you ever seen an ad for a major motion picture featuring 13 female characters? Ever? Do you think all the other people passing by noticed that this poster is all male? Or is it so similar to all of the other all male, mostly male, front-and center male posters that no one notices that females go missing? It’s just a “normal” annihilation, kind of like a board room meeting at Facebook.

Here’s why J. R. R. Tolkein can’t shoulder the responsibility of sexism in 2012 USA:

(1) The gender imbalance is not just this movie, it is representative of a pattern, a gender matrix that Hollywood rarely breaks out of.

(2) Everything is derivative. Are we going to be reproducing sexism thousands of years from now because the Bible, the Greek myths, the classics, and DC comics are narratives created by men?

(3) Even when Hollywood makes a movie from a spin off of a character in a classic, time and time again, a male is picked as the new main character i.e. “Shrek 3″ led to “Puss In Boots.” The latest?

“Oz The Great and Powerful.” The life story of Oz, the fake ruler, the imposter. He gets his own movie. I’m sure it humanizes him very nicely.

The real ruler of Oz? That would be Ozma. When I was a kid, she was my favorite character in the L. Frank Baum series, because she was the real ruler of Oz, the rightful ruler, and also because she had dark hair like me.

Anyone ever heard of her? Do your children know who she is? There is a book about her. Where is her movie? I didn’t see the preview.