In ‘Planes’ males soar, females get grounded

I’ve blogged twice about the sexist preview for “Planes,” and after seeing the movie today, I’m afraid I’ve got to blog about this awful scene once more. The sexist scene actually opens the movie. It sets the tone for the whole film, which is the opposite of what I thought the scene was going to do. When I saw the preview, I thought the plane who mocks the slow flyers by calling them “ladies,” was having a moment of arrogance. The movie would redeem him when he went through his transition. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The sexist joke is his fantasy, the fantasy of a humble crop duster with a fear of heights who wishes he were a racer. The scene is sexism in fantasy world in sexism in fantasy world. Isn’t that meta? It’s the dream sequence of a “likeable” character. Can you imagine a hero making a racist joke and being likeable? In a movie for little kids? Yet, that’s how much sexism we have to wade through before females are allowed to win a race in animation. Here’s the text/ preview:

Plane One: What’s taking this guy so long? Is he really as good as he says he is?

Plane Two: No, better.

Plane One: Whoa! Who was that?

Plane Three: (Descending fast on top of the other two) Well, hello ladies. Ready to lose?

Plane Three goes on to leave the “ladies” in the dust.

Following this sexist fantasy, the narrative progresses exactly as “Turbo” does. (As I’m writing this, I’m thinking “Turbo” also starts with a fantasy about being in the Indy 500. Am I right?) The male protagonist, Dusty, is told by his friend he’ll never be a racer: “That’s not what you’re built for.” Same conversation Turbo has with his brother who tells him that he’s a snail, he can’t race. Guess who proves him wrong, that he can do anything, soar to the highest heights, be brave, courageous, and dare to make his dreams come true?

There is also a strikingly similar Minority Feisty in both movies. Dottie is the mechanic in “Planes.”

Dottie_(Planes)

Paz is the mechanic in “Turbo.”

paz

Look at them both in blue. Isn’t that progressive? At first, I thought these mechanics were a coincidence. Then I realized that “female mechanic” is the classic Minority Feisty role. All the parents watching can think: look a female mechanic, isn’t that great? And overlook that the roles of Dottie and Paz are minor. They are there to help the male hero accomplish his quest.

The race in “Planes” is dominated by male competitors. There are only two female racers: Ishani and Rochelle. “Turbo” had one, I missed her name.

Rochelle

Both female planes are objects of lust for the males who have bigger parts in the movie. One scene is an extensive serenade/ mariachi sequence that sends Rochelle, the pink girl plane, into fits of desire. I thought I was going to throw up. Everyone else was laughing.

As in “Turbo” there is an evil champion male rival who is the protagonist’s major competition. In “Planes,” its Ripslinger, “the king of racing.” He’s the one I saw in front on all the movie posters, not Dusty. I guess Disney is hoping to market the toy.

Disney-Planes-Movie-Poster

In “Turbo,” that role is filled by Guy Gagne.

guy-gagne

Why not do something wild and crazy and put a female in the evil champion role?

Dusty’s mentor, his major relationship in the movie, is with another male, Skipper.

skipper-popup

My kids have seen three animated movies about competitions this summer: “Monster University,” “Turbo,” and “Planes.” Not one of these movies shows kids that females can win. Even worse, as I began this post with, “Planes” mocks female competitors as losers.

Why do parents put up with this repeated sexism in movie after movie?

There’s an excellent post in The Atlantic today: The Banal, Insidious, Sexism of Smurfette. I haven’t seen “Smurfs 2” which came out last week. The post begins:

In The Smurfs 2, there are a lot of Smurfs. And they all have names based on their unique qualities. According to the cast list, the male ones are Papa, Grouchy, Clumsy, Vanity, Narrator, Brainy, Handy, Gutsy, Hefty, Panicky, Farmer, Greedy, Party Planner, Jokey, Smooth, Baker, Passive-Aggressive, Clueless, Social, and Crazy. And the female one is Smurfette–because being female is enough for her. There is no boy Smurf whose identifying quality is his gender, of course, because that would seem hopelessly limited and boring as a character.

These characters, originating as they did in mid-century Europe, exhibit the quaint sexism in which boys or men are generic people–with their unique qualities and abilities–while girls and women are primarily identified by their femininity. The Smurfs 2, which premiered last weekend and came in third at the box office, doesn’t upend the premise of Smurfette…Today, a blockbuster children’s movie can invoke 50-year-old gender stereotypes with little fear of a powerful feminist backlash.

 

Please go to The Atlantic and read the post. The art accompanying it is great. But the author doesn’t expand beyond “Smurfs 2” as far as the sexism marketed to children in movies this summer. The erasure of female characters is shockingly consistent. And shocking in that it’s not shocking. Not only is there no fear of powerful feminist backlash, when I write about this annihilation in kids’ movies, I get comments like: You call yourself a feminist? Why don’t you write about something more important than cartoons? Who cares?

Kids learn from what they see. Brains seek out patterns and repetition. You can tell girls that they can be anything they want to be until you’re Smurfblue in the face, but if you don’t show them, your words are meaningless. A crop duster can win a flying race around the world and a snail can win the Indy 500, but a female can’t win a thing? “You aren’t what you’re built to be” unless you happen to be built a girl. Suddenly, your options become pretty limited. Why is the imaginary world, a place where anything should be possible, sexist? Why aren’t more parents demanding equality for their kids?

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

Reel Girl rates “Planes” ***SS*** for gender stereotyping

 

 

 

23 thoughts on “In ‘Planes’ males soar, females get grounded

  1. Hi, thanks for these reviews, I’ll know not to take my son to see this. Every day I fight for him to see females as strong and independent.

    • Hi Lucia,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s so important for boys to see/ read narratives where females are powerful, to see males helping females along on their quests. That won’t happen without moms like you. I love hearing from parents like you.

      Margot

  2. Here’s an idea, if you don’t like the messages these movies are giving off STOP GIVING THESE STUDIOS YOUR MONEY and maybe they’ll take a hint 😉

    Here’s the thing, working in the animation industry myself, I can tell you that these studios don’t give two shits about your opinion. They probably read blogs like this and have a good laugh.

    They do give a lot of shits about your MONEY though. So stop giving it to them.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoYWdHe4tQ4

    Buying a ticket to a film like “Planes” is basically saying: “Hey Disney, I support this movie franchise! MAKE MORE!”

    As artists and animators, we’d LOVE to be working on more diverse projects, but since this kind of crap makes money, we’re making the same movies with the same characters over and over again.

    I also beg you as an audience to STOP putting animation in the “it’s only for kids” box. STOP telling animators what they can and can’t do (by giving your money only to the projects that stick to the formula) and I guarantee you’ll get some damn good projects with strong female AND male protagonists.

    Here’s what bugs me, every time a more interesting animated film comes out that isn’t from Pixar (“Coraline”, “Paranorman”, “Frankenweenie”, “Rango”, or “Fantastic Mr. Fox” for example) audiences reject it for some reason. Movies like “Rango” or “Mr. Fox” are deemed “too adult” (like that’s a bad thing…) because they aren’t designed as babysitters for your kids and don’t stick to the “animated movie” formula that studios like Dreamworks have perfected.

    That’s why studios rarely fund movies that don’t stick to the approved formula. It takes a good director with a lot of influence like Tim Burton, Brad Bird, Gore Verbinski, or Wes Anderson to make an animated film that even puts a toe outside of the box.

    Usually, the policy is “if it can’t be made into a franchise with a billion sequels, we won’t fund it”.

    So stop treating animation as an “kid’s genre” and stop supporting the movies that stick to formula. If you see a movie that does not seem to stick to formula, GO SEE IT AND SUPPORT IT, even if it doesn’t conform to your views 100%.

    • Hi Animator,

      I get your point but to me, what you’re saying is like: If you don’t like the U.S., move to France. If you don’t like the catholic church, get out. The world is sexist, and when I see it, I write about it. If I were to avoid sexism I’d have to live on a rock. I try to teach my kids to be critical thinkers. I see a lot of the movies you mention and I like them and still find them sexist. You have told me before no one cares about my opinion and everyone is laughing me. I wrote something about that in this blog post, in fact, not even about Disney. How I respond to the sexism is to point it out, call it out, and to work on my own story. I’m a writer and that’s what I do. I do hope more parents will get it and call it out as well and teach their kids to.

      Margot

      • That’s all well and good, but you have to remember that MONEY runs the film industry. If people keep giving money to studios who make formulaic movies, they’ll keep making formulaic movies.

        It’s the American public’s own fault that the animation industry is in such a shamble right now. They’ve been treating animation as a “children’s genre” for way too long. It needs to stop and the first step is to tell the studios you don’t want those types of formulaic films by

        Europe and Japan gets the potential animation has as a storytelling medium. Persepolis, Secret of Kells, Ernest and Celestine, The Rabbi’s Cat, Chico and Rita, etc. are all on par or even better then the best live action movies.

        North America is still stuck in the “animation is for kids” ghetto because people keep supporting that stupid idea. Even though films like “Rango”, “The Incredibles”, “Up”, and “Coraline” have proven that animation can compete with, or even has an advantage over, live action, people refuse to go see them or support them because they don’t stick to, what is in their minds, a “proper” (ie formulaic) animated film.

        And I never said nobody cares about your opinion. If people didn’t care about your opinion they wouldn’t post here. Obviously I care about what you have to say if I’m writing this long-ass post.

        I said the big studio executives don’t care about your opinion. They care about your money. Which is perfectly true. In this age where film-piracy is so prevalent and costing studios so much money, it’s no wonder they’re playing it safe.

        If we are to change how animated films are made these days in the States, we need to start taking some action. I’ve been working on a few independent projects, usually just to keep me sane, but hopefully will find a following.

        There are some great independent films being made but whether people see them is another story. I’d much rather support them then any of the big studio projects (with the exception of maybe Laika).

        I highly doubt Fox or Warner Brothers will pick up Bill Plympton’s “Cheatin” or Nick Cross’s “Black Sunrise” anytime soon and giving them wide release. They are so far away from the “usual” animated fare that parents will see the trailers and think “this isn’t appropriate for my three year old” and ignore it. They won’t even consider that THEY are the audience, not their kids. And that’s just so sad to me as an artist.

        • “Europe and Japan gets the potential animation has as a storytelling medium”
          Oh, that’s not so true. At least about part of Europe (just saying, Europe has lots of countries and there are huge differences between them). Believe me, most people still think that animation is for kids.
          But let’s talk about animation in Japan. My boyfriend and I love manga and anime. Classic films and series and modern ones. We have read and watched dozens of them. Some months ago we tried to think about a work (manga or animation) with these characteristics:
          -There was an important character that was an action girl
          -The action girl was equally strong than the male heros
          -The action girl was not sexualized
          We got lots and lots with 2 of the 3 conditions, but only 2 works with all of them. And that were more of a maybe. Even in works for female public. Now, what should I do? You say that I should stop reading and watching that kind of works, and stop buying merchandising. But the problem was not an individual work, was the pattern. And anyway, should I burn my DVDs of Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell because of the boobs of Faye and Makoto? Because they are amazing series. And, if there is no alternative, then, should I stop watching anime?
          You say that if women stop buying those works, the producers will change their products, but I’m not so sure. Think about how many times people have complained to DC about its female characters, about the sexualized suits and positions, about the women in refrigeratos tropes. Have they changed? No, because women are not their public. We have a bit of a Catch 22 situation here. If women buy those works, then they say that there is no need to change anything. If women don’t buy those works, then, they say that there is no need to cater to them, because women are not their public, anyway.

          • Hi Abnoba,

            You make a great point about the Catch 22, well put!

            “Now, what should I do? You say that I should stop reading and watching that kind of works, and stop buying merchandising. But the problem was not an individual work, was the pattern. And anyway, should I burn my DVDs of Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell because of the boobs of Faye and Makoto? Because they are amazing series. And, if there is no alternative, then, should I stop watching anime?
            You say that if women stop buying those works, the producers will change their products, but I’m not so sure. Think about how many times people have complained to DC about its female characters, about the sexualized suits and positions, about the women in refrigeratos tropes. Have they changed? No, because women are not their public. We have a bit of a Catch 22 situation here. If women buy those works, then they say that there is no need to change anything. If women don’t buy those works, then, they say that there is no need to cater to them, because women are not their public, anyway.”

            Thank you,
            Margot

          • 🙂 Glad you liked that. And just to illustrate that I’m not talking about a theory or imagining things, today I have read this blog post about the declarations of several comic books authors. Apparently, they don’t write more female characters because fans are not interested in them and women don’t read superhero comics (and I suppose that I don’t exist, nor my comic book collection).
            http://observationdeck.io9.com/undefined
            I have seen the same reasoning in discussions about videogames:
            -The industry of videogames use sexist tropes and there are almost no females protagonists.
            -Women don’t buy videogames, so they can’t complain. Most videogames are bought by men, so of course they write the games for us.
            -Actually, 45% of the videogame buyers are women.
            -See! Videogames are not sexist! The only one that is complainig is you! If they were sexist women wouldn’t buy videogames.
            -…

        • OK, a lot of generalizations here. I grew up with Disney and a strong background in art so I definitely appreciate animated films. I enjoyed the storytelling in Persepolis and the strong art style. I enjoyed the art in Coraline but I found the story a little weak. I thought both the art and the story were a little weak with ParaNorman. I think there was a lot of wasted potential there and don’t know why it was so highly praised. I don’t think everything that gets put out by the major companies is necessarily a bad product and all of the foreign productions aren’t necessarily brilliant just because they are more adult or they deal with different topics. I do wish that animation would continue to embrace a different kind of storytelling and I think there’s an audience for it.

  3. This is so disheartening. My almost-three-year old boy loves the movie Cars and is obsessed with airplanes. I had hoped that I could feel good about taking him to see Planes, but clearly I can’t.

    In some ways, though, feeling very constrained in my choices for kids’ media is a good thing. It helps me really *feel* the constraints that are being placed on modern girls. I need to feel that so that I don’t become complacent as the mother of boys and a lover of movies. I need to remember that the Bechdel test is just as important for children’s media as it is for my own film/television/media choices.

  4. I’m not really worried about girls getting little represented as competitors or achievers given, as bad as things may look right now, we have a sequel to the all female cast Little Witch Academia coming soon, the reboot of the 95% female cast Sailor Moon and the upcoming, hopefully, Henrietta Bulkowski

      • Why? Sailor Moon and TLoK are series, tons of episodes. Little witch academia hopefully will get made into a series, and again, all female cast. If Henrietta Bulkowski is funded, Lif animation can get off the ground and keep producing social conscious media. Spider stories is also an upcoming series about a black warrior princess. The people who brought us Coraline and paranorman now are producing troll box, just look at how the trailer nicely acknowledges the diversity in families.

        This i just what I can remember right now, I’m sure there’s a lot more.

        • Seriously? Didn’t you help me put together the gallery for 2013? See Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing from Children’s Movies in 2013. I’m talking about MOVIES. Mainstream movies that evolve into toys, clothing, and on and on. But I’ve written about PBS series as well. I’m talking about female protagonists in the mainstream, not in the fringe. I’m talking about fenale protags marketed to boys.

          • Yes, of course. But mainstream is not limited to movies, SM is going to get a worldwide simultaneous release, and it’s definitely going to spark merchandising, Lok, my little pony friendship is magic and laika too are in the mainstream. And little witch academia was so succesful that the kickstarter got funded in less than a single day!

            I don’t disagree with your post, it’s about how we have it right now and not what we hope to be having, and I understand the frustration at girls being marginalised three times in a row, believe me, I do, but this year is promising some amazing new series that feature them prominently. I would really like you to watch some of these and tell us what you think.

  5. I just saw Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters last night, and one thing I have to say is they had a much better balance of male-to-female characters. The girls, especially the daughter of Ares, were shown to be competitive and winners. So…there’s some hope.

      • Glad you liked it. (Saw your most recent entry about seeing the film). The intro with the Wipeout style competition sold it for me, although I will agree that much of the film had a cheese-factor to it, it was still enjoyable.

  6. Hi Renee,

    Thanks for posting the link, here and mine on teachmama.com. Here’s something I write when a blogger I respected wrote she liked Monsters Inc because of the non-stereotyped male.

    “I’ve seen comments about movies I gave a high S rating to (“Monster University” and “Despicable Me 2″ most recently) that the male characters in these movies are not typical males. They are complex. Therefore, the gender stereotyping isn’t that bad. I strongly disagree with that assessment. I don’t see the lack of complex male characters as a problem in animated movies for kids. From “Toy Story” to “The Lion King” to “Ratatouille,” there are great male protagonists. Not only that, there are so many male characters in these movies, heroes and villains, cool dudes and geeks, athletes and artists, on and on, that kids get to see all kinds of male representation. Female characters, on the other hand, are barely there, passive, and sexualized. Females are erased and seeing that repeated pattern negatively affects both girls and boys. I can’t think of a better way to address stereotyping of male characters than to show kids strong females who are the stars of their own movies, with males helping and supporting them on their quests.”

    Margot

  7. Thank you, as always, for seeing what so much of society misses. Ironically, right after your post in my Feedly feed was a post titled: http://teachmama.com/3-reasons-all-kids-must-see-disneys-planes/
    (http://teachmama.com/3-reasons-all-kids-must-see-disneys-planes/)

    This was my response (currently awaiting moderation). Hopefully it starts some dialog that opens some eyes, although mostly I expect it to be ignored or shut down. 🙁

    Ironically, the blog post just above yours in my Feedly feed (oh, how I do miss Google Reader!) gave a very different review of Planes. I recommend checking it out, as I think as a society we are really missing out on something major in most movies for our kids.

    Half this world is female, yet in the imaginary worlds we show our kids girls are all but missing. One token girl (even if she has the non-sterotype role of mechanic) doesn’t erase the fact that we are teaching my son that girls are a minority, mostly only involved when romance happens, and teaching my daughter that she is invisible unless she is there to support someone else.

    I highly recommend the this blog, Reel Girl. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. And we can’t do better, and demand better, until we know better.
    http://reelgirl.com/2013/08/in-planes-males-soar-females-get-grounded/

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