If we can imagine talking bunnies as police in ‘Zootopia,’ why can’t we imagine gender equality?

After posting about the sexist ads for Disney’s “Zootopia” 3 minutes ago, I decided to do a little more research on the movie.

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The following headline came up on my Google feed from The Verge:  “The latest Zootopia trailer takes on workplace sexism against bunnies.”

I don’t know if it’s the idea of “workplace bunnies” that made me nervous, or simply my lack of confidence in the idea of Disney taking on sexism, but my heart sunk as I proceeded to read the Verge post:

At this point, the Walt Disney Animation Studios deserves praise for producing work that can arguably sit comfortably next to some of Pixar’s own efforts. Zootopia, at first blush, takes that all-too-familiar anthropomorphic animals idea and builds a whole world around it. But, at least with this new trailer, it looks like the studio is trying to tackle gender and race in a cute but really effective way.

Once Upon a Time‘s Ginnifer Goodwin stars as Officer Judy Hopps, a rabbit who joins the Zootopia police force. She quickly has to contend with stereotypes that women in the real world have long had to deal with — like being called emotional or unprepared for what’s out there — when the truth is she’s incredibly capable. And her skills will probably come in handy when she and Nick Wilde the fox (Jason Bateman) are forced to solve a crime together. Zootopia hits theaters on March 4th.

So can anyone tell me what the problem is here?

In a nutshell, “Zootopia” is a movie about talking bunnies. Lots of talking animals actually. There’s a fox, a buffalo, a lion, badger, elephant, moose, shrew, I could go on. Knowing Disney, all these animals probably sing and dance and hang out together even though in the real world, they’d eat each other. So why, why WHY if we can all stretch our imaginations to believe in loquacious animals, must we suddenly revert to reality when it comes to sexism? Instead of showing a lone female battle a majority of males, why not show a majority of females being heroic? Do you see what I’m going for here? In a fantasy world where anything is possible, why not create gender equality? Why not let kids experience females and males treated equally? If you can’t even imagine it (which apparently, we can’t) you cannot create it. Oh, is that the point, Disney?

You might say, there’s an important place for the narrative of a female struggling against sexism a la “Mulan” or “Brave.” While I agree this story has value, it can also become an excuse to continue to replicate sexism in the fantasy world, to always show a minority of females and majority of males because “that’s just the way it is in the real world.” After I saw “The Lion King” I asked: why did the lionesses have to wait around for Simba to come around and save them? Why did they have to get bossed around by weak, old Scar? Well, I’m such an idiot! Males lead a pride, of course. That’s just how it is in the real world. OK, so I’m just supposed to overlook that Simba is BFFs with a warthog and a Meerkat but when it comes to sexism, we’re all sticklers for reality?

In “Ratatouille” there is one female chef in the movie, Colette, who works in a kitchen with four male chefs. As far as I could tell, all the rats are male. Certainly, every rat who spoke is male. Colette delivers a speech about sexism, but wouldn’t it be so much more powerful to show kids a female running a kitchen of great female chefs, helped along by a female rat who can cook?

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This strong, lone female is a pattern in contemporary children’s movies. While appearing on the surface to fight sexism, her role actually ensures that sexism will continue for another generation by keeping sexist stereotypes alive. While she appears to be battling sexism, she’s illustrating it. Her character repeats so often in children’s media, I’ve given her a name: Minority Feisty. She differs from the Smurfette Principle in that she is often a “strong female character” and sometimes there are a few strong females in the narrative but they always exist in the minority. Not much for a patriarchy to be threatened by, but we can still call her a feminist. Isn’t that convenient?

 

6 thoughts on “If we can imagine talking bunnies as police in ‘Zootopia,’ why can’t we imagine gender equality?

  1. Realism? You mean, like lionesses doing all the hunting (lead by a lioness) while the lazy males just eat what the lionesses bring home and murder the cubs fathered by other males?

    Or male bees and ants only existing for breeding, and only being about, l don’t know, five animals in the whole hive?

    Or … the daddy clownfish in “Finding Nemo” changing to mommy clownfish because that’s what that kind of fish does …

    Oh, or anglerfish … tiny males have their mouths fused to the big female.

    Haha. You’ll never see that in a movie.

    I can imagine equality of the sexes. But I am not paid to write movie plots, I just write fanfic.

    You are right, this “lone woman fights bad sexism” is getting old, and an excuse to feature sexism in the first place.

    Once played pen&paper roleplay game with a dude who wanted to force me into the “token female who has to fight sexism all the time” role … in a setting that’s explicitly not sexist. (He changed the original game to suit his tastes)

    He was a sexist in more ways than that. You are definitely on to something there.

  2. Ok, I did read what you had been writing there and you are wrong. 1. Judy isn’t the only female at the police force. Alone the trainer at the academy was female. The trainer is a police officer. The thing Judy was rejected in the past and made fun of is because she is a small bunny. Bunnies are majorly not known for their fighting spirits. They are known of their high reproduction rate (Seen on the number of the increasing population as Judy leaves her hometown.) Both mother and father show the typical BUNNYSTEREOTYPE. A bunny is small, it is afraid of everything and runs away on the spot. Judy is sick of this stereotypical thinking. She also says: He is right. I don’t know when it is enough. During the training she never gives up and shows that she is able to use the everything to her advantage.
    Nick Wilde, a fox, was attacked by Prey and they put a muzzle on him, because he is a fox. Making fun of him and rejecting him out of the blue because he is a predator, while he only wanted to join the scouts. After hearing all the time you are a bad person. Hearing you can’t do anything like others you have only 2 options. Either you prove them right or wrong. While Nick gave up on his dreams, Judy didn’t stop on hers. Even while breaking some laws on the way to achive the goal (she worked together with a crimelord. She blackmailed Nick to help her. So it isn’t a wonder that he took his time.
    For that…. JUDY IS A POLICEOFFICER. Why don’t the policeofficers in zootopia know about this way to find something out about a PLATENUMBER Nick had been showing her. Couldn’t she go to her own policestation to find out the number alot faster? That shows that the level of investigation in zootopia is just CRAP. The whole zootopia-policeforce is just so stupid. Not checking the CAMERAS? I could go on there)
    Spoiler: The vice-mayor was never held on account, because she is a small prey animal, while the mayor is a lion. Predators are from the minority class there. Lion – King of the Animals (Mayor). Police – Strong (that why there are BIG and STRONG animals in there like an ELEPHANT or a BULL. Bulls ain’t predators. They are prey. Or did you ever see a bull hunting a tiger to eat it? Also funny the fat cheetah. Cheetahs are known for their speed and not agile. Not for being fat. But they do eat alot, since their body burns so many calories. Think of how much meat a Tiger has to eat. There are characters who are sick of this stereotypical thinking. Some use the (more or less) legal way. others the total unlegal way (like spraying predators with poison gas.) And who is the culprit? The vice-Mayor. A small sheep. A prey.
    You can’t tell the story if you only know the book-cover. It also can be used here. To me it was so clear that the culprit will be the sheep. Why? Because the way the lion was behaving to her. I knew that Judy would become a good police officer. Why? Because she is a bunny. She is small. She is fast and fits perfectly in areas the big guys can’t go into. I saw like her from the beginning the positive sides on her. The strengths that had to be strengthened and the weaknesses that had to be overcome and made to be an advantage for others to be seen. That why the female trainer was looking with pride at her. The trainer also knew that she could do it. There will be allways someone tell you, that you can’t do it. Aslong you don’t try, how will you know? Nick Wilde, judy hopps. Two Animals from the same coin. As Nick Wilde saw that Judy is just like him. Someone oppressed because of the stereotypical thinking, there it is where he decides to help her properly. Not because of the blackmail against him anymore, but having someone being treated like him.
    About Ratatouille. No. It wouldn’t have. You would have ranted about: Ohhhh a woman in the kitchen, that is sooo typical. Women belong to the kitchen, right? yada yada yada. Why are there mostly males to find in a restaurant now? Because less females want to work in a restaurant in the kitchen. Even today you find more females saying that they rather have the man cook for her, since they don’t want to. We call that human.
    And why did the lioness wait? Because we call that nature. Once another lion male takes over he usually kills the offspring of the former. So only his bloodline progresses. In lionking those are not animals living in a humanlike society but in a lionlike society. Lion – King of the animals. That why everyone is bowing. Lioness are there to hunt and to feed everyone. The Lion is there to breed. Make sure there will be more of his speciess. And male lions are more rare then female lions. Before you go rant about stuff you have no clue about, look at the background of the story. Where does it play? What is the theme?
    And don’t forget the joke with the Elephant who says all the time: I don’t know. While the guy (who looks that he smokes too much weed) remembers really everything. (Elephants remember everything stereotype)

  3. So, I agree with a lot of what you have to say about movies and want to have my daughter watch empowering movies that don’t espouse traditional gener roles. However, my suggestion would be not to review a movie based on its trailer, or another article about it. I would suggest actually seeing the movie first. I saw it last Thursday (sneak preview), and while I won’t get into details, it is not just a movie about a female bunnie being “loquacious” and it IS about a female bunny being HEROIC, when the older male non-bunnies are not. This is not a minority feisty, but a main character. Their are definitely some very obvious racial and gender-based commentary in some of the dialogue, good ones! I only saw it once, with my daughter, two of her male friends, and their mom, and everyone thought it was very good, great overal messages, etc. There might be some deeper analysis that you would pick up on faster than I would, so I’m really interested to hear your take on it all once you’ve actually seen the movie. The premise is that animals have evolved out of savagery, so are simply stand-ins for humans, but ones that also carry certain stereotypes from their ancient savage ancestors – that’s more to do with race and ethnicity. In terms of gender, there’s not a lot of messaging that I could actually see. Unless you take the “bunny” and equate that with something inherently female, which I suppose you could. I would have liked to see more female characters in general. Two major characters were female, but other then them and two very minor characters more traditional-gender-role female characters, every other animal that I could tell was male…

    • Hi Levi,

      I just replied in my last post about the importance of marketing. a Minority Feisty can be a main character, the point is females are in the minority. I plan on seeing the movie.

      Margot

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