Linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer released statistics showing that even when females star, males get more speaking time in Disney Princess movies. Quartz reports:
Even Frozen, the 2013 mega blockbuster starring two princess sisters, gives women only 41% of the dialogue. The only exceptions to the female-minority rule are Tangled and Brave, whose female characters speak 52% and 74% of the lines.
Olaf was also the major character in the previews my kids and I saw.
Now Fought and Eisenhauer have published a study to show that even when females star in movies, males get more lines. This particular kind of sly sexism found in contemporary kids’s media is a version of what I call the Minority Feisty.
What is the Minority Feisty? If you see an animated film today, it will usually include a strong female character. Or two. Or maybe even three. But however many females there are, there will always be more males. Females, half of the human population, will be depicted as a minority. Females will get less lines and less screen time. The token strong female character (or two or three, you get the point) who shows up in the film, 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.
“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 Quartz article I link to in this post refers to these characters as “sassy” and “plucky.” Same idea– strong for a girl.)
In this century, Katha Pollitt’s Smurfette Principle has evolved into the Minority Feisty. There are a few more females than there used to be, but imagine if the gender ratio presented in kids’s movies was reflected in the real world. Is that a world that you want your kids to live in? Parents, be on the look out for the Minority Feisty. Teach your kids how to identify her. Don’t let the sexism fool you or them. Don’t let a new generation of kids experience sexism as normal and grow up to expect and accept a world where girls go missing. And don’t forget to ask your kids this: Why does the imaginary world have to be sexist at all? If rats can cook, unicorns prance around, and lions befriend warthogs, can’t we picture gender equality?
These women flew over 60 million miles within a 2 year period…However, after a nasty and aggressive campaign by male pilots who wanted the WASPs’ jobs, they were the only wartime unit that was denied military status by congress…For many years the WASPs kept their achievements quiet. Their service in World War II would only be known by a few. They are not mentioned in our history books, nor is their story taught in schools.Their accomplishments of being the first women to fly in the military would even be forgotten.
I haven’t seen the documentary yet, so I don’t know the details of the “nasty and aggressive campaign by male pilots” which successfully erased the stories of these female heroes from our history books. But I am somewhat of an expert on current kid culture, and I can tell you that stories about female heroes continue to go missing right now.
Thousands of years ago, conquering armies smashed the idols of their victims and stole their stories, an extremely effective tactic to destroy a community and steal its power. Christians did this to pagans, but of course, this act is all over history. Just like the goddess morphed into the Virgin, girls are going missing under the guise of celebration. Right now, in 2013, Disney is stealing and sanitizing stories. It’s an annihilation. How long before we all forget the original story? Will our children ever hear it?
I am reeling from this WW2 story, not because of the sexism of the past, but because of the sexism today. Want to see some sexist male pilots? Check out this preview from Disney’s recent hit, “Planes.”
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.
When I saw that preview with my three young daughters, 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. But when I actually saw the movie, I learned that 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. 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 a female flyer is allowed to win a race in animation.
Yesterday, I posted about a three year old girl in my daughter’s preschool who told a teacher she can’t be a pilot, but she can be a pilot’s wife. You can tell your kids, until you’re blue in the face, that they can be anything they want to be, but if you don’t show them, through images and stories, they won’t believe you. They won’t believe in themselves. Little girls are obsessed with princesses and ballerinas, and later, supermodels, because those are the few times females are allowed to be the star in the show. Everyone wants to be the star in their own movie, their own life, but girls, again and again, are literally, pushed to the sidelines.
If you look at the erasure of these female pilots from World War II, the government obviously participated in the sexism. Allowed it to happen and sanctioned it. This is not an isolated event of the past. How can we, literally, sit back and watch it happen again and again?
On my recent post about WW2 pilots, I got this comment from Abnoba
“The actual race in Planes is totally dominated by male competitors.” How shocking! You mean in real life the actual race is not dominated by male competitors?… This stuff is silly nonsense.
This feminist whine that animated movies for kids should reflect “progressive feminist” values is the kind of thing that gives feminism a bad name. Why? Because it’s silly overreach as usual.
The idea that animators see machines that race (airplanes, cars, dunebuggies, drag racers, etc.) as a male world isn’t an irrational sexist bias – it’s simply reality. Males – and especially boys – are by nature gung ho about machines to a degree that girls are not is obvious to anyone not wearing feminist blinders. That it’s necessary to point this out these days is a comment on the nuttiness of the feminist whiners who are constantly arguing that these natural differences are not natural but socially imposed. It’s B.S. Boys and girls are different from head to toe and always have been and always will be.
Please show this picture to your kids. It’s likely they won’t see it anywhere else.
“On May 11th Brave‘s Merida will be officially crowned as the 11th Disney Princess, the impact of which is that Disney will be selling more stuff with her on it, I guess? Anyway. Along with the “coronation ceremony,” to be held at Walt Disney World, Merida’s gotten a new redesign…”
Here’s one of my favorite pre-botox, pre-makeover Merida expressions.
Pithy analysis from Peggy Orenstein on the eventual fate of way too many of Disney’s female characters:
Because, in the end, it wasn’t about being brave after all. It was about being pretty…I’m especially creeped out by Belle who appears to have had major surgery… In addition to everything else, they’re pushing the brown girls slowly but surely to the edges…
I’ve always said that it’s not about the movies. It’s about the bait-and-switch that happens in the merchandise, and the way the characters have evolved and proliferated off-screen. Maybe the problem is partly that these characters are designed in Hollywood, where real women are altering their appearance so regularly that animators, and certainly studio execs, think it’s normal.
‘The surgery takes away their individuality and uniqueness and its sad. Most are beautiful without it but telling them that their Korean ethnic features are in fact lovely is as effective as screaming at a brick wall.
‘They wont believe you because they’ve been brainwashed to think westernization of their features is superior, I don’t think they want to look white, but a mix of white and Asian and definitely less Korean.’
This is how one “beauty” queen describes herself:
The student revealed her plastic surgery secret after photos emerged of her looking very different at school, but she said she hadn’t misled anyone.
But she defended her crown telling the Korean media: ‘I never said I was born beautiful.’
So sad because this generic look has absolutely nothing to do with “beauty” and everything to do with power, Westernization, capitalism, and status. TV host Stephen Colbert explained it well when he jokingly asked teen writer/ phenom Tavi Gevinson: “But if girls feel good about themselves, how will we sell them things they don’t need?”
How indeed? I was a huge Merida fan, as were my kids, and I bought my three young daughters several figures, books, and posters featuring her because she was cool. Here’s a framed poster over my four year old daughter’s bed so she can see her when she goes to sleep at night, along with her favorite Merida book.
Like Merida, my daughter, Rose, has wild, curly hair that she hates to have brushed.
I hope my daughter never feels that she has to look generic and homogeneous in order to be “beautiful.” I hope she always knows that her beauty comes from her spirit. That’s not some meaningless cliche. There’s nothing “attractive” about frozen-faced clones. Disney’s new, madeover Merida has absolutely nothing to offer my kids. I won’t be buying ANY merchandise with this awful, new image.
Reel Girl rates the new Merida ***SSS*** for major stereotyping.
Today, Marvel Entertainment announced a new partnership with Hyperion Books — like Marvel, a Disney subsidiary — to publish The She-Hulk Diaries and Rogue Touch, two novels described as featuring ‘strong, smart heroines seeking happiness and love while battling cosmic evil.’ Yes, it’s time for superhero chick-lit.
Huh? Who “realized” there were no females? How did that great epiphany happen? (I can’t wait for everyone to “realize” that girls have gone missing from children’s movies.) Was it a Marvel insight? They were all in a meeting and one of the artists slapped his hand to his forehead, shouting, “Whoa dudes, we forgot the women!”
Both Marvel and DC Comics have been at the center of concerns and controversies recently regarding women in comics, both in terms of the way they are represented on the page and in the offices of the Big Two comics publishers.
While DC Comics has quite a few ongoing titles devoted to female characters (Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Voodoo), there are very few women actually involved in creating them, an issue that has infused criticism of the company’s relaunch since the beginning, and was recently compounded by the news that writer Gail Simone is leaving Firestorm.
This post made me wonder what it feels like to be a female artist at Marvel or DC and marvel (ha ha) at how challenging it must be for women to get their own narratives out on the page in that kind of environment. It’s already risky for any artist to put her vision out in the world. Can you imagine trying to achieve that there? Talk about the opposite of support.
ComicsAlliance goes on:
Marvel Comics, meanwhile, seems to have the opposite problem; with the recent cancellation of X-23, there are no female-led ongoings in the Marvel Universe (with the possible exception of the 12-issue miniseries The Fearless) but significantly more women working in creative and editorial roles. The two companies illustrate two different but interrelated problems: the lack of women playing major roles in the comics, and the lack of women playing major roles in creating them. While neither situation is ideal, what are the implications of both problems, and which has a bigger impact on the comics that are created or the audience they reach?
I don’t see these as “opposite problems,” or even “different” or “interrelated.”
Here’s the problem in a nutshell. Marvel and DC, are you listening because right now, I’m going to save you millions of dollars in consulting fees and identify the root of your problem for you in just 4 words: NO WOMEN IN POWER. Every time you make a hire, think up a character, or draw an image, ask yourself this simple question: woman in power, yes or no? FYI, this image would be a no.
As if Halloween wasn’t sexist enough already with its sexy “cute” costumes aggressively marketed to little girls, this season Hollywood delivers not one, but three animated male-centered monster movies. In each one, males are front and center while females get relegated to the sidelines.
I just saw this poster for “Frankenweenie:”
The movie is about a boy and his dog and named for the male protagonist. The male/ female ratio on the movie poster 4:1 (I thought that the smaller, sidelined cat could be female, but after looking up the character, I learned his name is Mr. Whiskers.)
If you read Reel Girl, you know I’ve got a lot of issues with Disney’s hegemony over our kids imaginations. I’ve written about how exposure to the same old narratives, repeatedly, influences how kids brains grow.
Today WWW. TRUTH-OUT.ORG reviewed The Mouse that Roared by Henry A. Giroux and Grace Pollack (though it looks like the book came out in 2010?) I am excited to read the book though the review seems pretty academic, I am hoping the text is less wonky.
Here are some nuggets from the review:
Cuddly cartoon animals and whimsical fairy-tale stories are merely Disney’s public face. The expansive conglomerate is not limited to Disney film and theme parks. It also owns six motion picture studios, ABC television network and its 226 affiliated stations, multiple cable television networks, 227 radio stations, four music companies, three cruise lines, theatrical production companies, publishing houses, 15 magazine titles and five video game development studios. This media and culture monopoly goes unnoticed by most Americans, who just want to indulge their childhood fantasies as Disney so deftly enables with its movies, theme parks and merchandise….
The authors quote Walt Disney: “I think of a child’s mind as a blank book. During the first years of his life, much will be written on the pages. The quality of that writing will affect his life profoundly.” They demonstrate how Disney’s movies, TV shows and toys are doing a majority of that writing in this generation’s children.”
“The Mouse that Roared” also draws attention to the gender stereotypes in Disney princess movies, from older cartoons such as “The Little Mermaid” to their newest, “Enchanted.”
“Disney has become a major player in global culture, and the first casualties of its dominance in popular culture are, of course, those who are most defenseless – children,” the book warns.
Here’s the poster for Disney’s new summer movie ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ Notice someone missing?
Here’s a hint– I blogged about a poster of Gnomeo and Juliet that had the same invisible issue, in spite of the movie title, no less, though that ratio was 9 to 0.
Here’s the cast of ‘Winnie the Pooh’:
Winnie the Pooh
Disney’s new movie stars eight males and one female. I know this because I’ve been watching Caillou (another boy-starring cartoon named after the boy it stars) on PBS with my two year old daughter. The commercials for summer’s new animated Pooh movie cycle on. So as my daughter meets Tigger and the others (we haven’t seen Kanga yet) she’s learning, once again, that girls are not that important in imaginary world. Just like the real one. So much for telling her she can grow up to be president.
Driving to school today, my three daughters and I passed a poster for Disney’s new movie “Gnomeo and Juliet” coming to theaters February 11. My kids wanted to know, where’s Juliet?
Can you find her?
If you spot Juliet around town, preferably with eight or so of her girlfriends frolicking behind her, Romeo nowhere in sight, please let me know. Extra points if she’s doing something acrobatic and looking grumpy, instead of standing around beaming at Romeo which, of course, she won’t be because, remember, he’s not in the poster.
Last year, at the same billboard location, around Townsend and Brannan, there was an ad for Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” It featured only the flame-haired Madhatter.
I’m sure Alice found her way out of Disney’s marketing machine rabbit hole onto some poster, somewhere in San Francisco, but my daughters and I never discovered her. Maybe we should’ve checked the backs of milk cartons.
Girls in kids’ movies have gone missing.
Just last month, Disney’s male executives announced they were going to stop making princess movies, practically the only animation vehicle where girls were allowed to be stars. It may be a lame genre, but at least it acknowledged that girls do, in fact, exist.
Movies that feature girls in title roles, star girls, or feature female characters of any kind continue to decline. See statistics here.
Thank you Peggy Orenstein for writing the brilliant book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Every parent should read this new, excellent analysis of the ubiquitous princess kid-culture and its various mutations in the world of grown-up women.
Orenstein, a NY Times journalist, mom, and writer takes on and deconstructs two (so annoying!) messages every parent hears if she dares to challenge the monarchy of these frothy creatures.
Myth number one: we’re just giving girls what they want!
Orenstein responds with a brief history of marketing and information on child brain development– some major points paraphrased here:
Pink Children were not color-coded until early twentieth century. Before that, babies wore all white, because to get clothing clean, it had to be boiled. Boys and girls also used to all wear dresses. When nursery colors were introduced, pink was more masculine, a pastel version of the red, which was associated with strength. Blue was like the Virgin Mary and symbolized innocence, thus the girl color. When the color switched is vague. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland all wear blue. Sleeping Beauty’s gown was switched to pink to differentiate her from Cinderella.
Baby doll In an 1898 survey, less than 25% of girls said dolls were their favorite toy. “President Theodore Roosevelt… obsessed with declining birth rates among white, Anglo-Saxon women, began waging a campaign against ‘race-suicide.’ When women ‘feared motherhood,” he warned, our nation trembled on the ‘brink of doom.’ Baby dolls were seen as a way to revive the flagging maternal instinct of girls, to remind them of their patriotic duty to conceive; within a few years, dolls were ubiquitous, synonymous with girlhood itself. Miniature brooms, dustpans, and stoves tutored these same young ladies in the skills of homemaking…”
Princess When Orenstein herself was a kid, being called a Princess, specifically Jewish-American, was the worst insult a kid (and her family) could get. How had a generation transformed this word into a coveted compliment?
Disney Princesses as a group brand did not exist until 2000. Disney hired Andy Mooney from Nike. He went to a Disney on Ice show and saw little girls in homemade princess costumes. Disney had never marketed characters outside of a movie release and never princesses from different movies together. Roy Disney was against it, and that’s why, still, even on pull-ups, you won’t see the princesses looking at each other. (How’s that for a model for girls in groups or female friendships?) Princesses are now marketed to girls ages 2 – 6. Mooney began the campaign by envisioning a girl’s room and thinking about a princess fantasy: what kind of clock would a princess have? What type of bedding? Dora and Mattel followed suit with Dora and Barbie princess versions and then along came everyone else.
Toddler Clothing manufacturers in the 1930s counseled department stores that in order to increase sales they should create a ‘third stepping stone’ between infant wear and older kids clothing
Tween Coined in the mid-1980s as a marketing contrivance (originally included kids 8 – 15)
More on tweens, toddlers, girls and boys: if there is micro-segmentation of products by age and gender, people buy more stuff. If kids need a pink bat and a blue bat, you double your sales. Orenstein writes: “Splitting kids and adults, or for that matter, penguins, into ever tinier categories has proved a surefire way to boost profits. So where there was once a big group called kids we now have toddlers, pre-schoolers, tweens, young-adolescents and older adolescents, each with their own developmental and marketing profile…One of the easiest ways to segment the market is to magnify gender differences or invent them where they did not previously exist.”
http://www.jeongmeeyoon.com/aw_pinkblue.htm SeoWoo and Her Pink Things by JeongMee Yoon
One major fallout of gendering every plaything? “Segregated toys discourage cross-sex friendships.” Boys and girls stop playing together. Orenstein writes about the long-term effects: “This is a public health issue. It becomes detrimental to relationships, to psychological health and well-being, when boys and girls don’t learn how to talk to one another…Part of the reason we have the divorce rates we do, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking behaviors, sexual harassment is because the lack of ability to communicate between men and women.”
Orenstein argues: “Eliminating divorce or domestic violence may be an ambitious mandate for a pre-school curriculum, but its not without basis: young children who have friends of the opposite sex have a more positive transition into dating as teenagers and sustain their romantic relationships better.”
Myth #2: that princess stuff is just a phase– she’ll grow out of it!
Princesses are marketed to girls 2 – 6 years old; there’s something very creepy and dangerous about making these kids victims of billion dollar industries. Kids brains are literally being formed, they’re malleable. So this little phase is helping to create a brain that lasts forever.
Scientists have pretty much moved on from the anachronistic, simplistic debate of nature versus nurture. It’s now understood that nature and nurture form and create each other in an endless loop. Your experiences influence your wiring.
For example, small kids can make all kinds of sounds to learn languages. Lise Eliot, author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain is quoted by Orenstein: “Babies are born ready to absorb the sounds, grammar, and intonation of any language, but then the brain wires it up only to perceive and produce a specific language. After puberty, its possible to learn another language but far more difficult. I think of gender differences similarly. The ones that exist become amplified by the two different cultures that boys and girls are immersed in from birth. This contributes to the way their emotional and cognitive circuits get wired.”
“It’s not that pink is intrinsically bad, it is such a tiny slice of the rainbow,” Orenstein writes. To grow brains, kids need more, varied experiences, not fewer.
Phases don’t vanish, they mutate.
Orenstein’s book traces how the real life Disney stars/ girl princesses (i.e. Lindsay Lohan, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Hilary Duff, Miley Cyrus etc) attempt to make their transitions from girl-princesses into adult ones; or more crassly, from virgin to whore. Orenstein writes it’s impossible to commodify one end of the spectrum and not the other, and there are so few models of healthy female sexuality out there. She writes, “Our daughters may not be faced with the decision of whether to strip for Maxim, but they will have to figure out how to become sexual beings without being objectified or stigmatized.” All that early training for girls to focus incessantly on their appearance lasts a lifetime. What happens when these girls try to grow up? Orenstein writes girls learn, “Look sexy, but don’t feel sexual, to provoke desire in others without experiencing it themselves.”
How does this emphasis on dressing up and attention for appearance affect kids as they grow? Stephen Hinshaw, quoted from his book The Triple Bind, explains, “Girls pushed to be sexy too soon can’t really understand what they’re doing…they may never learn to connect their performance to erotic feelings or intimacy. They learn how to act desirable, but not to desire, undermining, rather than promoting, healthy sexuality.”
The basic message I got from this book: the issue is not pink or princesses, but to give your kid more experiences not less. Remember– many colors in the rainbow!
(1) Encourage and reinforce cross-gender play. If your daughter is playing with a boy, acknowledge it, reinforce what they’re doing. You are the biggest influence in your kid’s life, you’re not ‘just another person.’ Talk to your kids pre-school teachers and administrators about encouraging cross-gender play. There is lots in this book about how teachers are not trained in this area at all and miss opportunities to help brains grow.
(2) Remember, your kid is not a small adult. She has a different brain. Help that brain grow! If your son picks up a My Little Pony, buy it for him instead of yet another car. It won’t make him gay! It will make him smart!
(3) Your kids are watching you! Again, they are not just little people with fully formed minds. If you criticize your appearance (or another woman’s), how you treat your partner, how you eat, she takes note.
“As a Black woman, I know all to well how complicated the issue of hair can be. Looking at the above image [of Tangled’s Rapunzel], I found that I could not see beyond her long blond hair and blue eyes. I believe that this will also become the focal point of many girls of colour. The standard of long flowing blond hair as the epitome of femininity necessarily excludes and challenges the idea that WOC are feminine, desired, and some cases loved and therefore, while Disney is creating an image of Rapunzel that we are accustomed to, her rebirth in a modern day context is problematic, because her body represents the celebration of White femininity.
The fact that Tangled is coming on the heels of the first African American princess is indeed problematic. It makes Princess Tiana seem like an impotent token, with Rapunzel appearing to reset the standard of what princess means and even more precisely what womanhood means.”
I watched “Tangled” with my sister, both of us brunettes, and when we heard the line about how Rapunzel’s hair, if cut, loses its magic and turns brown, we looked at each other and started cracking up.
There is some other reference in the movie to “browness.” Does anyone remember what it is? Flynn takes Rapunzel into a bar full of drunken men, and he says something, or someone says something like: “It seems very brown in here” or it “smells brown.” Please tell me if you know what I’m talking about.
It is notable to, as Girl W/ Pen! refers to, that the princess death sentence is coming right after the first African-American young royal finally made her way to the animated screen. There’s lots of talk about ending the only cartoon vehicle that repeatedly allowed girls be stars, but not so much discussion about the racism involved in the timing of this decision. Also, I keep hearing that adjusted for inflation dollars, “The Princess and the Frog” did just as well as “The Little Mermaid.” If this is true, I don’t get why Disney execs claim the film was such a failure.
Again, I don’t want to be defending princesses here. I don’t like them. But I don’t like the way they’re being used to get rid of starring girls roles all together.
Natalie Wilson writes the cast of “Tangled” isn’t quite all white. On Rapunzel’s wicked mother:
Notably, Mother Gothel, Rapunzel’s evil abductress, has dark hair and eyes and non-Caucasian features.
According to Christian Blaulvelt of Entertainment Weekly, “Mother Gothel is a dark, dark character. I mean, she’s a baby snatcher.” Ah yes, and she is dark in more ways than one – her dark skin, hair, and clothing contrasting with the golden whiteness of Rapunzel.
Alan Menken, the musical composer for the film, similarly notes that “Mother Gothel is a scary piece of work. Nothing she is doing is for the good of Rapunzel at all. It’s all for herself” Emphasizing her manipulative relationship with Rapunzel, Menken admits, “I was concerned when writing it. Like, will there be a rash of children trying to kill their parents after they’ve seen the movie?” Wow – how about worrying if there will be a rash of children who will see DARK-SKINNED mothers (and non-wedded ones) as evil and sinister?
In addition to carrying on Disney’s tradition of problematic representations of race, the film also keeps with the tradition of framing females beauty obsession as evil and “creepy” (Flyn’s words) rather than as understandable in a world of Disneyfied feminine norms. A mirror worshipper to rival the evil queen in Snow White, Gothel is presented as a passive-aggressive nightmare — she is the tyrannical single mother that is so overbearing Rapunzel must beg for the opportunity to leave the tower.
I always ask my daughter when we’re watching these movies: where are the moms? Belle in “Beauty in the Beast,” no mom. “Ariel” in The Little Mermaid, no mom. “Jasmine” in Aladdin, no mom.