New study shows Disney movies teach sexism: Even when females star, males get more lines

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.

Back when “Frozen” came out, I blogged: Just as marketing intended, boy thinks central character of ‘Frozen’ is the Snowman. Olaf, a talking snowman, was featured front and center on most of the movie posters my three daughters and I saw around our city of San Francisco.

Frozen-movie-posterOlaf 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?



See Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2014

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

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

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


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



Just as marketing intended, boy thinks central character of ‘Frozen’ is the Snowman

I just read a fascinating interview from titled: A Conversation With a Six-Year-Old Boy About ‘Frozen,’ Princess Movies, and Female Heroes.


The boy is six years old, and if you read this interview, it’s obvious that he thinks that the star of the movie, “Frozen,” is not one of the two female protagonists, but Olaf, the snowman.

Here’s part of the interview:

Me: What would you say that this movie is about?


Kid: Well, it’s about a snowman, and the freezing cold, and frozen stuff, and people who are trying to get warm, and safe from the Queen (Idina Menzel), and about the Queen just trying to help instead of getting ice everywhere, and she wanted to get away from everyone because of her powers. She hurt some people with her powers, and she didn’t want to.


The movie does not begin with the Snowman, nor is the Snowman the central figure of the plot, so why do you think the kid begins his plot description with the Snowman?

You see the poster, above. Who is in the center?

Here’s the preview. From this, who do you think stars in the movie? Who is missing from this preview?

I was super-critical of the marketing of “Frozen” before the movie came out. On Reel Girl, I often write about marketing, because marketing is its own media. Even if kids don’t see the movie, they see the ads on TV, the posters, and the toys. My blog about Frozen’s marketing,  “Disney diminishes a heroine in 4 easy steps,” is about how the powerful females in the movie are concealed by (1) taking her name out of the title (2) changing the plot so she doesn’t rescue a male (3) not showing female characters in the first preview (4) not showing female clearly in the first poster.

The actual movie, I liked. Aside from the 2 protagonists looking like twin Barbies, their characters are great. You can read my review Heroines of “Frozen” melt my bitter heart.

But back to the kid in this interview, here’s why he liked the movie:

Me: What did you think of Frozen?


Kid: It was awesome. It was so awesome. It was my favorite movie ever.


Me: Really? I think it was one of my favorite kids’ movies, too.


Kid: I really loved Olaf [the snowman, voiced by Josh Gad], but I thought it was going to be a peaceful movie, but Daddy, it wasn’t a peaceful movie.

No matter what the interviewer asks the kid about, he steers the conversation back to Olaf.

Me: Did the Queen listen?


Kid: No, because all she wanted to do was keep people away from her powers. Hey Daddy, ask the question, ‘Did Olaf (the snowman) melt?’ That’s an important question.


Me: OK. Did Olaf melt?


Kid: No. Another good question is, ‘What did Olaf like?”


Me: What did Olaf like?


Kid: Warm hugs. And he also liked summer, and that was really funny.

And again:

Me: Do you think girls would like Frozen?


Kid: They might like it, but they might not. But they would definitely like Olaf.

The boy acknowledges that girls are the heroes of the movie, but he can’t resist going back to Olaf one more time:

Me: Do you think your sisters would like Frozen when they are older?


Kid: Yes.


Me: Why?


Kid: Because the girls are the heroes, and I think they would like the snowman.

The reason this is important is because there is a popular myth out there, loyally supported by most grow-ups: girls will see movies about boys but boys will not see movies about girls. As I’ve written often here, girls are trained from the moment they are born that stories about boys are important and for everyone, whereas stories about girls are only for girls. Stories for boys are mainstream while stories for girls are special interest. You can even see this if you look at something like “On Demand” where the “Girl Power” category has shows with female protagonists, in their own section because they are different/ separate/ other. Kids experience this gender dichotomy everywhere– movies, TV, books, and school

Right now, I’m reading The Hobbit. I’m writing a fantasy book, so I thought it would be good for me to read the “father” of fantasy. In The Hobbit, there are trolls, elves, dwarfs, wizards, goblins, dragons, and not one damn female. How could J.R.R. Tolkien write this book, a book for kids, a book that takes place in fantasy world, where all kinds of creatures exist, and magic happens, and completely leave out half of the kid population? And what is remarkable is The Hobbit is considered to be a book for everyone, mainstream, not some “special interest boy book.” I just read an interview with Evangeline Lilly, who plays a female character added to the movie, and she says The Hobbit was her favorite book as a kid. Can you imagine a male, a celebrity male with a role in a huge movie, saying that his favorite book as a child was one with about 50 female characters and no male characters? He would be some kind of freak. I actually don’t even know if a story exists with the reverse gender ratio as The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Here’s the thing: all kids are as just as self-centered as the six year old in this interview. Girls don’t come out of the womb anymore altruistic or open minded that boys do. They all want to see themselves mirrored out there. This is why girls are obsessed with princesses. Not because pink and frilly is in their DNA, but because they want to see girls, and princesses is pretty much what they get. All kids need to see more narratives with star girls as strong,  protagonists, because what do you think happens to kids’ imaginations and aspirations when they learn in childhood that stories about girls are not important? A new generation gets comfortable with a segregated world where females go missing.



Heroines of ‘Frozen’ melt my bitter heart

Today, I saw ‘Frozen’ with 4 kids ages 4 – 11, and we all loved it. The second it ended, my oldest daughter asked if we could go see it again, tomorrow. When I said no, she said maybe she could go with her aunt. All the kids couldn’t stop talking about how cool the “ice queen” is (ha ha, but those are their words.)  The Queen is my favorite character in the movie too, and  I can’t think of a Disney story with a female hero– not villain– that powerful and magical. The Snow Queen’s name is Elsa, and I wish she were in the movie more. I still wish the damn movie was titled for her.


I blogged on Reel Girl about how pissed off I was with the tactics Disney used to adapt the story— struck the powerful female from the title, changed the plot so the heroine doesn’t rescue a boy, elevates males to costars, and leaves out the female stars from the first preview. Matters were made worse when the movie’s head animator said it was difficult to make female characters show anger differently and challenging also since girls have to be pretty. Of course, all this comes from a company that has been marginalizing female characters, presenting them as a minority and sticking them into supporting roles, only glorifying them in a limited way when they are princesses.

I look forward to the day when Disney markets a movie with a female protagonist by putting her name in the title, placing her front and center on the posters around town, and making it obvious in the preview that she’s the star. Marketing is its own media and too often, as with “Frozen,” Disney’s presentation is sexist. Girls go missing. But, still, the actual movie is really good.

“Frozen” has a princess, but it also has a Queen. The princess, Anna, is a good character too. She rescues the man in love with her at least twice. The “true love” in this story is about sisterhood, not romance. But another thing I liked about the movie is that Anna is not in an either/ or situation that so many female characters are: be strong or be in love. Just like a guy character, Elsa gets to have it all.

Is the movie perfect? No way. If I were head of Disney, my Snow Queen movie would be completely different. Besides all the great plot points and characters missing from the original, I hated the Barbie look of Elsa. If you were in a snow palace in the mountains, all alone no less, would you wear heels? A dress, slit to your thigh? I felt like I was watching a doll, to the point that at times, she was painful to see. Elsa and Anna do seem too much alike physically. Also, if you were a Martian and you saw “Frozen,” you would still think females are in the minority. In spite of two female protagonists, there are many scenes in the movie where male characters far outnumber females, including scenes with no females at all. There are no scenes with multiple females and no males.

In spite of these complaints, the movie is the best animated one I’ve seen this year for female characters. There is no question that this narrative belongs to Elsa and Anna. It’s an adventure with smart, brave heroines who may look the same but act differently. Most of all, I was thrilled that my kids got to experience a magical female learning how to use her power. Can we please have some more of that, Disney?

Reel Girl rates “Frozen” ***HH***




The Rule of the Minority Feisty From Politics to Animation

Slate recently posted “More Than A Woman: The unwritten and silly rule that allows one woman to run for office at a time,” about how Juliette Kayyem, candidate for Governor of Massacusettes, was supposedly expected to drop out of the race when another female, Martha Coakley, announced her candidacy. This post goes on to describe how the idea of “one woman at a time” is an expectation that happens all the time in politics.

Often in politics there is an automatic, unspoken, assumption that only one woman can run at a time.  For example, stories about Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren that speculate about whether she will or won’t run for president, generally take it as a given that Warren can’t possibly enter the Democratic primary if Hillary Clinton decides to run. But why is this the automatic assumption? Warren is an utterly different kind of politician with a distinct biography and a passionate following. She and Clinton have even had substantive disagreements in the past about bank regulation, one of Warren’s central issues. Nobody ever told Howard Dean to get out of the race because John Kerry was running. What law dictates that there can be only one woman per major race at a time?


This limited perception dominating our cultural imaginary reminded me of the comment from the head animator of “Frozen”  that “having a film with two hero female characters was really tough.” Here they are, and I’ve got to say, I can barely tell the difference between them. Now do you think the similarity is because females look so much alike in the real world, or do you think the issue is the artist’s limited perception of how female heroes can look?


I’ve been blogging for a long time about the Minority Feisty, a term describing the current state of the fantasy world and the real one: strong females are allowed to exist, but only in a limited way. Today, if you see a movie for children, most feature 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.” “Frozen” is one of 4 movies for children in 2013 with a female protagonist, while 21 feature a male protagonist. And still, in our feminist movie, we have the animator say how hard it was for him to make two females and they look like this? I know they’re sisters, but come on.

So here’s a few more questions I have: Why are we conditioning a new generation of kids to accept the rule of the Minority Feisty? Why is the fantasy world, where anything is possible, so sexist?

And how many of our kids have seen images like this one?


Check that out: four powerful women pictured together and their facial features are different. From In This Together Media:

was unveiled today at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.. Painted by Nelson Shanks, the portrait depicts the four female Supreme Court Justices, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The painting was commissioned to show young women what is possible.


If our children grew up surrounded by images like this, how do you think it would affect who they are and become, how they perceive themselves and each other?


Sexist comment from animator of ‘Frozen’ typical of industry that limits females

The sexist comment by Lino DiSalvo, head animator of “Frozen” is going around the web. Here’s what he said:

Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna (Kristen Bell) being angry.

DiSalvo’s comment was made as part of a larger interview. It’s pretty clear the animator wasn’t aware he was being offensive. How could he be so clueless? Because DiSalvo’s belief, that males come in all shapes and sizes, whereas females come in one, is so common, most people think it’s a fact.

Here is Christopher Hart teaching the differences on drawing male and female characters via Escher Girls.

With male comic characters, you can mold their bodies into many different shapes, producing a wide range of cool characters. It’s not so easy with women. Women in comics are, by and large, attractive—even the villains. Especially the villains! The Voluptuous Vixen and the Villainess are much more attractive in cutting-edge comics. So, you have less latitude in altering the body. You can’t draw brutish women or you’ll lose the attractiveness. Therefore, the changes rely less on the body types and more on the pose, costume and attitude.




Here’s another how-to video from Marc Crilley. This video is great because Crilley takes you through the steps of just how artists are trained distort female anatomy. First, Crilley draws a regularly proportioned teenage girl. Then, he demonstrates the typical pattern and process of how artists exaggerate her proportions, drawing three well-known, female animated characters.

Crilley narrates:

It’s troubling, really in a way that artists, maybe many of them male, have this way of reducing the width of the female waist when they’re drawing it to just ridiculously small proportions and you know, you do sort of fear that this contributes to women’s body image, this crazy idea of the super narrow waist, but nevertheless you see it again and again. Finally, the big difference here, the knees, the line of the knees, much, much higher than in real life. So what’s interesting is you see that the whole area of the waist is being raised up here so as to create these incredibly long legs as an exaggerated style. To me, its sort of like Barbie doll style legs…

Here’s the video.

While watching Crilley’s video, I was thinking about the incredible influence of the artist to create reality. When you combine images with narratives, it can be so powerful, like being God. Not to mention repeating and repeating the same sequence to the growing brains of little kids, which is what happens when we all see the same old, same old look in animation. (By the way, another criticism I’ve read of “Frozen” is that the female character looks similar to Rapunzel of “Tangled.”)

On my Facebook feed today, Miss Representation posts on photographer and mom Ashlee Wells Jackson showing what women look like:

“Photographer and mom Ashlee Wells Jackson wants all of us to recognize and appreciate how childbirth, breastfeeding, and motherhood change women’s bodies. I’d love for both my daughter and my son to grow up seeing these images instead of the ones of ‘perfection’ they currently see every time we go to the grocery store.” – Laura Willard, Upworthy


Willard’s photo essay reminds me of the Christopher Hart’s lesson on how to draw men. Guess what, everyone? Females, just like males, come in all shapes and sizes. Females, just like males, are complex creatures with all kinds of hopes and dreams and drives and emotions. Can we please see that on the big screen? Can our children see it?

It’s amusing in a sad way that DiSalvo is so flummoxed by how to make two angry females look different. I wonder if he’s as troubled by making angry females act differently as well. There are so many ways to express and show anger: clam up, punch a wall, flush red, scowl, yell, tear out hair, groan.

The problem here isn’t just that females are supposed to look pretty all the time, but also, that what is considered “pretty” is so cookie-cutter and limited. For a male character, the act of rescuing someone or being heroic makes him attractive. For a female character, being attractive is usually limited to how she looks– her hair, smile, and body.

As I wrote in my last post on “Frozen,” I know I’m supposed to be grateful there’s a movie for children that comes close to centering on a female hero. I actually am. As I blogged, most likely I’ll see it and I’ll take my three daughters because my options are so limited. But I’m pissed that my options, not to mention my children’s options, are this limited. This is the fantasy world, for goodness sake, a place where anything should be possible, so why is the imaginary world so sexist?

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

Animator of “Frozen” says female characters must be pretty and sensitive

From The MarySue:

When I saw this quote circulating around Tumblr last night I assumed it was made up. Did Lino DiSalvo, Frozen‘s head of animation, really say that animating female characters is difficult because they’re so “sensitive” and “you have to keep them pretty”? Unlike male characters, who are far, far more stoic than we emotional womenfolk, amirite? But no. It appears that this is a legit thing that he actually said.

Here’s the quote:

Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna (Kristen Bell) being angry.


I’m going to throw up. There you have it, the whole reason for the Minority Feisty. There’s basically one type of girl. What can you possibly do with 2, or 3, or 4, or more in a story? How can they all be different? A girl is a girl is a girl, right?

When storytellers challenge the dominance of the Minority Feisty, they will be forced to challenge the sexism and stereotypes that support allowing just one female character– or a tiny minority of them– in a story as well i.e. “Don’t all angry females look the same?” This is why, obviously, the Minority Feisty trope is so pernicious and has stuck around for so long. Change her, change everything.

It’s disturbing that DiSalvo’s sexist mindset is typical of those who have the massive power to create and distribute stories to a new generation of children. A mindset, by the way, that has been dictating stories, and who and what heroes are, through history, art, religion, and politics, for thousands of years.

Who’s ready for a new story? I sure am.

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, 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



Despicable Me


Smurfs 2

Chapter 14 smurfs-2

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson 2 Sea of Monsters


Leo the Lion


Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2


Mr. Peabody and Sherman




The Hobbit: There and Back Again

Escape From Planet Earth


Jack the Giant Slayer


Oz the Great and Powerful


The Croods




From Up on Poppy Hill



The Snow Queen





Turbo Movie Poster

Batman The Dark Night Returns