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.”


Paz is the mechanic in “Turbo.”


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.


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.


In “Turbo,” that role is filled by 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.


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