I’ve been avoiding writing this post. I knew that female characters in children’s movies were not faring well in 2012. Not in number and not in stature. But I kept hoping. Hoping that somehow, before January, something would change, a slew of movies were going to appear from nowhere, stats would magically shift.
Yes, we got “Brave” this year. Thank you director Brenda Chapman for making Pixar’s first movie ever with a female protagonist. I’m sorry that you, one of the only women to direct animated movies produced by a major studio, were fired half way through production and replaced with a male director.
But “Brave” is just one movie. The exception proves the rule. It’s December now, and sadly, it’s time for me to admit that once again, in the movies made for children in 2012, girls go missing. In staggering proportions, males are consistently front and center; females are mostly sidelined or not there at all.
If you look at the gender placement in the images on the movie posters below, the meaning of “marginalized” couldn’t be more clear. Remember, these are movie for kids. So when your children go to the movies, they are learning, time and time again, that boys are more important than girls.
For those of you who say there are alternative posters that I didn’t put in Reel Girl’s Gallery, you may find them on Google images, but these are the ones I saw all around San Francisco. Even if you find a poster on Google featuring, say, Tooth, the one female Guardian out of five (a typical gender ratio, by the way) that’s a pretty pathetic argument for her relevance.
For those of you who say the posters below do not reflect the movie, that the movie has a strong female in it, maybe even two, maybe three, you are, most likely, referring to the Minority Feisty. No matter how many Minority Feisty there are in an animated film, they are represented as a minority. The irony is, of course, that females are not a minority, not a special interest, not even a fringe group. Females are, in fact, half of the population. Girls are half of the kid population. Why aren’t they represented that way in movies made for children?
I call the Minority Feisty “Feisty” because that is, invariably, the adjective reviewers use to describe the “strong” female character in an animated film. “Feisty” is diminutive. It is what you call someone who plays at being powerful, not someone who is actually powerful. Would you ever call Superman “feisty?” How would he feel if you did?
The role of the Minority Feisty, like a cheerleader or First Lady, is to help the male star along on his important quest. Children need to see females front and center, as protagonists, as the heroes of their own stories.
Finally, even apart from the movie, these posters– and ads– are their own media. Whether or not your kid goes to the movie, she sees these posters everywhere. The movie poster is one of the reasons that I was so thrilled about “Brave.” Finally, San Francisco was papered with an image a daring girl, an image marketed to kids. Obviously, the biggest impact of a narrative is made when kids get to know the character through the movie and then see that character on clothing, food packaging, and toys.
As you look at these posters, imagine the reverse, the gender ratio and the character placement, switched; the movie’s title reflecting the female star. Would you do a double take? How many of us grown-ups don’t even notice the dominance of male characters anymore? How many of us experience the annihilation of females as totally normal, not to mention adorable and child-appropriate?
There is no good reason for the imaginary world to be sexist. Or is there?
Only 16% of protagonists in movies are female; only 16% of women make it into power positions in almost all professions across America. Children’s movie posters, and of course the movies themselves, are an effective way that we acclimate a new generation to expect and accept a world where females go missing.
Out of the 16 posters for children’s movies in 2012 pictured below, just 4 represent movies starring females: “Mirror, Mirror,” “Brave,” “Secret World of Arietty” and “Big Miracle.” The “Big Miracle” poster diminishes Drew Barrymore pretty effectively. I loved “Arrietty,” as I love every Studio Ghibli film, but was surprised to see the boy so big on the poster.
Last night on TV, while watching World Series Game 2 with my three young daughters, we all saw a commercial for “Rise of the Guardians,” the Christmas-themed animated movie coming out November 21. Guess who was missing from the multitude of characters in the preview?
Females. Not one damn female voice. Seriously.
A Google search tells me there is, in fact, a Minority Feisty (the tiny minority representation of strong females you can usually find in animated films for kids): the Tooth Fairy.
I know, I know, “Rise of the Guardians” is derivative. Mythical characters throughout history are males. “Rise of the Guardians” features the Easter Bunny and Jack Frost, just like “Hotel Transylvania” features famous monsters like Dracula and Frakenstein or the bad guys of “Wreck-It Ralph” are based on pre-existing video games. What can Hollywood do about that?
Hmmm..what about not being so lazy and using a little imagination? Why not conceive of previously male characters as female? Or what about creating some brand new female characters? Ever heard of Santa Claus’s evil sister? If that use of imagination is too challenging for Hollywood, why not make the Tooth Fairy the star of the movie instead of Jack Frost?
But come on Hollywood, aren’t stories for children supposed to be imaginative?
When an evil spirit known as Pitch lays down the gauntlet to take over the world, the immortal Guardians must join forces for the first time to protect the hopes, beliefs and imagination of children all over the world.
Protecting the imaginations of kids is the whole reason I started this blog, Reel Girl. After having my three daughters, I was blown away by the gender stereotypes marketed to my kids through animated movies. These images and narratives in children’s movies repeatedly teach little kids that males are the adventurers, the risk-takers, and the stars, while females– half of the kid population– are continually limited to a sidelined minority.
Anyone remember 2011’s holiday movie, “Arthur Christmas?” Can you find the lone female here?
I honestly don’t know if you can even say that “Mrs. Claus” qualifies as a Minority Feisty.
And by the way, if you scoffed at my reference to Santa’s evil sister above, isn’t Santa’s son Arthur, the star of this movie, a newly made-up character? Why not put Santa’s daughter at the top of an elf-girl pyramid?
Can you imagine that? Try hard to think up a poster for an animated movie in 2012 that shows this gender ratio here but reversed. Would you do a double take? Would parents think “Fantastic Ms. Fox” was some crazy lesbian movie? Is that the concern here?
There is no good reason for the imaginary world to be sexist like this. It’s the imaginary world! Anything should be possible, even equality.
How do you think seeing these stereotyped gender roles repeated again and again is affecting your child’s imagination? Her aspirations?
Here’s an interesting “coincidence:” 16% of characters in movies for kids are female; in 2012, in top positions in professions all across America, women rarely make it past 16%.
Tell your kids that it shouldn’t be normal for females to go missing, either in movie poster after movie poster or in a boardroom.