Did you know that for every female character in a children’s film there are three male? How about that in group scenes this ratio becomes 5 males to every female? No? Me neither. Well I had an inkling, but the numbers are startling. I came across this while indulging my other blogging interest, feminist blogs, in an interview with Geena Davis (of Thelma and Louise and A League of Their Own fame). In a fascinating and funny speech to the National Conference for Media Reform she explains how she chooses her parts to have the maximum impact on the women watching. How she and her friend pretended to be male characters as children, because there were no interesting female characters for them to play. How motherhood changed her perceptions of kids TV and films.
Some interesting quotes:
“I started mentioning it around Hollywood. If I had a meeting with a studio executive or a producer, I’d say, “Hey, have you ever noticed how few female characters there seem to be in G-rated movies and things for kids?” And they pretty much across the board would say, “No. No, that’s not true anymore. That’s been fixed.”
What we found was that in G-rated movies, for every one female character, there were three male characters. If it was a group scene, it would change to five to one, male to female.
Of the female characters that existed, the majority are highly stereotyped and/or hypersexualized. To me, the most disturbing thing was that the female characters in G-rated movies wear the same amount of sexually revealing clothing as the female characters in R-rated movies.
And then we looked at aspirations and occupations and things like that. Pretty much the only aspiration for female characters was finding romance, whereas there are practically no male characters whose ultimate goal is finding romance. The No. 1 occupation was royalty. Nice gig, if you can get it. And we found that the majority of female characters in animated movies have a body type that can’t exist in real life. So, the question you can think of from all this is: What message are we sending to kids?
and the kicker
The fascinating thing that we found from the beginning was that they were absolutely shocked.
The fact that, in general, all of their movies are so lacking in a female presence is stunning to them.
This is interesting to me, as a teacher of children, as a (possibly) future parent, and as a woman. For a long time I have commented on the pathetic under-representation of girls in children’s films. Girls are princesses (any disney film), or maybe sidekicks (Dory, Jessie) or mums (Mrs Incredible) or even seductresses (Bo Peep) or dead (UP!). Each film, taken by itself, and you can say it’s no big deal. But where are the girls going on adventures? Where are the girls with a quest? Where are the girls whose story arc doesn’t involve finding a husband? Why does the media drip feed our children with the message that girls aren’t worth representing. Their stories aren’t interesting enough to be told. That only boys have adventures and that girls are only interested in romance.
Haven’t we come a bit further than that by now?
I’ll leave you with one further finding from the research Geena’s fundraising paid for;
the more hours of television a girl watches, the fewer options she believes she has in life. And the more hours a boy watches, the more sexist his views become.
And that’s something we should all care about.