Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Animation Frustration : Why Aren't There More Girls in Cartoons?

We went to see Wallace and Gromit this weekend, and wow was it good. Really good -- funny jokes, lovable characters, puns and other wordplay, lots of vegetables(!), and an abundance of friends who can be classified as FLUFFY. But something has been bugging me since seeing this show. Out of all the previews, the little madagascar penguin pre-show featurette, and the lovely Wallace and Gromit full-length, there were only two notable female characters. In the featurette -- a cranky old woman. In W & G -- a cherry-headed lady of the manor / love interest (now don't get me wrong here, I loved that character, I'm just noting that of the five principal characters -- W, G, love interest, her current suitor / W's rival, and the local priest -- only one is a woman).

The previews looked awful, and lead me to assume that "kid humor" has been reduced to anything related to burps and farts. (Chicken Little looks sooo boring). Enjoy the W&G while you can, peeps, 'cause the next wave of animated movies looks pretty rotten.

But what's up with the paucity of women and girls in cartoons? This article ,"Television Cartoons: Do Children Notice it's a Boy's World" ( Teresa L. Thompson, Eugenia Zerbinos , 1997) provides on overview of what others have written about the dearth of women in cartoon land. Here's a taste:

More than 20 years ago, Streicher (1974) looked at how females were portrayed in cartoons. Cartoons, especially "chase-and-pratfalls," were predominated by active, noisy, male characters. Female characters were less numerous, needed to be rescued, caused trouble, talked less, worked in the home, and tended to fall in love at first sight. These results were consistent with those of Sternglanz and Serbin (1974), Levinson (1975), and Barcus (1983). Levinson also found that males were given much more variety in roles and that gender presentations did not mirror the real world. More recently, Smith (1994) also found that advertising aired when children were likely to be watching exhibited stereotypic sex role behavior and boys predominated in those commercials. Such stereotypical presentation is not surprising. As a CBS executive noted, "Children's television has always been male dominated" (Poltrack, quoted in Carter, 1991, p. C18). Network executives say they provide programming that appeals to boys because they outnumber girls in the 2-11-year-old audience on Saturday morning and they will not watch shows that have girl leads, although girls will watch cartoons with male leads. Data do support the assertion that boys, especially those who have obtained gender constancy, tend to focus upon male characters and traditionally "male" programming, such as sports and action shows (Luecke-Aleska, Anderson, Collins, & Schmitt, 1995).

and then later:

Although boys did not describe boy characters in relationship to girls, the boys did tend to describe girl characters in the context of their relationships to or interest in boys. This included such statements as, "(girls) ask boys out on dates," they "follow what boys say," they are "left out of play," they are "not as adventurous," they are "teased by boys," and they "want kisses." Boys also described girl characters' domestic behavior or referred to girls' appearance. Examples of this included they "say 'I'm pretty'" and they "wear rings." Girls described girl characters as domestic, playing with dolls, dressing up, and chasing boys. Specific examples included doing "chores around the house," "being polite," and "say(ing) 'excuse me' a lot." Clearly, the majority of children in this study perceived male and female cartoon characters in stereotypical ways.

One of the reasons I love the films of Hayao Miyazaki so much is that women and girls usually play leading or principal roles. I was surprised to discover that on the American / dubbed version of Kiki's Delivery Service, Disney changed the gender of Kiki's cat, one of the film's main characters. In the original Japanese version, the cat has a female voice. In the American one, said cat has one of those male, wise-cracking, Billy Crystal - type side-kick voices. Ugh.

Now I'll admit that I don't watch television cartoons very often. Sure, I watched them when I was a kid. My questions about them then were more along the lines of "why can't I have pink har like Jem?" and "why is Smurfette the only girl?" Later I went through a Powerpuff girls phase, and now I only sometimes catch The Simpsons or King of the Hill. Though my exposure to cartoons is by no means extensive, it seems to me as though cartoons are still pretty much a boys' world, and a pretty white one at that.


Jenny said...

Yo---there are many cool ass girls on saturday morning!!!!!!!!! Dora is the bomb! And Katy Kabooom! (or something like that).....I think there are lots of cool animated girls out there!!!!!!!!!!

femme feral said...

Yes, there ARE many cool ass girls on cartoons, but why not more? The nick jr. schedule runs on cbs on saturday mornings, and of the six shows, Dora is the only girl!

Jenny said...

but isn't there a show with a shark with a girl as an owner? i love that shark show!!! and there is this show where a cartoon girl has a mummy for a "pet". it's on nbc. but maybe i am mixing the shark show up with milo and ????? ( i forget her partners name).

and DORA is by far the top money grosser. so, yeah, why aren't there more girls?

femme feral said...

yeah, I should check out the saturday morning line-up -- if I can ever get up that early! Plus, I read that kids don't watch as many saturday morning cartoons anymore. I wonder how accurate that is.

Watching all the Veronica Mars has made me miss Inspector Gadget. That Penny always saved the day.

rockslinga said...

angelo watches a lot of nick, disney, and cartoon network shows, and there are a lot of girl cartoons on the small screen: my life as a teenage robot, totally spies are shows where the girls are the heroes. shows that have equal number of boys to girls are rugrats all grown up, lilo and stitch, etc. but on the bog screen, the days of little mermaid and belle from beauty and the beast are over, and thank god for that. i'm hoping this is an awkward transitioning phase betweem those types of girl-hero movies and miyazaki-insspired ones to come. Shrek may have something to do with it.

Penultimatina said...

Arg, I was just thinking this the other day whilst viewing some older episodes of Bob the Builder (with my kiddo). Way too much machismo.

I can't believe they did that to Kiki's cat. Did they change the dirigible to an Oscar Mayer wiener too?

femme feral said...

Yes, I'm curious to see what the next wave in animated feature films will be like. From what y'all are sayin', it def. sounds like the number of girls in television cartoons is increasing. And there HAVE been some great female characters from big screen shows. I love the little girl from a series of unfortunate events, and Hermione (from HP) and Fiona (from Shrek) seemed cool.

One thing that I thought was interesting: at the last Harry Potter book release party, I saw a number of girls dressed up as Harry. The desire to identify with the MAIN character -- the protagonist -- seems to be one of the most powerful aspects of this type of narrative, regardless of gender. I myself dressed up as peter pan and imagined that I was one of the lost boys. In our imaginations, we can be any gender we want. One hopes that the imagination is the most eagalitarian place of all. So it goes without saying that movies that center on compelling and strong female characters are good for boys too. Someday soon perhaps, it will be just as easy for little boys to dress up as their favorite female characters (has anyone seen Ma Vie En Rose ) and go out in public without the risk of being ridiculed, or teased, or scolded.

porkmuffin said...

Ma Vie En Rose is one of my favorite movies. i think it's because i totally rejected the feminine gender roles as a child, and pretty much still do. i'm 30 and i don't own a dress. i would have loved to have had some role models when i was a kid, but all i got was Luke Skywalker and SpiderMan--and Laura Ingalls Wilder, but i identified with Almanzo (sp?) more than any of the girl characters! i would have been one of those girls dressed as Harry.