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.