Pixar and Gender

This entry was published at least two years ago (originally posted on February 25, 2009). Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed (in general, assume a more open and liberal current viewpoint). A fuller disclaimer is available.

Long-time readers will recognize this particular soapbox, but it’s good to know I’m not the only one standing on it: Pixar’s Gender Problem:

Whenever a new Pixar movie comes out, I wrestle with the same frustration: Pixar’s gender problem. While Disney’s long history of antipathy toward mothers and the problematic popularity of the Disney Princess line are well-traveled territory for feminist critiques, Pixar’s gender problem often slips under the radar.

The Pixar M.O. is (somewhat) subtler than the old your-stepmom-is-a-witch tropes of Disney past. Instead, Pixar’s continued failure to posit female characters as the central protagonists in their stories contributes to the idea that male is neutral and female is particular. This is not to say that Pixar does not write female characters. What I am taking issue with is the ad-nauseam repetition of female characters as helpers, love interests, and moral compasses to the male characters whose problems, feelings, and desires drive the narratives.

Much of the post covers much the same ground that I have in the past (first asking if Pixar is a ‘boys only’ club, then investigating Wall•E’s Misogyn•E, and then in response to an interviewer’s question). There is some word of an upcoming film that I hadn’t heard about yet that does appear to have a female lead. All may not be rosy just yet, though…

The Bear and the Bow: OOOOOH! Somebody told Pixar that they needed to make a movie with a girl as the main character! So, duh, it’s going to be “Pixar’s first fairy tale”!!! The main character will be, get this, a PRINCESS! But, since the Pixar people are probably good Bay Area liberals, I’m sure the princess will want to defy her parents’/society’s expectations. Where have we seen that before, I wonder? No cookies for rehashing the same old shit. If we’re super lucky, she won’t marry the prince, which will allow us to cover the same ground that Robert Munsch and Free to Be You and Me covered in the goddamn ’70s. Maybe it will be good, but no matter how good it is, it still PISSES ME OFF that girls get to be main characters only when they are princess (or marrying up the social ladder a la Belle and Mulan) in fairy tale worlds. Boys can be main characters anywhere, but if a girl is the main character, you can bet your ass it’s a fantasy world.

So it may be a step forward. If we’re lucky, it’ll be a big step forward, and it may even be enough to get Prairie and I back in the theater for a Pixar film. Noone can really argue that Pixar is bad at storytelling (well, aside from Cars, that is), but in the end…

…It’s not just the stories they choose to tell, it’s how they choose to tell them: in a way that always relegates female characters to the periphery, where they can serve and encourage male characters, but are never, ever important enough to carry a whole movie on their own shoulders. Unless they’re, you know, princesses.

(via Kottke)