Misogyn•E

This looks to be the third time running (following Cars and Ratatouille) that I’ll wait to rent Pixar’s latest, rather than sending any of my money their way via the theater.

With more marketing materials coming out for [Pixar][5]’s upcoming movie [Wall•E][6], it’s becoming quite clear that they are continuing with a trend that I’ve mentioned previously (briefly [here][7], and in more depth [here][8]) of being extremely male centered in creating characters for their animated films.

[5]: http://www.pixar.com/ “Pixar Animation Studios”
[6]: http://www.apple.com/trailers/disney/walle/ “Apple: Trailers: Wall•E”
[7]: http://www.michaelhanscom.com/eclecticism/2007/07/01/rataphooey/ “Eclecticism: Rataphooey”
[8]: http://www.michaelhanscom.com/eclecticism/2006/05/20/is-pixar-a-boys-only-club/ “Eclecticism: Is Pixar a ‘boys only’ club?”

At first, I thought there might be a little bit of hope, as while the main character is given a male name, it is a robot — and, further, as there apparently is [little to no spoken dialogue][9] in the film, one might (at this point) argue that Wall•E is technically sexless. Admittedly, it’s a bit dodgy, given our tendency to anthropomorphize mechanical devices, and robots in particular tend to be seen as male (seriously, has anyone ever referred to R2-D2 as a ‘she’?). Still, it was a possibility.

[9]: http://www.kottke.org/07/10/walle-update “Kottke.org: Wall-E Update”

Then I started poking around the [Buy n Large][10] website that Pixar has set up to help promote the film. In Wall•E’s universe, Buy n Large is apparently the company that makes Wall•E, along with a host of other products, and there’s a lot of cute in jokes and jabs at today’s tech companies hidden (and not so hidden — just check out the disclaimer text at the bottom of the home page) in the website.

[10]: http://www.buynlarge.com/ “Buy n Large”

On [Jason Kottke’s recommendation][9], I bounced over to the ‘Robotics’ section of the site and started browsing through the four robot models available for the home (no permalink available, thanks to the all-Flash presentation: click ‘Robotics’ on the top menu bar, then choose ‘Robot Models’ from the left hand navigation). Here’s a brief rundown of the four models that Buy n Large offers:

* Sall•E: The Buy n Large Vaccubot. “Tired of cleaning the stairs and struggling to reach under your sofa to vacuum? With the BnL SALL•E Vaccubot, cleaning dirty carpets and drapes yourself can be a thing of the past.”

* Gar•E: The Buy n Large Yardbot. “The GAR•E is ready to handle the most time-consuming and difficult aspects of keeping a yeard in tip-top shape, from lawn trimming and hedge shaping to barbecue cleaning and maintenance.”

* Nanc•E: The Buy n Large Nannybot. “…with the new NANC•E Nannybot you can rest easily, knowing that every aspect of your child’s health and happiness has been addressed.”

* Wend•E: The Buy n Large Washbot. “With the WEND•E, washing, drying, folding, and putting away your clothes is a thing of the past.”

* And, of course, though it’s not listed on the site (or at least not this portion of the site), there’s Wall•E, the garbage collector.

Really, this isn’t even subtle. The traditional “women’s work” of cleaning, laundry, and taking care of the children is assigned to Sally, Wendy, and Nancy, while Gary goes out to do the yardwork and Wally picks up the garbage, typically “men’s chores.” These are stereotypes dating back decades — do we _really_ need to be reinforcing them this obviously in today’s family films?

I also skimmed over the information collected on [Wall•E’s Wikipedia page][11] to get a better idea of what the movie’s about. [Here][12]’s John Lasseter’s summary of the film while presenting to Disney investors:

> WALL-E is the story of the last little robot on Earth. He is a robot that his programming was to help clean up. You see, it’s set way in the future. Through consumerism, rampant, unchecked consumerism, the Earth was covered with trash. And to clean up, everyone had to leave Earth and set in place millions of these little robots that went around to clean up the trash and make Earth habitable again.
>
> Well, the cleanup program failed with the exception of this one little robot and he’s left on Earth doing his duty all alone. But it’s not a story about science fiction. It’s a love story, because, you see, WALL-E falls in love with Eve, a robot from a probe that comes down to check on Earth, and she’s left there to check on and see how things are going and he absolutely falls in love with her.

[11]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WALL-E “Wikipedia: Wall-E”
[12]: http://corporate.disney.go.com/media/investors/2007_irc_studio.pdf “The Walt Disney Company: 2007 Investor Conference Studio Presentation (.pdf file, quoted material is on p. 22)”

So much for the possibility that, despite the name, Wall•E might be sexless. Once again, the main character in a Pixar film is male, and any female characters are secondary. Furthermore, it sounds like this Eve character isn’t one that will immediately appeal to most little girls. [According to Andrew Stanton][13]:

> …WALL-E falls head over heals with a probot named EVE. Now, Wall-E’s feelings aren’t reciprocated because, well, she has no feelings. She’s a robot, cold and clinical. WALL-E is the one who has evolved over time and garnered feelings. So in the end, it’s gonna be WALL-E’s pursuit to win EVE’s heart, and his unique appreciation of life to become mankind’s last hope to rediscover its roots.

[13]: http://www.slashfilm.com/2007/07/28/comic-con-indepth-wall-e-details-revealed/ “/Film: Comic-Con: Indepth Wall-E Details Revealed”

What’s been frustrating so far is simply that in many of Pixar’s prior films, there’s no particular reason why one or another of their characters couldn’t be female rather than male — would Ratatouille have been any less well done if he were a she? Would the rescue of the ant colony be less spectacular if Julia Louis-Dreyfus had voiced Flik against Dave Foley’s Prince Atta?

As I’ve said before, I don’t at all deny that, with few exceptions, Pixar’s films are incredibly well done — they’re technological marvels, they’re written as gorgeously as they are rendered, and they’re some of the only family-friendly fare that’s out there that has real heart and is genuinely worth watching. I’ve enjoyed most all of them (with Cars being a notable exception). However, it continues to be rather disappointing that they’ve yet to do anything with a strong, central female main character, and it’s doubly distressing that the available information on Wall•E is traditionalist and very obviously sexist.

This looks to be the third time running (following Cars and Ratatouille) that I’ll wait to rent Pixar’s latest, rather than sending any of my money their way via the theater.

Lastly, a bit of a disclaimer: to be honest, I believe [misogyny][1] to be an overly strong word for what’s happening here. However, when searching for synonyms for ‘[sexist][2]’ or ‘[sexism][3]’, it was only one of two words that would mimic Pixar’s ‘-e’ naming strategy, and while ‘[bigotry][4]’ is probably technically closer, it didn’t carry quite the emotional impact that I wanted for the title.

[1]: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/misogyny “Dictionary.com: misogyny”
[2]: http://thesaurus.reference.com/browse/sexist “Thesaurus.com: sexist”
[3]: http://thesaurus.reference.com/browse/sexism “Thesaurus.com: sexism”
[4]: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bigotry “Dictionary.com: bigotry”

**Addendum**: Here’s something I dug out of my del.icio.us bookmarks — Washington Post guest columnist Jen Chaney [raising some of the same questions I do][14].

> Pixar has done it again. With “Ratatouille,” the studio has created another dazzling, clever, uplifting adventure, this time about a French rodent with a flair for food preparation. But Pixar also has done something else again: It’s delivered yet another kiddie-centric piece of entertainment with a male in the starring role.
>
> I give Pixar much credit for breathing life into some gutsy, admirable females. Helen Parr of “The Incredibles” not only keeps her household in order, she can stretch her limbs to limits even the uber-flexible Madonna couldn’t reach. Sally Carrera in “Cars” is the spunky owner of her own business. And in “Ratatouille,” Colette (voiced by Janeane Garofalo) makes an impassioned speech about how, as the only woman working in the kitchen at the chi-chi Gusteau’s, she is tired of getting pushed around by all the men. She is femme, hear her roar.
>
> But still, in the end, all of these women wind up playing love interest — and second fiddle — to the heroes.

[14]: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/celebritology/2007/06/are_the_pixar_movies_an_animat.html “Washington Post: Celebritology: Are the Pixar Movies an Animated Boys Town?”

Author: djwudi

Enthusiastic ambivert. Geeky, liberal, friendly, curious, feminist ally; trying to be a good person. (he/him)

16 thoughts on “Misogyn•E”

  1. Hrmm. While I agree that hey, Pixar should probably get around to making a movie with a female lead character, I don’t think they’re really having any problem appealing to little girls. My cousin’s 7 year old daughter absolutely LOVES all the Pixar movies.

    And having said that – why should Pixar HAVE to make movies with characters that appeal to little girls? My guess is that most of the writers/execs/etc at Pixar are men, and men traditionally have a lot of trouble writing believable female characters (yes, there are exceptions out there, but it’s not common). So, they do what they’re good at – they make movies with boy characters, to appeal to little boys, because that’s what works for them. Why wouldn’t they just keep cranking them out, if that’s where their money train lies?

  2. You wrote, “What’s been frustrating so far is simply that in many of Pixar’s prior films, there’s no particular reason why one or another of their characters couldn’t be female rather than male — would Ratatouille have been any less well done if he were a she? Would the rescue of the ant colony be less spectacular if Julia Louis-Dreyfus had voiced Flik against Dave Foley’s Prince Atta?”

    I acknowledge your point the least, least bit, but I think your comment is ironic. That’s because it’s a little self-defeating in some sense. You say that it’s irrelevant whether Remy and Flik were guys, but then argue that they should have been girls. If it’s irrelevant, then it’s … well, irrelevant.

  3. …why should Pixar HAVE to make movies with characters that appeal to little girls?

    Oh, they don’t have to, and I’d also guess that Pixar is a pretty male-dominated company, and that’s part of what’s showing through in their films. I just think that this is a rather sad trend, and more so the longer it goes on.

    You say that it’s irrelevant whether Remy and Flik were guys, but then argue that they should have been girls. If it’s irrelevant, then it’s … well, irrelevant.

    I’m not so much saying that they should have been girls, but that they could have been girls, and it wouldn’t have done any harm to the story. Within the context of the stories, their sex is irrelevant. Within the context of Pixar’s catalog, the prominent place their films hold in today’s society, and the amount of influence the films can have on young children (who are, all too often, plopped in front of the TV with their favorite film in lieu of actually getting attention from their parents), the sex of the characters and the sexism in how they are presented are very relevant.

  4. “Would Ratatouille have been any less well done if he were a she? Would the rescue of the ant colony be less spectacular if Julia Louis-Dreyfus had voiced Flik against Dave Foley’s Prince Atta?”

    Yes and yes.

    Flik very clearly had to be a man because Atta had to be a woman. There is no, king of the ant colony, only drones.

    While Remy could have been a women, his relationship with Linguini would have been awkward. He is not his pet, but very clearly his roommate. Remember, this is a Disney movie.

    Why was Linguine cast as a man? in Colette’s words (courtesy of IMDB): “High cuisine is an antiquated hierarchy built upon rules by stupid, old men. Rules designed to make it impossible for women to enter this world.” The daughter of a chef probably would not inherit her father’s restaurant regardless of her ability.

  5. Pixar has created a bunch of universally appealing characters, that happen to all be male.

    The problem is that female characters are currently only being created by studios that lack the imagination to make “universally appealing” characters (cough, Disney, I’m looking at YOU and your lame princesses).

    It’s been true so far that “girls will watch things with boy heroes, but boys won’t watch things with girl heroes” – and heck, maybe that IS a truism, but if ANYONE could prove it wrong, it would probably be Pixar. It’s a shame they aren’t trying.

  6. Flik very clearly had to be a man because Atta had to be a woman. There is no, king of the ant colony, only drones.

    Heh. Okay, good point, I hadn’t actually thought about the structure of an ant colony.

    While Remy could have been a women, his relationship with Linguini would have been awkward. He is not his pet, but very clearly his roommate. Remember, this is a Disney movie.

    Since I’m waiting for Ratatouille to come out on DVD, I’ll freely admit that I can’t say much as to their relationship as it’s presented. However, is it really so awkward for male and female characters to be roommates, even in Disney films? It’s not as if there’s going to be any sexual tension, overt or implied — even if Disney weren’t generally quite careful about such things in their family films, we’re dealing with a human and a rat. I doubt there’d be much question from anyone but the most determined to raise a ruckus about how ‘awkward’ that sort of living situation might be if two sexes were involved rather than one. The film wasn’t set in Enumclaw, after all.

    I’m going to pass on the Linguini-as-a-girl argument for the moment, given that I don’t really know how they address the ‘antiquated hierarchy’ that Colette (quite rightly) lambasts in that quote.

    …female characters are currently only being created by studios that lack the imagination to make “universally appealing” characters (cough, Disney, I’m looking at YOU and your lame princesses).

    That said, however lame their princesses might be (and I’d argue that they’ve been getting quite a bit less lame in their more modern films), they are frequently main characters in their films. I’d never argue that Disney is devoid of sexism, but as a whole, the Disney animated films are doing better than Pixar’s in giving girls strong leading roles.

  7. Wow, I’m usually the first person to notice and spout off about bad female depictions in kid movies. I guess I’m so blinded by my love of Pixar that I never took the time to notice.

    Hopefully the guys at Pixar will see forums like this one and get the hint. I honestly think that there are just so many men in that building that they just haven’t thought about it.

    At least the female characters in Pixar films aren’t feeble women waiting to be saved by male heroes. Or vapid, vain princess/Barbie airheads. And I agree that my little girl loves Pixar movies just as much as my boy.

    I love Pixar, but I do hope they’re listening.

  8. One important point to remember with the Buy n Large site is that it’s supposed to paint a particularly grim view of consumerism. Given the whole site is full of slightly sickening market speak, it makes sense, in terms of the fictional company, that they’d make and sell their robots in a very stereotypical way, and I suspect Pixar have done it as part of showing the stupidity of the “marketing” done by companies like this, rather than any attempt to reinforce an outdated stereotype.

    As for Pixar in general, there is an argument to be made regarding the lack of a female lead character. I don’t believe this to be intentional sexism, given that Pixar have created some strong female characters in its films. Part of it is probably down to a mainly male animation staff, and possibly a slight lack of confidence in their ability to produce an positive female lead character.

    It’s a dilemma, and I rather see good supporting female characters than bad leading ones. However, Pixar have certainly have the ability to do both, and hopefully we’ll be able to see that in later films.

  9. Interesting point. I’ve never noticed this before, but now that I look back, it’s definitely true. One random point. As far as roommates are concerned: Cinderella had male mice as roommates. Snow White had 7 little male roommates. Toy Story Cowboy lived in the same room as cowgirl…etc etc.

  10. Several people have noted that Pixar writes primarily male characters because Pixar has a primarily male staff. I think that this shows yet again that there’s a problem at Pixar: why isn’t Pixar hiring women? Instead of excusing them because they’re just a bunch of guys who don’t know how to create female characters, shouldn’t we be insisting that they hire a few more women? The “old white men” excuse (for anything–politics, academia, film, etc.) is wearing thin. If it means that women aren’t accepted in the “good old boys” clubs, something needs to be changed. I think an animation studio is as good a place as any to pursue this change.

  11. In response to Prairie’s question about why Pixar aren’t hiring women…

    I’ve checked into statistics for the UK and the proportion of women going on to 3D animation, digital cinema, and media related courses is pretty low – around 22% or so. This may explain it.

    I’ve also had a look through the credits of all the Pixar features and counted the number of jobs done by women and the number of jobs done by men. The figures matched up with the number of students – about 22% as an average over the 8 films.

    This kinda suggests that Pixar hires people on merit and ability rather than gender. Hmmm…. sounds familiar, rather like the topic of quality of character over gender.

    Admittedly my figures aren’t 100% accurate as I couldn’t determine the sex of some people’s names – Konishi, Narottama, for example, or even Alex and Kelly.

    Also, I found that over time there has been a slight proportional shift toward a higher male % of crew – but this is negligible, particularly after you consider the % for crew of indeterminable gender (no offense meant).

    On the whole though I’m loving the discussion. I find my reaction sways as I read posts and investigate facts. On the whole though I have to say that I don’t think Pixar would intend any sexism… which is based on nothing more than my own hopes… I think they are just writing about what they know and identify with.
    Perhaps they are just taking the easy way out by not challenging themselves by doing a female lead, but hey, the quality of the stories and the sheer joyful experience of watching these movies, the morally sound handling of good and evil, gives Pixar a ‘get of jail free’ card.

    But then, what if. What if they made a film with a female lead? It could really settle some arguments. Or then, as Michael suggested, if it was Ratatouille that had a female lead the outcry could have been incredible! ‘Pixar finally do a movie with a girl as the main character and what’s it about??? COOKING!!!’

    Sometimes you just can’t win.

  12. You should see these movies before commenting on them…

    Character complexity is marked by growth. Does a character learn something and change by the end? The character of Wall-E doesn’t grow in the film. But Eve does.

    And those robots you were perusing on the website aren’t identified in the film. I don’t know if they were even featured. Wall-E and Eve are really the only robots that were assigned a gender. See it before you write an article.

  13. Wall-E is such a clear and sharp reminder of women’s superiority over men, I left the theater in crisis.

    Wall-E’s heroic act is finding a dirty shoe. It’s not so much that she’s cold, when she initially turns off to Wall-E, so much as: “Why would that girl have anything to do with a pathetic trash-collector robot? She’s got the future of life on Earth, and humanity to save, after all!”

    Wall-E’s just a sappy cowering robot that collects garbage and shows up late.

  14. I have seen Wall-E a few days ago and, personally, I was delighted.

    Of course, that might have been due to the fact that I watched it for what it was worth in my own mind, i.e. a beautifully orchestrated familly movie (not to mention baren of pop-culture jokes and sing-along songs; PIXAR be blessed!!!!) and didn’t seek to attach too heavy and sordid social undertones to it.

    I am a woman and I didn’t feel threatened at all by any ‘message’ or roles in that movie. Actually, I don’t see anything negatively sexist in the Buy n Large robots aforementioned. It is a proven fact that women are still predominantly involved with housework and that men most often take care of ‘heavier’ or dirty jobs like landscaping or garbage removal. I don’t think this is shocking or even bad. It just seem to be a natural trend.

    To me, a misogynistic portrayal of a female character would be if that character is presented as inherently stupid, or inept, or in some way contemptuous solely because it is female. The mere fact of portraying a female as a love interest or doing traditionally ‘female’ things isn’t necessarily negative.

    I think it is getting to be a bit of a social hysteria; the urge and trend to create characters and character line ups almost SOLELY to enforce politically correct rules. While that isn’t wrong in itself, I find it creates very contrived stories and art. A story like Wall-E doesn’t in ANY way encourage or promote contempt, hatred or dismissal of women. It is a story written for its own purpose and, I found, very honest and candid in its delivery.

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