Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Does the "G" in "G-Rated" Stand for Guys-Only?

A study done by a group called See Jane reviewed 101 G-rated movies released between 1990 and 2004. See Jane is a program of the advocacy group Dads and Daughters that ostensibly encourages balanced representation of genders in children's entertainment. The study included the films Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Monsters, Inc., Chicken Run, The Princess Diaries, Babe, The Santa Clause 2 and Toy Story. Of the ones they studied, they found that only 28% of characters with speaking parts were female and only 17% of people in crowd scenes were female.

As an initial observation, Toy Story had a considerable amount of characters in it and was about the toys that belonged to a boy. I have two sons and a daughter. If Toy Story had been about the toys in a girl's room, you would have a platoon of Barbies and a crowd of stuffed animals, and the action one could write with a set of characters would have made the movie appealing only to girls. This leads me to two conclusions:

  1. Studio execs looking to market these films will tend to pay for the movies that will have the greatest appeal to their target demographic. More girls will watch a "boy's movie" than boys will watch a "girl's movie".
  2. There are some "girl's movies" that I'm sure haven't made the list. There's a whole line of Barbie movies that are remarkably well done. I've sat and watched some of them with my daughter. (I screen the movies my kids watch anyway.)
To add to my second conclusion, I'm sure they didn't review the Disney classics that were re-released during this time period like Cinderella, Snow White and Aristocats. To be fair, they probably didn't include Veggi-Tails movies either which have mostly male vegetables. This leads me to another observation - a question really. While vegetable or animal characters can usually be discerned as male or female characters, can the loss of realism due to using non-human characters be truly counted as gender representation? For example, while Winnie the Pooh is male, he is never portrayed in a traditionally male role. In fact, the only character on Winnie the Pooh that is in a traditional gender role is Kanga, the only female. Feminists may argue that such traditional roles are not helpful to advance the feminist agenda. The trouble is that the feminist agenda is to suggest that women are better off acting like men. This goes against recent studies suggesting that boys and girls are different (which reasonable people have known for years).

This leads back to my first conclusion. Is it reasonable to expect boys and girls to behave differently than they are built to behave? Certainly parents can correct immoral behavior, but where the behavior involves preferences that are not morally conditional, like the type of movie one will sit and watch, then can we expect boys to watch movies that feature feminine content and girls to not watch movies that feature male content? The movie execs understand the marketing. The most watched movies feature masculine material that has elements or characters that have been toned down enough to attract girls. This is partially why we get the complaint that males have been emasculated by Hollywood. But it doesn't work the same to feature feminine content that has been juiced up with the intent to attract boys. Boys typically will reject such as weird. And it's not wrong; it's just the nature of things.

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