Friday, June 16, 2006

A response from Geena Davis

Recently I posted some of the findings by the See Jane organization, which was founded by Geena Davis. Their recent report, "Where the Girls Aren't," highlighted the dramatic discrepancy between male and female characters in G-rated films. It generated a lot of interesting comments, and Ms. Davis herself just posted a lengthy, thoughtful comment. Since I suspect a lot of readers don't regularly go back and check the comments of older posts, I'm reprinting it as a new post, since I think this subject deserves more discussion . . . I was told to check out the TAG blog, and I'm very glad I did. You all have very keen observations, and raised questions we are looking to answer as well. Allow me to jump into the discussion... The aspect of our research that most interests me is the quantity of female characters. Several of you -- Klahd, RedDiabla and anonymous, discussed the difficulties in getting a film made with a female main character; with rare exceptions (Mulan, Pocahontas, etc.) that has been true. And we sometimes see films where the female and male stars are more or less equal co-leads (Beauty and the Beast, Lilo and Stitch, etc...). What concerns me about the majority of animated films is that in the "world" of the film -- the fantasy environment that's been created, whether it's toys or animals or whatever -- is usually a world with very few females in roles of ALL sizes. Women and girls, as we know, take up roughly half the space in the real world (a tiny bit more than 50%, but who wants to quibble?); they also share the theater seats equally for animated films. Yet female secondary and tertiary characters are actually more scarce than female leads! If you think about some of the most popular G-rated films, you'll realize there are few, if any, female characters in group or crowd scenes. (The study, as Kevin noted, found only 17%.) My theory -- and it's only a theory -- is that "girls will watch stories about boys but boys won't watch stories about girls" is not a product of our genetic makeup, so much as the cultural message kids are getting. From the very beginning, from their very first G-rated films and pre-school TV shows, with rare exceptions kids are seeing worlds where the male characters make up most of the population; where female characters are highly stereotyped, sidelined, or simply not there. Wouldn't our youngest boys and girls get a message from a steady diet of that? And mightn't they grow up into adult women who will watch stories about men, and men who won't watch stories about women? There will always be and should always be films that are aimed at and appeal more to one gender than the other. But the majority of animated films are seen by girls and boys equally; our hope at See Jane is that someday a studio's output of G-rated films will, when averaged, resemble gender parity; that a child's video library would generally reflect gender equity. As for Kevin's question about economics, our study can't answer that, specifically -- it wasn't designed for assessing the profit/percentage-of-female characters ratio. But it is a fact that a number of animated movies with female leads are in the top-twenty box office ranking for the last 15 years. I agree with you: I'm not convinced that pouring more female characters into the stories we tell will dent the B.O. Ken Roskos mentioned Hayao Miazaki as someone who has had success with female characters. What strikes me most about his films is not that he often has a female lead, but that the films as a whole are richly populated with female characters of every stripe. My guess is that his viewers don't really notice that: just as most parents here don't notice a lack of female characters, I suspect that having female characters share the space in his films doesn't stand out to his audience. Japan, if I may be forgiven for generalizing, is know for remaining a fairly sexist society, yet Princess Mononoke became the No.1 movie OF ALL TIME in Japan, beating the record held by "E.T." for 15 years (the record has since been broken by "Titanic"). It was also the all-time best selling video in Japan, selling more than 4 million copies, until the record was broken, again, by "Titanic." (The previous video sales record was held by "Aladdin", which sold about 2.2 million copies in Japan.) If a movie with "Princess," of all things, in the title can be a runaway hit in Japan, perhaps we should feel emboldened to push the boundaries here. The final point I want to respond to is Klahd's suggestion that I "make some financially successful films with strong female roles and hope that the pencil pushers take notice." I wish that worked. I have -- and they didn't. I shot Thelma and Louise and A League of Their Own back-to-back, and the press predicted in both cases the start of a wave of female buddy and sports movies. Neither movie provoked the decision-makers to try to repeat their success; in fact, I believe the next female-oriented sports movie to come out was Bend in Like Beckam... about 10 years later. Thank you all for your time, and especially thank you for your serious and thoughtful discussion of our study results. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts.


Steve Hulett said...

American animation was pretty much a male bastion back during the so-called "Golden Age." Women were seldom allowed to do much more than paint cels in the ink-and-paint department, no matter how artistically qualified they were (Mary Blair was a notable exception).

Care to name all the female directors in the seventy-year history of feature animation? Women have only occupied the director's chair in the last decade -- Lorna Cook, Brenda Chapman and Vicky Jenson come to mind, but there are few others. (Kind of tough to gain the necessary skills when you're downstairs coloring cels.)

Story development was another area that had few women. When I arrived at Disney in the late-seventies, there were none. In the animation department, there were new arrivals Lorna Cook, Linda Miller and one or two others.

Some strides have been made over the past few decades, but they've been small.

(I've cross-posted this from the original June 7 entry.)

Unknown said...

What follows is just my theory and I'm sure there are plenty of you whom would be glad to dispute it....
I don't think the problem lies solely in the fact that boys won't see films with feamle leads and girls will see films with male leads. Part of the problem is that our medium, Animation, has turned into a girls' medium in America. that's not the case overseas and especially Japan. It's hard enough to get males into the seats when you have an animated film much less one with a female lead that's not in peril. Most of the 2D films that have purposely gone after that male audience haven't faired well either.
I think that's not necessarily the case with CG. Males don't have the same prediposition towards 3D that they do towards 2D. If animation is going to seize upon the opportunity to portray a strong female lead 3D probably stands the best chance of succeeding in that way. If Pixar were to have a defined female lead in one of their next films it would be very interesting to see the BO
What's really interesting is that part of animation's fan base also overlaps into the comics fan base and the fanboys seem to love strong female leads. That hasn't quite worked into good live-action BO yet (of course, the strong female comic films have been sub-par by most standards), but TV sure seems to have tapped into it to a large degree (ie: Buffy, Veronica Mars, and Battlestar galatica to name a few).

I suspect that a lot of the problem lies in who is making these films and the type of males who gravitate towards animation.

As to why their aren't many females in crowd scenes (I never noticed this problem to be honest) my only guess is that it's easier to create generic males and not have them easily spotted when they're repeated than females. Not to mention women are just harder to draw, dammit!

Kevin Koch said...

Coming from the scientific, emprical background that I do, I still bridle at discussions that start with huge assumptions instead of from data. I'm still not convinced that "boy movies do better that girl movies" (or what I see as a corrollary, "Girls will watch boy movies, but boys won't watch girl movies"), even though I know many people assume that to be true. And I still think shedding some light on that question would be very easy. You have the data on which films have the least and greatest gender bias. The data for how those films did financially is readily available. All that's needed is a correlational analysis of those two sets of data. And I wouldn't be surprised if the correlation is weaker than expected (that is, that more boys doesn't decisively mean bigger box office).

Now, for that study to really be interesting, I think attention would need to be paid to the gender bias in the lead roles, since I don't think people go to, or avoid, a film based on the genders of the secondary/tertiary and crowd characters. For example, Mulan likely has far more male than female characters, but it's clearly the story of a young woman's struggle and triumph.

Geena, I think it would be pretty easy to take the data your researchers have already collected and do some preliminary analysis. If I'm right, and the correlation of bias with success is weak, then producers need to reconsider their assumptions. If I'm wrong, then we need to acknowledge that it's going to be a tougher road to evening out the bias that clearly exists.

Kevin Koch said...

By the way, I love your response about having done Thelma and Loise and A League of Their Own, and how little that changed anything!

So sad and so typical, and it has to be tremendously frustrating. I think it speaks to the fact that most studio heads and writers and directors are male, and the unconscious bias that goes with it. I can tell you it's intimidating for me to have to animate a female character, and given a choice I'd probably (without even thinking about why) chose to animate a male character if given the choice (or if I was making something up on my own).

Kevin Koch said...

Thanks for the hard data, Jeff. I'm a little surprised that our numbers are that out of balance, but then I recently worked on a film where every single character animator (out of several dozen) was male.

I do think the male character bias can improve even with so many males in creative positions, but it will take conscious effort. And, of course, we already know there's no reason to have such a pronounced bias in creative positions, so that needs to change also.

By the way, Marc Davis got the same rejection letter from Disney when he first applied. They assumed from the way he spelled his first name that he was a woman. He reapplied, emphasizing his XY chromosome status, and was quickly hired.

Jenny Lerew said...

Great topic.

I'm so glad Ms. Davis has read these remarks by all of us--I suspected she might, somehow. I was moved that she's taken on this task to create a discussion on an issue that no one pays too much attention to.

There's probably a corollary between the paucity of women in live action film, in animation filmmaking, and the lack of the kinds of female roles I, too, would like to see: "just characters"--taken for granted in the story in the best sense of the term. No heavy-handed tokenism, just there because of the fact that females exist in, well, "real life", and our characters--be they cars, rats or fish--have to be relatable to the audience.

I'm a story artist, one of the 13% working in animation(I would guess the percentage in feature animation--where I work--is even smaller). I'm asked all the time "why aren't there more women in animation?" and my answer is "I have no idea". But I'll guess:
the roots of that go back to the mid 1920s at least, when the live action film world had a brief heyday of women as a healthy percentage of working screenwriters, and a much better one of directors and producers. It wasn't as happy a balance in the new art of animation; it started as a crude type of "moving comics"--and 99% of comic artists were men, hence the makeup of the first workplaces. Women graduated from art schools in decent numbers, but as professionals in anything but magazine illustration they were completely marginalized; "ink and paint girls" whose eventual ambition was marriage, because they damn well knew they weren't going to be promoted to animators or directors, as Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and dozens of other cel-painters and washers were. Those were the times(and yes, I'm well aware of the 2 or 3 exceptions).

Sorry for the long historic digression, but anyway, that's the start of the boys' club of animation, and such clubs are by their nature self-perpetuating in all fields. But obviously there's been change. I would love to encourage more women--girls--into the field; I think even now, the main problem is that most don't know it's a viable career.
I've been happy as a director and story artist for over 15 years.
I can count the other women I've worked with on one hand--but as it is, I know my [male] coworkers, and we are so much the same, as artists, under the externals. I've never felt excluded. I'm not a boy, but I feel like "one of the boys", and I think it's because we are all in pursuit of a common goal: great work, great stories, well told and well done. We all got into this work because we all love the medium, to bring drawings to life(CG or not, all these stories still start as drawings). Most of us have kids, but even if we don't I would guess that most feel as I do: we have a special charge in the fact that we are providing generations of children(potentially)with memories that will stick with them and make a profound impact on them. How many times has Spielberg talked bout seeing "Pinocchio" for the first time? I'm sure there are JPL scientists and teachers and astronauts and judges who found inspiration and meaning in the movies they saw. It's commerce and it's arguably the most potent art form we have.

Like RedDiabla, I have stories of my own that I'd like to tell(which means pitching them, as I'm not an independent producer), and yes, I draw them from my own tomboy upbringing, my girlcentric(though far from "girly)teenage years, and my adult life where I've lived exactly as my male counterparts have, along with my female pals who also: draw, paint, ride, dance, race, crack dumb gags, goof around, play games, play rough.
I imagine "girls" taking roles in my stories that are usually cast as men without a second thought. I hope that can change. I know what some of the focus groups say...I read the Business section of the NY Times daily, I read Variety, I've heard the common wisdom...but I also know the reactions of an audience in Riverside to Lilo and her older sister(one of the most realistic presentations of characters ever, make or female--but I'm glad they were female!): pure delight. I'd just love to know how Chris Sanders managed to sell that--but he did.

And I also think women are much easier to draw, Steve. ; )

Rocco said...

Has anyone else noticed the lack of mothers in animated films? Or should I say the preponderance of dead ones. It's amazing the number of cartoon moms that manage to die before the movie starts. Pinocchio, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Chicken Little, Nemo, Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and I'm sure there are many more that I can't remember at the moment. Bambi's mom almost made it...

On another note, recently a friend and I wrote a play together, and it was performed by a theatre group in Glendale. When audition time came, we were made aware of the lack of female roles that we had written, by the fact that the majority of actors that showed up were female. Suddenly, we found ourselves re-writing, and in some cases just re-naming characters to accomodate the very talented actresses that showed up.

That experience was a real eye opener, because without consciously realizing it, we were writing characters that we identified with, and just automatically made the majority of them male, but when we put a female slant on some of them, it opened up the show to more opportunities for humor and a greater variety of interesting characterizations than we had originally imagined.

We had one character that was a very forceful, boisterous male character, and when a woman read for the part, she was so great that it was a no-brainer to re-write a couple of lines to make it work in the context of the story. That actress playing the part added so much to the character, because she brought her own experience to it and made it more real, and no less boisterous and domineering, either.

One last note: I'm happy to say that I've been doing my part to contribute to upping the percentage of females in the film and animation industries. My eldest daughter just graduatd high school, and is getting ready to enter the USC film school in the fall. She'll be on the production track, and her goal is to be a feature film director.

And my younger daughter is already a better cartoonist than I'll ever be.

Anonymous said...

What a great discussion. I'm the ED of Dads & Daughters, the home of Geena's See Jane program. I'm encouraged and inspired by the thoughtfulness, knowledge and energy of this discussion. To add to the mix, here's an email we got at See Jane from an anonymous animation student: “If you’re wondering why the imbalance of male characters to female characters is so alarming, look in the animation textbooks. Males are continually drawn over and over again, while females appear only occasionally and I quote, “move in a distinct manner because of balance. The knees and elbows tend toward inward arcs in action…” – Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair, page 168. Women are treated like a different species in these animation books. They are said to need eyes tilting up, and only males seem to be drawn in funny positions or interesting positions. The reason, or at least a big reason for all of this inequality is in the books that go to train the new generation of artists, that still has sexist material in it and looks as if it was published in the 50’s. There is no female author of any kind in any of my animation books.”

Love to hear your thoughts on this.

RedDiabla said...

Preston Blair alone isn't why women aren't flocking all over animation. His books are influential, but I find it hard to believe that girls would be turned away from an entire genre of film due to Red Hot Riding Hood's existence. Of course, my bias is revealed in the fact that I love drawing pin-up-style women in my not-so-spare time. Am I sexist against my own gender as a result?

What jenny says rings true when it comes to my experience working in the animation field. We're all a bunch of goofballs who get to be paid for making ourselves laugh and hopefully the audience follows suit.

Anonymous said...

"My theory -- and it's only a theory -- is that 'girls will watch stories about boys but boys won't watch stories about girls' is not a product of our genetic makeup, so much as the cultural message kids are getting."

So it is a cultural message that somehow rings true around the world in nearly every single culture on the planet?
Thats one pervasive cultural trait!

Perhaps -- just perhaps -- it IS part of our genetic makeup. Thats what all the facts seem to point to, whether some of us are upset by this or not.

Kevin Koch said...

How do you know it rings true all over the world?!? I'll say it again -- no one has presented those facts. And now you're jumping to the idea that it's genetic! My mind boggles.

Chrlane said...

This is an interesting topic. It is a cultural one, as you point out, Kevin.

I would also remark on your observation about Japanese culture being "sexist", and how this reflects on the success of Princess Mononoke. I don't think it's a matter of sexism. Perhaps Miyazaki is just one of those artists whose vision transcends the trappings of cultural trends, and thus feeds the very roots of his audience. In this way, we have universal success without pandering.

We all need healthy role models. And so the statistics appear to be indicative of an imbalance of sorts on the surface, because we are looking for reasons why we feel ripped off. The most obvious ones get looked at first.

But we need to remember that art is a reflection of society, not vice-versa.

Traditionally, men would be in the forefront, and women would be hidden away in kitchens and bedrooms. We often consider these roles to be sexist, but they are purely biological. Back before we had birth control, we were at the mercy of Nature. Nature determined these roles. We kind of made do. There can be no quantitative judgements passed on Nature. There is only room for interpretation where Nature is concerned.

My beef with the portrayal of women is that the elderly are not adequately represented in story. The glorification of youth and of certain body types are for me a lot more pressing issues than gender percentages. I think when we mature intellectually as a society, we embrace wisdom, and in doing so, these roles come all on their own. But there has to be that maturity and respect for wisdom, which conventionally comes with age.

And elderly woman may not have firm bodies, but some of them have a glint in the eye, and a charm to rival the prettiest of young women. And elderly men, well everyone already knows they can be charming, or deliciously evil. You may think I am stating the obvious-- but am I?

Perhaps it's time we focused on value. I think with that slight shift in focus, everything else falls into place. We no longer have gender issues to quibble over. We get the whole picture. It just lands firmly in our laps in spite of us all. And we get to act pleasantly surprised too.

That's the bonus. ;)

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I doubt Preston Blair - as great as he is - has that kind of influence. However, I do think that it points us toward something mentioned before: Blair was thinking in the same way as many male artists are now today. Men have a heck of a hard time empathising with female characters and just think about them differently, usually in a cliche manner. With the blog boom of the past year, I bet I've subscribed to about at least 100 artists' blogs. Some posted a lot, some posted only a few times. Pretty much all of them (of both sexes) loved to draw women, and posted a lot of girl drawings. Yet I've pretty much never seen a girl drawing by a man, that wasn't eather sexy or hidiously ugly. They rarely have a soul, or a distinct character. While they find all sorts of interesting variations on male characters. And if I do find a girl drawing that actually looks interesting, 90% of the time it's drawn by a woman. I doubt it's even a conscious thing for the artists "guilty" to this.

Anonymous said...

"How do you know it rings true all over the world?!?"

because it does. if it didn't, this wouldn;t be an issue - OR we would have an example to push forth as the ideal "gender equality" that this pinheaded argument is looking for.
the onus is not upon me to prove to you the fundamentals of your discussion.

i would view the minor gravitation of male story characters being more prevalent in children's entertainment to be an offshoot of the traditional nuclear family. this discussion is bveing pulled down into the murky waters of absolutism in equality of every aspect of every culture and by doing that, it has said "bye bye" to pragmatism.

Chrlane said...

Somebody needs to take their vitamin B6 supplements.

Kevin Koch said...

Let's try to keep our eyes on the ball. The statistics that are at the root of this discussion involve the top grossing G-rated films released in the US in the last 15 years. The overwhelming majority of those films also came from the US. There's nothing in those statistics that speaks to cultures anywhere else, much less around the world. Perhaps you believe that the study's statistics would be equally true in every culture in the world, in whatever their equivalent of top grossing family films might be, but I suspect you're making a huge assumption there, and in any event it's beyond the scope of this discussion.

I also think the mention of "the murky waters of absolutism in equality of every aspect of every culture" is something that you're bringing to the discussion, and it's a 'straw man' issue to boot. No one is talking about absolutism, total equality, or every aspect of every culture. Again, we're talking about G-rated feature films in the good ol' U S of A, the kind many of us regularly work on. And we're talking about a pretty overwhelming disparity in gender representation in those films.

Hopefully we can keep this discussion realistic and pragmatic, which I think so far it's been. It might even lead to some positive change.

Chrlane said...

It is only natural for men to draw women who are fruitful in appearance. Especially if this is something which is lacking in their lives for various reasons.

The absence of the nurturing elderly woman in commercial animated film, and in Hollywood in general, is a reflection of the experiences many artists have had in their personal lives. With this emphasis on the women's role as breadwinner, Mothering, the most critical role to the survival of any species, has taken a back seat in our societal priorities, and this is as global as was the industrialization and consequent wide-spread flux into the work force of women in the post-war era.

But this is common knowledge, my friend.

In conjunction with this shift in female roles, we see a marginalization of the more sexually appealing females as a direct result. While beauty and desirability in females may have been seen as an asset in the domestic, or traditional context, these women have been marginalized in the current culture, as there are more dominant types of females who flourish in the modern workforce, which is predominantly male in culture.

Just as there are varying degrees of dominance inherant in male culture, females have a similar hirarchy, and it fluctuates along with the roles attributed to us. Only it has become fashionable to deny this, and consequently, those who are more sexually desireable, or fertile, become dominated and marginalized. And then males capitalize from this the only way they know how; by exploiting these women in a sexual fashion. All males glorify the same body types, and thus, females do not find the mates which Nature intended for them. All this is done with affection by the males, but out of ignorance of damaging longterm societal consequences.

In the end, it is the witless objectification and marginalization of certain female types which, effectually, causes "pragmatism" to go "bye-bye", along with good old common sense.

Anonymous said...

girls are more inclined to like both male and females in a lead role than boys are.
i'm saying that this FACT is more likely explained by our genetic makeup than some bias or conspiracy perpetuated by hollywood.

so go ahead and split hairs, count beans, find a villain to blame... but the simple fact remains that girls find male and female roles in their entertainment appealing.

its a telling fact that this discussion hasn't even covered why boys are so narrow minded in this regard, its all about some percieved injustice women are suffering at the hands of studios who are "keeping the ladies down"
please... its a delusional feminist claptrap.

Chrlane said...

I would like to suggest that maybe it's time for Kevin to shut the anonymous comments off this blog.

Jenny Lerew said...

"its all about some percieved injustice women are suffering at the hands of studios who are "keeping the ladies down"
please... its a delusional feminist claptrap."

Wow. No, it's not "all about" that at all.
I read nowhere in this discussion where this was stated. "Perceived injustice"?

We're talking here about female characters in films--animated films; we're talking about the huge, rather odd disparity in the ratio of male-to-female characters onscreen. That's it. It's pretty straightforward and simple. Additional details are added simply for context(what's yours, btw?).

I've found it personally difficult to share my thoughts on these matters for reasons perfectly illustrated by this kind of defensive, hostile post: god forbid I offer the POV of a female animation artist--someone might take it "the wrong way". Well, nuts to that.
I still stand by my remarks as carefully formed and overwhelmingly positive. I'm uninterested in tearing down, only in building up, and in considering how unthinking disparities can be redressed sensibly and entertainingly. What I care about is the film--a good film.

And for whoever declaims that boys/men simply can't identify with females as main characters in animation...can we talk about "Lilo and Stitch" again?

Kevin Koch said...

Thanks, Jenny, for keeping it focused, practical, and pragmatic. It's unfortunate that some people confuse this discussion with something else, and insist on confusing their own deeply held opinion with fact.

Anonymous, frankly, you've made the same point three different times, and you're not adding to the discussion. Until you have something more than invective to offer, perhaps you should give it a rest.

Anonymous said...


i am commenting on the absolutism of Geena Davis' letter in the original post.
did i click on the wrong link?? isn't that what this discussion is about?!!?
lets revisit the views expressed in the original letter:

"female secondary and tertiary characters are actually more scarce than female leads! If you think about some of the most popular G-rated films, you'll realize there are few, if any, female characters in group or crowd scenes. (The study, as Kevin noted, found only 17%.)

My theory -- and it's only a theory -- is that "girls will watch stories about boys but boys won't watch stories about girls" is not a product of our genetic makeup, so much as the cultural message kids are getting. From the very beginning, from their very first G-rated films and pre-school TV shows, with rare exceptions kids are seeing worlds where the male characters make up most of the population; where female characters are highly stereotyped, sidelined, or simply not there. Wouldn't our youngest boys and girls get a message from a steady diet of that? And mightn't they grow up into adult women who will watch stories about men, and men who won't watch stories about women?

There will always be and should always be films that are aimed at and appeal more to one gender than the other. But the majority of animated films are seen by girls and boys equally; our hope at See Jane is that someday a studio's output of G-rated films will, when averaged, resemble gender parity; that a child's video library would generally reflect gender equity."

did you catch the exclamation point after the first sentence?
that notates alarm - as if something is amiss, or wrong. its suggests an anomoly and i think its an overreaction.
if girls are more receptive to male leads, then i commend them. if studios think a male lead speaks to a wider audience, then i can't condemn them for that alone. furthermore, i don't think the disparity is what it is being made out to be.
its alarmist.
look at Disney's Katzenberg revival on, where there were about 12 features made. out of them:
-the little mermaid
-lilo and stitch
-beauty and the beast

FIVE have female leads. and not only that - but those movies did quite well as compared to Atlants and Tarzan. so i can only shake my head at the statement:
"female characters are highly stereotyped, sidelined, or simply not there"

the very idea that her letter uses the term "gender equality" is laughably absurd.
that is the "percieved injustice" i am talking about. the very idea that our g rated films are forming a cultural gender inequality in our society is preposterous.
just perhaps...
women have always been a lot more open minded than men and as children and adults, women have a very liberated point of view that leads them to be more accepting of male and female leading characters.
i would hate to live in a world where every piece of art has to be scrutinized to have equal representations of genders. an ideal ratio that studios can maintain towards bland parity and homogenization.

but those are my views and i'll readily admit, it is a view of dissent.

Chrlane said...

Anonymous, please allow me to suggest that it is not your views which cause friction, but rather, your presentation. Your points may be obvious to you, but that is because you are thinking them. The rest of us require you to be thorough in your explanations, and receptive to the input of others.

And you appear to contradict yourself. On the one hand, you are suggesting television content is the source of this gender disparity, and on the other hand, you are writing it off as human nature. IMHO, anyone can be open-minded. It's all learned.

I beg to differ on your theory that "boys will be boys". Perhaps the male sex hormones predispose us to certain reactions to certain types of conditioning. But it is all conditioning nonetheless. And males are as susceptable to media influence as women.

If anything, there is MORE peer pressure in male culture. Less variation in acceptable roles. And by and large, women are determining this climate, as we are present in the work force in large numbers, and have a significant impact on cultural trends here in North America.

As you are concerned about certain oversights in male predisposition, I would like to point out that in my experience as a woman, and as a Mother who is doing her best to raise a healthy boy in this climate, that there is an everpresent knee-jerk, reactionary feminism which preys on the male psyche. We are inclined to punish all men and boys for the misgivings of a few deluded males, and to forget that we are so often the ones who are raising these so-called monsters. And in terms of negative influences, I would be inclined to point fingers at magazines rather than television in this respect. Magazines capitalize on the most assinine of male AND female qualities.

I have seen that without these kinds of predatorial influences, males can be masculine in all the right ways, and still nurturing and considerate of the societal consequences of their actions when they cease this pandering to the basest instincts. And there is a massive difference between the evolution of the male psyche and castration. But we ALL have to mature enough to recognize this first, males and females alike.

Anyhow, we are all entitled to our opinions. At least you presented yours in an intelligent fashion in your last post.

Chrlane said...

For the record, I shall leave it up to others to figure out which magazines I am referring to. Obviously it can't be all magazines in general…

Kevin Koch said...

First, anon, there is no "absolutism" in Ms. Davis' letter. You persist in creating straw men (or straw women) that you can huff and puff down. Second, the "alarm" of the exclaimation point seems pretty justified. 17% female characters in CROWD shots?!? Forget about any theory that boys won't identify with female leads, we're talking about secondary and tertiary characters and crowd shots. Wouldn't most films be well served to have something approximating reality in crowd shots? Is it really possible boys will refuse to see a film if they suspect the ratio of males to females in the crowd scenes is not greater than 5 to 1?

You write as if that single exclaimation point indicates mass hysteria. You go on to give examples of LEAD characters. But that single bit of punctuation, which seems to have riled you so completely, was in response to the completely unbalanced statistics in characters that WEREN'T lead characters.

You also seem to misconstrue her use of the phrase "gender equality." I don't see where there is any talk of justice or injustice, nor do I see any discussion of studios having their films vetted by censorship boards.

Frankly, it's clear to me that this is an exceptionally loaded topic for you -- so loaded that you're unable to keep it to the discussion at hand. You're clearly of the opinion that there is no problem, that it's all perfectly natural, (even genetically preordained!), and that not only shouldn't the imbalance in characters in these films be addressed, but that we shouldn't even discuss it because it will lead down a slippery slope to 'a world where every piece of art has to be scrutinized to have equal representations of genders.'

Again, I think you've made you points abundantly clear, and if you have nothing new to add maybe your time could be better spent elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

you don' think orchestrating crowd shots with a pristine 50/50 cut between males and females is scrutinizing?
i think it is.

Kevin Koch said...

This is tedious, but I'll try again. No one has suggested "orchestrating crowd shots" to have a "pristine 50/50" ratio. All that has been pointed out is that, currently, the ratio is far out of balance from everyday reality, for no apparent good reason.

I think you also misunderstand the word 'scrutinize.' We are indeed scrutinizing these statistics, which only means we are looking intensely and critically at them. I think that's a useful process. Scrutinize does not imply mandating change. But perhaps in your world even looking critically at this issue is too threatening.

This discussion has already highlighted that there is a huge gender inequality in terms of key creative positions in animation, that such imbalance used to be 100% by mandate of the studio heads, and that per Fred Seibert that imbalance may be changing significantly in the near future. Personally, I think most of the huge, ridiculous imbanance in secondary/tertiary/crowd characters is unconscious, unintended, and due to the similar imbalance in the genders of the people writing, directing, and designing those characters.

I also think we need to gather more data about the quality and nature of the primary characters, and their genders, in our films. That does not mean I think these films are a primary determinant of people's actual attitudes in life, or that we should legislate or mandate certain types or ratios of characters. Just that this is an important issue, that deserves to be explored and discussed openly, without gross generalizations and personal adgendas.

Perhaps, anonymous, you also think there's some natural cultural or biological reason that the vast majority of key creatives in animation are male, and that we're being inappropriate to discuss it, or that by discussing it we're suggesting some kind of affirmative action or hiring quota. Whatever. I can only conclude at this point that not only don't you get it, but that you don't want to get it.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, are you sure no one has asked for a 50/50 change in geder representation?
you may want to read the SeeJane letter again.
it distinctly asks for "gender parity" in g-rated movies. it asks for it twice in the same sentence( i quoted it above).
then the letter states that "female characters are highly stereotyped, sidelined, or simply not there"
and my list of successfulk films with female main charactes flies directly in the face of that absurd fallacy.
i'm taking issue with the letter from Geena Davis' organization because i think it is distorting the facts and seeks a cumbersome, hairbrained, scrutiny of our industry which offers so much more than a perfect representation of gender makeup.

i admit there is a disparity of the genders in our industry, but i'm not prepared to support an effort to change it as soon as possible. that would suggest that it has been formulated that way intentionally.
it isn't.
i think the high ratio of men is due to other factors - one in particular is the affinity for comic books that boys have and girls do not.
boys get a "jump" on drawing, cartoons, and sequential storytelling and with that we see a prevalence in an industry that values those abilities.

MUCH LIKE the fashion industry where there is a giant disparity between the sexes tiliting the other way. three women in my life all work in that industry which is almost wholly comprised of women.

i don't think its inappropriate to discuss the matter of males working in our industry or the makeup of crwd shots and secondary characters. i'm simply voicing an opinion that you don't agree with and i suspect it is that that you find inappropriate.

Kevin Koch said...

Where to start. Let me begin with a later point -- you acknowledge the gender disparity in animation industry creative jobs, then you insist it wasn't intentional. Huh? The history of our industry is that it was, in fact, completely intentional, and mandated by the people doing the hiring during the decades that our industry established the traditions we take for granted. Granted, it went from a strictly enforced prohibition against women, to a more informal one, to the current time where there is likely minimal or no conscious bias in hiring. But the fact is that the long legacy in our industry of women not being allowed in creative positions has affected hiring up to the present. That we may be in an era where much of that bias may finally decrease or even disappear doesn't for a moment suggest that that bias, both overt and unconscious, hasn't been a huge factor for decades.

It's interesting you cite the fashion industry as having a reverse bias. Alice Davis went to Choinard's (later to become Cal Arts) specifically to become an animation artist. She was told that animation was a male field, and the only classes she could take were in fashion design. She later did manage to do design work for Disney (most notably with Mary Blair on It's a Small World), but the avenue to animation was never open to her. Interestingly, in fashion design she was often a chief designer, but throughout her career there was always a man at the same firm who would be paid literally 4 times as much, and who would generally get credit for her work. Decades have gone by since those times, but that doesn't mean such attitudes and pervasively enforced but unspoken rules don't have an effect today.

Now, to your main point. It's now clear that the sentence that offends you so much is this one:
But the majority of animated films are seen by girls and boys equally; our hope at See Jane is that someday a studio's output of G-rated films will, when averaged, resemble gender parity; that a child's video library would generally reflect gender equity.

To you, that simple hope (note the word "hope") triggers in you talk of "delusional feminist claptrap," "conspiracy perpetuated by hollywood," "murky waters of absolutism," finding "a villain," "bland parity and homogenization," and false charges of "studios who are 'keeping the ladies down.'" For you the only outcome of that hope must be that the delusional feminists and kept-down ladies will demand that "every piece of art" "be scrutinized" and "orchestrated." Which to you is horrible, because the "fact" is that the 5:1 ratio is a "minor gravitation of male story characters" is only evidence of our "genitics." Hooha! I am convinced. So convinced I will no longer respond to your superior logic.

I do sincerely hope that the others involved in this discussion, as well as some of you reading along, will continue this process. It's extremely useful, and it would be a shame for a single person to so distort the discussion that everyone else quits it.

Anonymous said...

i never said that the creators of this study were femininsts. i said that ONE of its inferred conclusions sounded like "feminist claptrap".
you've been putting words in my mouth with every post, but i'm not going to argue with you.

i think the more telling sentence from the statement is that "female characters are highly stereotyped, sidelined, or simply not there"

5 OUT OF THE 12 Disney blockbusters have a woman in the lead role.

when nearly half of those most highly distributed and seen movies are featuring a female lead, then i think its selective and excessive scrutining to pick out a "5 to 1" disparity in crowd scenes.
crowd scenes fro crying out loud!
never mind Belle, Ariel, Lilo, Pocohantas.... the crowd scenes are not representing a fair split of men and women!

in my opinion thats a bit ridiculous.

Chrlane said...

It sounds to me like someone has a very distinct agenda and loves to generalize all sorts of nonsense to back it up. When there's a subject you can't even adress on the internet without him getting all worked up and attacking people, what other conclusion can you reach?

I bet all his feminist friends that he runs to weeping and pointing fingers whenever someone steps on his very long toes don't even suspect he's actually a closet chauvenist.

What a joke.

And this is not a personal attack. It's just time we all owned up to a few things in the name of progress. I have nothing against erotica. But I loathe hypocrites. So figure out which bloody side of the fence you're on, Anonymous, before the post works it's way up there as they often will when we sit there for too long. I hear they're hard to extract…

Anonymous said...

Chrlane, i haven't attacked anyone in this thread.
i'm sorry you are so upset to accuse me of that just because i disagree with you on the parameters of the study.

lets stop and think for a minute - what was the context for these "crowd scenes"?
were any of them perhaps the soldiers in "Hunchback? ormaybe the army in Mulan?
is it wrong that 15 century batallion didn't include women or that a 12th century army din't either?

have we stoipped to think that MAYBE, \just maybe the facts are a little bit skewed in the findings of the study? i perused the PDF file at the See Jane site and it is very stingy with how the study was conducted.

i'm damn PROUD i work in an industry that has a soldi record of female leads in its movies(not the best but bya far not the worst as compared to tv animation and the rest of hollywood).
i'm glad that our ugly past of having a male dominated workforce(and ALL workforces were male dominated in earlier years) is now changing through efforts from within. i think we are making a lot of progress.

what i don't like is when a representative of our union jumps onto the back of a dubious study to habd down what i think is ill concieved criticism without any other facts weighed.

Chrlane said...

Don't flatter yourself, I am not upset, Anonymous. Just fed up with the two-faced lies.

Either you support humanitarianism or you don't. You don't get to pick and choose WHICH people get to have dignity and basic human rights. Only the ugly woman gets treated with respect. Only the poor man gets treated with consideration. Bullocks, man! That's your own personal bias. Learn to get past yourself long enough to see that others have valid points of view. You can't just piddle on down the dotted line for years and years and expect nobody to notice.

We ALL need to eat, or the product suffers. So when it gets so that some are eating BECAUSE others-- good people, are _dying_, then we have a problem. Especially when it would work WAY better another way.

So bottom line is, either you admit there's a problem or you don't. It's that simple. Everything else is semantics.

And nobody is going get fleeced into getting lost in semantics any more, or tricked into being led around by their genetalia at the expense of more important things. Because I think at this stage, we realize we all have one between our legs, and all the silly little secrets in the World aren't going to make it fall off, now are they.

Anonymous said...

"So bottom line is, either you admit there's a problem or you don't. It's that simple. Everything else is semantics."

kinda like a "with us or against us" philosophy there...

Kevin Koch said...

Just to clarify, the study in question examined the top 110 G-rated films of 1990-2005. 101 films were actually available to be examined. Since they were G-rated, some animated films (like Lilo & Stitch) and most DreamWorks animated films weren't included, and the study contained some live-action and older, rereleased films. So repeatedly listing 4 or 5 Disney films really isn't the point.

If you read the study, you see it wasn't meant to be definitive about every film, or all animated films, etc. They simply examined the family films that had found some kind of audience during that 16-year period. The actual study methods are fairly cleared detailed in the pdf about the study on the site. Look under research, find the study, and look at pages 8 and 9 to see how the study was conducted.

Regarding the charge: "what i don't like is when a representative of our union jumps onto the back of a dubious study to habd down what i think is ill concieved criticism without any other facts weighed."

For someone who chafes when his or her own exact words are quoted back to them, you like to play fast and loose with what I've actually said. So I would interested in seeing exactly where I handed down ill-conceived criticism and ignored facts.

Chris, your post is so long I'll only respond to a bit of it. I agree that the quality of characters is more important than just numbers. The See Jane Org clearly cites that as something requiring further study. I don't think anyone believes that this is just about numbers. But the numbers are easy to quantify, and they are startling. The real work is to now look deeper, but the numbers do tell us something.

Regarding the list of movies you imply require a preponderance of male secondary and crowd characters: Of course, and nowhere have I seen it suggested that those movies shouldn't be made. But if you look at the full list of films, there are many, many more that don't have any reason to have such pronounced gender imbalance. And where are the films that require a male character being chased by a horde of female zombies?

And Jeff's listing the gender imbalance in many of the Guild's jobs didn't contain a call for anyone to be shunned. He was pointing out a likely cause of much of the unconscious gender imbalance. Likewise, the fact that there are many women in production doesn't change the fact that the vast majority of the people actually creating, designing, and directing these films are male. The gender of production assistants and coordinators doesn't really have much impact on what kinds of stories and characters we create.

And regarding the reference to Miyazaki made earlier, I think you completely reversed it. I took her mentioning Miyazaki's success to show that, even in a society that is probably more sexist than ours, that it was possible to create family films that have both rich, powerful female characters, and significant box office success.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm coming into this conversation REALLY late, I'm sure some of what I am saying (maybe all) may already have been said before...

I like the point that Ms. Davis makes about the number of female leads vs. incidential and tertiary characters. When I think about animated films, male supporting cast members far outnumber female ones. And when there is a female, she's usually has a 'voice of reason' role. I used to hear a lot of talk about the 'dead mother' thing in Disney movies (I believe someone else mentioned that earlier in this discussion), but what's rarely ever mentioned is that dead mothers are a staple in fairy tales, because when they were written a large percentage of mothers died in childbirth. Also, I think one could argue that if the character in peril had a positive maternal influence they wouldn't be in peril. Disney also got a lot of flack for always having female villains (or at least, people CLAIMED they always had female villains), which usually went back to the source material as well. I'm certainly not expecting any sort of 50/50 headcount when it comes to gender roles, but I don't see why a female sidekick, henchman or comic relief supporting character is any less entertaining than a male one.

Also, Kevin, earlier you mentioned how intimidating it is for you to animate a female character. That reminded me of a conversation I had with an animation director once who claimed that men could animated women far better than women could animate men OR women. I found this comment was appalling, and was even more irritated when another animation director openly expressed disdain for the work of one of the few female artists we had BECAUSE she was female.

I think this discussion is an important one, it's obvious that there are many levels to this problem that goes far deeper than movies. And I think it's great that Ms. Davis took the time to join in on the conversation.

Kevin Koch said...

There's a reason scientists invented the "double blind" study -- because they realized even though they thought they were objective, their own preconceptions and bias tended to skew the way they judged results. Those animation directors are likely falling into that trap -- seeing what they expect to see, and having their own biased perceptions serve as "proof" that their underlying prejudice is correct.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of double-blind studies and the like--just LAST WEEK I heard a story on the radio reporting a recent study(if I bothered to do a Yahoo! news search I'm sure I'd find it--anyone?): the gist of it was this: women and men were put in a room with an infant, and told that the baby was either a boy or a girl, and asked to choose toys from a large selection of possibilities to engage the baby in play.
When BOTH men and women were told the baby was a boy, they both chose "boy toys": trucks, army men, etc. When told that the baby was a female, they ALL-men and women, of a cross-spectrum of backgrounds and experiences, chose "giriie" toys--dolls, horsies, fluffy things.

Isn't that interesting?

I'd say, forget "nature"--that's "nurture" in action for you, right there.
And years ago I read a devastating book(written, I believe, by a man who personally was concerned about his daughters' education)"Failing at Fairness", about (largely) unconscious unequal treatment of young boys and girls in school. One chapter in particular was enough to really make you pause and think. A young female teacher(barely out of Gen X) was asked how she felt about how she treated boys vs. girls in her class. She was adamant about "giving girls a chance", "encouraging them", "I absolutely don't marginalize them--I'm a woman, after all!" etc. The monitors simply set up a camera in her classroom(it was grade1, I believe). When the teacher was shown the video, done over a period of time, unedited, of how she actually interacted with the kids, it profoundly shocked and upset her.
What had happened was that when the girls spoke out of turn in class(remember, these are 5-6 year olds-squirmy kids who are just learninghow to "behave" in a class environment), she scolded them, asked them "Please sit down quietly, use your hand", etc.--but when the boys interrupted other students, spoke out without raising hands, blurted out answers or observations--she smiled, encouraged them, rewarded them, and never once disciplined them for the same behaviour she'd censored the girls for. In other words, she tolerated behavior in the little boys as "oh, boys" but the girls had to sit down, not be boistrous and basically keep quiet until called upon.
This from a young woman in her twenties!
Where do you think she "learned" that? Was it genetic? Or was it simply (as she believed)a totally unconscious, learned way for her to believe boys or girls "should" be and behave?

Kevin Koch said...

Sue, there are tons of compelling studies just like the ones you mentioned. Unconscious bias is everywhere.

At the same time, the fact that "nurture" is so prevelant does not mean "nature" isn't a huge part of the equation. I get as impatient with the "it's-all-nurture" proponents as I do with the "it's-all-biological" proponents.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I agree. I don't think for a minute it's all nuture; there are far too many studies--biological ones--coming out all the time showing just how involved our genes are in our behaviour.

But I will say that in my anecdotal experience individual personality--of both sexes--trumps everything else, and take people--artists--one at a time, and you can toss it all out, all the preconceptions and simply deal with the individual. At least that's the ideal.
I still see some guys expecting women to think--a certain way for no other reason than that they're women...and when they see something they don't expect, they're staggered. That's a nature thing in our business that's there for us to deal with...not to mention you can forget trying to have a frank unemotional talk about it--it's worse then politics or religion! ; )

Kevin Koch said...

Too true, as this discussion shows! Still, hard as it may be, it's worth trying to have that frank talk.

Kevin Koch said...

Yes, definitely interesting and complex. These two posts have generated by far the most extensive comments of the couple of hundred entries Steve and I have done. It's clearly an important topic, and I'm willing to bet just by bringing it up and having a spirited discussion among the several hundred regular readers here that some seeds have been planted.

I suspect going forward there are going to be story artists and character designers and writers and directors pausing every now and then and asking, "Is there a reason this character shouldn't be female?," or "Maybe this female character is a bit of a stereotype, and I can make her more nuanced and interesting?" I think it'll lead to better work.

Chrlane said...

" Anonymous said...

"So bottom line is, either you admit there's a problem or you don't. It's that simple. Everything else is semantics."

kinda like a "with us or against us" philosophy there... "

No, Anonymous. I am not asking people to take sides and there is no war, as you are attempting to stir up here.

It's all about integrity.

I am only asking you to set aside your personal, political and career aspirations when you feign to discuss matters of universal import. Either you are biased or you are not. I sense that you are always playing some angle; that you are never quite sincere. That you are afraid people will find out what you are really thinking. That every controvercial topic is just an opportunity for you to leverage yourself at someone else's expense, and for you to plough your "high moral ground". And that sets off some major alarms for _me_.

Others will decide for themselves by the nature of your posts.

Anonymous said...

and i think it is you that needs to set aside your personal and political views.
basically, Chris summed up most of what i wanted to say in his long post(and better than i could - hats off to you).

if we are striving for a representation of women that more closely represents our society as a whole, then it is an "gender affimative action" type aspiration. the gender breakdown of workers in the creative departments represents the gender breakdown of those WHO APPLIED FOR THE JOBS.

go to portfolio reviews at comic conventions, animation festivals, and screenings and you will see that women are outnumbered by men. that ratio stays the same when the top prospects are hired for studios.

he is also quick to point out the elephant in the room here - the ratio of executives in the animation industry is probably higher than almost any other business.
Rita Street, Heather Kenyon, Linda Simensky.
the entirety of Children's Television Workshop is women as far as i know. the last time i was there there wasn;t one man working there.

so i'm just going on what i've experenced in this industry - not a skewed study(again, see Chris' post) by Geena Davis.

i see a lot of selctive citing of how things used to be as if it was indiciative of our industry having some sort of bias. decades ago that gender bias existed at every single company in America. now our society (and our industry especially) is moving forward.

i think that in ten years there may still not be an equal representation of men and women in the creative department of animation.
and i'm not going to be upset about it if thats the case.

i think that boys are still going to be more inclined than girls to pick up comic books when they are little and start drawing - and to that end there are going to be more boys drawign their way into this industry.
it might be an issue that we can chalk up the the
and women.

i also think there are going to be even MORE female executives in our industry, because they excel at that position. a position with veto power over the creative departments and a direct hand in guiding the company.

and i don't think its going to be unfair either. i'm not going to cry for an equal representation of the sexes as executives.
i'm not taking a moral high ground here, i'm just being pragmatic.

Chrlane said...

and women."

Pragmatic my ass. How convenient. I don't have problems differentiating between personal and political views, I just know a rotten little turd when I smell one, and so does everyone else. Go shoot some more illicit cam porn and leave the topic to people who know how to show one another some basic human respect and dignity regardless of their gender. And then go crying to all your "feminst" friends in power about how abusive I am being. Just don't show them the porn. I hear sex makes them angry because they never get any because all their male friends are closet pedophiles.

Kevin Koch said...

Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's slow down a minute here. If you don't like the guy's argument, fine, give a counter-opinion. But we insist you refrain from nasty and completely inappropriate accusations. We've only deleted one comment on this blog, and that was from a spammer. We don't want to start now, but we will.

Chrlane said...

Well I am sorry Kevin but that is what I heard.

Chrlane said...

And while I respect that this is your blog, Kevin, the union is supposed to be for the artists, and thus, I find your reaction contemptible. And since this person is posting anonymously, I am hard pressed to see how I can be accusing him of anything. It goes without saying that an accusation necessitiates an identity.

And if there are pedophiles hiding in this business, as several of the men have told me, and as would make a lot of sense given much of what I have witnessed over the years in terms of the climate in animation, then they should be exposed and convicted. They should not be given access to creative or administrative roles in animation, which, like it or not, attracts children.

End of story.

Unknown said...

Geez, Kevin, what a spoilsport....I suggest a Cage Fight. This is getting good. ;)

I'd take Anonyomous' posts a little more seriously if he didn't feel it necessary to be 'anonyomous'. Smells a little like somone who doesn't quite have the courage of his convictions. He can argue well enough, but in the same way the SwiftBoat Vets convinced people Kerry was a coward.

It might be nice to get back on track and discuss the original point. "Why do male charcaters so out number female charcaters?" It might be worth examining if this holds true throughout other forms of entertainment - like fiction novels? comics? live-action Tv and film...?

Anonymous said...

The letter and comments are very interesting. As a female animator, I've been working in the industry for over 8 years. I've seen huge differences on some jobs in the way I and the few other female animators have been treated compared to men. I've been bullied and sexually harassed but the most unfortunate treatment was from other women. Women in producer and director positions have given men in my same position with the same or lesser skill level more money, more attention and better work. It seemed like they tried to make you work 5 times harder than the men to prove why you deserved to be there. On one project I was scolded by a female director for not smiling enough while animating when the men around me were grumpy and cursing. Nothing was said to them. Women need to look out for each other. We're not competing for the position of lone female on an animation project. There is room for all of us.
Almost all of the encouragement and job opportunities I've recieved over the years have come from male co-workers. As much as I appreciate that, I'd love to have the female support as well.

Kevin Koch said...

chrlane, your comments are way over the line, and are grossly inappropriate. Personal attacks won't be tolerated. That is the end of the story.

Kevin Koch said...

anonymous female animator, I've heard that kind of comment before. I have some thoughts on why that is, but they're just speculation. Basically, I think a lot of that comes from the same place as the bias in characters that started this discussion.

Steve, good point, though I think many other forms of entertainment (I'm thinking novels and especially comics) are much more prone to niche markets than mainstream, successful movies, and I would expect each niche to have its own marked bias. A start might be to look at the most successful network TV shows. However, if you're specifically looking at mass entertainment with particular appeal to children (as the study in question was), you'd need to look at shows aimed at, or successful with, that market. It'd be more complicated than simply looking at G-rated films, but likely worth doing to see how the data compares.

Anonymous said...

I so appreciate the passion in this discussion - speaks volumes about how much you all care about animation. I also appreciate Kevin & Steve raising these questions on the blog - hearing all your thoughts/criticsms/experiences is very helpful in our work at See Jane. Just read the past few days of posts and will offer some thoughts from my point of view. These are my words, not Geena's, and I welcome your thoughts in response.

I deeply respect the creative people who devote their careers to quality children's entertainment - the world needs more of the imaginative and inspiring work you create. We started See Jane with curiosity about whether the numbers of female and male characters in children's entertainment reflected or influenced children's preferences for and enjoyment of stories about boys' experiences and girls' experiences. We wanted to try to understand if there is a cause for what seems to be a common belief in entertainment circles that girls/women will watch boys/men's stories but not vice versa. In the most basic sense we wondered if this was true and, if so, why? And if it were true, we wondered if male and female interest in each other's stories and perspectives could perhaps become more equal. As a person who cares about both girls and boys, I would like them to live in a world where each of their perspectives and experiences are seen as valuable by both males and females.

First we looked at research (on media, psychology, gender, sociology, etc.) done since about 1980 to see if it gave any insights into our questions. When we found that it didn't we decided to commission a scientific content analysis study of gender in the most viewed G-rated movies and TV made for children 11 and under (that separate study is underway and will be released fall 2006).

We started with G-rated movies because the youngest, most impressionable children often view a movie over and over on video/dvd which might increase the influence it could have on unconscious preferences and expectations. It's important to say that our first two studies never tried to examine whether or not viewing entertainment actually does influence children's preferences and expectations about gender - that will need to be a different study - one we look forward to seeing someone do.

We were surprised to find an overall average (across the 101 films in the sample) 3 to 1 ratio of male to female characters (and 5 to 1 in background characters and narrators). As we shared the research results, nearly everyone told us "they'd never thought about it and were surprised." We also wondered if the ratio of male to female had changed significantly between 1990 and 2005 and found that it hadn't, which also surprised us.

We haven't drawn any conclusions about the cause of this disparity or its effects - our study didn't measure either of those things. But we are very interested in your thoughts about the causes of the disparity.

Now that we're sharing the study results with entertainment creators, we are glad that you want to think/discuss (even argue) about all this.

Several people have talked about things we have considered as well. Our research does include analysis of gender stereotyping but that part of the study isn't completed yet. It will be released in the next year. I really agree with the point about stories needing all kinds of colorful personalities and NOT just "perfect" characters as mentioned in one post. We actually think that if there were a wide spectrum of female characters in most stories: smart, dumb, average, exceptional, selfish, generous, good, wicked, energetic, lazy, foolish, funny, etc., that would counteract the perceived pressure to make the single or few female characters such paragons of virtue and only "good" behavior.

Obviously, each of you will decide what to do in your work and how you will respond (and IF you will respond) to the findings of these studies. Those decisions and potential challenges are all yours. We look forward to your creative solutions. We're staying tuned in!

Kevin Koch said...

Thanks, Nancy, for giving us a better insight into some of the background and framework of the study. It's a great summary of what the study is, and what it isn't. And I suspect over the next few years you might actually see some changes coming from the inside.

sarah said...

But boys will watch and read girls books and stories. That's not true either

So you can't use that excuse.

Kevin Koch said...

I think you meant that it's not true that boys won't read "girl" books and stories, with this Slate article as evidence.

That article is fascinating, and it suggests that young boys and girls may indeed be looking for different things in their stories, with the difference having little to do with the genders of the protagonists.

Anonymous said...

i hate to restate this(really i don't), but Chris had the most insigtful post of all about the double edged sword of the matter.

look at the tried and true nuclear family model that was used in "The Incredibles". it could be said that Mr Incredible is the primary character there and Mrs. Incredible relegated to a secondary, housewife role. Many may make the case that we need a movie with a more "pro active"(excuse the term) female lead. thing is, the structure of the story is not being taken into consideration.
Mr. Incredible fails. he fails miserably. he lies to his wife, he overextends himself, he fails at his job, and he has to be rescued by his wife.

so okay - lets reverse those roles then...
we'll have a female lead who fails her family, loses her job, lies to her family and then has to bailed by - her husband!

there would be nationwide pickets and protests by women's groups if such a movie were made. we could also look at The Flintstones: Fred is an irascible stubborn and borderline idiotic lead who always ends up being reined in by the voice of reason from his wife. you can't reverse those roles without offending the very people who are asking for female leads.
there is nothing wrong with a story where the lead character is put in the worst situation possible because of their own shortcomings - its a tried and true classic story structure, but we would have to abandon it for a pristine lead by a female character. there is waaaay too much sensitivity on the matter and i don't think groups like See Jane have stopped to really think about these "secondary roles" of women.
Lead roles come with a price - the character invariably has to be flawed and i don't think that is what a lot of women's groups will tolerate.
for whatever reason.

Kevin Koch said...

There are a few problems with the argument in the last post. First and most importantly, no one (at See Jane or otherwise) is calling for female characters to only be "pristine" leads (whatever that is). The call is for a wider range of roles, and a larger percentage of female roles (especially as secondary and tertiary characters). That's been stated and restated, but somehow some people want to imagine that outrageous, unrealistic demands are being made.

Regarding your first example, Mrs. Incredible was a wonderful, nuanced, flawed, heroic, and engaging character. Nobody is complaining that she didn't drive the action as much as Mr. Incredible did. The complaint is that in many family films "female characters are highly stereotyped, sidelined, or simply not there" (to use Geena Davis's own words). None of that is the case in The Incredibles.

And, frankly, the idea that there'd be "nationwide pickets and protests by women's groups" if extremely sexist movies were made is pretty hysterical. Especially since those kind of movies are released ALL the time... and nobody blinks.

Oh, and your reverse Flintstones example that would be so intolerable -- wasn't that exactly the premice of I Love Lucy?

Anonymous said...

is "I Love Lucy" a cartoon made for kids?

formulate a pitch for a kids show with the female figure being a stubborn doofus who creates catastrophe after catastrophe for herself and then in invariably bailed out by the sound reason of the male lead.
go present it to movie and tv executives and get back to me.

doors are gonna open right up for you.

now reverse the roles and give it a shot. one character is idiotic and we love him for it and one is constantly the there to sort the mess out. it stands to reason that the roles for women in cartoons are too scrutinized for their own good.

Chris elaborated on this much more articulately than i.

Kevin Koch said...

The Flintstones was a kid's show? Is that why it was a primetime series? I think it's fair to say that The Flintstones and I Love Lucy were made for exactly the same demographic (adults, kids, families, everybody). And of course you're using a show that was launched almost 50 years ago as your prime example. I guess you could use The Simpsons, another primetime animated series with a doofus husband, but then you'd have to explain why those touchy women's groups aren't protesting the episodes where Marge or Lisa do idiotic things that cause catastrophe after catastrophe.

Really, to make your point you need to give at least one example of an overscrutinized female role that led to "nationwide pickets and protests by women's groups." It's not enough to say you're SURE such a thing would happen. With all the hundreds of cartoon series, and hundreds of animated features, where are the ones that have generated widespread protests by women's groups?

Look, I'm know you can find more doofus male characters than doofus female characters causing catastrophes in animated shows. But is that really because execs fear the massive backlash of outraged feminists? Or is it because unimaginative execs greenlight shows that are similar to other shows that are already being done? Seriously, where is there any evidence of women's roles being scrutinized the way you claim? I recall some protests about racial stereotypes in The PJs, but I can't recall any similar national protests about female leads in animated shows.

Remember, this study (a survey, really) simply looked at percentages of roles by gender in G-rated films. You, and to some extent Chris, are arguing that the imbalance the survey found is a natural consequence of self-censorship in preemptive reaction to possible feminist backlash. I don't see any evidence for this line of thought.

The problem I had with what Chris said is that, though he gave a wider range of stereotyped role choices than you did, he only listed the typical stereotypes. He listed ultra-feminine, bossy, air-headed, and fabulous, and described all of them as triggering negative feedback. But WHAT negative feedback? Critics are writing this stuff? Women's groups are organizing protests? Where? An occassional grousing comment made here or there? Is that tantamount to national protest? And to the extent that those comments are made, is it possible that some of these characters stand out because of the striking lack of any other female characters in those shows??

Note also that the stereotypes Chris mentioned are all strikingly feminine stereotypes. Where are all the female characters who aren't among that very limited range of stereotypes? We can all name a few, but it seems to only be a few. We see Dee Dee, but where's the female Dexter? We see Helga, but where's the female Arnold? We see Angelica, but where's the female Tommy. Like I say, you can probably name a few, but it'll only be a few. And not that anybody that I can see is really complaining about Dee Dee or Angelica or Helga. They're great characters. But where are their female opposites? Where's the full range of female characters?

If you say they rarely exist because there'd be a terrible hue and cry from the female public, and so such characters must usually be male, I say baloney.

Chris also wrote "...but storylines--especially in cartoons--must have bullies, dunderheads, hopeless nerds, wide-eyed optimists, klutzes, sass-mouths, misers and the hopelessly vain. Associate these traits with a boy character, and you will never hear a complaint."

Why can't female characters also be bullies, dunderheads, nerds, optimists, etc., etc. They can, and they are, all the time. Where is the tsunami of complaints when female characters have those traits? Seriously, I'm not hearing or reading such complaints anywhere. I think it's often just laziness -- that when a secondary character with one of the traits listed above is written or designed, it's usually by a man and happens to be a male character. And if the gender were switched the story would work just as well, without eliciting this imaginary sea of protest.

Go back and read Rocco's experience in writing a play. I think there's a world of insight and truth in what he wrote.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kevin, for writing this, and expressing it so well. It's not a hard argument to poke holes in--it's almost nothing but holes, in my opinion--but much of that "baloney" is so entrenched, and taken for granted.

One of the HUGE obstacles to even discussing this subject is how outraged and knee-jerk people get...some people--usually certain people who happen to be guys. Why, I don't know--but I can't count the number of times I've heard this same straw man argument about "women will scream and yell if..." "They'll be up in arms, they'll scream and protest IF..." ...oh, really?

Try it and see! Just TRY IT FIRST. And if some people do protest--so what? Jesus christ, South Park is doing great! And there's all kinds of things on the airwaves right now that are mind blowing in their supposed offensiveness(hey, I'm a wacky liberal, just about anything oes with me), but funny, and popular--so guess what? They do just fine.

Anonymous said...

I do see on "G' rated films where there are more male characters than female. I have never liked it. Ever since i was 7 years old i have always stood up for the female hero's. Charlies Angels, Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman. Men just get scared when they find out that women can do just as good a job as them. Most boys are raised to feel that it would be too girley to watch a show where the woman or girl was the lead character or the hero. That is why boys wont really watch female shows. Do I think they are right,,,hell no! The same old thing is being passed down from generation to generation on how and what A real boy should do and watch and how to act.

I support you Geena in what your doing. I will back you up in whatever way I can. But I do believe in what your doing.

Anonymous said...

nice wording

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