Films and media consumption are top priorities for parents who roll their eyes every time their kid exclaims that he or she wants to watch another Disney movie. Despite whatever personal problems you may have with the hyper-gendered Disney narrative, it seems like other film studios aren’t in the clear either. Mother and writer Peggy Orenstein took to her blog to critique the argument that Jessie from the Toy Story trilogy and Sally from Cars constitute an adequate female presence in children’s films.
Orenstein points out that films like Toy Story and Cars reinforce the idea that being male is a universal experience by consistently sticking to male-centered stories. Although lady characters do make an appearance, their role as the “assistant” or love interest ultimately communicates to audiences that she has no story of her own.
In Pixar’s films, maleness has consistently been presented as “universal” as neutral. while femaleness is singular, and–even when a character is “strong”–she is inevitably imbued with those particular stereotypically female characteristics: she is a love interest or a helper. She is caring. She checks out her butt in the mirror. It has never once been HER experience, HER feelings, HER complexity or crisis that drives the narrative. If it were the opposite and Pixar had NEVER made a film in which a male character’s quest drove the story wouldn’t you find that a smidge odd?
A lack of female-driven stories essentially tells kids (of both genders) that girls don’t have stories, voices, personalities, challenges, or autonomy. Slapping a female sidekick into a film does nothing more than affirm, as Orenstein says, “stereotypically female characteristics.” Sprinkling a couple of female characters into the plot does not instantly make a children’s film any less sexist.