Fata Morgana (chimerically) wrote,
Fata Morgana

Pixar and the Smurfette Principle (and other tropes of women in media)

It's been a long time since I've written about this, but a couple of links showed up on my RSS feed today that made me curious about the actual number female characters in Pixar films. I adore Pixar's films, but I've long felt irked by the lack of women in them, particularly in major roles. But just what are the numbers? Are they bad enough to fulfill the Smurfette principle (where there is only one token female)?

So I spent one of my work breaks today looking over the Wikipedia pages for these movies, which include a list of the voiced characters, and catalogued instances of women in one of these three categories:
  • minor roles (in just a few scenes, not really part of the story)
  • supporting roles (important to the story and appearing in more than just a few scenes, but not the main character)
  • main roles (plot focused on their perspectives)
It wasn't quite as bad as expected, but it's still nowhere near 50%. Here's the list:
  1. Toy Story: 3 of 17 voiced characters female (all minor)
  2. A Bug's Life: 6 of 18 voiced characters female (EDIT: 2 supporting: Dot and Atta)
  3. Toy Story 2: 5 of 19 voiced characters female (1 supporting: Jessie)
  4. Monsters, Inc.: 3 of 12 voiced characters female (EDIT: 1 supporting: Boo)
  5. Finding Nemo: 5 of 25 voiced characters female (1 supporting -- Dory -- but she fills the manic pixie dream girl trope)
  6. The Incredibles: 4 of 14 voiced characters female (EDIT: 1 supporting - Violet - and 1 pretty major - Mrs. Incredible - though the lead character is still Mr. Incredible because it's mostly from his perspective)
  7. Cars: 3 of 16 voiced characters female (1 supporting: Sally)
  8. Ratatouille: 1 of 18 voiced characters female (supporting: female chef Colette)
  9. WALL-E: 2 of 8 voiced characters female (1 supporting: EVE)
  10. Up: 2 of 15 voiced characters female (both pretty minor: Ellie and Kevin the bird)
  11. Toy Story 3: 11 of 39 voiced characters female (1 supporting: Barbie)

MovieTotal charactersTotal femaleMinor femaleSupporting femaleMain female
Toy Story173300
Bug's Life186420
Toy Story 2195410
Monsters Inc123210
Finding Nemo255410
The Incredibles144211
Toy Story 339111010

So overall, only 22% of characters are female and 75% of *those* are minor, only appearing in a few scenes. So they're pretty darn close to the Smurfette Principle.

It's not just about count, of course. For example, Disney, while guilty of often populating supporting roles with male characters, have more leading female characters -- but most of them are princesses and often reinforce victimization and a focus on beauty. Pixar's female characters, as sparse as they are, are at least better role models than *that.* But do any of Pixar's movies pass the Bechdel Test? Alas, I have procrastinated too much already, so I won't be able to verify this now. But in scanning the list, I suspect not for all but The Incredibles. Anyone else want to check?

Another rather disturbing link I came across today was the "Women in Refrigerators" principle (a.k.a. normalizing violence against women in comics). It's one of the main reasons comics have never appealed to me, even when I was part of subcultures that celebrated them, and I'm annoyed that so often freedom of speech arguments (especially about comics, but also in general) are at least in part about the freedom to depict violent degradation of women. While I'm an avid supporter of free speech, that's not what free speech is or should be exclusively about, and I'm disappointed that I don't hear as much about other causes such as censorship of political speech that I consider much more important.

Okay, back to work. I passed my dissertation proposal defense yesterday (yay!), on the condition that I give a better description of the findings from my fieldwork in Paraguay that could be chapter themes. So lots to do!
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