Does Pixar have a gender problem?

This argument by blogger Caitlin says yes. But I find it unconvincing, because frankly if you zoom out to animated storytelling as a whole, you realize that there’s acually a shortage of normal male characters, not female. Disney is the perfect counterexample – apart from Aladdin, there isn’t a single boy character that is worthy of role model or morality model status. You just have a succession of generic princes and eye candy. Beauty and the Beast was just the inversion of Aladdin, with Belle playing Aladdin’s role and the Beast equivalent to Jasmine (in terms of plot relevance and narrative focus).

In fact Pixar explicitly set out to rectify that imbalance and I think that there’s a diversity on the types of male characters that we’ve seen in their films. Caitlin’s list is very helpful in summarizing them, and I think it’s clear that the male characters in these stories are all of different types. But more to the point, Pixar movies aren’t just about individuals, but their relationships, in a way that Disney movies never were. Toy Story and Monsters, Inc were about male friendship, Bug’s Life about a man and his role in society, Finding Nemo about a father and son, UP about youth and ageing, The Incredibles simultaneously about a man and his family, and a man and his wife (and I think Caitlin gives Helen really short-shrift here). Cars is really a paean to a lifestyle, and the NASCAR life is just a metaphor for our fast-paced existence whereas life in Radiator Springs represents that essence that gets left behind; in that context it was reasonable for McQueen to be male and Sally to be female because these are symbolic roles. I hated Ratatouille. As for WALL-E, it was a simple love story, beauty and the beast (or geek, rather) all over again and again the gender roles were absolutely appropriate here.

I’ll also note that the one glaring omission on the Pixar male relationship lineup was a story about brothers, but Disney’s Brother Bear nailed that so perfectly that I don’t think we ever need to see another movie on that topic again.

The bottom line is that there’s a body of work here that does indeed have a gender focus, but that’s valuable. It doesnt take away from the enjoyment of these movies by little girls – of which I have two. As a male myself I feel that in general, female relationships are always the focus far more than make ones – usually its female characters who are better defined and have the more interesting issues and relatonships.

My advice to Caitlin is that if you want to go looking for strong female characters, then look at anime, particularly Miyazaki. I cant really think of a memorable male anime character at all. Well, maybe a few – Spike from Cowboy Bebop, the brothers from Fullmetal Alchemist, and Light from Death Note. But these are exceptions to teh rule – mahou shoujo rules. Haibane, Dreamers, Sugar, anyone? Again, I have two girls of my own 🙂

One thought on “Does Pixar have a gender problem?”

  1. Miyazaki always said he preferred female protagonists; But you musn’t forget Kyon from Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu and Souske from the Full Metal Panic series. Both are wonderful male protagonists.

    Otherwise… This.

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