Despite women making up more than half of the population of the United States, recent studies indicate that male characters outnumber females three to one in G-rated family movies. It also appears that things aren’t improving both on film and behind the camera in regards to gender representations.
While the aforementioned studies focus on human or human-like characters, many Hollywood animations share the same disregard for gender balance when it comes to the anthropomorphic portrayal of the animal kingdom.
Bambi (1942), Benji (1974), Lion King (1994), Bolt (2008), An American Tale (1986), Dumbo (1941) and Happy Feet (2006) are just a some of the many films that feature male animal characters as protagonists. This is the case despite nature’s tendency for one-to-one sex ratios in real life.
But of course this is a gross generalisation. Not all animal species work on one to one ratios when it comes to gender.
Ants and bees work in social caste systems dominated by large numbers of females that take on roles such as queens, workers and soldiers. And what of the males? They are few and far between and relegated to the role of mating with fertile females (queens).
Yet we need only look at Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (1998) and the Jerry Seinfeld vehicle Bee Movie (2007) to see that the Hollywood Hive depicts eusocial males as ubiquitous and hardworking members of the caste system: collecting food and protecting the colony – a clear deviation of nature’s reality.
Then there’s Finding Nemo (2003). Both protagonists are male clownfish: Marlin, the father, and his lost son Nemo. The fact they are male is not too much of a stretch from reality because all clownfish are sequential hermaphrodites – born into a school as males with the largest and most dominant maturing into a female. When the female is removed from the group, through death for example, the next dominant male in the group takes her places and changes sex. Amazing biology, but perhaps this fact may be deemed by some Hollywood executives as a little too risqué to recreate on screen…
The animal kingdom is full of examples that lend themselves to feature strong female and alt-gender characters. But Hollywood appears to have ignored biology and continues to mainstream it to its own male-dominated agenda.
About the author
Don Gomez maintains Science By Fiction and is undertaking a masters degree in science communication at the Australian National University’s Centre for Public Awareness of Science. Donnie loves a good yarn and is interested in the depiction of science in popular fiction.
Follow Don on Twitter @hairycanary