The Shame of Family Films

By Baird, Julia | Newsweek, October 4, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Shame of Family Films


Baird, Julia, Newsweek


Byline: Julia Baird

Enough with the sexy sidekicks.

They have all been smash hits: Finding Nemo, Madagascar, Ice Age, Toy Story. Fish, penguins, rats, stuffed animals, talking toys. All good innocent family fun, right? Sure, except there are few female characters in those films. There are certainly few doing anything meaningful or heroic--and no, Bo Peep doesn't count. I know, there's the ditzy, amnesiac Dory in Nemo, and the cute cowgirl in Toy Story, but these are sidekicks and exceptions. It's weird, isn't it? It was one area in which I optimistically thought progress must have been made--the realm of children's films, of fantasy, slapstick, cute animals, and moral tales. Haven't we just finally seen a black heroine in Disney's The Princess and the Frog? It was startling to discover that a new study has found that there is only one female character to every three male characters in family movies. Even creepier is the fact that many of the female characters are scantily clad, and hot (the Little Mermaid wasn't always depicted popping out of a tiny bikini top).

This study, undertaken by Stacy Smith and Marc Choueiti at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, analyzed 122 family films (rated G, PG, and PG-13), including 50 top-grossing ones, between 2006 and 2009 and found that only 29.2 percent of characters were female. And one in four female characters was depicted in "sexy, tight, or alluring attire," compared with one in 25 male characters. The female characters were also more likely than men to be beautiful, and one in five were "portrayed with some exposed skin between the mid-chest and upper thigh regions." Because you wouldn't want to take on the world without baring your midriff--girl power! (Another study found, troublingly, that women in G-rated films wear the same amount of skimpy clothing as women in R-rated films.) One in four women was shown with a waist so small that, the authors concluded, it left "little room for a womb or any other internal organs." Maybe we could carry them in our purses?

The Annenberg study was commissioned by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which has been compiling data on women in film.

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