Clementine Ford – June 19, 2015
You guys, I don’t want to alarm you but we’re in the middle of a crisis. Specifically, it is a ‘young-men crisis’ and we should all be extremely concerned about it. I know, because Michelle Collins from the Courier Mail told me so and she is the mother of three young boys so she is an expert on the horrendous reverse sexism being inflicted on our future captains of industry.
Collins was first alerted to the possibility that boys might be experiencing the hostility of erasure when she watched Disney’s Frozen. The most successful animated film in history had not one but TWO strong female leads, which is symbolically the same as women keeping their husbands’ balls in a purse and making him carry it. But her fears were really cemented when she and one of her sons sat through Inside Out, the forthcoming feminist manifesto release from Disney Pixar. She writes:
“I was hoping Inside Out would include a positive male role model. Instead what we got was another strong female leads [sic] in Riley and the two emotions that are the heroines of the movie – joy and sadness. Disgust is also portrayed as a sassy teenage girl, which leaves the boys with anger and fear.”
Goodness. I can’t even BEGIN to imagine a world where blockbuster movies portray my entire gender through superfluous, one dimensional tropes there solely for the purpose of telling another story about a man. I mean, it’s not like the entire history of humankind has prioritised the stories and victories of men, relegating women to footnotes. I don’t think I even know what a movie focusing on the hero quest of a man looks like, because I’ve only watched about five billion of them and my stupid girl brain isn’t very good at remembering facts or reality.
Waiter, find out what Collins is drinking and fetch me two of them. And then get another one for her and tell her the boys are doing just fine when it comes to being represented on screen.
Perhaps Collins’ inconceivable dismay at the positive inclusion of girls in material her sons could happen upon is because it actually happens so rarely. Despite the conclusions she’s drawn about institutionalised misandry from two animated features, the movie industry and its fondness for boys remains well and truly intact. In fact, a 2010 study into the gender disparity of family films showed that only 29.2% of speaking characters in PG and PG-13 movies released between 2006 and 2009 were female. Of those characters, appearance was significantly a factor.
Published by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Gender Disparity On Screen and Behind the Camera in Family Films; The Executive Report by Dr Stacy L. Smith and Marc Choueiti also found that the women featured in these so-called family movies were “more likely than their male counterparts to be young, scantily clad and attractive”. The representation of girls on screen improved with the increase of women behind the cameras, but they are still woefully outnumbered by male directors, writers, producers and animators.
You might be thinking that things have probably changed since this study was released. After all, 2006 was almost ten years ago. We have Mad Max: Fury Road now, for goodness sake. Surely that means that the problem’s been solved?
Sadly, it seems unlikely. Smith and Choueiti’s study also looked at the same parameter samples of family movies from 1990 and found the statistical variation was so small as to be almost insignificant. If business went pretty much as usual for a period of almost 20 years, why would things be any different now? More to the point, why would we expect it to be? Being able to point to Frozen or Inside Out as an example of institutional change isn’t only foolish, it’s also dangerous. A couple of examples does not a cultural shift make.
What it does instead is provide people with false evidence to argue against the small amounts of change that ARE occurring. This then leads to ridiculous Chicken Little op-eds about a made up crisis plaguing young boys who suddenly don’t have a blanket monopoly on widespread representation and celebration. How many times have girls had to sit there and watch as they were ridiculed, marginalised or even just cast in the role of supporting nurturer to make way for a boy-hero to succeed? Or listen as male screenwriters made male characters laugh at each other by calling each other girls – as if being a girl is the most humiliating thing you could possibly be?
We don’t need more positive representations of boys and men in pop culture. We need less boys and men in pop culture full-stop. Women account for slightly more than half of the world’s population, yet we still struggle to be hired as content creators capable of telling interesting, complex and often hilarious stories about ourselves. When we do, it’s written off as chick-lit or chick flicks, which all too commonly is code for boring, niche and irrelevant.
Michelle Collins is worried about hearing her son say that girls are better than boys. I’m not worried, but I am completely perplexed. Because I can’t for the life of me find where he might be receiving that message. I wish I knew, and I wish I could hear it too.