2011: in which even the animals were all dudes

22 January 2012

Sometimes a girl just goes through a week in which none of her posts get finished. Also there was snow, which in this case was very teeny and powdery and sparkly and demanded my full attention as it fell. (There was also cross-country skiing.)

My long, increasingly unmanageable post, still unfinished, is on my La Jefita (the boss!) Awards in which I celebrate women on & off screen — and in the course of writing it has come to my attention that even all the fucking animals this year were gendered male. Not that this is a new thing. (Bambi was male. Bambi! Explain that to me!)

Now, I’m on record as saying that Caesar the chimp (Andy Serkis) should win Best Actor Oscar this year for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and it’s a sign of how stupid the whole farce of the Academy Awards is that he won’t even be nominated. But let’s think back. All those apes, chimps, monkeys and gorillaz were gendered male. The one simian female was Caesar’s mother, who gets killed off immediately. The ones with names are all male — Maurice, Koba, Buck, Rocket. I’ll bet if you asked audiences, they’d say that they assumed  all the rest are dudes, too — especially when they cross the Golden Gate Bridge en masse and overturn cars.

Here’s my radical suggestion: no one will care if you gender some of these animals female instead. Or if you leave their genders ambiguous.

Who’s going to care, for example, whether instead of naming the War Horse Joey, they called it Maggie or Star or Chestnut? I can guarantee that once the horse starts to do noble things, no one’s going to give a shit whether it’s male or female. The one thing I’ll give Tintin — a film I have completely forgotten, it was such a boring sausage-fest of dudes — was that at least the dog’s name was Snowy, even though we all know he was a dude. The most ambiguously ungendered animal onscreen last year was the annoying Paw Paw, the old, sick cat from Miranda July’s The Future. (We never even saw Paw Paw’s face.)

It wasn’t just Snowy: dogs were always male in 2011. There was the lovable Uggie in The Artist, Arthur in Beginners, Hummer in Young Adult, Willie Nelson in Our Idiot Brother. But it was also the ensemble pieces. The only animal in any of the Harry Potter films gendered as female was Hedwig the owl — the rest, Crookshanks, Firenze, Scabbers, Fawkes, even the evil snake Nagini — and anything in the Weasleys’ house, all male.

All male. Why? I don’t get it. What’s so difficult about having a phoenix or a cat be female? What’s so distasteful about having adorable pets that are female? I have two suggestions. First, maybe the concept of male dominance is so crucial to Hollywood that filmmakers cannot imagine having female pets, especially when they’re central to the script like Caesar or Joey the horse.

Or, second, maybe this is connected to the fact that virtually all these films have human male leads and the filmmakers have “reasoned” that men must have male pets/animal counterparts. But if this is the case, I need explanation: please explain to me why it would be problematic for Ewan McGregor’s character to have a female dog. Can it be that filmmakers find it unseemly, somehow sexually inappropriate? Have we sunk that low?

Needless to say, the imaginary animals are also male — aka The Beaver. But at least in that case I can understand that he was Mel Gibson’s alter-ego.

Okay, there are a few ensemble films with some token girls. The Muppets, Winnie the Pooh (but let’s be precise: Kanga is also just a mother to Roo), and even Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked appears to have a girl. Don’t misunderstand me: I haven’t seen that film. What do you take me for?

The most radically gendered ensemble film I can see is Kung Fu Panda 2. That is, both Tigress and Viper are female. Out of about 12 male leads. See what happens when a woman directs a film, like Jennifer Yuh Nelson did in this case? It’s a comparative girl-fest!

Geena Davis started her Institute on Gender in Media because when she started to watch TV with her young daughter, she couldn’t miss the gender disparity. In family films there’s only “one female character for every three male characters. In group scenes, only 17% of the characters are female. The repetitive viewing patterns of children ensure that these negative stereotypes are ingrained and imprinted over and over,” the Institute’s website explains.

As Melissa Silverstein shows us again and again with her brilliant blog Women & Hollywood, children’s media is just the tip of the iceberg. Women appear far less often both on and off screen. Which makes me wonder why Hollywood couldn’t just throw us a bone with a few female pets.

Whichever way you lean — whether we think male dominance is so fundamental to Hollywood that all the animals must be male, or whether we think our male heroes cannot possibly have vital relationships with female animals — I hope you’ll agree with me that this is just really weird.

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22 Responses to “2011: in which even the animals were all dudes”

  1. servetus Says:

    How will they reproduce?

    • Didion Says:

      Such a good question! And it occurs to me to wonder: will this make Rick Santorum fret about male/male man-on-dog love?


  2. Great observations, Didion. More unfortunate proof of institutionalized misogyny.

    • Didion Says:

      And such a weird version of institutionalized misogyny. I’m still confused about whether the problem is a sexual one — Hollywood thinks its male leads can’t have perfect friendships with female animals without their sex getting in the way. Or whether it’s a gender one — Hollywood idealizes male-male friendships and therefore of course its male leads must have male pets. SO weird.

  3. Véronique Says:

    Not to take away from your analysis of the situation, but Hedwig is a female name, and Hedwig is a female owl.

  4. JSA Lowe Says:

    YOU’RE not kidding. Trenchantly observed! Will probably show this post to my rhetoric class, in fact—

    • Didion Says:

      I live to provide seminar fodder to professors. (Please note that I drop a coupla f-bombs, however. Might be best to cull it for ideas and make your own powerpoint using the images.)

  5. Emie Says:

    Actually Nagini IS a female. JK Rowling has confirmed this, and on every other site, she’s described as being female.

    • Didion Says:

      Really!?! Well now I feel mightily satisfied that at least I can have fewer complaints about Harry Potter in particular. Interesting that both Kung Fu Panda 2 and Harry Potter feature evil snake-women. But hey, I’ll take female animals in whatever shape I can get.

  6. Emie Says:

    Not only that Didion, but I think you will also be highly satisfied that throughout the entire series Hedwig, the FEMALE animal is the ONLY animal that I can remember that did anything courageous. The scene where Harry is being attacked by death eaters in the air; as one of the death eaters produces the killing curse from his/her wand intended for Harry, Hedwig purposefully smacked into the death eater. (I guess she was trying to knock him out) And the killing curse hit her instead. How freaking awesome is that?! Not her dying of course, but the fact that she risked her life and died just so that Harry would not be hurt. She’s a bloody hero/heroine! And like I said she’s the only animal I remember from the series that did anything like that!

    • Didion Says:

      Oh, it’s been way too long since I read the books — I’ve got to get back to those books. I do remember now that you mention it, and I remember thinking, “Noooo! not Hedwig!”

  7. Joan Cook Says:

    In my mind, I think it’s the “male = default” mindset. They probably didn’t think much about it and just used a male names for animals by default.

  8. Brandon Says:

    Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked has the Chippettes: Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor. They’re the counterparts to Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. There was also Zoe (Jenny Slate), a shipwrecked pilot who turned out to be a crazed treasure hunter. As one who has seen all three of the Chipmunk movies, I have to say Chipwrecked was slightly not as good as the other two. However, it has some good allusions: the cruise ship captain is named Corelli, and Zoe has a whole family of balls named after their brands (remember Tom Hanks in Castaway and the volleyball he called Wilson?)

  9. JE Says:

    Didion, Didion. Why do you hate America?

    Look around. Check out bird feeders, dog parks. Real animals are pretty gender-neutral in their actions and behavior in the most disturbing way. It’s completely unnatural and it’s up to us to correct it.

    If you have boy doggies and girl doggies together in a cartoon, you have to make sure the girl doggies are really girlie. She has to have long eyelashes and lipstick and she ought to be a bit of a barbie. It’s best if she is a girlfriend of one of the boy doggies.

    And face it, if you want to have a fun movie, a girlie doggie is going to be boring, because she just stands there smiling and batting her eyes at the brave boy doggie. So it’s best to just have them all be dudes. The boys in the audience will be taught that boys are fun and adventurous, and the girls will get used to their proper role: standing on the sidelines cheering for the boys.

    Think of the children! How will little boys and little girls understand their proper gender roles if we don’t brainwash them? How? Do you want them all to instantly turn gay?

    • Didion Says:

      You have discovered my secret plan: gender equality as an avenue to WORLD DOMINATION! muah ha ha ha….

      Can we get Rick Santorum onto the issue of pet neutering/spaying? Because I’m quite certain that these brutal operations are contributing to the real-life gender blurring that you describe. I mean, if a little boy doggie has had a vet take a big knife to his — well, let’s debate whether that’s God’s plan.

      It also occurs to me that we have no idea what Scabber’s race is. Isn’t it up to film to make racial distinctions clear?

      Yup: more non-girlie girls in film; more ambiguously gendered dogs; more possibly mixed-race and/or mixed-breed rats; and thus we overturn basic American values. AND EVERYONE BECOMES GAY.

      In my defense, however, I’d also like to note that considering that so many pets are just dudes, Servetus is right in raising the question of who they’re all having sex with. (Whispered voice: maybe they’re already all gay.)

      • servetus Says:

        I was trying to figure out a polite way to ask someone this question this weekend and couldn’t: if you are African American and you have a Pomeranian, is the Pomeranian also African American?

      • Didion Says:

        I am shocked, SHOCKED, that Hollywood is not helping us answer this question. If I get a dog from a shelter, how do I know its race vis-a-vis its previous owners? Is a dog with white fur necessarily “white”? If so, what color of dog conveys “Latino”?

        I *have* noticed that Hollywood seems to prefer that dogs be purebred — which, of course, goes against everything we know about what kinds of dogs make great pets (e.g., mutts).

      • JE Says:

        On the question of the race of dogs, I seem to remember that in the otherwise charming movie Up, one of the main bully dogs was a Rottweiler, who had a stereotypical black voice, because, of course Rotties are black and have a reputation for being aggressive and scary.

        Am I remembering that dog correctly?

        And yeah, I don’t remember any girl doggies in that movie. At least none were given speaking roles.

  10. Hattie Says:

    I realized years ago that I was not the audience for Hollywood movies.
    Seen any reasonable depictions of old people, male or female, in the movies lately?

    • Didion Says:

      Ugh, don’t even get me started. I’d like to note that I’m glad Jack Nicholson is less prominent in film these days, because if I saw him one more time as a stand-in for all retirement-age people I thought I was going to strangle someone. Clint Eastwood is better, except he seems invariably to then pick up a shotgun and start firing at people, which isn’t reasonable in the least.


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