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?
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.