Rated G for guys

Geena Davis turns her attention to why there aren't more girls in G-rated movies.

Published February 9, 2006 10:16AM (EST)

See Jane, a group founded by Geena Davis that aims to "increase the percentages of female characters, and to reduce gender stereotyping in media made for children ages zero to 11," today released a study revealing the paucity of girls in kids movies.

Researchers from the Annenberg School for Communications at USC analyzed 101 G-rated flicks made between 1990 and 2004, released by 20 different distribution companies. The resulting report, "Where the Girls Aren't," claims that three out of four characters in children's movies are male, that only 28 percent of the 3,039 speaking characters (both real and animated) are female, and that 83 percent of the films' narrators are male.

Citing research on children's television-viewing habits that suggests that "a child's gender expectations for his/her own sex or the opposite can become simplified, skewed, and stereotypical in nature," the study suggests things that can be done about the gender imbalance. Their most compelling -- and perhaps most difficult to imagine -- tip is that "industry professionals can support stories and roles that ... more accurately reflect the gender ratio of the real world children inhabit [and] emulate the diversity of real-world girls and women."

When considering the numbers turned up by "Where the Girls Aren't," it's hard not to think of the spate of successful, innovative, smart, funny Pixar films that in recent years have been about insects, toys, cars and monsters -- all of them predominantly male.

But this line of inquiry isn't new. Katha Pollitt raised exactly these questions in her oft-cited 1991 New York Times Op-Ed, "The Smurfette Principle," about the sexism in preschool pop culture. "Contemporary shows are either essentially all-male, like 'Garfield,'" she wrote 15 years ago, "or are organized on what I call the Smurfette principle: a group of male buddies will be accented by a lone female, stereotypically defined." Her examples then included Kanga, the mother and only female in "Winnie-the-Pooh," Piggy the "Muppet Baby," who was an infantalized version of "camp glamour queen" Miss Piggy, and April from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," whom Pollitt called "a girl Friday to a quartet of male superheroes." "The message is clear," she wrote. "Boys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central, girls peripheral; boys are individuals, girls types. Boys define the group, its story and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys."

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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