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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The sexism of Ratatouille

I wrote this article for The Scotsman at the weekend:


I'VE just watched the new Pixar animation, Ratatouille, and I'm aghast. In a cast of 16, there is only one significant female character: Colette, a chef, voiced by Janeane Garofalo. Although she starts off with a plucky speech against the male domination of the food industry, within a few scenes even she has blanded out into the hero's love interest. What kind of message are we sending to our children when every story is about dynamic boys and lovey-dovey girls?

The problem doesn't stop at Ratatouille. With the possible exception of The Incredibles, which does have two or three juicy female parts, every modern cartoon is dominated by men. Of 45 named characters in Cars, a mere seven are female. We're talking cars here: metal things that have no innate gender characteristics. It was the same in Madagascar, a film entirely populated by animals with roles for just three women.

Unthinking sexism is to blame, as is the film industry's obsession with ambitious sons and dysfunctional fathers. Ratatouille is about a food-loving rat misunderstood by his garbage-gorging dad. Finding Nemo (six women out of 24) is about a timid father summoning up the manliness to rescue his son. Chicken Little (four women out of 24) is about a feeble child proving himself to his macho father. In most of these, the mother figure is written out altogether, giving us one-sided visions of the world that are as short in positive role models as they are lacking in satisfying narratives. I say rats to that.


fluffyteeth said...

I'm not so sure it's unthinking sexism - it could be market driven sexism. I read on bbc online (i think)that films with female leads are flunking at the box office. The studios are pulling a lot of film ideas and are favouring films with male leads. They seemed to have no idea why this was the case.

Mark Fisher said...

That's interesting. I wonder if it explains, though, why there are so few female characters in supporting roles. Putting the sexism argument aside, it makes for imbalanced storytelling. You want the hero to get the girl, but there isn't a girl to get.

Ted Harvey said...

I know it's a bit late to post this but anyway:

On your point fluffyteeth, it could be yet another of those 'Catch 22s'. The characterisation, script and whole depiction of females by the USA studios is often so poor that the audience doesn't 'buy it' in terms of credibility or relevance. But then the marketing folks don't do failure on the part of their clients, so it becomes the fault of the females.

I found the whole film pretty cringing with its crude, sentimental, USA stereotyping of the French... and of course a certain type of cardboard cut-out female caricature goes with that.

I also can’t linking the timing of the nauseating, near-rascist, Clouseau remake (at the point of the Iraq invasion all the USA the diatribes about the French being cheese-eating, surrender monkeys)... then just as the USA is getting all friendly again with the French we have the softer and more sentimental Ratatouille.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, just a minute. How many positive father role models do you see in sitcoms nowadays? With the exception of Philip Drummond from Diff'rent Strokes, most fathers in sitcoms are bumbling, beer-guzzing idiots while the mothers are wise and all-knowing. And you're complaining about sexism in cartoon movies because they don't show female leads as positive role models????? I think if a few cartoons, such as Finding Nemo, show men in a positive light, that is actually a good thing, consider how fathers are depicted in sitcoms these days. Your insistence that positive role models only be female is the only true sexism I see.

Mark Fisher said...
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Mark Fisher said...

You might be right about sitcoms (I don't know, I hardly ever watch them), but whether you interpret the characters as positive or negative, you can't deny the numerical gender imbalance in the cartoons. I don't think I said that positive role models only be female. My point is that there are few female characters and those there are tend to be insipid or cliched.