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Does Pixar Have a Gender Problem? Not Really.

Kottke pointed this thesis out to us earlier in the week, and we can’t seem to stop debating it with friends: should it trouble us that Pixar doesn’t seem to have any good women characters? The blog that Kottke linked to, while a few months old, makes a still-relevant argument: from Toy Story to Ratatouille and Finding Nemo to A Bug’s Life, there are simply no strong female leads that stand out. But we think this is just a superficial reading of the films, and a too-easy feminist critique that misses out on the more complex gender relations in Pixar works.

We immediately thought of Eve, who, even though she is not the film’s namesake, is the epitome of the strong feminist woman. She puts her career above her love life, and teams up with Wall-E to save the world before she even has time to notice she’s in love with him. Sure, at first glance it may seem like she’s another example of the girl only being the “love interest,” but that’s ignoring all the other aspects of her character. For Pixar to have a gender “problem,” it would have to systematically place women in subservient roles and make the male superior — something which none of the films actually do.

Pixar films almost never have leads — they have duos, teams, and families. The Incredibles are a unit of male and female characters that interact to do good, and combine their powers. In A Bug’s Life, the insects work together, and in Finding Nemo, friends help each other out — regardless of whether there’s an imbalance between the number of male and female characters, the relationships are not divided among those lines. We think that’s far more inclusive than just adding more girly names in there. And sure, while it would be nice if the fish or the rat had been female, we don’t think it’s something to be outraged about.

We grew up watching the Disney princess movies, and in contrast, we think the Pixar catalogue is a sign of progressive gender relations that were all but nonexistent in the movies we had as kids. To bring an outdated critique such as “There are no women in lead roles, which means Pixar is sexist” is to miss the point. Pixar actually breaks the mold in that it doesn’t design films for young girls and young boys whose protagonists are different genders — Pixar films are equally as popular with boys and girls, regardless of the whether the fish or the rat is male or female. If that’s not un-sexist, we don’t know what is.

But we may just be biased because we think Eve kicks serious ass–do you think there’s a gender problem in the Pixar catalogue?

[correction: “Ants” is not a movie. Let alone a Pixar one. I was thinking of A Bug’s Life. This has been fixed.]

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