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March 12, 2010


Tiffany Trent

I'm wondering if you think that perhaps this is age- as well as culture-related? Some movies for the older set have female leads (I'm thinking of Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Coraline, some older movies like Labyrinth), but like you, I don't see many films for younger kids that aren't heavily gender-segregated/-biased. I totally don't get it, and like you, I hope that those with children will value both in what their children are watching or reading. Great post, lady.

Kaleb Nation

I think most of this is the 'girls aren't funny' aspect you mentioned, which is sadly held by most media. It's totally acceptable in film to see men slip on banana peels, run into walls, knock their heads on drawers and get punched and beaten comically. Take most father figures in Disney movies, for example.

But for some reason, if you replace this comic-relief male character with a woman, it's enormously uncomfortable and doesn't come across as funny at all. Imagine watching a female character (even in an animated film) being punched, whacked with an oar, hitting her head on furniture, or getting her teeth knocked in accordion-style. All of this happens to male characters in Disney films and it's hilarious. But by nature of our society, it's just not funny the other way around (unless the female character is portrayed as horrendously ugly and stupidly masculine herself).

As writers, I think we know and recognize this imbalance, but we also know that it is impossible for us to change an entire society. It's too deeply entrenched in 'the way things are'. So it does come down to money. If people don't want to read/watch it, we can't write it, because we can't sell it. And so we begrudgingly go on following the norms.


I tend to prefer movies with a female lead character. Not sure why. Maybe that's why I like Japanese animation so much: more female leads. That's not to say there aren't a lot of male leads, too, but there seem to be more of them in Japanese animation.

Have your books been translated in Japanese? If so, maybe expressing interest in some studio doing one of your books as a film or series might get them noticed over there. It's not unheard of for Western works to be animated in Japan.

Don Carey

You mention Ponyo by Japan's Hayao Miyazaki, and I think it's worth noting that nearly all of his movies have female protagonists. These are all very good movies, and they do pretty well in America, although nothing like the Hollywood cartoons.

This seems to be one of those self-fulfilling prophesies. There are no girl cartoons because nobody watches girl cartoons because there are no girl cartoons.

Hopefully awareness and some contrarian filmmakers will change things around.


I'm going to be really interested to see what happens with The Bear and the Bow (aka Pixar's princess movie).
In the mean time it's proving slightly easier to find good female leads/supporting casts on TV than the big screen. I'm thinking of The Closer, Burn Notice (which has kick a$$ Fiona & mom Maddie), True Blood (though I've had some issues with directions the characters have gone since they split farther from the books they were based on). All of those are shows with pretty high ratings too!
But those are also all grown up shows, it's harder to come up with same kind of list for YA stuff in TV and movies.
I have a much bigger list that goes for strong female leads in print but part of that comes from having been raised by a man who started taking me to WisCon (a feminist science fiction convention) as a small child. I was read Patricia Wrede, Mercedes Lackey, Robin McKinley, and Lloyd Alexander's Vesper Holly series at an impressionable age and never looked back.


I completely know what you mean. It's always so surprising to me how boy-lead-centric animation always is, even when it's just as popular with girls. Even on television networks that have tons of girl shows, the animated shows are predominantly boys, and the lead girls in live action are balanced with tons of male friends/brothers/fathers. Look at Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place - girl leads but still more boys than girls overall on the show!

I'm hoping to eventually write for that market in tv though so we'll see what happens then!



I think the reason that the roles are mostly male is because girl centered roles are totally unrelatable to the male. In the girl centered shows, they focus on girly things like how cute their hair looks and what they will wear to prom. In boy centered films, it is about action, etc. Which, I must say is more interesting to me, and I'm a girl. I think a lot of girls start off as tom-boys but that would never, ever be reflected in a film or it would be criticized for taking away her girl qualities or some crap like that.

I don't think kids really care unless you tell them. They don't realize anything is strange unless it is pointed out. I think kids can tell that it is a movie and reality isn't like that.

Lastly, I think that when they have equal boy girl ratio, the writers feel a need to have equal romance between all the characters. You can't leave a woman all alone to fend for herself, but it is perfectly acceptable to have a lone male.

I don't think its that bad. I think that this is going a little out of proportion. It is a good point, but I think that a lot of girls wouldn't want to see movies with tons of girls.


I am both a female and an animator, and I realized that I'm inclined to have more male characters as well, but in the end I always have a fairly normal balance. It's hard to break out of a working formula that's been presented and taught so many times, not that a ratio is being taught but it is in our subconscious.

Princess Loucida

I thought about sending mattel a note about your books. Well I guess I don't have to. :)

Christine J.

This reminds me of an article that I found a couple of days ago. I thought maybe you'd find it interesting.



Hooray for the Best Director Oscar finally going to a female this year! Why did it take until 2010 for that to happen? Why are minorites still underrepresented in both mainstream fiction and movies? We still have a long way to go as a society, but I think you're right that being aware of the discrimination is an important first step. I'm going to start showing princess movies to my boys!


Great posts! I totally know what you mean. My dream is to be a film maker, and I definately want to see things change in the roles of females in movies.


You bet I'm hoping for a career in entertainment. I recently got to emcee a choir concert with a British accent. This might not seem all that impressive except that I'm totally American.
I had someone ask me if I was an actress. I said nope. Just watch too many movies.
One of my favorite movies is Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie Bennett is funny sometimes. Maybe she can be the banner we girls can stand behind.
The Lizzie Bennett Lady's Movement: on a mission to bring funny girls to front and center! Meh... needs work.

Andrew Hall

That Dear Pixar letter is wonderful. I think she gets her point across nicely. However, I have to agree with the above comments made by Amanda. Adventure stories, or boy centered films as she puts it, are interesting to both boys and girls. So why can't the lead role of an adventure film for youngins be female? Well, it can, but for the cultural reasons already mentioned it just doesn't make sense to people as much... yet! The action/adventure/adrenaline hound craze that has swept the nation in the last fifteen or so years has produced new images of many young women doing daring and adventurous things. I think in the coming years we may see the ratio tip a little. Probably not a lot. By the way, I'm kind of a cliche man. I fly helicopters for the army, I love guns, fast motorcycles, powertools etc. I say that because I want you to know that when I saw the Nancy Drew movie I was the only male in the theater, but I loved the film. It had mostly male characters but the lead in the adventures was a girl. The way the character was written she also maintained a level of femininity. Is that necessary? No, but it shows that you can write a female character as adventurous without her being a tom boy or a bitter, overly aggressive anti male.(see Colette's motorcycle, purple hair and initial attitude in Ratatouille)


I liked the article "Dear Pixar...", but I looked up the movie The Bear and the Bow and honestly, it looks like a pretty good movie--Merida may be a princess but she would rather be an archer instead.

One of my favorite movies is Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle--and Sophie is one of the strongest girl characters I've ever seen.

I also agree that action movies can appeal to both boys and girls--I grew up a tomboy, and while I've outgrown some of those rougher tendencies (without becoming a complete sop), many of my favorite movies and books are action/adventure, or have those elements as part of the plot. (Also, wasn't there supposed to be an Artemis Fowl movie in the works? Holly Short is an awesome, powerful girl character. When I first read the books I wanted to be her.)

I also think that there are books out there with strong female characters (think of all of your books, Shannon, and add Tamora Pierce's Alanna series and Jennifer Holm's Boston Jane series) that should be made into movies, but I would be worried that the production companies would completely change the movie plot from the book plot, like they did with The Princess and the Frog, which at first was supposed to be based on E.D. Baker's wonderful The Frog Princess series.


My 6 yo daughter and I were just watching the trailer for the How to Train Your Dragon movie and she was shocked they had girls in the movie (there are none in the book). She said she liked the story better in the book. Though I adored her for liking a book better, I liked the movie premise better because it had an interesting girl character. Guess I'll wait and see if it holds up to my expectations!

Jodie McCloud

Hi Shannon,

As a 4th grade teacher here in Texas, I highly encourage my students to read your books, especially "The Goose Girl" (My personal favorite). The girls flock to it, the librarian had to order more, we even formed a book club. What did I notice? The boys avoided the book. Puzzled, I asked why. I twisted their arm figuratively speaking, and told them just because it had the word GIRL in the title didn't mean they couldn't enjoy it themselves. They eyed each other and I said, "There are strong boys in the book!" So because they trust me, a few boys checked it out and read it...fast forward a few weeks, discussions abound, book clubs equalled out to half girl, half boy, discussing your book. Excitement for the story caught on and boys are recommending it to other boys...it was so exciting to me. We even had a discussion of writing you a letter and asking you to change the title so that more boys would be interested right off the bat to engage themselves in a most amazing read. How dare us think to ask you to do this?! Thank you for this blog and this reminder that it only takes baby steps to change this outlook. Oh, and a side note, many of the boys went on to read the entire series! WONDERFUL!!!


Yes, I agree with everything you said. There is a sad lack of female characters in recent children's animated movies, and that is very disturbing to me since we don't want children to think that the movies with male dominance in the cast emulate real life. Also, the spotlight on male characters only seems to make it more likely that more boys will grow up to be less respectful of females because of the representation (or lack thereof) they have seen in the media outlets. What, we are to depend on the teen starlets with pretty faces and zero personalities to show adolescent boys what girls can be like? Please. (I'd give them a hundred Hermione Grangers than one Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana.)

(Also, that's a shame that, were Rapunzel's Revenge to be animated, the male character of Jack would hold prominence. That is a shoddy way of doing things, in my opinion, to simply give the spotlight to a particular character based on gender alone -- especially when it goes against the original work where the female and male leads SHARE the spotlight!)

I adore Japanese animation because, contrary to how we view Japanese culture, male and female characters actually almost stand on equal footing (in terms of number, appearances, etc.). Even some shonen (boy's) anime/manga feature female characters rather prominently in the cast (NARUTO is one that I think of off the top of my head), so all hope is not lost if -- somehow, some way -- our media culture can somehow adopt this way of doings things in animated/children's features.

As mentioned above, Hayao Miyazaki's movies usually feature female characters prevalently (Kiki, Chihiro, Sophie, recently Ponyo, etc.) even if they are balanced by a male lead (such as in Laputa: Castle in the Sky). John Lasseter of Pixar is a well-known fan of Miyazaki's -- yet I'm not seeing that influence in the projects he's helming (the only one recently that featured a prominent female lead was The Princess and the Frog, which he produced). I'm hoping it will come someday, but given that his latest projects have been Toy Story 3 and Cars 2 . . . well, I'm not holding my breath. -_-


We have such a great tradition of female comedians like Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and others. Women can be hilarious and it's sad that we don't see that in films. Not enough women producers and directors, I think. But I think you're right, Shannon, that we need a to flex our ticket-buying biceps. You should start a movement, Shannon. Give it a name. Get out the word.

Tansy Rayner Roberts

I was dragged unwillingly to Monsters V. Aliens and was surprised to discover it had a female protagonist and a surprisingly feminist message - the story centres around a bride who becomes a giant woman on her wedding day and while most of it is wacky monster hijinks (with an all male monster ensemble around her) it also shows that she would have had to become a lesser person in that particular marriage, and her new powers give her the chance to be herself.

Also there's a frankly brilliant scene in which a random couple are making out in a car (she is pushing for more making out, he wants to wait), a UFO crashes and she is the brave exploratory one while he is the cautious whiny one. It's such a nice subversion of all those old UFO movies and is just snuck in there between the main action.

While I enjoyed the film, I was later annoyed that the promotion of Monsters v. Aliens in no way emphasised the fact that it was, you know, about a girl! Is this like sneaking vegetables into food the children *will* consume?

Justin Boyer

Things are changing for the better, Shanon. I'm hopeful that my generation seems to have more male writers attempting to write realistic, fleshed out female characters. There are several male writers who have written some wonderful, realistic female characters such as Joss Whedon and Brandon Sanderon. Both those writers seem to have a preference for inputting females in their stories who are intrepid and their personal strength is not defined only by physical feats but by mental feats as well.

Take Warbreaker for example, Brandon Sanderson expertly shaped an entire story from the conflicting perspectives of two royal sisters. Combine some fascinating Immortal characters, an innovative magic system involving color, and some diverse characters and you have the final result of an entertaining and wholly intelligent fantasy book.

Buffy, Firefly, and Dollhouse, all star an equal amount of male and female characters. From my viewings, I have not noticed any disparities in these ratios. Refreshingly, none of these characters are defined by their gender and instead are human characters with a range of emotions experienced in different scenarios. I highly recommend any of Joss Whedon's shows if you are seeking something unconventional.

Thanks again, for being concerned about the despairing ratios of male and female characters. Rest assure that there are male writers such as myself who are working their hardest to include female characters within their stories who are characters to which females and males can greatly admire.

Je Reve

I hate to think that deep down, Americans are still subconsciously sexist. But we are.


My husband goes to more movies than I do, so maybe that's a symptom of the problem. Maybe women would rather spend money on shoes, excellent novels, or fabric (quilting fabric for me) than movie tickets.

I'm totally with you on the necessity of putting the women in the texts (media, etc) where they belong. Maybe I'm just trying to excuse those lame chauvinists.


I think that part of the problem is that Disney has forgotten how to make really good Princess movies. Which is a shame, because they could do it at one time, it made them a lot of money, and it is what they're most well known for. And it was a Princess movie (Beauty and the Beast) that got them their only Best Picture nomination for an animated film (until "Up" of course).

On the other hand, I've heard that both "Twilight" and "The Blind Side" this year have really shown Hollywood how much money they can get from a strong female audience. So who knows? Perhaps we'll see some new trends of strong female characters soon...


Times like this I love my little bro. I guess it's becuase he grew up with me as a big sis, but he's always watched what I waych. So that means all the Princess and Barbie movies. My cousin owns all the Barbie movies, and when ever we're at her house, he both ask her to watch them.


I don't like Barbie movies. They show that all girls are princesses and faries, no real substance, just there to be a pretty face. I know the dolls have all sorts of professions, and they tell girls that they can be whatever they want, but guess what? Only girls see this, listen to this, hear this. All the boys in the world are playing with their GI-Joes, their Ironmans and action figures that have no female roles in it. Every boy believes they can do anything, but what about the girls? They have no idea.

I know we are smarter than them, but I live with two brothers. They never watch anything with strong female characters, and I doubt they have ever read a book with a single female character in it.

Where are our girls in the world? When will we finally show them that we can be who we want, say want we want, and earn more money in a respectable job? That's my question. To all the feminists in the world, you rock.


I don't like Barbie movies. They show that all girls are princesses and faries, no real substance, just there to be a pretty face. I know the dolls have all sorts of professions, and they tell girls that they can be whatever they want, but guess what? Only girls see this, listen to this, hear this. All the boys in the world are playing with their GI-Joes, their Ironmans and action figures that have no female roles in it. Every boy believes they can do anything, but what about the girls? They have no idea.

I know we are smarter than them, but I live with two brothers. They never watch anything with strong female characters, and I doubt they have ever read a book with a single female character in it.

Where are our girls in the world? When will we finally show them that we can be who we want, say want we want, and earn more money in a respectable job? That's my question. To all the feminists in the world, you rock.

Heather Z.

Why is it that boys won't read a book with a girl in it? I know it was heavily addressed in your last post, but I really am wondering if it is something that is taught, and then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I love Jodie McCloud's post, the fourth grade teacher who gave your Goose Girl book to a couple of boys. And once they read it, they saw it was genuinely a great book read (it is).

Hmmm, it's good to see the problem, but what is the best way to go about fixing it? I think your example of going to movies the opening weekend is an excellent idea. But what more can we do? I, like you, enjoy writing characters of both genders equally. What can more can we do to show that girls are just as capable, unique, diverse (I agree with you on that one about showing real women of all kinds), and fun as well? I love that your blog can so quickly become an open place to foster ideas and healthy discussion. I hope you will continue this topic for a few more posts. It's something that I am also quite concerned about, both as a writer, reader, and person.


I never, ever, ever want to see Princess Academy as a Barbie movie. Barbie does not deserve Miri or Peder or Britta or any such wonderful character.


I think that you are so right about everything, and girls will watch everything. But boys are fussy about things and won't watch if there is something even remotely girly about the title or summary.
BTW, who is Jessica?


I would love to see PA as a movie, but Mattel would do PA no honor. Sorry, Barbie! I still love you!


My friend is planning on becoming an animator! But I don't think she'll go to Disney... I think she likes the tougher stuff. I would have gopne to see Princess and the Frog, but I'm kinda low on money! They shouldn't make assumtions when most of us don't have money to go to the movies!


I think it's completely ridiculous that there's so few girls. We are awesome and always have been, and it's baffling that we're portrayed as otherwise. Although, you've got to give some credit to Shrek. Fiona's not exactly your average princess. I'd love to see girls like Enna, Dasha, Isi and Rin in movies, because they're realistic female characters, and they're AWESOME.


i quote excatly with what kylie said.
p.s. is that how you spell excatly? I never knew....


Maybe Hollywood shouldn't assume that if a princess movie didn't make money it has to be because of the word "princess". There are so many other factors that go into making a movie successful. Maybe it didn't appeal to their target audience. Maybe their target audience got hit too hard by the recession. Or, maybe the movie was too scary, which happens to be the reason my family didn't see Coraline or The Princess and the Frog. My daughter (age 15) went to see it with a friend, but really didn't like the voodoo element, so the rest of the family stayed away. For us, it was just a coincidence that they starred girls. My boys (ages 8 and 11)liked watching Because of Winn-Dixie, Bridge to Teribithia, and the Princess Diaries movies.

If the movies are good (and not too scary), we will go see them. Did you hear that Hollywood? More girls less scary.


Though it wasn't (completely) animated, how successful was Enchanted? It was very obviously a princess movie, but I doubt that boys refused to see it because of that. I agree that movies like Coraline and The Princess and the Frog didn't garner as much of an audience because of the elements of the movie, more than the gender of the main character (or the entire cast, for that matter). Coraline--well, what were you expecting from Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman? I liked it, personally, but I'd hardly recommend it as a movie for young children. As for The Princess and the Frog, I was hesitant to even see it, having heard about the voodoo whatnot, and was mostly influenced to go because I wanted to see how it would compare to the book. (Of course, I wasn't expecting a similar plot, after Ella Enchanted.) Has Disney realized it's the parents who are making the decisions about what movies their children see?

Goose Lover

Oh please...
I hope there will be barbie movies for your books.
Especially " The goose girl" and more Bayern books~~

Shannon Morris

My husband and I shared an interesting conversation on this topic, spurred by the previous post, but I think it applies here, too. When I asked him why guys tend to shy away from 'chick' flicks his answer kind of surprised me. He said that men are intimidated by what women expect after watching a 'girly' movie. They know they can't live up to Jude Law in "The Holiday" or Mr. Darcy for that matter. My husband wouldn't even know who Mr. Darcy is! Like they could even begin to measure up to Robert Downey Jr. in "Sherlock Holmes"! (They just think they can!) I know what he means but I don't think they make the connection that maybe women want a funny, brave, strong man just as much as they want a sensitive man who loves them and treats them well. I know my husband thinks he can "take" pretty much any other man, but in the department of being a "hunk" he's not so secure. Maybe that is my fault, maybe not.
So, according also to my husband, men tend to be intimidated by strong, passtionate female characters in film, cartoon as well I would think, because then where is their sense of identity. If they can't be the strong protector type, then, where does that leave them? I think it's all terribly sexist and I don't think our society has developed nearly as far as we think we have, at least as far as the men think we have. Come on, ladies! We need to bad together and help our boys realize that we are all strong and vulnerable in our own ways, made that way so we can balance each other out and form something that is complete and something that can meet the needs of others around us.
Thanks, Shannon, for bringing up the tough issues and getting us all thinkging about how we need to move forward, albeit gently but with power, and make the changes that need to be made.


Amen to real female characters on screen! However, I don't think simply any female characters will make the cut. We don't need another female character who looks on helplessly and worshipfully while the brave, strong, tough guys save the world. I think that another swooning damsel in distress might do more harm than good.


NOOOO!! Don't let them turn Princess Academy into a barbie movie!! That would be so depressingly awful!


Just wanted to mention that Howl's Moving Castle was written by Diana Wynne Jones . . . and the book is MUCH better than the movie. DWJ has long been one of my favorite authors, and has a great mix of male/female protagonists. And LOVELY writing.


my husband is an animator. and animators have no control at all over how a story goes and they love to draw girls just as much as boys (if not more so, honestly, no brainer).

my 4th grader has recently been introduced to a book at school that he comes home and tells me about, but he is constantly saying things like, "it's really funny, even though it's a girl book."

so yeah, something needs to be done. but I think the real problem is why aren't we all doing it? (i exclude you shannon, naturally). pop a pink-dominated movie in for the boys! Hand 'em one of your favorite books from when you were young, Moms! We totally have the power. Let's use it.


i agree!

Brooke Shirts

One of the other comments on this post made the statement that Disney doesn't have as many female characters because it isn't as funny to see them undergo physical slapstick comedy. But that's not true -- Disney certainly did it in the past with Cruella DeVil.

As for stating that Japanese filmmakers don't have as many hangups about gender: I wish it were true, but for every Miyazaki film with great female characters, there is much, much more anime populated entirely by action jocks and busty bimbos. Just sayin'.

Great series of posts; keep 'em coming!


Having been one of the lone 'girl' animators, this post really struck a chord with me...because it's the way I felt most of the time learning my trade. Why can't girls play the lead and be equally appealing to both genders? It's not easy to dispell the stereotypes that girls only like pink flowers and don't understand superheros and robots..and can only be pretty not funny...part of it is our current culture.
That being said, I do think things are changing for the better. Since I've graduated, the girl to guy ratio in the Animation major has is rising tremendously...whereas my class had 5 out of 25, it's at least doubled in just a few years. As there are more women in the field, I feel we'll see a more balanced character assignment as well.
I think it's important to note that the wonderful guys that I work with are more than happy to have another point of view...and the collaberation of genders only leads to better work. The small minded find themselves outnumbered and outdated. So while the battle may seem big, if girls have a passion for writing or animation, it can really change how the world will see female roles :)


I think the we, the audience, are more into content... what are the main characters doing? My boys love action 24/7. They veer away from emotional anything regardless of who is presenting it... so what we NEED is some exciting movies with girls being cool and not too weird (like you said, "normal"). Apparently that's a lot to ask?


yay for kathyrn bigelow! first female to win the academy award for best director! and she even won it over her ex-husband james cameron. but i don't think bigelow's film, the hurt locker, has any lead film characters. i haven't seen it (spoiler alert!) but i heard in the end the main character chooses to go back to war instead of be with his wife and son. so one woman and she gets left? not good. on the other hand, avatar had three main girl characters. that's better than nothing! interesting stuff. i will keep my eyes out for more women films and support them!

Jill Saunders

Wow, that's a lot of comments. Hot topic.

My sister and I play a game after every movie we see. We determine if the movie passed or failed the feminist test:

Were there two women that talked to each other about something OTHER than a man?

You will be surprised how many movies fail.


It's funny, but I think that out of the small amount of girls in media, that too many are of the "strong character" type. Lots of the stuff I've seen lately really emulates tomboy or the strong and sassy, and really discounts the soft, feminine side of many women.


I agree with Emily-- let's NOT let Barbie turn Princess Academy into one of their movies. Your stories deserve only live actors and actresses.

Despite that, there are soooo many movies I can think of (and can't think of) that have girls as main characters. All of the Jane Austen books and movies, Princess Diaries, Ella Enchanted, Enchanted, Nim's Island, The American Girl movies, Because of Winn Dixie, Charlotte's Web... the list goes on and on.

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