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February 16, 2012



Wow, I am the first to post. Cool. I totally agree with. So I "let" my son watch what his sister watches, but don't make her watch something if she doesn't want to. I am very grateful for well rounded kids. I am thankful for authors like you that write amazing heroines and give a voice to this issue.


Somewhat related: I should SO scan in and send you this thing I save out of entertainement magazine in the '90s. It "graded" Disney heroines and villains (and all the rest of the characters). It gave Belle an A--mostly because she wasn't chasing the boy down and her reason for living was BOOKS, not being a damsel in distress. And I think you'd get a kick out of it ;)


I've noticed it with SOME animated movies, but not with Cars 2. Yeesh.


Actually, I beg to differ, in the animal world there are often more females than males. Think of all the Mutual of Omaha Animal Kingdom specials with males fighting for the right to be the dominate male.


Have you seen the previews for "Brave" by Disney/Pixar? It looks like a girl is the main character. From looking at the full cast listing on IMDB it has 4 male and 3 female characters listed. Hopefully this will be a turn in the right direction!


My kids mostly watch anime and the women tend to out number the men in the series and movies they watch.

Connie Onnie

I was watching the trailer for The Avengers and was noticing how all those boys got movies first, besides Hawkeye. True Black Widow got to be in the second Iron Man but did we learn anything about her, did she even have any speaking lines?
I wish as women we could finally make a stand and demand better for women in Hollywood.


I enjoyed Tintin but I honestly can't think of which character that 1 female might have been.

Still, I'm looking forward to this year's Brave.


I used to roll my eyes at these kinds of posts because we own lots of movies with girl protags that are made for a general audience...and then at some point in time, I counted them and realized they were almost all made in Japan (we love Miyazaki films). I have two little boys, and one of their favorite movies is Kiki's Delivery Service. Airplanes and talking cats -- what's not to love?

There are good, rounded films out there...maybe people will get tired of Hollywood, buy these other movies, and Hollywood will shift to accommodate.


Well, let's hope that Pixar's "Brave" will change that...I know it's coming out soon and the main character is a girl. Hopefully it ups the ante :-)


Thank you for this post. It's an incredibly frustrating topic, and they don't get called out on it nearly enough.


I totally agree. I'm only twelve years old and I watch these animated films with my little brother. After watching a couple, I realized how outnumbered the female characters were and was wondering when someone was going to speak up about it. Thank you, Shannon.


Huh....sho' 'nuff, I never noticed. :(

Jaya Lakshmi

I don't know about Hollywood, but as long as we keep writing stories with female leads, sooner or later they'll have to be published.

Also, any Avatar fans here? About half the leads in Avatar: the Last Airbender are female, at least in the show. That has definitely broken the trend of male leads, both with the heroes and villains.


It bugs me to no end.


I'm really looking forward to BRAVE coming out this summer --on my birthday!
As for the ratio of males to females, including all of the warriors I'm sure the men win out, though they won't all have speaking parts --but it totally looks like the female characters will be significant, not only speaking of the main character, but also her mother for example. The whole movie is about a girl being awesome! Like how Mulan was.


Lurker here, just with a quick comment. :)

I've not really noticed the discrepancies between the number of males and females in animated films. I've only seen three of the films on the list, though, and I'm usually far more interested in the story line than whether females are well-represented. Yes, I like having more female characters, but I don't want them shoved in there just to so they'll be there. I'll also take a few strong ones over many weak ones. Just my two cents. :)

Annie, I'm guessing that the 1 female voice is Tintin's landlady, Mrs. Finch. Otherwise, Bianca Castafiore is also in the film, but I don't remember if she talks or just sings. (Both are listed on IMDb, by the way.)
To be fair, though, "The Adventures of Tintin" is based off of the original comic series and there weren't very many females in that at all---the addition of extra females just to even the odds would not have been well-received by the fans, I think.

Jaya Lakshmi, you're right---AtLA definitely has a more even split. :) Which, I guess, is another reason it's such a great show.


I would have to respectfully disagree, Mrs. Hale.
First, I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed each of your books (I haven't read Actor and the Housewife or Midnight in Austenland yet, though. #todolist).
However, I think that asking simply for more girls is a mistake. More strong, good female leads and supporting characters would be good. We want good examples, not just a bunch of forward/evil/whatever women scattered throughout a plot. What are good examples of female leads? :cough: Isi :cough: Rin :cough: Enna :cough:

I agree that girls should be well-represented in movies... but I've never had an identity crisis because there are so many men in movies. I never even noticed until I started reading your blog. In fact, I had started to have the opposite impression in YA fiction (that it's mainly populated by females)...
I'm not looking to get into an argument with anybody, I'm just thinking that it's not a major problem.


I have three daughters and this drives me crazy! We watch a family movie every Friday night and I am always on the search for movies with girl main characters. I wish there were more American films like Miyazaki's, with brave, adventurous girls.

Shannon Costello

But the Tintin books only have the one female character...


Studio Ghibli is my favorite animation studio (and its Japanese, so it doesn't count to US animation) but what I love most is that especially with Miyazaki's films, he has these fantastically strong main female characters.

Z Parks

Shannon, you've opened a can of worms. The boy vs girl thing just is never going to end. We women may wear pants and vote and write amazing books and run enormous companies and raise children and give birth to those children and do a hundred thousand things--but out-star the men on the big screen? Mmmm...that's not likely. I don't know why--and frankly, I don't know if it bothers me yet, but it's the truth.

Anna P

i'm completely behind you on this topic. in fact, when you first brought it to the surface a few summers ago, i wrote an entire paper on it for my english class. and guess what? my professor (a male) disagreed with me completely. and i didn't even really talk about animated films as much as i did "real-life films".
that being said, i find myself being a fan of the stronger women in media. that's why i read your books! as well as Kristin Cashore's, Suzeanne Collins, Veronica Roth's etc. all contain very strong female lead characters. and that's also why i'm extremely excited for Pixar's Brave. am i wrong, or is this the first ever Pixar film that has a female lead? it should be interesting to see to say the least.


I agree! I am pretty sure that female roles can be significantly upped without the quality of movies going down, especially since the male roles often are what make a movie suffer. (Mater in Cars 2, anyone?) It drives me crazy that women are underrepresented in children's movies especially since I feel like they are represented in books, especially YA fiction. I would add that YA fiction with female main characters are very popular with both genders, hello hunger games! Twilight was recommended to me by my Dad and brother before being recommended by my sisters or mother. It's like how both genders want a female masseuse. There is probably a study somewhere saying that men and women relate to and prefer women and that women have more of a crossover appeal than men.

I still maintain the Princess and the Frog did poorly because it was a lame movie and the black magic freaked out all the evangelical Christians and conservative parents, not because it was a princess movie. Overhauling Rapunzel to be Tangled was unnecessary.


I've noticed this in animated movies, but also in TV shows as well. I was watching the BBC Robin Hood (only two females in the entire show), and said how much I wish they had more female characters. My male friend's response? "No, that would be boring." It's very sad that the entertainment industry is so male-centric. Female stories are just as good as male ones, and I don't think only women will watch them.
This is one of the reasons I love your books so much. You create strong female characters, and you balance the amount of men and women in them too.


So for a fairly equal representation of males and females, I just counted the characters in two of my kids' favorites: "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Kiki's Delivery Service." Totoro has 6 males and 4 females, and Kiki has a whoppin' 6 (count them, SIX!) females and 4 males. Nice job, Hayao Miyasaki!

And go, "Kiki's Delivery Service"! The accurate depiction of Lisbon, Portugal is so fun and charming that this one is worth watching as an adult just for the sense of escape/travel that this film exudes.

And the stunningly-animated Japanese countryside in Totoro makes me long to wade ankle-deep through rice patties on a slow, sunny afternoon. And the fun and zany architecture of Mei and Satsuki's new home is simply delicious.

Can you tell I'm sort of wanderlusting about now? My youngest is nine months-old and still nursing. So until she's older than 14 or 15 months and weaned...or we have an extra $5,000 in-pocket--Pwhah!), I'll just have to read about these exotic places. Or watch foreign films like "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring," or catch late night episodes of Rick Steve's Europe.

So, Shannon, in closing...I'm recommending that you don't go see that bizarre-looking Smurf movie that recently came out with a colony of one female and 64 trillion males. (Just to keep you from turning purple with the injustice of it all, or blue from an overexposure to the color cobalt).

And have a good weekend--watching something genderly-equal (Yes, I'm aware that that's a home-made, made-up word)and satisfying like Kiki's Delivery Service. Could this be the one animated film out there with more estrogen than testosterone? Until a cartoon version of "Little Women" comes along, I guess.


I think it is bizarre how even when the central charter in a movie is female most of the other characters are male. It somewhat portrays that girls are lonely victims who can only be rescued by the males. Or that their existence can only be validated by males because clearly other girls aren't going to be the ones providing support.

Marcus Aurelius

Ghibli will strike another blow for balance this weekend, with "The Secret World of Arrietty", based off of Mary Norton's "The Borowers".

Squeee, I say! Squeee!

But, yeah, I've noticed. And it bugs me. But most of the people in charge of the money in the creative world are money types, rather than creative types, and they're mostly concerned with money, overall. So rather than being terribly interested in a good story, or strong characterizations, or novel ideas (pun kinda intended), they're mostly concerned about what will get them the biggest return for their money. So they go with dumb focus groups and statistical analysis of how to do this, rather than trusting storytellers and their audiences. The "trends" have indicated largely that boys=bucks, or at least, the data collected by the money types can be interpreted as such, and so the lion's share of entertainment is aimed at boys, and the cycle repeats.

I think about the only thng one can do (outside of a march on hollywood) is to vote with your dollar and try to support the media that most reflects your tastes. Also, Shannon, keep creating works that have stong female rolemodels, and male rolemodels who can interact with female rolemodels in intellegent and realistic fashion, ad who knows, maybe the stupid focus groups and trend forcasters will start getting a clue.

And, man, it's been a while since I called anyone stupid. I think I might be rather incensed about this whole thing.


Get ready for Disney's "Brave" coming out this year...main character is a girl. :-)

melissa @ 1lbr

I kind of think it is in reaction to the princess movies made by Disney. I know many many boys won't watch this - for whatever reasons (maybe parents or friends or just because they're not interested). So movies with boy leads (or even just more males) were made for them and they found boys and girls will watch them. Not sure who is to blame here, the movie makers (possibly) or the movie consumers.


This is a big reason why my daughter loves the Barbie films. I'm not a big Barbie fan, but her movies feature lots and lots of girls. I've noticed the discrepancies too. Would love to see more balance, not just for the sake of balance, but because they matter in the story.

As for Tintin. I understand that uneven skew since it read them all as a girl and there are very few girls in the graphic novels. History :)


My five year old son asks me on almost a daily basis if he can watch Tangled. He loves it! He also loves The Princess and the Frog. I never tell him no, and I am always glad that when he says he wants to watch them, because it encourages him to see girls, and women as strong people, and equal if not better than the men that they are partnered alongside.


I've noticed that before, especially with Pixar--a company that I adore otherwise. It's one of the reasons why The Incredibles my favorite Pixar film: there are women in it, and they matter and impact the story. They are crucial to the story more than as objects to be rescued.

And as other people have said, the multitude of important female characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the things I love about it the most. In fact, it's one of the reasons why I started doing a rewatch of it on my site (http://audreymgonzalez.com). I'm only halfway through season one so far, and it's fascinating to watch Katara (so far the only significant female) grow and change. Of course, when season two comes along we have Toph, Azula, Ty Lee, and others...

Amanda Brown

Hey, have you ever heard of Bronies? You should check them out. They are usually around 20 yr old guys who LOVE the My Little Pony series. They don't care that everyone else thinks it is girly and childish. They are able to look past it to see the writing and witty jokes. Maybe there is hope.

Janette Rallison

Really, I'm one who never noticed. What about "girl" movies like Tangled or Little Mermaid? Is it just because we've seen more boy movies out lately?


Avatar: The Last Airbender is amazing. The Legend of Korra (a sequel series) is supposed to debut this year. On the same TV note, "Jackie Chan Adventures" which is on Hulu, nominally has Jackie Chan as the main character, but the real protag is an adventurous little girl named Jade. And this in a "boy" oriented action series.

I'm going to be a wet blanket and say I'm not excited to see "Brave." The previews make it look it's all about how hard it is to be girl. Bleh. Why does a movie with a female protag have to be _about_ being female? (Media staring people of color has also had this problem, where the story's focus is _about_ being of whatever ethnicity) I guess I've read/seen too many stories like this. One of the things I loved about Katara in Avatar was that she was both strong and confident, and at the same time, very nurturing. In short, she was happy with who she was, and didn't have hang-ups about being a girl. She was just awesome.

Megan Lloyd

I'm an animation major at BYU. A few months ago, I was selected as the director for our 2013 capstone film, Chasm. The protagonist is a mechanic and inventor, and a little bit older (40s,50s). We decided to make the main character female to try for something different and break our school habit of having guy protagonists. I was floored by the fierce, negative response from a couple of my male classmates--everything from "it's too technically challenging to animate the breasts" to "it's impossible to design appealing older women because men get more rugged and handsome with age and women just get ugly" and even "But women don't DO that sort of mechanical stuff!" It was mind boggling. I hope the completion of our film will prompt the other students in our year to set a standard and fight for gender equality in entertainment.


Wow, that is really something to think about! I don't notice it, unless I'm looking for it.

I have 2 comments. One is that most movies need "bad guys" and they are usually GUYS. Not that girls can't be bad (Rapunzel's mother!) but I guess I don't mind that villains are mostly male. It would be interesting to see if the ratio is any better when you only count the males/females who are on the protagonist's side.

Also, I noticed that no commenters had mentioned the Tinker Bell movies, where the females way outnumber the males. But I also (pessimistically) doubt whether movies like that have broad appeal with boys (or parents of boys, like you said).

Diane Hunt

Shannon, that is why I love your books. Finally, a Heroine!!!

To give you some hope, I must say that the series of Barbie movies throughout the years have stayed true to their motto: Believe in yourself. I vowed I would never buy one, but four years ago, my sister-in-law purchased Barbie in the Nutcracker for my then 4 year old daughter. We LOVED it! We now own about 12 Barbie movies. They're all courageous, brilliant young ladies figuring out and solving their own problems. So yes, I agree with you. There aren't enough animated movies out there with female heroines. Keep writing your books and I'll keep reading. ;)

And just for the record, The Goose Girl is one of my all-time favorite "goodreads." I've lent it out to so many people. In fact, it's not on my book shelf at the moment. But when I get it back, I'm reading it aloud to my 8 and 10 year olds (daughter and son, respectively).


A subset of the missing females issue is the "dead or missing mothers" issue. Most animated Disney movies have a dead mother or the mother dies in the movie. I always assumed it was because when the mother is not around, that is when bad things happen, which moves the plot line. (But what does that say about fathers?)

The traditional princesses all were missing a mother:

Snow White
Sleeping Beauty (yes, she is not dead, but she is missing)

Even in later movies, the mom is just missing:

Beauty and the Beast
Little Mermaid

And then you have really awful movies where the mom gets killed in violent ways:

Finding Nemo

Of course, I always wondered where the dad was in the Toy Story Franchise. Especially since there is a baby in the first one. Did he die? A recent divorce?

Why can't we see whole, intact families?


Have you seen Anastasia? Anastasia might have an even ratio. There is Anastasia, the Dowager Emperess, and Sofie as major females with speaking parts, etc. The major guys are Dimitri, Vlad, and Rasputin. This is if you're not counting the bat, Batok, who is also a guy. But then you could also count the orphanage women, which evens out the numbers again. And there's the wise old women who tells Anastasia to see Dimitri, if you count more minor characters.


The prevailing belief in the industry is that girls will watch boy films (and read boy books) but boys will not watch girl films and read girl books.

Much of this is of the industry's own making; e.g. Disney's own Disney Princess brand. And hence RAPUNZEL becomes TANGLED and Rapunzel has to share the spotlight of her own movie with a male character (Flynn Rider).


Suzanne, there are many, many single parent homes in America; I love that Toy Story is about one such family.


I keep thinking about this. I guess we need more female movie execs and animators. Maybe someone needs to start a scholarship foundation specifically for female animators?

Side note, my 6yo picked up his sister's copy of Rapunzel's Revenge (and Calamity Jack) this week and LOVES them. He just told me that when he grows up he will be a video game programmer and wants to make a video game based on your books. So, you know, he'll have to talk to you in 20 years... :)


This is why I highly recommend you see the indy movie coming out called Austenland, based on the book by some author in Utah. Strong female cast. Can't say as I've heard of any of the male leads, although I've heard one guy has that medical condition with having his shirt off for pictures. How unfortunate...not really.
My brother works for Alcon (Blind Side, Dolphin Tale), and he was explaining that Tangled was changed around in large part due to international sales. Some countries don't have the Rapunzel story, so there was no name recognition like there would be with Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.


For the stories that have any element of love in their ending, whether they be war stories or political stories etc., I would say the tendency towards male heroes doesn't surprise me.

I'm both an author and a painter, and so I think I interpret things like this such:

Typically a painting is primarily made up of muted colors and values. Sometimes we'll use a dozen or more different shades of grey, all so that the few highlights of bright blue or green in the painting are all the more special.

So it is with men and women.

There are many men (grey colors) who surround the goal of the story, the heart of a woman (the highlight).

In my opinion, women enjoy watching movies like this because at the end of the movie, after all the battles and male testosterone are over, when the hero kisses the princess hand the girls know that all the conflict of the story has led to this one moment. They know that they're special.

Also, women are social creatures by nature. It is often true that a woman considers the good fortune of another female friend to be counted as her own. Seeing a princess on screen be matched with a hero/prince, and treated as a princess ought to be treated, is a reward which the audience-woman feels she shares with that princess.

If we reverse the roles (a heroine captures the heart of a prince) the women in the audience naturally enjoy this climax as they've "lived" in the role of heroine throughout the story and have had their fantasy fulfilled. The men, however, at most say to themselves, "Gosh, I wish I was as cool as that prince." They don't feel special. In fact, the story makes visible to them that they are _not_ that prince.

Men are solitary, independent. When a man sees another being portrayed as the prince or object of desire, the man's not wired to be as interested. The shared sense of accomplishment that women feel at seeing another woman's good fortune is absent in men. It's a biological difference, and it's there for a reason. Social (women), Independence (Men). Yin and Yang.

All this makes it so that a woman can watch a war movie with a touch of love at the end and find it at least somewhat fulfilling, even if war movies are not "her cup of tea." The man, on the other hand, typically doesn't feel fulfilled after watching a film where a heroine wins the heart of a man. This makes it so that women find more films fulfilling than men do, and thus all this adds to the fact that as story makers we see a larger audience in having male protagonists told for males etc. We know that we can make them and the women will be alright with watching, too.

Just thoughts and observations.


This issue was brought to my attention when previews for Pixar's "Brave" started showing. If I am correct, "Brave" is the first Pixar film to even have a female protagonist! For such widely popular films, for the ratio to be so uneven (let alone to have never had a female protagonist), it is a little disheartening. Almost as much as when Joanne Rowling had to use initials instead of her real name on her books so as to appeal to boy readers. You are right; it must be too much to hope for in the 21st century.


That may be true, Susan, but there were Disney execs who admitted that the film was COMPLETELY REWRITTEN because sales for PRINCESS AND THE FROG had not been as high as they wanted, and blame was placed on the fact that the protagonist was a princess (a female) and that the term "princess" was in the title. So Flynn Rider was introduced, the script was totally rewritten so that Rapunzel was not be the only main character. And this was all because it was believed that boys would not be interested in a movie about girls.

If this is true (if boys are really to blame for PRINCESS AND THE FROG's low numbers) then it is Disney's OWN FAULT because it is DISNEY who propagated the myth of the Disney Princess, who made the princess experience uber feminine, and who drew a clear divide in the sand between what is acceptable for girls to enjoy and what is acceptable for boys to enjoy


Bryanbeus, I beg your pardon, but that is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

News flash: men and women are not fundamentally different, other than a few body parts.

Something happened a few years ago; it's called Third Wave Feminism. Welcome to the 21st century.


Bridget, that is very true. I hope Disney was not basing its opinion just on Princess and the Frog, as that movie had its own problems. (not that it was bad, because it wasn't)
There are definitely less movies with females as the lead. So statistically, if there's a bad one, it drags down the average of good female movies. THere are a TON of male-led superhero movies, so the occasional bad one just gets lost when you average it out. THere are not not many female led, so only one bad one gives people opinions about female-led movies in general.
I am excited for The Avengers coming out this summer, even though there this only one female, and she didn't even get her own movie prequel, but was part of Iron Man. It was also good to know that men were critiqued about their appearance like women are, as Chris Evans had to bulk up before Captain AMerica began filming. Time well spent for him, in my opinion! Ha ha

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