Minority Feisty

What do we not have enough of? Fantasy movies for kids in which the fantasy characters are all boyz.

To the rescue – Minions!


Reelgirl isn’t best pleased.

So, yes, now I know: the minions are all boys. When I’ve complained in the past about the utter lack of female minions, commenters responded that they’re “genderless.” In kidworld, where everything from robots to cars to planes are assigned a gender, I doubted this was the case, but I watched the new movie carefully just in case I was mistaken, that the minions were an exception to this rule. Guess what? Not only does every minion mentioned have a male name, but they are also repeatedly referred to as boys with lines delivered like: “Growing boy creatures need their strength” or “Good luck in there, boys!” or “Buckle up, boys!” So, please don’t waste your time emailing me that a 6 year old kid won’t notice what gender these creatures are.

But wait, there’s the villain, Scarlet Overkill, and she’s a girl. Surely that makes it all ok.

I, too, had high hopes for Scarlett even though as the only main female character in the movie, I was pretty sure she would be limited by the narrative to a Minority Feisty role.

For those who aren’t familiar with Reel Girl, Minority Feisty is the term I’ve assigned female characters in children’s movies. These females are “strong” and therefore often referred to as “feisty” by reviewers. “Feisty” is a sexist adjective. A reviewer would not label a male character, such as Superman “feisty.” “Feisty” refers to someone who isn’t really strong but plays at being strong. “Feisty” isn’t a real threat to any power structure. The Minority Feisty can refer to one or more female characters in a movie, the point being that though there can be more than one, females are shown as a minority population. The Minority Feisty represents our slow, slow, slow progress from the Smurfette Principle, a term coined by feminist writer Katha Pollitt. The Minority Feisty serves to pacify parents, so we can sigh in relief and say to ourselves: “There’s a strong female or two, this movie is feminist!”

That’s an excellent label for it, almost as good as the Smurfette Principle.

And Scarlet Overkill is a terrible, stereotypical character. Another win for sexism!

I’m appalled and disgusted that movies like “Minions” are allowed to be made in 2015 and shown to little kids, teaching a new generation to expect and accept a world where girls go missing. If you think I’m overreacting, imagine the reverse: A movie about three female characters– Kara, Stella, and Becky, who lead an all female tribe. They defeat the first male super villain ever, while pursued in a world populated by hundreds of female villains, groups of all female police officers, troops of all female guards, and visit English pubs where almost everyone– except for the pink suited king– is also female. Would you notice the sexism? Would your kids? The fact that the lack of females in children’s movies– from protagonists to crowd scenes, from heroes to villains– isn’t glaringly obvious to us and our children shows how sexist the world is. In the fantasy world, anything is possible, even gender equality. If we can’t even imagine it, we can’t create it. Unfortunately, “Minions” teaches kids, one more time, that females don’t matter much at all.

This is what I keep saying. Women barely exist in most movies and tv shows, and most of the few who do get a part are vacuous or evil or both. Most movies star a man and a man and a man and a man. A woman may get fifth billing, or even – gasp – fourth, but then after that there twenty more guys and no more women. It’s as if we don’t exist.


  1. Bruce says

    This analysis seems right on.
    I think society ought to get this, just from hearing one line:

    “If we can’t even imagine it, we can’t create it.”

  2. Ysanne says

    I saw it on the weekend with my kids, boys aged 8 and 10. They weren’t super enthusiastic about the movie (it’s pretty run of the mill bordering on boring apart from a few jokes), but no outright complaints.
    Contrast that with Frozen: They hate it passionately, partly because of the singing but mainly because “it’s all about girls, so annoying!”. Obviously the pretty un-charismatic villain and the non-superhero love interest don’t count. They were shocked when I pointed out about every single movie they like to watch and re-watch that it’s for girls exactly like Frozen was for them.
    Inside Out was a little better received — maybe because they saw it as a story about some other kids’ thoughts, as opposed to the “imagine if you were the hero” experience that’s suddenly clearly aimed at not-them.

  3. iknklast says

    I’m sure that Hollywood probably has a similar answer to Broadway (or other theatres). Women are underrepresented as playwrights (about 7%) and in characters (sorry, not sure of the figures on that). When people ask why there are not more women playwrights being produced, they are told it is because women playwrights write plays about women (which is only partly true. My plays, and those of most of the women I know, are about people. Women comprise a percentage of those people, but often low even in plays written by women). They are told that “people” don’t want to see shows about women. Some things that are known however: Women buy more theatre tickets than men do. Plays by women tend to gross higher, larger audiences, but still manage to have shorter runs than plays written by men.

    And plays written about women BY MEN seem to do fine. I don’t usually hear a lot of complaining when a man writes a show about women, such as Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa, Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, or Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, all of which get performed.

    I’m sure Hollywood would pick up the complaints made by Ysanne’s sons, and say “See? They don’t want to see shows about girls.” Never mind that girls make up half the youth population, and they might want to see shows about girls but are forced to see shows about boys, with an occasional girl character thrown in to remind the youngsters that the role of women is to be token.

  4. sambarge says

    Remember Dora the Explorer? Parents complained that there were no male characters so Diego was invented. Because one show with a female protagonist was too much.

  5. NitricAcid says

    Sambarge- Benny the Bull wasn’t male enough? Dora’s father didn’t appear in enough episodes? I could have sworn that Boots was referred to as “him” often enough…

  6. sambarge says

    Sorry about the delay in responding but I suppose what I should have said is people complained that Dora was a girl. Their sons liked a show with a female hero and that would, I don’t know… Confuse their boys? I haven’t actually got a clue what their basis was but the Diego show (older, more adventurous) was created.

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