“Toy Story 3” has been receiving nothing but praise. It’s topped the box office for two weeks in a row and has pulled in $226 million so far. Not to mention that critics are lauding it as the saving grace in a horribly blah summer movie season. But Ms. magazine is not too happy about the movie’s success. The feminist publication recently posted an article on their blog about the sexism and negative stereotypes in the film. Natalie Wilson, who wrote the piece, admits that the kids’ movie is “fresh” and “clever,” but she also claims that it contains a few too many misogynistic and homophobic jokes for comfort.Wilson’s criticism of the film starts off as a numbers game. She points out that only one of the new toys is female, leaving the film with a 3-to-1 boy-girl ratio. This math can’t be denied. But as one commenter pointed out, part of this is due to the fact that the playthings in the flick belonged to a boy. And even though there is an increasing number of unisex toys in the world, it’s still unusual to see a little boy playing with traditionally female toys.
But Ms.‘s main argument is much more about quality than quantity. Wilson claims that “Toy Story 3″ is full of negative female stereotypes that can give the wrong impression about gender roles. She writes that the mother in the movie is depicted as “nagging,” while Barbie is shown as “over emotional” and “hyper-feminine.” Her packaged partner in crime, Ken, is painted as a “closeted gay fashionista” who is constantly teased. Wilson worries that depictions like this will teach children, especially boys, that being female or homosexual is wrong—or at least something to laugh at.
Many viewers, myself included, have trouble reading “Toy Story 3″ this way. I think Ms. is looking too hard for something to criticize. Unfortunately, children’s movies have a history of being pretty darn sexist. Just look at Disney’s lineup—one film after another is about a helpless princess needing a man to get her out of a nasty situation, ending with the two falling in love and the woman giving up whatever life she had before. Most of these movies teach boys that all girls want is a handsome man with lots of money. Not really an inspiring message. But “Toy Story” isn’t based on archaic fairy tales; it’s an original idea. While not fully politically correct, it’s a stride in the right direction.
And while Wilson paints the few female characters as negative, I see them in an opposite light. Cowgirl Jessie is tom-boyish, opinionated, and doesn’t just do something because a man says it’s right. While the same compliments can’t be loaded onto Barbie, we have to think about the doll we’re dealing with here. In the real world, Barbie is constantly being attacked for being an unrealistic influence on girls. Her is body is ridiculously out of proportion and all her material possessions encourage vanity and selfishness. So, of course, the film is going to portray her that way— these are Barbie stereotypes, not female ones. If anything, “Toy Story 3″ plays on the perception of Barbie and then gives the blond doll a positive spin by making her a girl willing to give up the dream house life with Ken to fight for what’s right—her pride and friends.
As for Ken, the jokes are pretty pointed at him being a doll that isn’t quite out of the walk-in closet yet. But once again, isn’t Ken already a national inside joke? He is known as Barbie’s arm candy with a penchant for wild clothes and pink Corvettes. How else should he be portrayed? As the macho man savior that has already been tired out in past kiddie flicks? At least they gave the character some psychological heft.
If “Toy Story 3″ is anything, it is a movie that expands and scratches away at the old stereotypes that have been plaguing both kids’ movies and toys. It certainly didn’t bust open the toy box with game-changing plot lines and characters, but it’s an improvement when compared to past pictures’ plot lines, such as Belle falling victim to Stockholm syndrome in “Beauty and the Beast.” Overall, this is a great kids’ movie and a big improvement on the usual summer kids’ fare like “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakel.” I rest my case!
What do you think—is “Toy Story 3″ sexist?