Sex and gender in animated films tends to make me batty. Last fall, we were subjected to Barnyard, a movie about rebellious cows in which all male and female bovines were white with black spots and had udders. Whether this portrayal of bulls as cows was due to an udder (ha ha) lack of knowledge about bovine sex or a subversive attempt to present transgendered individuals as normal is unclear to me. (I wish it were a movie supporting transgenderism, but based on the inanity of the film, I suspect otherwise.) Now we have Bee Movie.
I didn't give Bee Movie any thought until I read an op-ed piece by Susan Brackney in Friday's New York Times. In her article, "The Real Life of Bees", Brackney pointed out how inaccurately the roles of male and female bees are depicted in the film. My antennae shot up. She wrote:
In Hollywood’s version, there are more than three times the number of male roles than female ones, but a cartoon of my own hive would have thousands of leading ladies and only a handful of male extras.
The nurses that tend the young and the workers that forage for pollen; the guards that keep predators like skunks away and the undertaker bees that unceremoniously haul out the dead: they’re all female. And whereas the movie’s protagonist is repeatedly told he must choose just one job and stick with it, my honeybees rotate through all of the available duties.
That’s because non-animated drones don’t collect pollen, or make beeswax, or even have stingers. If Mr. Seinfeld wanted realism (and an R rating), his male bees would be sex workers who do little more than mate with the queen — after which their genitals snap off. Worse: when winter comes, worker bees shove the freeloading males out into the cold. If drones are required in the spring, the queen will simply make more of them.
Maybe I am too sensitive. After all it is just a kids movie, and it has an important message, as Law School Mom at Diary of a Law School Mom points out:
There is love, law, and honey... The Bee Movie tackles corporate greed and the Vanishing Bee epidemic all in one fell swoop. If only the answer to the latter were as simple as Spielberg and crew make it.
Despite her criticisms of the characters in the film, Brackney is also glad that the movie brings attention to the critical shortage of bees this country is facing. (To simplify the issue, bee colonies have been dying and collapsing in swarms. Without bees to pollinate flowers, we won't be able to grow certain types of produce.)
On the other hand, I am pretty sick of movies and other forms of entertainment that refuse to feature girls because they think that boys won't want to buy things associated with girls, but that girls think nothing of entertainment that focuses on boys. Maybe this is true. If it is, there is only one way to change it: stop pandering. Females make up more than 50% of the population. I'm fairly certain that boys are not biologically wired to dislike things that feature girls. Most likely, they take their cues from the world around them. We're plenty happy to keep reminding them that everyone should like things that are "manly" and only girls and sissies should be able to enjoy items that are for girls. (And here I digress to point out that a large portion of entertainment designed to appeal to women is complete and utter sap, so I don't blame anyone for not wanting to see most of the "chick flicks" that are out there.)
After griping about the same issues that Brackney outlined about the gender roles of bee colonies being completely unrelated to what was portrayed in Bee Movie, Bug Girl at Bug Girl's Blog agreed with my thoughts:
Now, I can totally understand the movie writers choosing to not have that sort of skewed sex ratio [hives are normally 95% or more female] for the purposes of the movie. But they went in the direction of a 1950’s Leave it to Beaver sitcom, since what few female bees do appear are pretty much restricted to cooing over the “pollen jocks” or serving as tour guides. Even in an imaginary world, it’s all about men in Hollywood… converting a matriarchal society into a male-dominated jock fest–that’s annoying
Put out something that a wide variety of people can enjoy instead of playing up to gender stereotypes. Not only will audiences actually learn something related to the real world (male bees don't have stingers; male bovines are called bulls and don't have udders), but offering more examples of female characters doing a wide variety of tasks will give our kids – both boys and girls – more interesting examples to follow.
Suzanne also blogs about a variety of topics at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants
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