No Girls Allowed

As you may know from reading my posts, I’m not a big fan of “girl books” and “boy books”. (As a sample of this, check out this old post, Boys, Girls, Books).

I try to ignore most of the boy book/ girl book posts and commentary.

But this latest one . . .


This is not from the world of children’s/young adult publishing. This is from the world of television.

As explained at i09, “In an interview with Kevin Smith, writer and television producer Paul Dini complained about a worrying trend he sees in television animation and superhero shows in particular: executives spurning female viewers because they believe girls and women don’t buy the shows’ toys.” The i09 article is titled Paul Dini: Superhero cartoon execs don’t want largely female audiences. (Boing Boing also posted about this.)

It’s clear that this is not the opinion of either Dini or Smith.

(The interview is from a podcast, Fatman on Batman; How To Raise a Geek originally pointed out the content, which was transcribed by Vi at agelfeygelach, and then picked up by places such as i09).

I’ll confess: I did not listen to the podcast. I’m relying on these quotes. Please click through to read the whole thing.

The basic network argument: boys buy more toys than girls, so the shows must be aimed at boys.

Because of this belief, executives don’t just want boys watching the shows. They don’t want the girls watching the shows. This is Dini’s quote: “I’ve heard executives say this, you know, not Ryan(?) but at other places, saying like, ‘We do not want girls watching this show.

See what happens when we label content boys or girls? It removes “and.” It removes the possibility that boys AND girls can watch. It makes someone, a grown up, believe, that if girls watch something …. boys won’t.

So it’s not even the show isn’t written “for girls.” It’s written to keep the girls out.

And the way to keep girls out? And make boys happy viewers?

Keep girls as “lesser.” Here, again, is Dini — not stating his beliefs but explaining what he has encountered: “we need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys’ — this is the network talking — ‘one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there.‘”

You got it: for a girl to exist in a “boy” cartoon, she cannot be as smart as the boy, they cannot be as interesting, she must, literally, be one step behind.

This is what people say boys want in their television: girls who are always not as good as boys. And so this is the world they are given: the girls will never be the smart one, the interesting one, the hero. Always the sidekick, not even the sidekick, because the sidekick is at least next to, not behind, the hero.

So, what do you think? 

Is this just marketing? A confirmation that cartoons are “only” a vehicle for selling toys, so it’s not a big deal?

Is the belief about girls and how they spend money (or, more accurately, how their parents spend money) accurate?

Is the way to get boys to enjoy something to keep girls one step behind?









22 thoughts on “No Girls Allowed

  1. As a child, I remember watching shows such as Power Rangers and TMNT (late 80s, early 90s) and if I am recalling correctly, those both seemed like shows that appealed to both girls and boys. It really makes me sad to think that people who grew up in the same era as me would want to deliberately keep girls from liking a show. At the same time though, there are still some good shows for both girls and boys. I feel like Nickelodeon has done a pretty good job with their cartoons. And Cartoon Network is chock full of good stuff. Maybe we should just pull all of the other programming and make everyone watch Adventure Time instead. I know that Finn is a boy and is the hero, but Princess Bubblegum is amazing (not only is she a scientist and way way smarter than Finn, she also saves him multiple times. And they are hinting that she is maybe a bit evil)! Flame Princess is also awesome (she overthrew her father and took control of her kingdom. And she dumped Finn but was super cool about it all and even said they could remain friends as long as Finn was always honest with her)! I tell you, great character development all around. Mathematical!


    1. don’t forget Fionna, Finn’s female counterpart! although she’s only in the couple of episodes set in the ‘parallel universe’ of sorts I think she sends a huge message to young girls about being strong and independent. for example, at the end of the first Fionna and Cake episode when she talks about how she doesn’t need a boyfriend. that’s an extremely important message for young girls to recieve before the mass, mainstream media bombards them with how they aren’t worthy if they aren’t in a relationship. I’m a huge Adventure Time fan and even though I just turned eighteen and Fionna is a massive role model for me, so I love the idea of young girls being able to see somebody like that in their cartoons; as well as other important female characters like PB and Flame Princess. (I think Marceline + her relationship with her father could also be important to girls/children having problems at home but I feel like that’s a conversation for a whooole different comment and will just lead to me going on a tangent)


      1. Hmm. I would watch it from the beginning just to be safe. I can’t remember when the writers started to build a backstory. The first season was pretty disjointed from what I remember. Just a lot of random weirdness. But I promise that it gets so so so good.


    2. Coming back to comment again. I just read some more about this and …well. I said that Cartoon Network was good with girls. Turns out… they are the network that said there were too many girls! I’m shocked and disappointed. I still like Adventure Time.


    3. I love hearing about new things that I’m not familiar with, but I will never have enough time to read all the great ideas/suggestions. Thanks!


  2. This is also a side effect of piracy. Because of that epidemic, TV and movie producers are looking for ways to make up the lost revenue. TV gets less revenue from advertisers and DVD sales (because instead of watching it on TV where advertisers track the # of viewers or purchasing DVDs, they illegally download the shows), so the producers make it up by selling merchandise. Movies make less from DVD sales because of piracy, so they depend on foreign markets to make up the lost revenue. Foreign markets are less interested in female-led movies, and dialog-heavy movies like romantic comedies and dramas do less well in translation. Loss of revenue to piracy is literally changing what movies get made, how many female characters they have, etc.


    1. I think the product tie in aspect for any story (TV or book) is a fascinating one. As piracy increases (or, along with that, the belief that TV/books should be free & cheap — 99 cent books, I’m looking at you) money has to come from somewhere for, well, people to pay their rent (let alone save up to get to the stage of paying for a mortgage) (I could rant about this so, so, so, long).

      Product tie ins don’t bother me, in part because as I kid I would have loved if more of the things I watched/read them had them. (We couldn’t have afforded it all, of course — some of the tie ins that did exist were things I just drooled over because of cost).

      The idea that girls don’t “buy” (or if they do don’t buy the “right” things) bothered me, in part because it seems so unfounded (with a side of “well they buy but we don’t want to sell that stuff” — hello, if you’re going to make money, make it/sell it).

      But foreign markets — and their role — and their role because of piracy? Wow. That I hadn’t thought about, at all, and that is some good food for thought.


  3. I can’t say I am surprised by the sentiment, but it is irrating to put it mildly. And for the record there is nothing wrong with having a smart girl as a sidekick–she doesn’t need to be stupid or two steps behind the boy hero. We all know Harry Potter wouldn’t have survived without Hermione! 🙂


  4. Nothing coherent to say, except WTF? You would THINK that in 2013 we’d be past this. *sighs* *pulls up feminist britches* *wades into the murk*

    Though Shannon makes an excellent point. (As she usually does.)


    1. Shannon also makes me thing about how we use our reactions. Beyond complaining are things like, well, buying and watching etc. I’m also thinking, perhaps, about — for TV, at least — WHERE things end up being shown/who makes it. Keep in mind, I just spent the past week watching endless holiday rom coms at Hallmark and Lifetime. Some were so-so, some were great (CHRISTMAS WITH HOLLY is now one of my all time favorite Christmas movies). And I’m sure part of the reason they are what they are — original TV cable movies — is because of audience and money. So people like me will be getting those films not at the box office but on cable. (Oh, and for the record — while I didn’t buy the DVD for Christmas with Holly, I ended up buying 4 books by Lisa Kleypas, who wrote the book it was based on.)


  5. Hang on a sec, I’m still banging my head on the desk.

    So boys are to watch these cartoons. And girls, unwanted (by the tv execs) or not, live in the same house, plop down on the same couch, and watch too.

    On the bright side, it may turn out to be galvanizing instead of destructive. Think of the subservient little girls who tagged along behind their brothers in 1950s kids’ tv and movies. The children who were fed those images grew up and took to the streets.


  6. My boy and girl teens adore Legend of Korra (strong female), Dr. Who (also), var. superheroes, enjoying complex plot, engaging characters and repartee, and Christmas included geek/fan items for all. Seems like the producers mentioned are myopic if they think that is generally true, or is it possible they are trying to play to a niche group? Plenty of animation and TV is not on that model.


      1. A few people have written (in terms of the boy book/girl book issue) about how, historically, women have had to be “flexible” in reading in having to identify with characters not like them, specifically, males, while boys not only don’t but that it’s viewed as impossible, almost, for a boy to do so (identify with a female hero/main character.) (The number of people who react to a book rec for a boy, “oh, but he’s a boy and this is about a girl”). This, despite things like THE HUNGER GAMES being popular with both boys and girls.


    1. I haven’t watched KORRA yet, but loved AVATAR — and also a good example of how the main character was male and supporting characters were female, yes, but strong & complex & not lesser than.

      Doctor Who is very popular at my house also — and my niece is one of those who half hoped for a female Doctor who this regeneration. I know there are mixed reactions to Moffat & what he’s done with Eleven, but I for one am Team River and love what she brings to the show. I also think that New Who has had some very good strong, independent female characters (again, I know fans go both ways on that, but that’s me.)


  7. I guess I will stick with the observation that audiences identify with strong (in various ways, including kind) characters regardless of gender–and either sex can take another as role models provided they are looking at the qualities rather than the exterior. We do this in real life every day, who would only be a hero to women or men? Not as good as a hero to all.

    A tangent or an example: Just saw Frozen. Every one among our group of boys and girls (10 of us, including adults, and 3rd grade to college) believed the ending unsatisfactory and forced [boy tricks girl (who is now the fool) perfectly by being evil while he had seemed,indeed been most clearly painted, to her and each of us as truly delightful] and and wished a rewrite of the first love boyfriend, who duplicated Laurie from Little Women up till then, as honest, (perhaps proving his value against the avaricious neighbors) and that the Queen should have remained so brilliant out in the wilderness, more likely with the ice salesman/troll boy who likes the cold and isolation, while her sister and first guy ruled in happily in the valley mirroring her parents who seemed quite fulfilled in their lives. Disney could make millions on selling an alternate ending.

    Bottom line being, the audience wasn’t looking for an iffy forced girls’ message (You can’t trust your instincts or men in general? Men are interchangeable? Shop around?), rather, they wanted a maximum of appealing characters.


    1. Maria, as a tangent, was Frozen a spin on The Snow Queen? I haven’t seen it yet, and I saw some talk that it was then the description I read didn’t seem Snow Queen-ish at all. Alas, I don’t see movies in the theater much anymore so I probably won’t see it until it’s on DVD or on TV.


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