Ratatouille: Another Film That Fails the Feminist Film Rule

When we want to be amused and entertained without having to put forth much effort, my partner and I often turn to animated films. A viewing of The Incredibles does wonders for getting my mind to let go of stress from life and work.

In that spirit, we sat down last night to see Ratatouille, a Disney-Pixar release (from Incredibles Director Brad Bird) about a rat who pursues his dream of being a chef in Paris. It won an Oscar in 2008 for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year. It was creative, fun, & funny—we both enjoyed it.

And yet, like so many other “good” movies, Ratatouille fails the very low bar set by what can be called the “feminist film rule.”

As near as I can tell, the test can be traced to a 1985 comic strip entitled The Rule, from the series “Dykes to Watch Out For” by Alison Bechdel. Bechdel credits Liz Wallace for introducing her to the rule. In order for a movie to pass muster, it’s got to have three things:

1. There have to be at least two women in it.
2. The two women must talk to each other.
3. The two women must talk to each other about something other than a man.

It’s a low bar. And yet I’m consistently disappointed by how many films don’t pass, because it means that millions of viewers are consistently ingesting inexcusably narrow and sexist portrayals of women. Ratatouille, for example, has only one female with enough screen time to be called a character. For some hard data, see the 2007 Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, which references two studies of the 101 top-grossing G-rated films from 1990 to 2004. Of the over 4,000 characters in these films, 75% overall were male, 83% of characters in crowds were male, 83% of narrators were male, and 72% of speaking characters were male. In addition, there was little change from 1990 to 2004.

Why is it so hard to portray more women in more roles?

The answer, I think, is that it’s not. It’s not hard to portray more women in more roles; filmmakers simply must want to do it. There needs to be an understanding that more and diverse roles for women are important; that’s it something the viewing public demands—or at least expects.

Applying the feminist film test has been an important consciousness-raising discipline for me; I encourage you to give it a try. Next step: figuring out what meaningful action to take. http://www.mediaandwomen.org/whatcani.html seems like a great place to start.

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UUA Social Justice

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