SANTA CLARITA, CALIFORNIA – For a long time, nearly all of the animation students at the California Institute of the Arts were men.
Today, most of CalArts’ more than 250 animation students are women, and one of their goals is to create more realistic female characters — not just the sex bombs, shy nerds and haggard villains that dominate now.
The reason such stereotypes persist, according to Marge Dean, president of the industry group Women in Animation: Men still fill animation’s writing rooms and director’s chairs.
“Many, many, many women are going to animation schools,” said Dean, whose organization tracks figures through schools and industry groups. “Yet if you start looking at women in creative roles, the last number we have is only 22 percent.”
In an effort to boost those numbers, CalArts faculty invites studio representatives to campus for events and maintains a close relationship with groups like Dean’s, which is pushing the studios to have a creative workforce of half women and half men by 2025.
The school also has played host the past two years to a symposium on gender bias in animation. This year it focused on the roles of “Sidekicks, Nerd Girls, Tomboys and More.”
Here, a female CalArts student renders some archetypal cartoon women, and Erica Larsen-Dockray, who teaches a class on “The Animated Woman,” explains:
She has an impossibly tiny waist and is gorgeous beyond belief. Big eyes, flowing locks, luscious lips and a heart-shaped face. She’s historically usually white and depicted as innocent and virginal. About the typical princess’ waistline, Larsen-Dockray says: “If they were life-size, they would not have space in their bodies for reproductive organs.”
THE FAIRY GODMOTHER
She’s always plump and rosy-cheeked, with particular emphasis on large breasts and buttocks. “I think a lot of animators at that time were thinking about their nannies,” Larsen-Dockray says. “They’re like the epitome of physical comfort, every man-child’s dream.”
While male villains can be any shape or size, female villains almost always are old and unmarried. They have gray hair, wrinkles and harsh makeup. They’re hardened and sour and always look stern and angry. Visually, they’re typically depicted looking almost bony with sharp lines, including high cheekbones and pointy elbows.
Many female sidekicks are depicted as nerds. They have glasses, they’re shy and awkward, and they often have freckles. They’re also usually in a makeover episode at some point, Larsen-Dockray says, as if to remind viewers that they can be feminine. “It’s really messed up,” she says.