Third Time Still Not the Charm for Toy Story’s Female Characters

Toy Story 3 opens on a woman-empowerment high, with Mrs. Potato-Head displaying mad train-robbing skills and cowgirl Jessie skillfully steering her faithful horse Bullseye in the ensuing chase. And that’s the end of that: From there on, the film displays the same careless sexism as its predecessors.

Out of seven new toy characters at the daycare where the majority of the narrative takes place, only one is female–the purple octopus whose scant dialogue is voiced by Whoopi Goldberg. Although two of the toys in the framing scenes with Bonnie, the girl who ultimately becomes the toys’ new owner, are female, the ratio is still far worse than the average in children’s media of one-female-to-every-three-males (documented by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media). And these ratios have a real effect: Decades of research shows that kids who grow up watching sexist shows are more likely to internalize stereotypical ideas of what men and women are supposed to be like.

Toy Story’s latest installment revolves around now-17-year-old Andy leaving college. His mom (who has yet to be given a name) insists (in rather nagging fashion) that he store or get rid of all his “junk.” The bag of toys mistakenly ends up in the trash, resulting in the toys landing in a prison-like daycare (way to turn the knife on working parent guilt).

In typical Pixar fashion, male characters dominate the film. Though it ends with young Bonnie as the happy new owner of the toys, making way for more sequels, Woody would have to become Wanda, and Buzz become Betty, in order for the series to break Pixar’s male-only protagonist tradition (think Wall-E, A Bug’s Life, Cars, Monster, Inc, The Incredibles).

Bo Peep is inexplicably missing in this third installment, leaving even fewer female figures. Barbie has a larger role this time around though, as an overly emotional, often crying girlie-girl. She is also a traitor of sorts, breaking away from the gang to go live with Ken in his dream house.

As for Ken, he is depicted as a closeted gay fashionista with a fondness for writing in sparkly purple ink with curly-Q flourishes. Played for adult in-jokes, Ken huffily insists, “I am not a girl toy, I am not!” when an uber-masculine robot toy suggests so during a heated poker match. Pairing homophobia with misogyny, the jokes about Ken suggest that the worst things a boy can be are either a girl or a homosexual.

Barbie ultimately rejects Ken and is instrumental in Woody and company’s escape, but her hyper-feminine presentation, coupled with Ken’s not-yet-out-of-the-toy-cupboard persona, make this yet another family movie that perpetuates damaging gender and sexuality norms.

While the girls in the audience are given the funny and adventurous Jessie, they are also taught women talk too much: Flirty Mrs. Potato-Head, according to new character Lotso, needs her mouth taken off. Another lesson is that when women do say something smart, it’s so rare as to be funny (laughter ensues when Barbie says “authority should derive from the consent of the governed”), and that even when they are smart and adventurous, what they really care about is nabbing themselves a macho toy to love (as when Jessie falls for the Latino version of Buzz–a storyline, that, yes, also plays on the “Latin machismo lover” stereotype).

As for non-heterosexual audience members, they learn that being gay is so funny that the best thing to do is hide one’s sexuality by playing heterosexual, and to laugh along when others mock homosexuality or non-normative masculinity.

Yes, the film is funny and clever. Yes, it is enjoyable and fresh. Yes, it contains the typical blend of witty dialogue as well as a visual feast-for-the-eyes. But, no, Pixar has not left its male-heterocentric scripts behind. Nor has it moved beyond the “everyone is white and middle class” suburban view of the world. Perhaps we should expect no more from Pixar, especially now that Disney, the animated instiller of gender and other norms (a great documentary on this is Mickey Mouse Monopoly),now owns the studio. Sadly, Toy Story 3 indicates that animated films from Pixar will not be giving us a “whole new world,” at least when it comes to gender norms, anytime soon.

Photo from Flickr user ellenm. Courtesy of Creative Commons 3.0.

CORRECTION: This post has been updated to include Bonnie’s two female toys in the discussion of the characters’ gender ratio.


  1. I apologize for my silence in the comment thread. I have been travelling with scant access to the internet.

    While I am very pleased my post has promoted so much dialogue, I am disheartened by the continuing tendency to attack feminist analysis as “whiny, needy, and pathetic.” I welcome disagreement and debate, but wonder why some find it necessary to frame their comments as an attack, telling me to relax, chill out, and that I am a “bad feminist.”

    Also, some of the comments seem to ignore the context in which this post takes place. Posts are not cultural vacuums (nor are films, I would argue) but take place in the blogosphere. The medium calls for brevity – hence I did not cover every point. It also tends towards what some call “exaggeration,” but what I would characterize as a common blogging style – one which is brief, to the point, and yes, opinionated.

    I do not feel it is “nonsense” to approach films in relation to their socio-historical context, nor do I agree that such an approach is “feminist-lite.” I am saddened this scholar finds it necessary to play what another commenter named the “good feminist/bad feminist game.” I don’t claim my way of approaching films is the only way, but I do feel that approaching films outside of their cultural, social, and historical contexts seems adverse to the goals of feminism (and thus to the goals of the Ms blog). I am a literature scholar as well as a women’s studies scholar, and I don’t enact this vacuum-type approach. I do not ask students to read Huck Finn as a “mini culture” unto itself and forget the context of slavery. I would not expect them to treat Anne Frank as an “echo” that allows them to connect with “obscure characters.” Granted, literature and film are different mediums, but both benefit from socio-historical analysis, if you ask me. Ignoring the bigger picture of racism and sexism is not something I wish to do, even if some insist this makes me NOT a feminist “in the good historical definition of feminist.” (Funny how we can reference history when attacking other feminists, but not when analyzing films, eh?)

    As to the suggestion my discussion of Ken in itself is homophobic, I do not read him as gay because he is feminine. Rather, as I argue in the post and in my earlier comment, I suggest the film makes fun of him for being feminine, linking this to the suggestion he is “closeted.” In so doing, it allies misogyny with homophobia, suggesting being female or gay are faulty (and humorous) ways to be.

    I agree with Macieg that Pixar films have many strong female characters. My point was that, as of yet, they have no female protagonists. (I look forward to the film Brave noted by Lauren which is supposedly going to remedy this!) And, regarding my failure to consider Bonnie’s female toys (as admitted in my earlier comment), I was focusing on the “daycare toys” and did fail to include Dolly and the new female dinosaur. (I have asked the editor if we can update this in the post.)

    Also, though many suggested I hated the movie, I noted it was funny, clever, and visually stunning. My daughter and I enjoyed it a great deal. We discussed it at length, noting the parts we liked as well as discussing those we didn’t. I don’t feel she (or I) needs to like every aspect of a film to enjoy the experience. In fact, isn’t part of raising kids to be media savvy cultural analysts sharing with them that texts are complex, that they are rarely entirely “good/bad” but rather a complex admixture of many things? Neither are they ever, if you ask this “feminist-lite” nitpicker ever “just entertainment.” Our films, (like all of our texts) reflect, construct, perpetuate, resist, promote, subvert, transgress, and/or uphold various ideologies and societal norms. This is why I find the sexism and homophobia that shapes the media generally (Pixar included) important to analyze. So no, I won’t “chill out.” And neither, I hope, will my daughter.

  2. tk2aday says:

    Yeah, see I would agree with this if it wasn’t for ther fact that Barbie, I’m pretty sure, violently assaults Ken and practically saves the day all by lonesome. I’m sure that this action doesn’t abide by the stereotypical perceptions of women.

    Nice try though.

    Also, you toss Jessey aside, as if she is not an instrumental and strong woman in the series.

  3. Louise K says:

    I’m not sure this is worth discussing further but I like trying to explain these ideas.

    Let’s say we should all put every film into its socio-historic context when we analyze it. Okay, what is that context: when the movie was made?, when the script was written?, when the events in the movie took place? when it was funded?, when it ‘s trailer appeared?, when I saw it in the theatre?, years later when I watched it at home on tv?, many more years later when it came out on DVD?, when I watched it over and over again with my family or later with my own kids? There is no stable and identifiable socio-historic context attached to a particular film if you are looking at it as an influence on real people over different times. A movie made today may be being influenced by something that happened 50 years ago: am I obligated to track down every possible context for a movie I see before I can make an intelligent comment about it? I just don’t find the political/social/historical context approach worthwhile and I don’t use it anymore (having tried it for years).

    For example, while I might find the production history and socio-historic context of Casablanca interesting, it will not provide me with a good way to analyze that film (despite what years of Cinema Studies tells us). The movie is powerful because it has several of our recurring mythic themes: the power of love, the nobility of self-sacrifice, the importance of a sense of duty. Where do these same themes show up? Toy Story 3, of course. Yet the socio-historic contexts of these two films couldn’t be more different.

    I am suggesting that instead of starting with a theory that gets applied to a movie, look at what people are doing with and saying about this movie. For one thing, with this movie, they are confessing to sobbing and crying at the end of it (I did too). And they are explaining what they think is the reason for this. The explanation is closer to my “little culture” theory than to anything else. These people are not dupes of the corporate monsters that make movies. They are people with genuine experiences that cannot be controlled by media producers. They are connecting elements of this beautiful story with snippets from their own lives and talking about it. That, I think, is something to be celebrated.

  4. Empowering women, isnt about demonstrate that a women could be stronger than a men, empowering women is about respect a women for who they are and what they do, and give them the same treatment that a men in the same circunstance.

    I would like to quote Margaret Thatcher:

    “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

    In this case, i didnt see any disrespect to the female characters, i mean, was the octopus in a different level than any of other the new toys; no it wasnt.

    As matter of fact, if you like to count, tell me, how many female humans were displayed in the movie, and how many male.

    Sexist is whatever de the people wanna to be, dont create a missconception, because all what the movement have achieved, could be loss by sendig a wrong message to the people; i meant, is everything you do in order to get 1 more female toy in a movie to acomplish the 1 to 3 gender rate (11 new toys, 3 of them female, only 1 more needed)

    P.D. apologize the erros in the writing, english isnt my native launguage.

  5. Janell Hobson says:

    Thank you, Snobographer, for stating a major “sexist” component of Toy Story 3: Ken’s outright THEFT of Barbie’s “Dream House” ha ha!

    I grew up with that Dream House, and not only is it NOT Ken’s, but as another toy told Ken, HE is just an “accessory”!

    And since when did Ken have such an elaborate wardrobe? In whose play world was that even possible, unless the kid who owned the Ken doll was himself a little gay boy? (Nothing wrong with that at all, of course!)

    Also, as someone who once owned a “Lotsa Love” teddy bear (which probably got thrown into the incinerator decades ago, seeing that my mom didn’t store it among my other toys in the attic) and who also owned the same “Great Shape” Barbie doll can attest, I could not help but notice the subtle sexism displayed by showing a GIRL (Daisy) as the main reason for turning toys into villains. The Lotsa Love bear and the broken doll were abandoned (so they believed) and, thus, turned evil, hence making a rather subtle claim that women and girls in general are materialistic creatures who will easily replace the things we own for something brand new (compared to the emotional Andy who was at first reluctant to hand over his kids to Bonnie even when he is college age).

    So many layers here… when I consider my own emotional reaction to my CAR, which I owned for 10 years, when I recently traded it in, in comparison to a guy friend of mine, who regularly trades his cars every few years for the newest and fastest model around, it’s amazing how we still have such messages out there.

    There are quite a lot of subtle representations of gender going on. Now, does that mean I didn’t enjoy TS3? Are you kidding me?! It’s the best movie of 2010 by far, and I cried like a baby at the end.

    That does not mean that you can’t look critically at a movie and recognize the types of messages about gender (and race and class for that matter) that a popular mainstream movie regularly offers.

    But this movie also hits an emotional nerve, which is why it’s very difficult for audiences (including the commenters here) to look critically at this enjoyable, heart-tugging film because we’re still reacting to it from the most sentimental and nostalgic level.

    At its core, the movie is about change, growing up, the loss of childhood innocence, and the values placed on material vs. emotional things (the incinerator scene alone should make us pause about the waste we generate from desiring toys and digital gadgets and the like, because we fail to “recycle” and “rebirth” our precious items – very much like WALL-E, come to think of it). But such meaningful themes are also delivered from gendered, raced, and class perspectives.

  6. Ann Marie Hoffman says:

    Seriously Natalie Wilson?? Aren’t we over thinking all this stuff and putting these negative thoughts into our kid’s heads by bringing this to their attention? It is a cartoon, a cute, very well done cartoon. If we over analyze ANYTHING in this world we can find the negative in it, but what is the point. Please, let us allow our kids to just enjoy life and stop putting so much on them because of our own issues.

    We have (in our home) all enjoyed the Toy Story series and actually found many lessons in the stories. The biggest ones on being a friend; not prejudging someone (a new kid in school perhaps); how working together as a team allows you to accomplish tasks/goals; and helping a friend in need. The characters and dialogue is funny, and yes, some of the humor is directed at adults because we pay the way into the film, but it still makes the kids smile and laugh. Most of the time our kids don’t understand the humor and if there is something you personally feel you need to address with your child to make sure they have a clear understanding, do it, don’t blame the movie. As parents, we should be at their side watching everything they watch to be able to explain the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    For the record, I am a very strong woman, business owner, wife of 15 years to an amazing man and mother of an equally strong 5-year-old little girl. I don’t feel the need to burn my bra, be Norma Rae or anything or anyone else to feel good about what God created me to be and I take no offense to this movie because I am so confident in who I am. It is just a movie and it holds no bearing on how my daughter looks at herself as a female because I am raising her to be strong within herself and not look at the images of what is portrayed in books, magazines, TV and movies. If I let all that have an effect on her, she would turn out to be self-conscious, bitter and/or shallow. Life is funny, learn to laugh at yourself, the quirkiness that is life, and don’t take it all so seriously.

    I strongly disagree with Natalie, I respect that she has the right to voice her views in this country, but also respect my right to not agree with her.

  7. To tk2aday,
    I love Jessie. I don’t see how referring to Jessie in the opening paragraph and noting she is funny and adventurous is tossing her aside.

    To Louise K,
    I actually do track down and consider the exact types of historical contexts you mention when I teach/write about literature and film. I find it not only worthwhile, but politically responsible as a feminist scholar. I agree with you that films have “recurring mythic themes” and also consider these.
    And I do “start with a theory” in everything I do in the sense that feminism informs my life at every level. I look at the world through a feminist lens. It is not a lens I apply or put on so much as live and breathe.
    I also think that the emotional response you refer to is important and is, indeed, something to be celebrated. But these “beautiful snippets” do not erase the less beautiful aspects where Lotso pulls off Mrs Potato-Head’s mouth in a “shut up already, bitch” moment… The “little culture’ of films is complex, no? Seems like you take a macroscopic, audience-response approach which is valid – just different.

    To Janell Hobsen,

    Thanks for your points about “the subtle sexism displayed by showing a GIRL (Daisy) as the main reason for turning toys into villains.” This is also true of Jessie’s back story if I remember correctly…?
    Also, excellent points about how the Lotsa Love’s owner is depicted as your typical female consumer who easily goes on to her next bear…
    Thank you also for you point that you loved the film but “That does not mean that you can’t look critically at a movie and recognize the types of messages about gender (and race and class for that matter) that a popular mainstream movie regularly offers.” I loved it too – yet so agree we can still critically analyze that which we love. And I think you are very right about the emotional nerve point. I wrote a similar review of Shrek, which was not nearly as maligned, but was just as “crazy feminist.” It as a far less “emotional nerve” movie did not anger people the way this post did…

    To Ann Marie,
    Sorry, I don’t think there is any such thing as over-analyzing. I am a professor who makes my livelihood analyzing. And really, seriously, is that tone necessary? Off to burn my bra now. Sheesh.

  8. Of all the films worthy of this kind of important feminist analysis (and no I don’t see the ‘f’ word as something to be feared like some of the earlier commentators), I can’t help but wonder why you’ve selected ‘Toy Story 3’ for this level of scrutiny.

    Is it the popularity of the film? Or perhaps a response to some claims regarding progressive gender subversion?

    I would not dispute that the film is reflective of a widespread imbalance in terms of gender representation – but that is endemic to Hollywood and not particular to this case study. (Not that that excuses anything, mind you)

    And true, the film falls back upon stereotypical images of femininity (and also masculinity I would add) for the purpose of humour and characterisation. But I think you’ve carefully (or carelessly) elided certain ambiguities in your analysis of the film that may undo the potency of your claims.

    For instance, while you are quick to point out the hyper-femininity of the Barbie’s character and the explicit campness of Ken, the film ultimately suggests that Barbie’s ‘traditional’ gender traits are a ruse – perhaps in the sense of Butler’s performativity – which she deploys and then sheds in order to facilitate the escape of the other toys. In that context couldn’t we also read the humour derived from Barbie’s intelligent dialogue as coming not from the point of ‘oh, how funny-the dumb blonde said something smart’ but rather, ‘oh look how we’ve been duped by our own gendered perceptions’.

    The same aspect of gender performativity could apply to Ken who appears to shed the signifiers of his camp persona when not around the new toys (ie. at the card game). And what are we to make of the film’s penultimate escape when Ken appears to reject his hyper-masculine misogynist self (as Lotso’s right-hand man) in preference of a potential relationship with Barbie.

    Couldn’t we also interpret the removal of Lotso (the Villainous Patriarch) from the Day Care Centre at the conclusion, and the installation of more shared system of power as pointing a way forward from their previous phallocentric domination?

    I am not suggesting in all of this that ‘Toy Story 3’ is necessarily a progressive film but rather that the film’s gender representations are far more ambiguous than your article appears willing to acknowledge.

    As for labelling the film “damaging”, I would think that films such as ‘Eclipse’ (which demonstrates a paranoid fear over female sexuality and encourages women to reject their own agency in preference of abusive relationships) or ‘Sex & the City 2’ (which deploys a pseudo-feminist pre-text as an excuse for a host of racial and cultural insensitivities) as far more ‘destructive’ along the lines of gender and sexuality.

  9. As a feminist who is a strong proponent of equal rights for all people regardless of gender, sexual identity, age, ethicity, yada yada yada.. I really think this is one of the most ridiculous and, yes, nitpicky “analyses” I’ve ever read. THIS is the kind of work people point to when they denigrate feminists and accuse us of conjuring outrage for outrage’s sake.

  10. The words in the last paragraph…

    “Yes, the film is funny and clever. Yes, it is enjoyable and fresh. Yes, it contains the typical blend of witty dialogue as well as a visual feast-for-the-eyes. But, no, Pixar has not left its male-heterocentric scripts behind. Nor has it moved beyond the “everyone is white and middle class” suburban view of the world.”

    I think pretty much debunks what most of the anti-intellectuals are “whining” about in response to Wilson’s excellent and succinct analysis. READ the whole article before you all revert back to the comfort of your white, middle-class suburban assumptions. Feminists and critical theorists in general are constantly and have always been told to “lighten up” – “have a sense of humor” – I’m sure we can go back to similar lines in response to critical theory criticisms of “Birth of a Nation.” “C’mon lighten up – I mean just look at the film techniques being used!” Whatever. Oppression and exploitation only survives because the oppressed all too often become the main purveyors of it’s twisted ideology. Similar to the reasoning that criticisms of war need to stop once the war has started – amazing. Anyway, thanks Ms. Wilson.

  11. Rebecca says:

    @ Andres – I read the whole article from top to bottom. And I’m still peeved at this overly sensitive article when there are people out there who are genuinely afraid of being called a feminist because of outrageously cranky articles like this.

    Look at D. J’s last paragraph. Where are the articles ripping apart the second Sex and the City? And perhaps more importantly, what about Eclipse? Or the ENTIRE Twilight franchise? There are teenage girls and girls my age out there that think having a boyfriend like Edward Cullen is the RIGHT thing to do! That acting like Bella is ideal because she’s “strong!” I mean really, where do those delusions come from?!

  12. @Rebecca

    There is quite a bit of excellent work by Natalie Wilson and other Ms. writers on Twilight for you to enjoy. I hope you’ll seek it out! In my view, the delusions that you speak of in young women come from a lifetime of inundation with the sexist media (like Disney) and social context (like patriarchy) they/we live in – exactly what the article is pointing out. While the female-negative depictions Wilson details in Toy Story may seem subtle or “not that big of a deal” to you, can you see how over time and with consistency that subtlety becomes a firestorm?

    I agree with you that Sex and the City needs a closer look by critics as well. Lots to talk about there. Maybe you could get the conversation started!

  13. Rebecca says:


    I just left a review on the one she did about Vampire Dads – that’s an article I liked.

    I just personally feel that with the Toy Story franchise, it’s all more tongue in cheek in relation to creating a genuine world where the toys are real and have personalities more than anything. Pixar is known for putting that kind of humor in their movies.

    Disney, I do agree, has some massive massive issues in regards to sexism. While I most definitely dressed up as Snow White and Cinderella for Halloween as a child, by the time I entered the sixth grade, my favorite Disney heroines were Esmeralda and Mulan for very, very, VERY good reasons. Especially Mulan, where there’s only a hint of romance at the very, very end, and Chang likes her because of the courageous acts she’s done throughout the whole movie! (And needless to say, when I picked up a version of the real Hunchback of Notre Dame edited for middle schoolers when I was about that age, I was incredibly disappointed at the Esmeralda I saw there. That’s perhaps a very rare occasion of Disney giving us a strong female heroine on their own accord. I was very surprised at the pleasant tweaks they made to Esmeralda given her previous characterization by Victor Hugo).

    And in turn, it’s rather disappointing that Disney wasn’t pleased with their box office returns with The Princess and the Frog – because a lot of peer reviews I’ve seen show that women enjoyed the positive image Tiana brought to their daughters – especially women in the African American Community. Not only that, but if I recall correctly, doesn’t Naveen work with Tiana in her restaurant at the end? What a great way to show an equal relationship. Naveen is helping Tiana continue her dream after marriage!

    And if there’s a place to rant about the entire Sex and the City franchise, I’d be more than happy to offer my 2 cents. 🙂

  14. On another site, someone has written that Ken “blurs the traditional gender stereotype”. That’s absolutely what Ken does now that I think of it. The reason that people think his portrayal is homophobic is because of US, the viewer. His characteristics are EXACTLY like what most of us would expect Ken to be yet he is clearly straight because he fell for Barbie in an instant. There was no hint anywhere in the film that he was attracted to, say, Woody or any of the other male characters. Even if the allusions to homosexuality are there and deliberate, I bet most gay men would be delighted by it- at least those who watch “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” would be.

    For so many reasons, I found this review worryingly paranoid (I still don’t see how parents like me who send their kids to day care might feel they’ve been knifed, for example- the toys ran it like a prison for the other toys. And the children there seemed to be having a wonderful time). However, it did remind me of a story a female lawyer once told- her little son said that he did not want to become a lawyer “because that’s a girls job”. Differences between the genders and how we view ourselves have always been there and always will be.

    To me, the key is to celebrate the differences as well as those who “blur the traditional stereotypes” and to respect the strengths that the characteristics bring to our society. In that sense, even prior to reading this review, I had thought some of its strong points were the presence of a strong female character who was still able to have romantic feelings in Jessie and the caring, sensitive and emotionally open 17 year old boy in Andy. The landfill scene where male and female characters alike held hands (including “macho” Buzz & Woody who held each others’ hands) as they feared they would meet their doom was incredibly touching. It was the scene with Bonnie, Andy and the toys that really got the tears flowing for me- something that I am sure it is very healthy for my 3 year old son to have seen in me!

    • RadFemHedonist says:

      I agree with you about there being no indication whatsoever that Ken is gay, he's extremely camp, but as I'm guessing the author of this article is well aware, camp =/= gay, I agree with the article that the movie shows prejudice towards non-gender-conforming men in it's portrayal of Ken (though as you noted it also shows male characters who are more emotionally open than men are often believed/expected to be), but he clearly falls for Barbie instantly, and I thought that was a nice little break from stereotypes. I agree with you that Ken could be "coded" gay, because so many people think that gay = camp, but even though I thought "possible Ken is gay because he's girly" jokes and looked carefully during the movie for indications that he was gay, there was nothing even ambiguously gay about him (such as complimenting other men on their appearance in ways that might imply longing or suggestions that his love for Barbie was fake, that sort of thing, which is not to say that someone gay cannot be in love with someone of the opposite sex, as orientation and labels are so complicated that that is sometimes the case, or to say that any man who compliments another man on his appearance is necessarily expressing feelings of attraction, but rather that these might be someone's experiences/behaviour because they are gay in a way that things like crossing your legs when you sit or eating sandwiches or how good you are at throwing and catching balls are not).

  15. Thank you so much for writing this article. This point needs to made again and again until producers get the message. I watched the movie last night and came out of it amused but with also feeling uneasy for the very reason that this article points out. The absence of female characters in movies, including (especially?) childrens’ movies, is very disturbing. When girls watch movies where they are not fully represented, they grow up believing that what boys and men have to say about the world is more important than what they have to say about the world. There are plenty of studies that report this. I think it’s called the mirror effect, and sometimes the role-model effect.

    Women represent more than 50% of the population yet they are remarkably absent from public view, including movies.

    I didn’t, however, have a problem with the way Ken was depicted in terms of his sexuality. I didn’t think he was depicted as homosexual – he was in love with Barbie. And, regardless of his sexuality, he was, after all a sort of hero in the end. I did have a problem with the way that by the end of the movie, Barbie had taken backseat to Ken as his sidekick – another example of male characters taking the limelight from female characters.

  16. Candace says:

    I definitely agree with this article. I did enjoy the movie. With that being said, I left it a bit uncomfortable. I’m a bit surprised that the author didn’t mention this comment from Mr. Potato Head: “No one touches my wife, except for me!” after another toy does something negative to Mrs. Potato Head (I don’t recall exactly what the other toy did). It seemed to add an aspect of domestic violence to the movie. I think the other analysis from the author was spot on!

    I was a bit disappointed that, when I searched for this movie, I found an article from the UK on it that had comments like “Hah! Feminists are BEYOND a joke,” etc. I was even more disappointed to see fellow women that would identify as feminists on here bashing the article. It’s an article to start a conversation on the movie. You don’t have to agree with it, but don’t say that “this is why people hate feminists!” People hate feminists for a lot of reasons, but speaking our mind shouldn’t be something that other feminists disagree with. The author felt a certain way about the movie and chose to express it. That should be encouraged by other feminists. If we want to avoid “everyone hating feminists,” why don’t we just cater to what everyone else wants? We could fit very nicely into our current system of patriarchy… isn’t that ideal?

  17. I have to say that I am so very disappointed in this article. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, this is ridiculous. I believe Ms. Magazine is really looking for material. I have three children. One is 19 and 21 which were small when the first two toy story movies were out and now I have a 6 year old. This movie was very sweet and I think pretty funny. I don’t know of one person whom spoke about the sexism in this movie. They focused more on the fact that life is moving so fast and how they experienced the same feeling as Andy’s mom having him leave for college and seeing all the toys and “things” that defined a different era and time in the life of their children. The sadness of watching your children grow up so very fast. For goodness sake this was done with the toys that belonged “hello” to a boy. So the fact that they included a Barbie was definitely not being sexist. I think they indeed included it so that little girls didn’t feel left out. I for one like the fact that Disney finally once again has something for my six year old son. It is usually filled with Princesses and when you enter any store all you see are Princesses and pink. I have a daughter, a girly girl who is in love with being a girl, but boys only see toys that are violent, heroes or all black and red. So I love Toy Story for getting rid of the nonsense that is boy toys and finally soften the colors and toughness that are usually boy toys. Having said all this if you need material for Ms. Magazine, go talk about The Bachelor which is a pathetically demeaning show for all women.

  18. @ Nilza
    I couldn’t agree with you more. I brought my 6 year old daughter to see the movie this afternoon. We both loved it. Yes, there were times when I was surprised at the sexual references and innuendo between Buzz and Jessie, and the (not-so) subtle message about Ken’s sexuality, but as others have said, this was geared toward adults. And considering what Disney has done to others in their kingdom (Myle Cyris for example), this was mild. That aside, my attention was focused on the sadness of watching our children grow up so fast, a friend’s loyalty, and turning a new page in one’s life. I laughed and cried and so did the woman next to me. Also, thank you for bringing up the Bachelor…the Bachelorette is just as bad!

  19. Oh brother. Can we just enjoy these movies?

    In 2012, Pixar is set to release the film Brave, which is about a princess who would rather be an archer, so maybe that will satisfy you. In the meantime, you will have to endure Cars 2, which is set for release in 2011.

  20. As a first time link-ee to Ms. I really enjoyed this article and got into a debate with my cousins about it in the last ten minutes. I agree with folks that it was a great movie but you can’t use that to ignore what’s going on in the sidelines. My cousin argued that it’s not Pixar’s problem to be socially conscious, but I counter with “what about the episode of Star Trek that showed the first interracial kiss? What about all the artists supporting the Civil Rights movement?” Culture producers should advance ideals, and not just cater to the ho-hum standards of race, gender, religion, or anything else, even if it’s a brutal and argumentative process, because the end result will either be entertainment/art or slightly more enlightened entertainment/art.

  21. I kinda think you're overstating the case here. I was uncomfortable with the relentless ridiculing of Ken portrayed as closet gay (I felt this did lazily collude with the current renewed fashion for naked supposedly-postmodern-ironic homophobia), yes. And clearly the film inhabits a cosy middle-class world, which was irksome to watch from the point of view of someone from not such a comfortable background. The toys clearly should've gone to some kid who was in care or something at the end, not another well-loved and well-off kid. However, I have to say that I'm generally pretty sensitised to sexism and mysogyny and I found Barbie hilarious. Sorry. I think it was funny when she cited political theory, not because she was a female character, but because the TOY ITSELF is an oppressive sexual stereotype. How could they portray Barbie any other way? The Barbie company did that, not Toy Story. if Ken had started citing Rousseau or Jefferson or someone it would have been no less funny, because Barbie and Ken are braindead, vacuous figures. Again, that's down to Mattell, not Pixar. The way they were portrayed as such was really pretty funny. And I thought they added some pretty interesting twists with Barbie getting one over on Ken and then making comments on democratic legitimacy.

    I am totally on your side in general, but you need to pick your battles better. Barbie dolls oppress girls, as the pressure not to play with them oppresses boys. Bratz is full of horrendous pressures on young girls. But when you start to focus on a film like this, that I don't deny slips up (again I'd say more obviously on class and homophobia than on gender), but is hardly up there with the worst offenders, you're reinforcing negative stereotypes of feminists as humourless killjoys. We need to learn to take a joke – sorry but we really do. There's real battles to fight.

  22. I do not understand why a hero is inherently unsatisfying if he is male. Why do you see gender at all? Jesse is a badass and Barbie's ultimate loyalty helps save the day. But Buzz is just as strong and no one is more loyal than Woody.

    Shouldn't we be glad that children have examples of these virtues regardless of who displays them rather than getting all hung up on the toys' non-existent genitalia?

    • Danielle says:

      Everyone sees gender- especially children who are modeling themselves and what they are capable of becoming after movies like this. Studies repeatedly show that under-representation of girls in the media lead them to believe they don't have options when they grow up and young boys have quoted saying they wouldn't want to be girls because that means they couldn't do anything.

      Gender has nothing to do with genitalia, it has to do with the construction of an identity and movies like this play a tremendous role in that construction.

  23. It is also important to note that Pixar is owned by Disney. I've heard more than one man complain about the female-centric nature of the hand-drawn cartoons. Let the boys have Woody and Buzz. We have the independent Jasmine and intelligent Belle, after all. Or are you going to tell me that their beauty or romantic storyline are some how detrimental to society?

  24. I am probably commenting way too late (I mean, it's been months since Toy Story 3 was released), but only recently did I happen to stumble upon this article. I read it, and at first did not agree with it at all, but then, as I opened up my mind to the points being made, I began to understand the author's point of view much better. This does not mean that I agree with some of the points made, but I can empathize much better with the author now. It has never been a bad thing to share your thoughts and opinions with others. That is what forces us to flex those brain muscles and actually use them. It expands our horizons and lets us learn of other's opinions and thoughts, and it even forces us to figure out where we stand on certain issues.

  25. Jessie has always been one of my favorite characters. Ever since she was introduced in the Toy Story 2, I instantly fell in love with her. She was someone that I could look up to, and I'm sure a lot of girls felt the same way. I was a young girl at the time, and she was a great role model for me. When Toy Story 3 came out, I loved it just as much as the first two. It was such a touching story between friends, and it really stressed the importance of the family unit. I really admired this movie, but there was one thing I was a bit disappointed about. I wished that Jessie could have had more of a role in the movie. She is one of the main characters, but the series has and always will focus on Buzz and Woody. That's just how the story was set up, so why should it have changed after all of this time? She was still as tough as I remembered her, and it was great to see such a daring and adventerous girl character up there with the big boys. That certainly brought a smile to my face, and my love for her has remained intact after all of these years.

  26. It was sad to see characters like Wheezy and Bo Peep be cut from the third movie, but when you really think about why Pixar would do such a thing, you realize it is because neither of those toys could have stayed up with the fast pace of the movie and all of the action and adventure Andy's toys had to face. This also brought another thought to mind. Why was Mrs. Potato Head left untouched? This, I believe, is because she was strong enough to handle the events the toys had to go through. At first glance, she seemed the complete opposite of a toy that could be able to handle such events, but she certainly proved herself more than worthy to stay a member of the gang. I was sad to see Bo Peep have to go, but I think that in the end, it was for the best.

  27. Pixar seems to always have had a bit of a problem with creating main characters that aren't male and that aren't the protagonists of the story. This hasn't stopped them from creating good characters however. Both young boys and girls alike have great characters to learn from in past Pixar films. They have had great girl characters that weren't the main protagonists, but that hasn't stopped those girl characters from being good role models and aiding to the story in ways no other character could have. This I do thank Pixar for, and hopefully with time, they can better represent women and show just how strong we are.

  28. Again, I absolutely loved this movie. It is definitely my favorite movie that has come out this whole year. I will continue to support Pixar because of their movies that focus on values that our children need to learn. Sure, they aren't perfect, but they're probably the nearest thing that we're going to get to it. If you were to nitpick at every single thing, then yes, the movie may come across very sexist or biased or whatever you are searching for. In the long run though, this movie promoted the values and ideals that our children need in their lives and that adults needed to be reminded of. I would like to thank the author of this article for making me think just where I stood and for being willing to share what she believed no matter what anyone else thought. Though I do disagree with you in some areas, I am glad that you were willing to share what you thought, felt, and believed. In the end though, these are only kid movies. We should enjoy them for what they were made for and that is good family entertainment.

  29. I have just one question for Jo:
    I can't recall any sexual references between Buzz and Jessie in the latest installment of the Toy Story series, and I was caught extremely offguard by that comment. I racked my brain for anything that could have possibly suggested such things, but I could find nothing. If it isn't too much trouble, could you explain to me what exactly you interpreted to be such things. I am only curious.

  30. @Jo
    When were there any sexual references and innuedos between Buzz and Jessie in Toy Story 3?

  31. i cannot believe what i am reading. are they serious. i just got through watching toy story 3 and loved just as much as when i saw it in the theater. i did not see any sexual innuendos at all. and not only that spanish buzz was hysterical. why do people, like the ones who wrote this article, try to bash good films. not like there was sex, blood and guts going on here. my son is autistic and loves all the toy story movies. let the kids enjoy the movie and stop trying to down it. and as for the ones who wrote this articcle get off ur high horses and stop preaching to us. most of us are not buying it.

  32. Danielle says:

    Great article. Very very interesting

  33. Wall-E didn’t have a specific gender. Actually, a lot of LGBT groups praised the movie because as a machine, and with an ambiguous voice, Wall-E could have been female or male.

  34. Belle of Acadia says:

    I don’t think this is the most important thing to be focusing on when women in this world are getting their clitorises brutally mutilated.

  35. Aw, this was a really nice post. In idea I would like to put in writing like this moreover – taking time and precise effort to make an excellent article… however what can I say… I procrastinate alot and by no means appear to get something done. Repliche Cartier Orologi

  36. I have to say, I thoroughly disagree with what you’ve said. I think to make the assumption that Pixar are stereotyping women as weak, laughable and two-faced, and gay people as the same, is unfounded and untrue. I’m gay, I’m also a teenager, and I can tell you now, not once was I offended, or concerned by the nature of Toy Story. Firstly, it’s a fun movie, meant to be enjoyed, not ripped apart by accusatory viewers, and negative assumptions. Secondly, Pixar have an extremely high rate of homosexual employees, and have even contributed to the “It Gets Better” cause with a video of Woody assuring us, “you’ll be alright, partner”. It may sound silly, but Woody is one of my idols; I’ve grown up watching Toy Story, and they’re probably, as ridiculous as it sounds, my favourite films. To see him and hear him say that was probably more moving than it should’ve been. Obviously this is an old article and it may be the case that that video hadn’t been made when it was written, but the main point I’m trying to make is that Toy Story 3 is not sexist. You’ve also completely overwritten the fact that Ken is in love with a woman. God, even this psychoanalysis of characters is too much. I’m a feminist, of course I am, I’m also gay, but more importantly I’m also a 18 year old, who can appreciate a funny film for what it is; a funny film.

  37. Regards for all your efforts that you have put in this.
    Very interesting info.


  1. […] found the article: Third Time Still Not the Charm for Toy Story’s Female Characters. I read through some of the comments, and a lot of people make sense and say exactly what I’m […]

  2. […] equality’ by now. I’m really concerned by the negative comments posted in response to the Ms magazine review . The review is a good feminist analysis of what is wrong with Toy Story […]

  3. […] June 29, 2010 Filed under: What I have Noticed — heatheraurelia13 @ 8:07 pm Ms. blog writes about Toy Story’s lack of female characters, I thought this was very interesting since […]

  4. […] Toy Story 3 is sexist? Natalie Wilson of the Ms Magazine blog thinks so. […]

  5. […] Jun Ms. blog writes about Toy Story’s lack of female characters, I thought this was very interesting since […]

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