Why Won't Boys Won't Watch Movies About Girls?

Getting over-excited about all the fab comments on my last post re: why bringing up  Jessie in Toy Story is not an adequate comeback for "why hasn't  Pixar made any movies about women?" Thank you guys for such a wonderful conversation. One commenter (in fact the one who inspired the post--so double thank you!) asked about the idea that boys won't watch movies about girls. And added it's not like 5 year old boys are taking themselves to the movies (though they do have OPINIONS, believe me). But yes, conventional Hollywood wisdom is that boys won't watch girl protagonists. And every time a movie about a woman or girl fails or under-performs at the box office that is reinforcement. While if a movie about a woman succeeds it tends to be regarded as a fluke. Going  to movies with female leads becomes a sort of political statement--hence the hubbub around the first Sex & the City movie as well as about the current film, Bridesmaids.


In CAMD I talk about how that boys-won't-watch girls was disproved on TV by Nickelodeon, first with "Clarissa Explains it All" and later with "The Amanda Show" and iCarly. I'm not endorsing those shows, I'm just saying. They have had a fairly equal number of male and female viewers. So when left to their own devices at home on TV, boys apparently WILL watch girls.

And yet. Hollywood retains this belief, this core tenet. And for good reason, I guess.Take Bridesmaids which its first weekend in release made $26.2 million in 2,918 theaters--an average of $8,995 per screen.


Meanwhile, Hangover 2 made $85.9 million its first weekend on 3,615 screens--an average of $23,775 per screen.

Sigh. (Though congratulations to fellow Oberlin alum Ed Helms!)

Not that it's entirely Hollywood's fault. We condition boys from the earliest ages AGAINST seeing female experience as equally universal or relevant to them as males'. Even when we're well-intentioned. Years ago, I was asked to write a  jacket quote for a book for parents that listed children's books with strong, adventurous complex female protagonists for girls. It was a fine compendium, but I hesitated to endorse it. Why should  great books about female characters be only for GIRLS? Shouldn't we be encouraging boys from an early age to read books with female protagonists too? Didn't this just add to the idea that male experience is universal but female experience is specific?

We teach our boys from the earliest ages that anything associated with the feminine is not for them and even "bad." Hello homophobia, misogyny etc etc. I mean, remember the insanity around that J. Crew catalog with the photo of the boy in pink nail polish? Puh-leeze!

In CAMD I cite the work of Isabelle Cherney who found that nearly half of boys ages 5-13 when ushered into a room and told they could play with anything chose "girl" toys as often as "boys" toys--provided they believed no one would find out. Particularly their fathers. The youngest boys said said their daddies would think it was "bad" if they played with "girls'" toys, even something as innocuous as miniature dishes. Boys were also more likelty to sort playthings based on how they perceived gender roles (such as "Dad uses tools, so hammers are for boys"), whereas girls figured that if they themselves enjoyed a toy--any toy--it was, ipso facto, for girls.

I take heart in thinking about a birthday party Daisy attended a few months back. The host was a boy, as were all the other guests aside from her. For an hour or so, they ran around the birthday boy's yard, shooting one another with nerf guns. Then they all jumped in the family van and headed off to see....Tangled. Maybe there is hope after all.