The Transformation of Heroines in Mainstream Media

For my Design Discourse 2 Module I have been asked to write an article looking into an area of animation which was studied in this term. I have chosen to write an article examining the archetype of the heroine in animation and how the traits of the heroine have developed and changed to appeal to a gender politicized audience in mainstream animation of the 21st Century.

In order to write the best possible analysis of the heroine I need to put socio-political context in place. The timeline of women’s roles in society has been characterised by the subjugation  of women and the articulation of feminist demands for equal access and opportunity to the workplace. Starting from the emancipation of women in terms of the vote (Emmeline Pankhurst etc), through the displacement of working women in the post-war period, to “The Female Eunuch” (Germaine Greer), the struggle has been reflected in reactionary politics set in a patriarchal context. Male supremacism was maintained through the status quo, but as feminism and feminist politics began to make an impact in society, the path towards equality, opportunity and social recognition was slowly forged in.

The contrast between societies where women are chattels and the property of men and more developed societies was not as evident of dramatic as it is today. Less than a century ago women were defined as being best, “barefoot, pregnant and down on the farm.” Though this attitude can still be found among some, it is no longer respectable to articulate it. However the struggle for women’s rights is far from won.

It is in this context that we must view the development of the modern animated heroine. She is still waging a war for recognition, equality and access in a traditionally male dominated world.

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Heroine archetypes and how they have influenced the female stereotypes of animation

This is the final proposal for how I intend to write my article and the detail of what I intend to write about.

Research Question: How are female characters in modern animation breaking with the original archetypes of characters from the 20th Century and what effect is this having on the character stereotypes seen in animation made in the past decade?

Within this article I will analyse the character archetypes set out in ‘The Writers’ Journey’ and how these have been used through out animation. I shall write about why gender stereotyping is a problem, especially when it comes to the roles of female characters and heroines. I will also examine how, in animations made in the last decade, these ideas are changing and some of the stereotypes previously associated with female characters and heroines are now being broken. Comparing and contrasting Disney’s Princesses with the modern female characters being presented in today’s mainstream animation industry will be relevant.

There are several areas, which I know will be important to my topic. I will research and examine the types of female character presented in animation and how the ‘Independent Heroine’ developed in cinema. The essay will research female characters, who have broken with stereotype, in order to explore how the portrayal of female gender has developed in mainstream animation during the last decade.

The two films I consider most important to this article are Brave and The Croods. These films have Heroines who break with some of the stereotypes previously circulated in mainstream animation. In order to support my analysis of the Heroines in these films I will also look briefly at how Western animations from the 20th Century usually do not have female characters who influence the story so heavily, I will make reference back to the passive princesses of Disney here.

In order to make my analysis as well rounded as possible I will also make brief reference to other films, which have female characters of different ages break with the roles apparently assigned to their gender. Important films to consider when doing this are Shrek, Les Triplettes de Belleville and Princess Mononoke.

In this article I would like to look at the idea of the Female Heroine and how certain stereotypes have become associated with this character. There are certain ‘thoughts’ that come to mind when creating a heroine. If she relies on strength in battle her appearance often becomes Amazonian featuring more prominent muscles and stature, but losing some of her femininity. On the other side of this if a heroine retains a more delicate appearance she tends to have some skill or ‘power’ which helps her overcome obstacles opposing her but this type of character would also lose her independence and often be paired with a male partner who would take on a ‘Warrior’ role. In more modern animation they have begun creating a better balance between these features so that female characters become stronger and more independent while breaking with the stereotypes and creating more realistic heroines, which an audience can relate to.

The two main heroines I am examining in this article are ‘Eep’ from ‘The Croods’ and ‘Merida’ from ‘Brave’. This is because they both exemplify and reject the characteristics of the ‘Heroine Stereotype’ I outlined earlier. Eep takes on some of the Amazonian characteristics in that she is muscular and uses her strength to acquire what she wants but she is in many ways an incredibly feminine character who displays a sweetness and tendency towards emotional vulnerability when it comes to her love interest. Merida however while being the more delicate in appearance of these two characters and taking on the stereotype of having a skill rather than strength is considered to be unfeminine as a character as she does not exhibit any of the usual traits associated with ‘Princess’ characters. Merida is also vastly more independent than many of the other Disney Princesses with perhaps the exceptions of, Mulan, Pocahontas and Tiana. All of whom show a strength in themselves which is somewhat lacking in other princesses.

Refining my Idea For my Article

Title: Character Archetypes and how They Have Influenced the Female Stereotypes of Animation

Research Question: How are more female characters in modern animation breaking with the original archetypes set out in the writers Journey and what effect is this having on the character stereotypes usually seen in animation?

Within this article I would like to examine the character archetypes set out in ‘The Writers Journey’ and how these archetypes have been used through out animation. I would like to write about why stereotyping has become a huge problem with these character archetypes. I would also like to look at how in Animations made in the last decade these ideas are changing and some of the stereotypes previously associated with some character archetypes are now being broken.

In this article I would like to look at the idea of the Female Heroine and how certain stereotypes have become associated with this type of character. There are certain ‘thoughts’ that come to mind when creating a Heroine. If she relies on strength in battle her appearance can often become Amazonian featuring more prominent muscles and stature, but loses some of her femininity. On the other side of this stereotyping of a Heroine if she retains a more delicate appearance she tends to have some skill or ‘power’ which helps her overcome any obstacles opposing her in her quest but this type of character would also lose her independence and often be paired with a male partner who would take on a ‘Warrior’ role. In more modern animation they have begun creating a better balance between these features so that female characters become stronger more independent while breaking with the stereotypes and creating more realistic Heroines which an audience can relate to.

The two main Heroines I would like to look at in this article are ‘Eep’ from ‘The Croods’ and ‘Merida’ from ‘Brave’. This is because they both exemplify and reject the characteristics of the ‘Heroine Stereotype’ I outlined earlier. Eep takes on some of the ‘Amazonian’ characteristics in that she is muscular and uses her strength to acquire what she wants but she is in many ways an incredibly feminine character who displays a sweetness and tendency towards emotional vulnerability when it comes to her love interest. Merida however while being the more delicate in appearance of these two characters and taking on the stereotype of having a skill rather than brute strength is considered to be unfeminine as a character as she does not exhibit any of the usual traits associated with a ‘Princess’ character.

An Idea for my Essay

Title: Gender Stereotyping and Heteronormativity in Animation

Research Question: Why are specific genders and sexualities associated with certain character archetypes and will the modern animation industry be able to break these associations?

Within this article I would like to examine the character archetypes set out in ‘The Writers Journey’ and how these archetypes have been used through out animation. I would like to write about why gender stereotyping has become a huge problem with these character archetypes as well as why Heterosexual relationships are presented as the only option in many animations. I would also like to look at how in Animations made in the last decade these ideas are changing and some of the stereotypes previously associated with some character archetypes are now being broken.

A few examples of specific areas I would like to look into are;
1. The Passive Princesses and Nameless Princes of Disney

2. How in some animations if a characters sexuality deviates from Heterosexuality it is often used as a joke or only alluded to rather than fully made an example of (See How to Train your Dragon 2 and Paranorman)

3. I would also like to look at the idea of the Female Heroine and how certain Directors and Studios (Ghibli) Have often had strong female characters in the past and how it is only in more recent animations that other studios (Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks) Have begun creating stronger more independent female characters.

Some of the films I would like to examine are;
1. Paranorman
paranorman-13645-1920x1200
2. Brave
brave_4-t2
3. How to train your dragon
how-to-train-your-dragon-2-clip-black-sheep
4. The Croods
the-croods07
5. Nausicaa of The Valley of The Wind
Nausicaa-nausicaa-of-the-valley-of-the-wind-33424551-3390-1920
6. Princess Mononoke
San_and_Moro

I believe these films have good examples of strong female characters (Astrid, Eep, Mononoke) and characters where their sexuality does not follow the normal Heterosexual pattern as in many other animations. I am also going to use, ‘The Writers Journey’ to examine character the roles of characters throughout this essay.

In this article I would like to begin by writing an analysis of which character archetypes apply to each of the main characters in the animations I have chosen. I would also like to make reference to how many of the female characters in these films are complete opposites of some of Disney’s Classic Princesses. I would also like to look at how the sexuality of some characters is left ambiguous or even outright stated as being homosexual, this also includes looking at the potential for Merida from Brave to be an asexual character. I am going to write an analysis of why in many Ghibli movies female characters were given more power and influence and are aligned with Nature. While male characters are aligned with Human influence and have less impact over the plot than their female counterparts. Whereas in many Western animations plot was mainly driven by the influence of a male character while a female character had action happen passively around her. To conclude my article I would like to explain how more animations in order to become relevant to a modern audience are now breaking with most stereotypes particularly when it comes to gender and sexuality.

Animating Realities

It is becoming more popular as animation techniques become more sophisticated to create animated documentaries.

This is interesting as animations have more fantasy, caricature, stylisation, abstraction, exaggeration and  transformation. Where as in documentary the audience usually sees truth, seriousness, evidence and as much as possible an objective point of view. This brings forwards the point about what documentaries should and shouldn’t contain and whether it is even possible to have an ‘animated documentary.’ Documentary itself can be seen in many different ways. John Grierson see it as,
“the creative treatment of actuality”
(Grierson, 1993:8)
While others like Bill Nichols see documentaries as addressing,
“the world in which we live rather than a world imagined by the filmmaker”
(Nichols, 2001:xi)
These two help us think of animation as a viable means of documentary expression it can be used as a creative way of treating actuality. Animation can also be used to substitute for any missing material the documentarist might need. An example of this would be The Sinking of the Lusitania. Animated documentaries began appearing more frequently after this and by the end of the Twentieth Century, animated documentary was firmly established. Animated documentaries are now an increasingly commonplace sub-form of documentary being included in animation and documentary festivals without question.
Animated documentaries are quite popular because they can do what live action cannot which to to recreate events that cannot be seen. This could be seen as Mimetic substitution in which animation illustrates something that would be very hard, or impossible, to show with live-action. The best way in which this can be seen is to watch any documentary about dinosaurs as all the creatures seen would have to be created digitally.
In this way we can see how the animated documentary is a real option when it comes to communicating facts to an audience.

Essay Ideas and Requirements

Individual students will produce a 2,500-3,000-word essay, which will explore one (or more) of the issues covered during the module programme.

Essay requirements.
Proposing a question.

  1. The Topic
  2. The Research Question
  3. Importance to the field of your research
  4. The outline for the essay
  5. Bibliography

Use books and journals rather than the web.
Use the Harvard scale for Bibliography.
Keep essay clean and presentable.

What interests you?
Themes
Hot topics
Popular research themes in journals
Styles/genres/national animation
Categories of animation

These were a few ideas which I thought might be interesting to expand upon in an essay:

1. How narrative changes between films from different cultures. Particularly in conveying the folklore and local stories of the area.

A-Cat-in-Paris2 – A Cat In Paris
tripletsofbelleville – The Triplets of Belleville
The Illusionist – The Illusionist

2. How culture affects the narrative and style of an animation.
CHICKEN RUN – Chicken Run
Wallace and Gromit - Tea – Wallace and Gromit

3. Examine how different directors examine ‘Stories and Legends’ from a different cultural point of view. ‘American Mulan’ v ‘Chinese Mulan’
0023ae9bcf230c9966d212 – A traditional concept of Mulan
mulan_ks20 – Disney’s Mulan

4. African fairytales and style vs European fairytales and style.
The Tale of How  – The Tale of How
The Tale of How 2 – The Tale of How
Kirikou-and-the-Sorceress-5 – Kirikou and The Sorceress
5. Western and Asian animation what changes what remains the same and how the narrative is used.
tumblr_mbi20sN4cl1qzfr0xo1_500  – Spirited Away
a musical-tea-party – Disney’s Alice in Wonderland
6.Why the animations of different cultures take on certain styles. The iconography, imagery and narrative of different cultures.
7. Genders in Fairytales of different cultures, ‘The passive Princess’ of European tales, ‘The trickster Hero’ of African tales and ‘The Humble Hero’ of Asian tales.
disney-princess_49733_10 – Disney’s Snow White
8. How Gods, Goddesses and Deities are presented in different animation and cultures (See: Sita Sings the Blues, Hercules, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro, Waking Life, The Secret of the Kells) Dealing with hugely powerful spiritual beings in animation, not always Gods.
sitasingstheblues3 Sita sings the blues 06.RamHanuSitaRainReflect ShadowPuppets01 – Sita Sings the Blues
TheSecretofKells3 – The Secret of the Kells
9. Character Archetypes: How are these translated over different cultures, what changes? What remains the same? Why do some things change, what areas of a characters personality relate best to different cultures.
10. How have Fairytales become more culturally appropriate in animation due to the global audience?
11. How two Directors tell the same story. (Pocahontas and Nausicaa, Two cultures clash how is nature affected)
Nausicaaposter – Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind
5040-jpg (1) – Disney’s Pochahontas
12. The art style of different areas affecting the animation produced in those areas.Bebe's Kids – Bebe’s Kids