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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women? The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water


Cartoons can be tricky to rate for gender representation… but it’s clear here that the only two female characters fill only limited supporting roles.


Is there a female character with significant screen time who grows, changes, and/or learns something over the course of the story? (for an ensemble cast, or a film with a male protagonist) [why this matters]

Is there a woman who is mostly pretty awesome and perfect who is present to support a man improving himself? [why this matters]


Is there a woman who is kidnapped (either onscreen or off) whose kidnap motivates a male protagonist? [why this matters]


[no issues]


[no issues]


Is there anything either positive or negative in the film’s representation of women not already accounted for here? (points will vary)

A computer with a female voice is known as the “wife” of one male character… as if the only proper relationship between a man and a useful helpmeet is a spousal one. (There’s more of a joke to the terminology: “W.I.F.E. stands for “Wired Integratred Female Electroencephlagraph,” though this is not mentioned in the film. But it doesn’t change the impact of the labeling of this character.)


IS THE FILM’S DIRECTOR FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: Cartoons are sometimes tricky to rate for gender representation… but it’s pretty clear here that there are only two characters with any significant screen time who are coded as female (in this case, voiced by female actors). And while they may not be human — one is a squirrel (who sometimes wears a flower, also signalling femaleness) and one is a computer called “W.I.F.E.” — they are slotted into roles that have become traditional for women that are limited to supporting coded-male characters: the token girl on a team of boys, and the dutiful wife/kidnap victim to be rescued.

Click here for the ongoing ranking of 2015’s films for female representation.

NOTE: This is not a “review” of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water! It is simply an examination of how well or how poorly it represents women. (A movie that represents women well can still be a terrible film; a movie that represents women poorly can still be a great film.) Read my review of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.

See the full rating criteria. (Criteria that do not apply to this film have been deleted in this rating for maximum readability.)

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posted in:
where are the women
  • Dorothy Thomas

    I love SpongeBob and I’m embarrassed to say I’m a fan. I am a “slightly older” demographic, but I hadn’t given much thought to female characters in this great little film. All I know is that I laughed out loud at the silly humor and I left the theater chuckling to myself. Maybe their next film can feature bigger roles for Mrs. Puff or Sandy Cheeks. In my book, any film that makes me smile and feel better is a winner, whether there are female characters in it or not.

  • I love SpongeBob too.

    And the problem isn’t that one silly movie doesn’t feature any female characters. It’s that the vast majority of movies don’t.

  • althea

    You’re missing the point of MaryAnn’s program here. As clearly stated, this was not a review of the movie. She is trying to convey the subtleties of the movie industry’s (mostly unconscious) bias toward women – which is a reflection of society’s bias toward women, which is the reason you are probably unable to get paid the same as a man for the same work. This movie may be just wonderful – that’s what reviews are for – but if it helps to reinforce that bias by using the familiar tropes about women, then it gets this rating based on the criteria that MaryAnn has laid out. If you enjoyed it, fine. But if you want to see change in this society that helps raise gender equality and respect for women, consider the movies that earn a higher grade in MaryAnn’s “Where Are the Women?” scores.

  • Dorothy Thomas

    Well, excuse me for not having a Ph.D in Women in Motion Pictures. I was merely making a comment about a film. Apparently, I don’t qualify as a scholar because this website takes itself too seriously. I have been around long enough to know what a struggle it has been for women. Hell, I have been discriminated against, sexually harassed, and paid less than my counterparts. Since I apparently don’t get the “rating based on criteria” that this website is seeking, I will not bother you with my light and fluffy rhetoric.

  • Danielm80

    Lots of folks here love SpongeBob, including MaryAnn. No one here is trying to take the fun out of the movie. She may even give it a glowing review, when she has a chance to write a review.

    But MaryAnn is also doing research about the way women are portrayed in movies. It’s a scholarly project, of sorts, but some of us think it’s important. If you don’t want to read through a whole collection of data–if you just want to enjoy the movie–I can certainly understand that. Not everyone wants to enter into a sociopolitical discussion about a cartoon character. But it almost sounds as though you’re saying, “I don’t care about these issues, so no one else should, either.”

    I’m guessing that you do care about those issues, possibly a great deal, since you’ve been discriminated against, sexually harassed, and underpaid. You may have other ways of working toward social change, ones that don’t involve charts and statistics. And if you just want to enjoy the movie, that’s great, too. But that shouldn’t stop people like MaryAnn from looking at the bigger picture. When she wants a break from her research, she may even watch a cartoon that makes her smile.

  • Trolllolol

    On the beach looking nice like they should be lol….

  • PeopleOppressNotJustMen

    “Why this matters…”
    It doesn’t. This is just more overreaching from modern day Western feminism because it no longer has any real issues to address. What a waste of somebody’s kickstarter. The characters in this cartoon, and especially in this particular movie, are practically androgynous. There’s nothing to analyze in this context. For the love of reason and sanity, please grow up, modern feminism. It was never just men that oppressed, but psychopaths of both genders and all races. Once you get past your revisionist versions of history and actually maybe pay more attention to evolutionary biology than women’s studies, you might actually come to the point of grasping the extreme nature of your ideological error.
    Not enough women represented in films? Really? It’s like you’ve missed the entire last fifty years of film. I see them everywhere. When you base an ideology out of criticizing one gender (which is, by the way, just a reverse form of the sexism you purport to fight) you naturally run out of valid issues to criticize and start having to make things up. You’re no better than the men of olden days who thought women shouldn’t vote or hold positions of power because they were too emotional. Modern Feminism is just female chauvinism.
    You have all the opportunity a man does, and more when it comes to child custody and being a part of your children’s life, a fact of which I and many others are personally and all too painfully aware. Please stop misleading people.
    To re-emphasize: there is no point to miss in this article, because no valid point was ever made. God, but I was just looking up movie times for my kids, and I see this crap! The very height of absurdity!

  • bronxbee

    i would think you would have instantly realized that this was not that type of site, and not have wasted your *obviously* precious time and the few brain cells not affected by testosterone in overdrive, by not only reading the article but responding at wandering and bitter length.

  • when it comes to child custody

    *ding ding ding* MRA bell tolling!

  • There are men who are absolutely terrified at the prospect of losing their privilege, and having to compete on a genuinely level playing field with women. And they should be. Because some of them will not be able to compete.

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