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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

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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