Where Are the Women? Shaun the Sheep Movie

WATWshaunsheep

A couple of sheep in human-female drag are essential to the plot of this kids’ flick… whose central characters — human and farm animal alike — are all male.

BASIC REPRESENTATION SCORE: 0

[no significant representation of girls/women]

FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY SCORE: 0

[no significant representation of women in authority]

THE MALE GAZE SCORE: 0

[no issues]

GENDER/SEXUALITY SCORE: -25

-5
Is femininity used as a joke (ie, a man crossdressing for humorous intent) in passing? [why this matters]
-20
In a way essential to the movie? [why this matters]

WILDCARD SCORE: 0

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

No.

TOTAL SCORE: -25

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

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

BOTTOM LINE: As with so many children’s movies (same as grownups’ movies!), characters default to male most of the time. The two main human characters here — the Farmer and the Animal Control Officer — are male, and even among the animals, the sheep protagonist and the dog sidekick are both male. (Among the rest of the flock, one sheep is identifiable as female because she’s mother to a tiny sheep — hence equating femaleness with motherhood — and because she wears hair curlers on her head, which underscores that that femaleness may defined as “deviation from a neutral maleness.” The genders of the other sheep are not cued in any way, implying that gender doesn’t matter, unless that gender is “female.”)

The major issue with gender representation here is that a joke essential to the plot requires that the Animal Control Officer be romantically attracted to a couple of sheep dressed up like a human woman, which serves to make the Animal Control Officer look stupid (he’s the villain and is meant to be ridiculous) but which also renders signifiers of femaleness as ridiculous as well, in a way that simply is not applicable to the other sheep dressed up in non-female-coded human clothing. (Try to imagine a plot point revolving around a human woman being attracted to a couple of sheep dressed up in a business suit. As a joke, it doesn’t work, because there’s no perception of anything comic in a business suit, even worn inappropriately, the way there is in a flowered skirt and a handbag.)

I am almost tempted to deduct points because there’s no reason why the protagonist and titular character couldn’t have been female, except that the central character springs from a pun (“Shaun” taken as “shorn”) that makes it inevitable that the sheep hero be male. But I do wonder how much the fact that the joke works as a male name — hence creating a male protagonist — contributed to the premise ending up as a TV show in the first place!

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

Click here for the ranking of 2015’s Oscar-nominated films for female representation.

NOTE: This is not a “review” of Shaun the Sheep Movie! 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 Shaun the Sheep Movie.

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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LaSargenta
LaSargenta
Fri, Feb 06, 2015 3:30pm

Ewe. Oh, I mean Ewwwwwwwwe.

Uh, anyone involved with this movie know any real sheep? In real farming life, a flock is mostly female. Rams are potentially troublesome. Wethers are sometimes kept around, but it is an extra step so extra male lambs are often slaughtered young for meat.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  LaSargenta
Fri, Feb 06, 2015 6:54pm

But… but… but then the movie (and the TV show) would have to be all about female characters. And who would watch *that*?

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Feb 06, 2015 7:00pm

It’s fucking SHEEEEEEEEEEP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cute, clay-mation sheep. And Shawn/Shaun/Sean can also be a female name (at least in the US…I had two female classmates who were named that).

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  LaSargenta
Fri, Feb 06, 2015 8:13pm

A friend of mine went to Scotland. She said sometimes she couldn’t drive anyplace, because she had to wait for a giant flock of sheep to cross the road.

It worries me. People might start counting the sheep and fall asleep at the wheel.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Danielm80
Fri, Feb 06, 2015 8:17pm

Better to count fire engines or balloons.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pigcahytIH8

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Bluejay
Fri, Feb 06, 2015 9:46pm

It’s remarkable how distinctive Jim Henson’s voice sounds. When I watched his shows, growing up, I just thought, “That’s Ernie” or “That’s Kermit,” even after I’d seen him in interviews and other filmed appearances. Now, I instantly recognize the real person playing the character and start to miss him tremendously.

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  Danielm80
Fri, Feb 06, 2015 9:30pm

Better than a flock of giant sheep.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  LaSargenta
Sat, Feb 07, 2015 11:35am

Remember that movie *Barnyard* from a few years back? The one with male cows with udders?

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Feb 07, 2015 1:44pm

No. Now I know about it. I am not better off for that knowledge.

Sheesh.

NorthernStar
NorthernStar
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 12:21pm

Are they male sheep?!

Shaun, yes probably, Timmy (the baby sheep) certainly, but the others? I don’t recall any gender ever being made explicit in the film or on the series, with the exception of Timmy’s mother.

I enjoy the Where are the Women? posts but this one seems a bit…unnecessary?…uncomfortable, at least.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  NorthernStar
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 12:43pm

MaryAnn discussed that issue at length:

BOTTOM LINE: As with so many children’s movies (same as grownups’ movies!), characters default to male most of the time. The two main human characters here — the Farmer and the Animal Control Officer — are male, and even among the animals, the sheep protagonist and the dog sidekick are both male. (Among the rest of the flock, one sheep is identifiable as female because she’s mother to a tiny sheep — hence equating femaleness with motherhood — and because she wears hair curlers on her head, which underscores that that femaleness may defined as “deviation from a neutral maleness.” The genders of the other sheep are not cued in any way, implying that gender doesn’t matter, unless that gender is “female.”)

Even if you want to argue that most of the sheep in the flock are actually female, they don’t speak or contribute much to the plot. They’re so anonymous that it’s impossible to figure out their gender. That’s hardly a step forward when it comes to the representation of women in movies.

NorthernStar
NorthernStar
reply to  Danielm80
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 2:29pm

The “3 rollers” is a Hilda Ogden homage and I wouldn’t expect MaryAnn to catch that (unless she’s a closet classic Coronation Street fan) not a glaring This Is The Female Sheep statement.

No one “speaks” in the film and while the flock doesn’t really help the plot along, (well, perhaps in the “prison escape” sequence which I won’t spoil) but they show loyalty, courage and friendship by following Shaun to the Big City.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  NorthernStar
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 8:12pm

Female characters supporting men — and doing little else — is part of the overall problem of the poor representation of women in film.

E.
E.
reply to  Danielm80
Sun, Aug 23, 2015 5:17pm

Yeah but in the show they are often shown as being female. Timmy and shaun are the only male sheep. The big sheep’s name is Shirley even. The movie doesn’t show that they are female because the tv show does.
I guess if you wanna complain that the leads(Shaun, Bitzel and the farmer) are male than ok…i guess they could have easily made any of them female.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  E.
Sun, Aug 23, 2015 9:03pm

Yes, they could have.

This rating is for what is onscreen in the movie, not the TV show.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  NorthernStar
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 2:07pm

It’s vitally necessary. The neutrality of maleness and the Otherness of femaleness is something kids are learning from a very young age. Pointing this out when it comes to kids’ movies is *essential.*

NorthernStar
NorthernStar
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 3:02pm

Yes, but sometimes, as I think it does here, that reverts to the viewer, who is *seeing* maleness where none is stated and is not pleased to see any female characteristics and that is not a fault of the film.

I’m uncomfortable that that weakens the whole premise when it’s applied to things like Shaun the Sheep.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  NorthernStar
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 4:06pm

The main characters are all male. The only distinctly female character is a stereotype, even if she’s also an “homage.” Background characters who might possibly be female, if you look carefully enough, don’t really improve the situation.

When we reach a point where hundreds of films are released each year that have four women in major roles, and just one man in the main cast, this sort of thing might not be a problem, but we’re nowhere near that kind of balance.

NorthernStar
NorthernStar
reply to  Danielm80
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 6:26pm

The main characters are not “all male.” They mainly consist of sheep of indiscrimate gender. I personally do not know any sheep mother’s so I cannot possibly comment on her being a “stereotype” :)

I am not arguing against the “where are the women” test (as stated I enjoy them) and I am not saying there is not a need for one (God is there ever a need for one) but applying it here does the test little favours.

NorthernStar
NorthernStar
reply to  NorthernStar
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 6:28pm

indeterminate… flipping autocorrect…

RogerBW
RogerBW
reply to  NorthernStar
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 6:32pm

But that’s just the problem: there are sheep of indeterminate gender, and there’s the Female Sheep.

NorthernStar
NorthernStar
reply to  RogerBW
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 8:07pm

No, it really isn’t. But it illustrates the tests uselessness in this context. The lack of “female Otherness” of the other sheep means the *viewer* not the film imposes maleness or gender neutrality upon them. So having one identifably female character seen as bad.
Conversely, if all the sheep bar(!) Shaun and Timmy wore bows or whatever, advertising their female otherness (because the only other way is anatomically and no…) then that too would be bad because you shouldn’t *have* to make a sheep obviously female for it not to be male.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  NorthernStar
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 8:31pm

No, you shouldn’t. But that’s how cartoons generally work.

But never mind the sheep of indeterminate gender. We are still left with Shaun, Bitzer, and Farmer, and the Animal Control Officer. All of whom are male. *That* is the major issue with this movie when it comes to female representation.

RQL
RQL
reply to  NorthernStar
Thu, Feb 12, 2015 7:49pm

I think you are absolutely wrong. SHEEPS AND COWS (about Backyard film) IN REAL LIFE ARE ALWAYS FEMALE, sheeps in indiscriminated gender? it sound like a think I read about the Backyard movie “cows of male gender”. It doesn’t exist. Their male equivalent are rams and bulls. If the series name were Shaun the lamb or Shaun the ram or Shauna the sheep, then there will not be any problem but in here, even if it is not the intention, they are erasing females in a context that is always female. Imagine the series were named “John the hen”, you may think “?? but… the hens are female ALWAYS”.

What happen then? is simple, when you think into drawing a character it is always male if it is not pink or has great eyelashes, think “Oh, I can draw a sheep (the normal) and then a female sheep and a child sheep and grandma and grandpa sheeps” No! you can’t! because you can’t draw a woman, then a female woman… to have the complete family.
The way to female visibility is not neutral characters of “indiscriminated gender” it is simply to normalize female characters. I think it is what this post is about.

Of course, we still enjoy watching Shaun the sheep, and all of that but at last these post should be make us think

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  NorthernStar
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 8:29pm

A “mother” *is* a stereotype, when she is present to be *only* a mother to another character (as if the case here).

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  NorthernStar
Sun, Feb 08, 2015 8:14pm

I am making no assumptions whatsoever in stating that the two main animal characters and the two main human characters are male. This is a characteristic of the film that it shares with most entertainment aimed at children.

If you want to be uncomfortable with something, why not be uncomfortable with that?

Rizz
Rizz
reply to  NorthernStar
Wed, Feb 25, 2015 5:09pm

Shaun is male. There’s an episode where Shaun gets a girlfriend, also in Wallace & Gromit, Wallace says “Let’s call him Shaun”. Timmy as the name suggests male.

The rest of the flock are female, there’s an episode where a full grown ram visits the farm, it involves the entire flock except Shaun and Timmy swooning over the ram.

Nicolas Gardner
Nicolas Gardner
Thu, Jun 11, 2015 3:16am

The one with curlers is “Timmy’s mom”, (Timmy is the lamb), and Shaun’s aunt. So I assume that means it’s a female. The largest sheep is named Shirley, and I have never met a man named Shirley but who knows.

David C-D
David C-D
reply to  Nicolas Gardner
Thu, Jun 11, 2015 6:07pm

I think in recent generations it hasn’t much been used for men.

I had assumed that adult male sheep were normally recognizable by the horns. Apparently, that is true only for some species. For a kids show, though, I would still assume that this holds true, which would make Shaun and Timmy the only males.

Elisabeth Cernadas
Elisabeth Cernadas
Mon, Aug 10, 2015 8:42pm

Slip, the little brown stray dog who helps rescue the sheep is a girl! A big hero and friend in the movie.
comment image

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Elisabeth Cernadas
Tue, Aug 11, 2015 8:46am

And supporter of male protagonists! It’s been months since I saw the film, but she might qualify as a “perfect awesome girl who is present only to support a male protagonists.” Perhaps I didn’t deduct extra points for this because she’s not only screen long enough. (I can’t recall the details at this stage.)

Ashley
Ashley
Tue, Aug 11, 2015 12:11am

Just an FYI, the sheep with the curlers on her head, is in fact a female sheep. She is Timmy’s mother. (Timmy is the baby.) Shaun The Sheep was a TV Show years before this movie came out. Do your research before you go and bash a great movie.

Ashley
Ashley
reply to  Ashley
Tue, Aug 11, 2015 12:12am

Also, the fat sheep is named Shirley. So…again, research people.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Ashley
Tue, Aug 11, 2015 8:48am

If you read the other comments here, you’ll see that your objections have already been addressed.

So… read, people.

Robert
Robert
Sun, Apr 17, 2016 10:04pm

Watch the episode “Foxy Laddie” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lt5mWSRbRJQ and by the way the three sheep in that picture are all girls.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Robert
Wed, Apr 20, 2016 9:52am

Watch the episode “Foxy Laddie”

I am not reviewing the TV show.

the three sheep in that picture are all girls

And what does that have to do with my analysis of the movie’s gender representation?