Where Are the Women? Inside Out

Where Are the Women? Inside Out

That a young girl’s emotions are used to tell a story about universal human experience is something new, a paradigm-smashing win for female representation.

BASIC REPRESENTATION SCORE: +25

+25
Is there a female protagonist? [why this matters]

FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY SCORE: +19

+5
Is there a female character (either a protagonist or a supporting character with significant screen time) in a position of authority (politics, law, medicine, etc.)? [why this matters]
+10
Is there a female villain or antagonist? [why this matters]
+2
Is there a woman whose role could easily have been played by a man? [why this matters]
+2
More than one? [why this matters]

THE MALE GAZE SCORE: 0

[no issues]

GENDER/SEXUALITY SCORE: -5

-5
Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional or biological relationship with a child or children? [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: +39

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

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? Yes, two of seven credited (Meg LeFauve, Amy Poehler) (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: We see so many — so many! — movies about how tough is the transition is from boyhood to male adolescence to manhood. And almost none about girls at the same precarious ages. So for that alone, this movie is a paradigm-smashing win for female representation. But this movie is also so radically different in how it tells its story, is so devoid of the usual tropes and clichés, that it’s almost impossible to score using these criteria, which were developed to smack those tropes and clichés. That a young girl’s emotions are used to tell a story about universal human experience is something new and special.

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 Inside Out! 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 Inside Out.

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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Ken Patterson
Wed, Jul 29, 2015 9:43pm

I know it’s your own scoring system with a specific set of criteria (and I really don’t want to come across sounding like a bitter male in this, because I really enjoy reading these) but I just wonder if the father being primarily defined by his emotional or biological relationship with a child could counter the only negative score you have on this film.

I feel that the film treats both genders equally in this regard; in that the primary human POV is a child, so both parents will generally be defined by their relationship to a child. Could equal treatment of both genders in negative items counter the negative aspects of how the women are portrayed?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Ken Patterson
Wed, Jul 29, 2015 10:10pm

These criteria are meant to describe film on the whole. A male character being defined solely as a father is not a problem because men already have the widest possible representation across all films.

Remember: Where Are the Women isn’t really about any *individual* film. It’s about film on the whole, about the whole ecosystem.

The particular movie still has one of the best scores of any movie this year. It needs to be seen in that context.

SailorSerena
SailorSerena
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, May 08, 2021 1:57pm

These criteria are meant to describe film on the whole. A male character being defined solely as a father is not a problem because men already have the widest possible representation across all films.

Yeah, but in your full rating criteria, you add points for if a father is also missing from the story in addition to the mother. Maybe Riley’s mother being defined by her relationship to her daughter isn’t as bad when her father is also defined the same way? It could’ve at least been in the wildcard score section(of course, this is extremely late, but I thought I’d share my two-cents on it.). And there’s also three girls and two guys in the main cast(Riley’s emotions), rather than the usual two girls and three guys, which is a great change! The story was actually originally going to be about Joy and Fear(then called Freddie for some reason), but they changed it to Joy and Sadness, which I liked! Seems like they realized that female characters can lead a story on their own! But I still think your score was good for such an awesome, female-inspiring film!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  SailorSerena
Mon, May 10, 2021 11:40am

Yeah, but in your full rating criteria, you add points for if a father is also missing from the story in addition to the mother.

The two issues are not comparable.

There are innumerable examples of men onscreen defined primarily as fathers of protagonists, and they only add to the myriad emotional expression and representation men get in our culture. If we could say the same about women and motherhood, this wouldn’t be an issue at all.

Yet removing a mother from a story — while still using a mother’s influence and impact on a character as a motif — is problematic for multiple reasons, particularly in a pop culture environment that already erases women. This is one of the very few cultural spaces that our entertainment allows women to exist, and this particular woman isn’t allowed even here? No fucking way.

Also: I don’t add extra points for a dead father: a dead father merely balances out the negative of a mother who is also dead. So it’s all neutral, as I explained here.

Maybe Riley’s mother being defined by her relationship to her daughter isn’t as bad when her father is also defined the same way?

In the grand scheme of things, yes, it is as bad.

SailorSerena
SailorSerena
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, May 10, 2021 2:20pm

Okay, I understand. That’s why I hate it when people try to justify a protagonist(or any character really) being male because “bu-bu-but they show men that it is okay to be emotional!”. And, yes, it IS good to show men that it is okay to be emotional. And it IS good to have male protagonists who are emotionally intelligent. But…it’s also good to show female protagonists who are well-developed, good role models for girls and show them that it is okay to be whoever and whatever you want to be: girly or tomboyish, quiet or loud, strong or soft, outgoing or closed off, etc. And the narrow realm women are allowed to occupy in media doesn’t just stop at mothers, but extends to princesses, girlfriends, sisters, wives, daughters, anything that correlates to men in someway. So it’s even more of an erasure when women aren’t allowed to be present even in those spheres, and when it would make sense for them to be present. I do wish we could’ve seen more of both of Riley’s parents–but especially the mothers’ since the erasure of women, even as mothers, is especially big of a deal, as you said.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  SailorSerena
Sat, May 29, 2021 11:51am

And, yes, it IS good to show men that it is okay to be emotional.

Yup, it is. And tons of movies already do that. :-)