Women in the Animation Industry--Some Thoughts
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by Linda Simensky
In the animation industry, a professional association
called Women In Animation formed in 1993. Men in the business joked, "Where's
the Men In Animation group?," to which the women replied, "That's
what we call 'The Animation Industry.'"
Actually, there are a lot of women in animation, and their number has been
rising. I don't know that there are statistics that are readily available,
but since this is an opinion piece, my opinion is that there are more women
than ever working in animation.
What is unusual and noteworthy, though, is that there is not an even breakdown
of tasks between men and women. This is obvious to the naked eye of anyone
visiting an animation studio or network animation department. Just as an
entomologist can view the breakdown of gender roles in an ant colony, we
can analyze the animation industry the same way. The following are some
thoughts--not on the analysis itself--but on why we can analyze the industry
First, imagine you were attending a large party for members of the animation
industry. After a round of toasts to, say, Bob Clampett or Shamus Culhane,
everyone went off to the lavatories at the same time. The line into the
women's room would be comprised of a large number of network executives,
studio management types ranging from producers to production assistants,
color and background designers, and perhaps an occasional director. The
line into the men's room would include studio owners, business types, directors,
artists, show creators, designers, and a significant number of other animation
While this is more of an observation, it has already been established that
men and women gravitate to different parts of the industry. There are a
couple of theories that are often discussed to support this.
First, there is the history of the industry. While there have always been
women in the animation, historically the more important jobs have gone to
men. This is as much a function of the eras involved and of the history
of the business. When you consider that the entire animation industry has
been around for less than a century, and that for years women were systematically
relegated to such "lesser" jobs such as ink and paint, women have
actually done fairly well even getting into any positions in the industry
over the last 20 years.
It is also important to look at the motivations of people entering animation.
The artisans of the industry (more men than women) tend to enter by first
studying animation in school and then simply getting jobs in their chosen
field. Some women have taken that path as well, such as director Becky Bristow,
currently head of the California Institute of the Arts Character Animation
program, and Nancy Beiman, a supervising animator at Disney. But many women,
more often than not, tend to "end up" in the industry by one of
three different paths, all not all of which involve animation or even an
initial interest in the field.
The "different path" theory includes the following typical job
motivations. Some women are driven by an interest in children's television,
of which animation comprises a large bulk. These people could just as easily
end up in publishing or teaching, where many began their careers. Geraldine
Laybourne, formerly president of Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, and now President
of Disney/ABC Cable Networks, initially pursued a career in education and
entered the media industry with an active interest in children's television.
Others simply aspire to work in the entertainment industry, and have career
paths that take them through the animation industry as well as through live-action
television and film production.There are also other career paths that can
lead to animation, including the CD-ROM or CGI industries, as well as graphic
design and illustration. Oddly enough several translators of Japanese language
materials have gone on to careers as animation producers.
There are also those who aspire to work in animation but cannot animate.
I offer myself as an example of this. People taking this path, which ultimately
leads them to animation, often take the same paths noted above, but direct
themselves toward animation and are not as interested in the other areas.
What's So Funny About Cheese?
Whether or not there is a historical precedent for women in the animation
industry, there theoretically are no reasons for women not to be in it now.
Perhaps the question to ask is, "Why aren't women as interested in
animation as men are?" Maureen Furniss explored this in her article,
"What's So Funny About Cheese? And Other Dilemmas: The Nickelodeon
Television Network and Its (Female) Animation Producers," which can
be found in the Spring 1994 issue of Animation Journal. She took
a look at the animated shows on Nickelodeon, particularly Doug and
The Ren & Stimpy Show, which were created and developed by men,
and how the shows' staffs dealt with Nickelodeon's management, which was
primarily women. Furniss discussed the difference in men and women's taste
in what was funny, and how that shaped the animation they were doing. The
article also chronicles the problems and arguments women encountered when
opposing humor they saw as gross, inappropriate or obscure.
I think, though, to understand this difference in taste, we need to understand
why girls lose their interest in watching cartoons; this seems to occur
when many reach their early teens, as they become more interested in their
personal lives, in music and films, as well as showing that they are "older."
It's a time when cartoons are associated with their younger selves. I think
girls are also driven away by their difference in taste, which involves
less interest in watching slapstick, violence and the male-oriented topics
of most animated fare.
There is a slightly old and out of date theory that girls will watch shows
about boys, but boys will not watch shows where the main characters are
girls. I disagree, as it seems clear that everyone will watch a clever,
well-made show. Nevertheless, this theory, along with the feeling that girls
no longer watch cartoons after a certain age, and the need to sell toys,
has led to many of the animated programs being made specifically for boys.
And then the lack of interest in cartoons by women ultimately led to the
lack of women in the industry.
Many women who want to enter the animation industry tend either to avoid
the more violent sorts of programs, or are in network management where they
attempt to mollify the shows. Many, particularly those who wish to create
shows, have directed themselves more toward preschool programming or more
traditional Disney or Disney-influenced animation.
More Room For Self Expression
Another aspect of this is that women pursuing careers in the field seem
more interested than men in animation as an art form. Thus, it is not surprising
that the area of independent filmmaking seems to have more women than men;
after all, it is an area of animation which has more room for self-expression
and no real traditional hierarchy in which to fit.
It seems that as animation becomes more and more popular, a larger number
of potential workers and executives will migrate to animation from other
fields. This leaves us pondering how the animation industry will change
in the future, particularly with regard to women in the industry. Will more
women enter the industry, and will they shift over to the more male-dominated
jobs? Will the financial success of animated films and television shows
cause more workers to shift from live action to animation? Will more men
supplant women in key positions in children's television, at the networks
and at animation studios, as in the past?
It seems clear that as more programs are made that girls like as well as
boys, such as The Simpsons, Doug and Rugrats, there will be
more girls who will consider animation as a viable career option. However,
if the industry continues to concentrate on animation that will sell toys
to boys, the attraction may be less.
In the meantime, here is what I would like to see: Female show creators,
more female directors, and a funny cartoon with a female lead character.
After that, everything would be different.
Linda Simensky is Cartoon Network's Director of Programming.
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