I’ve got a funny job. For the last two weeks I’ve been doing nothing but drawing cartoon monsters. I’ve spent entire days with my feet up on my desk, pad and paper in my lap, doodling snail ladies and lizard rappers. For the longest time I had no idea where this was taking me. Maybe I was using the doodling as an excuse to avoid doing more productive work. But all these monsters will be going into the next Spokesmonster video, so I figure I haven’t been totally wasting my time.
I just did a tally of my completed monsters. I’m up to eighteen now. (Many of these are just drawings that will be flashed onscreen for a moment or two, but some of them have been broken down for limb movements and facial expressions.) Here’s the thing: I’d like there to be roughly as many girl monsters as there are boy monsters. But I’m already out of whack. I’ve got twelve boy monsters, only six girl monsters.
Why is it so much easier to come up with male characters than female characters? I’m not the only animator with this deficiency. Look at the old Disney or Warner Brothers cartoons. Disney had Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck, but they were stuck in minor supporting roles. Warner Brothers had Bugs Bunny in a dress – that’s about it. The Simpsons, Family Guy, and South Park all have girls in them, but I’d reckon there are ten male characters for every female one.
Why aren’t animators more interested in drawing female characters? Perhaps they’re limited by a sense of decorum. You needn’t have seen too many episodes of the Simpsons to summon up examples of Homer being dropped from great heights, having heavy weights dropped on him, or losing his pants. Those things just don’t happen to Marge or Lisa. If the definition of comedy is inflicting pain or physical humiliation on your characters, and if our culture is uncomfortable with seeing women brutalized in those ways, that’s a powerful disincentive to drawing female cartoons. Why use Daisy Duck if we can’t clunk her over the head for laffs? We’ll just use Donald instead.
But I wonder if the gender disparity doesn’t derive from something more fundamental. Look at the design of the male and female icons on bathroom doors. The male icon is a simple stick figure. The female icon is a stick figure with a dress. Boiled down to their most basic forms, the woman requires more lines to draw than the man.
I’ve noticed in my own drawing that it takes longer to design a female character than it does a male character. With a girl monster I have to worry about hips and boobs and hair and making sure the facial features look feminine – I don’t mean attractive, I just mean that you want your girl monster to actually look like a girl. The cheap way to do this is to give her lipstick and long eyelashes. Or you can be a bit more subtle in the shaping of the jaw and the placement of the eyes, so that makeup is unnecessary. Either way, it takes a little extra work. And I’m a fundamentally lazy guy.
With a boy monster, you just hack out your basic human figure and you’re done – it’s a boy.
For some reason, by default, cartoons come out male.
Why is this? Obviously, there’s a long and complicated history behind the iconography of maleness and femaleness, and much of that history occurred back when women weren’t in a position to complain about what the men were painting on bathroom doors. But those bathroom icons reflect something other than centuries of sexism. Maybe stick figures are assumed to be male for a reason: the basic male shape really is composed of simple straight lines, while the basic female shape is made up of more complicated curves. Maybe it’s not just sexism that skews my monsters male by a ratio of two to one, but physiology.
If my speculation is correct, the pro-male bias appears at the very earliest stage of the creative process – the stage where the cartoonist, chair leaned back, feet on desk, idly doodles on a scratchpad. If every doodle starts as a male, then of course the cartoonist will wind up with a gallery of male characters.
Maybe I’m making an assumption, though. When women doodle, do their doodles come out female?