Which is coded "male" and which is coded "female"? It sounds like a stupid question. It really isn't. The one we see as inherently masculine, and thus male, has no markers as such. "He" has no testicles. "He" has no hairstyle specific to men - the hairstyle on the figure we see as feminine is exactly the same. "He" is masculine for two reasons: the other figure is "clearly" feminine, and because male is the default gender. "He" needs no signifiers. Absent any, we assume the figure is male.
Simone de Beauvoir has written, "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." In that one line, there are a myriad of different readings. I've pondered many of them. But the figures above illustrate the interpretation I like best, that I see as best representing what my own take on the thing is. And that is this:
Gender is both real, and made.
Women learn how to be women from a young age. Men learn how to be men from a young age. But in the case of stick figures, books written in the singular before the implementation of "s/he", and medical studies, men (and boys) are the default.
There is nothing idiosyncratic about sexism, aside from the fact that it happens and is accepted. There are people who display their sexism idiosyncratically, like Keith Olbermann, who has engaged in sexist remarks when it comes to women he doesn't like or doesn't agree with. But sexism, from representation in films to representation in medical research to representation in government, is profoundly linked to certain historic - and systemic - elements. To deny the role sexism - unintended, unexamined, unrecognized sexism - plays in these areas is to deny the very truth of the matter. The truth of the matter is that men, mostly white and able-bodied and middle-class, are still generally in charge.
Look at Pixar's roster. Look at the people running Pixar: Steve Jobs, John Lassetter, Jim Morris.
Look at the writers: Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, Bob Peterson, Pete Doctor, John Lassetter.
There's nothing idiosyncratic about a bunch of men writing movies about men. It is seen as much more idiosyncratic for men to write about women, and strong women. Those men get asked questions like, "Why do you always write these strong female characters?"
Which is why describing sexism as idiosyncratic kind of misses the point about the big deal regarding sexism. It isn't that only Pixar's films don't do a good enough job representing women. It is that films don't do a good enough job representing women. I pick on Pixar for a couple of reasons:
1) I love Pixar films.
2) Pixar is a studio that consistently makes thoughtful, complex, daring films that are commercially viable.
3) Pixar is a children's film studio, and it is important to show children media with both girls and boys as the main protagonists.
It's important in other films as well. There is a line in America's Sweethearts,
I really want to play a character like the Terminator, you know, because I think the Hispanic people are crying out to see a deadly, destructive, killing machine that they can embrace as their own, you know, that they can relate to...Now I don't know if women necessarily need a female deadly killing machine. But there is a problem when, as Joss Whedon says, "all it takes is one Catwoman to set the cause back a decade."
That isn't an example of Pixar's "idiosyncratic" sexism. This is an industry-wide issue.
Look at the statistics compiled by Women & Hollywood:
2008And one of the reasons for this is direct discrimination, both historic and current. But part of it is the discouragement one receives when one doesn't see oneself reflected in a particular industry/job. I'm not saying this happens with every person; obviously, it doesn't. If it did, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would have never run for president, because no one who looked like them had won that job before. But I wonder about how many kids never even entertained the thought of becoming president. I know I didn't, and I can't say whether that is because I saw no one who looked like me on my presidential flashcards or because I honestly didn't think I, as an individual, had the ability to do so. I do know that my cousin - a tall, muscular, multiracial guy - wanted to be a kindergarden teacher. I do know the constant discouragement, both direct and oblique, eventually pushed him away from that path.
Only 6 of the top 50 grossing films (12 of the top 100 films) starred or were focused on women.
Women comprised 9% of all directors.
Women accounted for 12% of writers.
Women comprised 16% of all executive producers.
Women comprise only 23% of film critics at daily newspapers. (San Diego State)
In 2007, women only comprised 15% of all directors, executive producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 grossing films. (San Diego State)
In 2007, only 6% of the top 250 grossing films were directed by women. (San Diego State)
In 2007, only 5 of the top 50 films starred or were focused on women.
Of the 6,833 single speaking characters in the film nominated for best picture from 1977-2006 only 27.3% were females. (USC)
Women make up 27% of TV writers and 19% of film writers (WGAW)
In 2006, less than a dozen of the 307 films eligible for an Oscar were women driven (EW).
In 2006, only 3 movies in the top 50 starred or were focused on women. (EW)
I know that as much as everyone is an individual, we are also shaped by our experiences - by how those around us react. I know that there is a reason why women are better at chess when they are unaware their opponent is a guy. I know there is a reason why "white males got higher customer satisfaction ratings than women or people of color, whether they were doctors, university bookstore employees, or staffers at a golf course."
And I know that the reason Pixar is only a year younger than me and has yet to release a film with a female protagonist isn't idiosyncratic in the least. Instead, it is merely par for the course. Which is why it is sexism, and why sexism is dangerous.