For anyone interested in equity in gender representation in the film industry, Melissa Silverstein at Indiewire recently posted some depressing infographics regarding the number of both independent[i] and mainstream[ii] motion pictures directed by women. According to the graphics, only 10% of indie films have been directed by women in the past 5 years, and representation in mainstream Hollywood are even worse – only 4.7% of feature films released between 2009-2013 were directed by women. Interestingly, Walt Disney Studios is an outlier, with 7.4% of their 54 films released during this period directed by women. This suggests that the animation industry might currently be friendlier to women-led projects than it historically has been.[iii]

Considering the small success in this area, why maintain an ongoing focus on gender in media, or animation in particular? As the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media’s[iv] revealing study notes, gender still matters, perhaps now more than ever, particularly in a cultural moment of organized hostility to women in media, as the widely-publicized #GamerGate online conflict demonstrates. The Institute’s 2010 study on gender roles and representation in family films points out a 10.4% increase in the positive representation of female characters when the film has been written and/or directed by one or more women.[v] Accordingly, they suggest that a “steady diet” of engaging with media that minimizes the presence or value of female characters “may send the message that girls are less valuable or capable than boys” and works to normalize both negative gender stereotyping and the reduced presence of female characters in media in general.[vi] Their findings are particularly meaningful as a means by which to gauge how damaging gender imbalance and stereotyping can be, and points to the need to develop additional ways to combat sexism in media content as well as in media production conditions.

For instance, with many animation programs being rightfully proud of gender parity in enrolment, it seems like we have come a long way since Walt Disney redirected qualified and talented female animators to the Ink and Paint Department, but have we? It’s difficult to quantify how many recent female graduates of these prestigious programs in fact enter the workforce in their field – many institutions my not gather specific statistical data about who exactly is placed in what positions in production departments; that is, out of an 80% placement rate (for example), how many female students actually end up as animators? How many work in production management? Similarly, when accounting for attrition rates, are schools tracking this information by gender? Does gender parity carry through to program completion?

Is achieving parity in enrolment enough, when the industry itself is often hostile to female animators, or game developers? As Alison Reiko Loader emphasizes, misogyny and marginalization are often embedded into the curriculum, and many instructors may not take advantage of the opportunity to use implicitly stereotypical gender representations as a way to generate productive and critical discussions on why such depictions are problematic, or no longer of value, despite the value of the technical portions of the text.[vii]

With this in mind, here are a series of questions that animation professionals at every level may be interested in asking themselves to ensure an inclusive and welcoming educational or employment environment:

For Administrators and/or Departments

  • What are the parity levels of your senior administrators, chairs, Deans in your Faculty, Department or Program?
  • Are you tracking graduate placement or attrition by gender?
  • In departmental meetings, does everyone contribute equally, or are younger or female faculty members frequently ignored or talked-over?
  • Is there a proper procedure for dealing with overt or less-obvious instances of discrimination? Are students’ concerns taken seriously?

For Instructors

  • Are you using problematic material as a starting point on how to think critically about gender stereotyping?
  • If students are working in groups, are female students habitually relegated to project management duties, where they may desire to have more creative control instead?
  • Do you take reports of gender bias or discrimination seriously?

For Students

  • Are you talking over or mansplaining to other students in class discussions?
  • If female students wish to work as lead animators, are they accommodated? Or do you invent reasons to justify minimizing their creative participation? Are administrative and creative duties shared equally among all group members?
  • Do you speak up for students experiencing instances of discrimination in the program?



[i] Silverstein, Melissa. (2014). “Infographic: Women Directed 10% of Independent Features Between 2009-2013.” Indiewire (September 15). Accessed 12 December 2014.

[ii] Silverstein, Melissa. (2014) “Infographic: Women Directors in the Studio System.” Indiewire (August 28). Accessed 12 December 2014.

[iii] Thompson, Kirsten (2014). “ Quick – Like a Bunny!’ The Ink and Paint Machine, Female Labour, and Colour Production.” Animation Studies (9): n.p.

Accessed 28 November 2014.


[v] Smith, Stacy L. and Marc Choueiti. (2010). “Gender Disparity On Screen and Behind the Camera in Family Films: The Executive Report.” Los Angeles: Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, University of Southern California. Page 3.

[vi] Ibid, page 6-7.

[vii] Loader, Alison Reiko. “Surviving the Animator’s Survival Kit: ‘I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.’” Animationstudies 2.0: n. p. Accessed 28 November 2014.


Amy Ratelle is currently the Research Coordinator for the Semaphore Research Cluster on Mobile and Pervasive Computing, at the University of Toronto. She is also the current editor of Animation Studies, the online journal for the Society for Animation Studies. She has degrees in Film Studies from Ryerson University (BFA), and Carleton University (MA). She completed her PhD in Communication and Culture, a joint programme between Ryerson University and York University. Her research areas include children’s literature and culture, animality studies, animation studies, and  critical media studies. Her book, Animality and Children’s Literature and Film, was recently published by Palgrave Macmillan.