When we think of animation, or indeed any form of entertainment, there is a propensity to think of it only in terms of how it already exists. What I mean is that animation, for a staggeringly long time, was considered as belonging in the kids’ realm (I’m afraid I can’t source the famous “we’re the babysitter” quote that I thought was attributed to Wollie Reitherman.) and it’s only very recently that we’ve started to see it slowly away from that perception. What I’m curious about though, is are there female demographics neglected by animation at the moment, and if so, why?
Who IS Covered
First though, it’s important to look at who is currently covered:
- Boys aged 0-12
- Girls aged 0-12
- Boys aged 16-29
Now before you get out the pitchforks, bear in mind that I’m talking specifically about animation that is aimed at a particular demo. Yes, The Simpsons can be, and is enjoyed by everyone; the same goes for Pixar films, but if you were to collar someone from the responsible marketing department and ask them nicely (or maybe rough them up) they will tell you that either animation is marketed with one demographic in mind.
Which demographic that is will depend heavily not only on who is expected to watch the show, but also who is expected to support it. Examples are pre-school and pre-teen shows. Neither has an audience with any meaningful disposable income but both possess parents who do!
So even though the pre-school show will appeal to kids, you find that it is specifically tailored to what parents desire in their kid’s entertainment. In the case of pre-school that is partly the reason why almost all of them contain a heavy emphasis on education over pure entertainment.
Moving up the age scale, kids aged 6-12 do get more of an emphasis on entertainment because their ability to sell their parents on supporting merchandise is much stronger and by the time they make it to the top, they are practically mini consumers; a.k.a. tweens.
Boys and young males aged 16 and above are adequately catered for through the likes of [adult swim], anime (if they are so inclined) and whatever other kinds of animated entertainment they can dig up for themselves.
Who is NOT Covered
Where things tend to fall apart is once the teenage years kick in. Based on what is currently out there, there is a glut for both genders around the 13-15 mark. That’s pretty natural though as kids get caught between a rock and a hard place in regards to content; too old for the younger stuff, too young for the older stuff. I don’t foresee this gap being narrowed substantially any time soon.
What is noticeable though is that while boys have options once they hit their mid-late teens, girls do not. In other words, boys are brought back into the animation fold through the likes of [adult swim] and anime (plenty of guns, violence and giant robots), girls don’t have anything (or very little) comparable to that at all.
Seriously. Close your eyes and think of a current, animated TV program (or animated film) that’s aimed specifically at mid-late teenage girls or those in their early 20s. I can easily name a dozen live-action shows but nothing animated even comes close to mind.
Again, this is not to say that girls in that age range can’t enjoy animated programming or films; a heck of a lot of them do, but a glance around the TV schedules and cinema listings reveals a glaring gap in animated programming tailored to them.
Oh, and as for Brave, well again, you’ll have to corner our marketing friend, but I would be greatly shocked if that was being tailored for anyone over the age of 13.
So could it be that girls are ‘dropping out’ of the animation scene in their teenage years because there is nothing to pick them up at the other side of the lull around 13-15? The signs currently point to yes, and there are many, many reasons behind it.
Standard arguments that get trotted out for this kind of thing is that there is no market for it, that girls genuinely have no interest in animated programming once they near adulthood and (most egregiously) that they simply enjoy the same content as guys. All are false. Audiences can only watch what they are given, so saying they don’t want to watch something that doesn’t exist is a load of hogwash.
What About Daria?
Ah yes, what about Daria. The MTV animated show could be said to aim precisely at the very audiences discussed in this post. It had a female lead(s) and tended to adhere to the social and moral quandaries that many teenagers face. The show also achieved all this while bridging the gender divide and appealing to all teenagers.
However, the show has long since departed from the airwaves and nary a replacement has been seen since. As of 2013, it regretfully resides in the nostalgia zone, where only those who originally watched it will seek it out in any meaningful numbers.
What Can Be Done
It’s a topic that’s been covered here on the blog before, but the bottom line is that there simply is not enough animated content being made for girls at all ages, prepubescent or otherwise. Even the comics industry has seen an increase in this kind of content with plenty of female comic artists and writers getting works out that is more likely to appeal to that kind of audience.
Animation retains a kind of stigma when it comes to this, and my guess is that no-one of the powers that be are willing to make the right move to get the shows that are needed, made and broadcast.
The simple answer is to make the content and make it well.