Honey, why are there gender roles in a children’s film?

Gender stereotypes begin the minute parents are told the gender of their child. A baby girl will more than likely have the walls of her nursery painted pink adorned with butterfly and flower stickers. A baby boy’s nursery will be just the opposite: blue walls edged with tiny airplanes, hot air balloons and skydivers parachuting down to Earth. Even toys set children apart: a young girl is to play with a doll dressed in frilly clothing and a young boy must have a truck or superhero action figure. These generalizations about the roles of each gender have also weaseled their way into our entertainment. Children are exposed to gender stereotypes by watching cartoons or movies that strike their interest and have relatable characters. The Lego Movie, for example, is an excellent children’s movie chock-full of loveable characters and a witty sense of humor but beneath the surface, the film reinforces common gender stereotypes found in American culture in its own universe populated by Lego mini figures who assume masculine and feminine roles.

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The film’s narrative is told from the perspective of Emmet Brickowski, an ordinary construction worker whose daily life consisted of watching his favorite television show Honey, where are my pants, listening to his favorite song Everything is Awesome on the radio, finishing a hard day’s work at his job’s site and then going home to repeat this routine again the next morning. One particular day, Emmet catches a suspicious individual loitering around the construction site, who we learn minutes later is our female lead Wyldstyle (Lucy), and in his pursuit manages to find the Piece of Resistance, a red cap used to seal a weapon called the Kragle, and as a result becomes the prophesied “Special.” As the Special, Emmet is destined to take down the evil Lord Business who plans to freeze the world into perfection but the everyday man is not seen as fit to save the world at all because he lacks imaginative, building abilities. After a series of challenging events, Emmet proves himself worthy of a hero and wins Wyldstyle’s heart in the end.

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In terms of masculine stereotypes, we can see those at work from our main protagonist Emmet. He works as a construction worker which is a stereotypical “dirty job,” that requires men to use incredible strength and getting their hands dirty. He also assumes the role of a typical hero embarking on a difficult quest to save the world from evil. According to Sean Nixon, “male characters [are often] positioned as the bearer of the look in the film story,” and we as the audience actively follow their journey in hopes of watching them achieve success (Nixon). Since the film is told from Emmet’s perspective, we are able to see a clear image of his efforts to gain the affections of Lucy as he competes with Batman (her current boyfriend) and his internal struggle with whether or not he is qualified to lead the Master Builders to victory. These specific obstacles are meant to help the audience sympathize with the male protagonist and cheer on the underdog. It is also important to note how simple and basic Emmet is in terms of his appearance. His brown hair is clean-cut and he has no distinctive physical features. There is a specific scene in the movie that touches on this below.

“…but his face is so generic that it matches every other face in our database.”

According to Laura Mulvey’s principles of the ruling ideology and the physical structures that back it up, “the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification,” (Mulvey, 1999). While Emmet is not stereotypically muscular or tough in spirit as male characters are expected to play, he is still a character that spectators can identify with because of his redeeming qualities: empathizing with Princess Unikitty when Cloud Cuckoo Land is destroyed, his moment of brilliance when he learns the importance of teamwork, and sacrificing himself to save his friends. Audiences are more prone to oversee his weaknesses and give him praise for his sedulousness. Thus he does not become just a face in the crowd but viewed as an unlikely hero jumping over any hurdles that stand in his way.

Wyldstyle, on the other hand, is portrayed in a much dimmer light, albeit ironically. She possesses incredible master building skills that rival Emmet but ultimately she is not to become a heroine in the story. Since the film is shown through Emmet’s point of view, her appearance is restricted to how he views her which is mostly as a beautiful, mysterious woman. In other words, Emmet is scopophilic or “[gains] pleasure in using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight,” (Mulvey, 1999). Seconds after her introduction, Emmet is locked in a daze and maintains a “controlling and curious gaze,” because he is entranced by her gorgeousness (Mulvey, 1999).

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Emmet’s infatuation reoccurs in the movie several times. He constantly fantasizes about her beauty with romantic music playing in the background and the sense of time slows down. This connects back to the idea that women are “simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact,” (Mulvey, 1999). Wyldstyle’s jet-black hair, red lips, and cool demeanor make her stand out from all the other women where Emmet lives and he fancies her for that. Her role is merely that of a love interest who plays hard to get but over time learns how much the male lead actually means to her.

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The Lego Movie is aimed at younger audiences as a fun-filled adventure but ultimately still perpetuates gender stereotypes. Despite Emmet’s empathetic and goofy characteristics, he still chases after Wyldstyle because he can’t take his eyes off her throughout his entire mission to save the world. Wyldstyle might be rebellious in nature but ultimately is portrayed as a pretty object to look at. Children ought not to have these messages ingrained in them from their favorite TV show or movie because they should have the freedom to grow up without expectations of the “proper” way to act according to the gender they were assigned at birth.

References

Mulvey, L. (1999). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.
Nixon, S. (n.d.). Exhibiting Masculinity.

 

 

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