Inside Out and its Gender Stereotypes

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Inside Out is Pixar’s latest movie and due out next year. If you know me at all, you’ll know I’m a huge Disney fan, and so I am keeping up with every trailer and snippet of information we have about Inside Out.

The movie tells the story of the physical embodiment of various emotions inside a young girl’s head, showing how they interact with the world. Kind of like Meet Dave, but with the chance to be good.

A trailer recently came out though that began to make me question how well Pixar have been able to handle the pretty complex topic of the emotional makeup of human beings. Riley, the girl the movie is focused on, is sat at the table eating a meal with her parents. The emotions in their heads are all shown trying to figure out what to do about Riley and her bad mood, while Riley’s emotions all battle each other. However, it’s the parents I want to take a look at.

The mother is shown as being very emotionally aware. She knows something’s wrong, her little emotion-people are totally on the ball. They watch every move of her husband and Riley. The ‘leader’ of these emotions is sadness, the blue woman. On top of that, the room they’re actually in looks a lot like a talk show set, something out of The View or Loose Women.

Dad, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. His emotions don’t know what to do, they’re distracted by sports and when things kick off he falls straight back on to anger (the red guy) to try and solve the problem. Their control room is very much like a scientific control room from NASA. Lots of metal and computers and each emotion is dressed up professionally.

The ‘emotionally idiotic husband’ trope is by no means a rare one, especially in domestic comedy (DomCom). Homer Simpson, Hank Hill, Peter Griffin and Fred Flintstone all show it. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t fit into the modern world. In a post-new man world, dads have a much bigger role in parenting and men have shown that they are capable of being emotionally sensitive, good parents. So why are we still falling back on this trope?

On the inverse, the mother doesn’t entirely avoid the damaging stereotypes. The portrayal of a demographic in a positive fashion has been a fairly large debate for years; does showing a group of people in an exclusively positive way actually help that group? Gay men were stereotyped as being very fashion-sensitive, emotional (side note: this is interesting because it conflates emotional expression with femininity, which is why this stereotype exists for both women and gay men. On the other side, a stereotype of gay women is being emotionally distant, like men), and non-threatening which damaged the image of gay men for years, and continues to do so, despite it being a generally positive portrayal.

Does showing women as being totally available for emotional support actually help anything? Probably not, it’s related to why girl are called ‘bossy’ or put themselves at risk of abuse when they speak their mind.

Either way, despite first impressions the portrayal still isn’t positive. Look at the mother’s control room – no computers, nothing science-y about it. It’s very similar to a talk show stage, the women are dressed fairly casually compared to the father’s emotions. This plays into the dated idea that women can’t have a place in science, which is for obvious reasons damaging.

Honestly, I’m still really excited for Inside Out, and this trailer doesn’t change that for me. It does make me slightly concerned that rather than having it’s interesting premise dictate the humour, it may just fall back on stereotypical humour and “hey aren’t teens moody and unstable, what do you think emotionally stunted husband?”. It’s something to keep an eye on.

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