So last weekend I saw the movie Coraline, which I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend to everyone. It was slightly creepy but still beautifully made and entertaining. As much as I liked it, there were still some highly gendered aspects of the movie that kept nagging at me.
Coraline’s real mother is a busy working mom who never really has much time for Coraline. Her husband, Coraline’s father, refers to her as “the boss”. He cooks all the time, instead of the mom, and Coraline takes issue with this. She gets upset that her mom never cooks and tells her that she should cook. It’s a bit strange how Coraline, a young girl, keeps trying to enforce gender roles within her family because usually it’s the other way around. It just goes to show pervasive gender roles are in society and how ingrained they are in even young children. Coraline wants her family to seem “normal” and “perfect” which would mean that her mother would be the one to cook.
Meanwhile Coraline’s “Other Mother” epitomizes the stereotypical 50s housewife who just stays home, cooking and cleaning. She wears an apron, spends most of her time in the kitchen, is always heavily made up, and even dresses up in some instances. She feeds Coraline, nurtures her and gives her things that she wants. Her whole identity is based on motherhood – she is just the “Other Mother” who tries to find out everything that Coraline, or other children, want in their mothers, and tries to fulfill their desires to be the “perfect” mom. The thing about the “Other Mother” though is that she represents a matriarch. (SPOILER ALERT!) She created everything and everyone in her world. The father is emasculated and controlled by her, thus she is in total power.
And of course, the “Other Mother,” the only older female character in a position of power is vilified. She is sneaky, clever, scheming and domineering, and consequently must be evil. She, like the surrogate maternal figure in Disney movies or fairy tales, is ugly, possessive, powerful (which is a bad trait for a woman to have), power-hungry (also a bad trait for a woman to have), and must be stopped.
Also, Wybie is the only African-American character. He is eccentric, likes to catch slugs, and goes around in a dirt bike and weird helmet. just a strange, awkward kid. He is also very submissive – he has a hunched posture and whenever his grandmother calls for him he is quick to obey and dash back to her. (SPOILER ALERT AGAIN!) In the “Other Mother’s” world his lips are sewn together and therefore is silenced.
Another important thing to consider is who’s doing what behind the scenes. The protagonist of the movie may be a girl (and the antagonist a woman), but the animation industry, like the movie industry, remains very male-dominated. When you look at the credits after the movie, the screenwriter, director, editors, most of the animators are men. Surprising? No, not really.
With all this said, I want to reiterate that I still really liked Coraline and I still think that if you haven’t seen it already, you should go see it, because it’s amazing. (See, being a feminist doesn’t mean that you abstain from all things fun but instead you participate with a more critical and conscious eye.)