Cars Marathon : Where are the female cars ?
© Pixar animations Studios
When my partner realised I have never seen Cars, it was put on our film list because after all, it is a Pixar film. I have heard of Cars before but it was not particularly appealing to me. I have seen posters of Lightning McQueen in the street every time a sequel was released. The advertisement was heavy on male cars - at least the ones I have seen in the streets and metro stations. The target audience was too obviously little boys. Why would I then be interested in a film that does not acknowledge the interest my gender could have in cars ? Curiosity taking over, we dedicated a whole evening to watch the three films one after the other.
The Cars series is a coming of age tale set in the racing world. Lightning McQueen, the new racing prodigy, is ambitious and arrogant. The world is his for the taking until an accident forces him to stop in the small town of Radiator Springs and question his way of life. Female cars are few and far in between in the whole series. In the first film, out of 33 characters only 6 are female cars. Out of these 6, only two are secondary characters. They are Sally, McQueen's love interest, and Flo, Ramone's wife and coffee shop owner. Both of them are defined by their relationships with men. Flo is married and even if Sally is single as soon as we see her, she is shown as McQueen's love interest. She supports him and takes him on rides to show there is more to life than racing. Her role is to be nurturing and loving. We rarely see her without McQueen. When Mater or Hudson Hornet have characters arcs of their own, Sally does not. They change and evolve but she does not.
In the second film, there are 41 characters and only 6 of them are female. Two of them are recurring characters Flo and Sally. One of them is a new secondary character, the spy agent Holly. Although having a job of her own, she is constantly referred to as Mater's date. Mater himself always refers to her as his date and never by her name. In Cars 2, Holly's name disappears to be replaced by the relationship she is supposed to have with a male car - Mater. It is very violent because it is stealing her identity away from her. It also implies she would not exist or be talked about otherwise.
In Cars 3, out of 33 characters, 9 are female. Out of 9, one is Miss Fritter a school bus racing in demolition derbies and the other one is a trainer, Cruz Ramirez. There are no female race cars when Cars 3 opens. The two female cars mentionned above are the closest to a female race car. Cruz Ramirez does become a racer by the end of the film but she does not start as a potential racer and is not seen as such by any of the characters until the very end. When the teams are on the race track, it is easy to notice that all the race cars are male, all the presenters are male, all the maintenance team are male and the sponsors are represented by male cars. When Sally is there, she is there as a support to McQueen. More often than not, she does not travel with him to see him race. She has her own motel and that's it.
As a woman watching Cars, I do not see myself represented in the animated film. You can either chose to be the love interest of McQueen or the love interest of another car. Given that's it's about the racing world, it would be more accurate to have a female race car and female cars on maintenance teams or interviewing the contestants. By the time Cars 3 is released, it is June 2017. It took more than 10 years since the first film to have Cruz Ramirez a female trainer and the first female car in the racing world we have seen until then. She begins as a trainer training male cars. As Lightning McQueen goes back into racing after his accident, she is training him. Obviously better than him, faster and younger than him, her methods are rejected by him. She is seen as a burden and useless. McQueen must have his way even though he has seen she can get results. He goes over her head and into the simulator when she told him he is not ready yet. Would have McQueen done that if he was trained by one of the male car used to train him ? How come he has never made such a big fuss with Hudson Hornet ? He might resist first but listen to him anyway whereas he refused to even try Cruz's way. When she becomes a racer, she meets the contempt of men. McQueen tells her she can not be a racer even though she wins the Thunder Hollow derby. Of course because it is a Pixar, in the end she races and wins with McQueen as her trainer. All the violence she has been a victim of is just put under the carpet. Because she has won, everything she had to go through is erased. It is shown like the price to pay for success when it is simply toxic behaviour.
McQueen was very insulting to her so why would she want him as her trainer ? He did not believe her. Also why the only female race car has to be shy and not confident ? Why McQueen starts off as arrogant while she has to earn her place and not take too much space until she is introduced into the boys' club by McQueen ? It looks a lot like being co-opted. Until then, you are an outsider. Because of the lack of diverse female characters, the depiction of female cars in the Cars series is extremely stereotypical. Women are love interests and family members. When they are racers, they must not be too loud, take too much space or be too confident. They basically have to wait for the male cars' permission to succeed.
It is not even possible to talk about "female racers" because there is only one "female racer" in the Cars series. Some people would argue the film series represents the sexism women face in the sports' world but unless the film adresses this issue explicitly and the storyline works to change it, it does not work. I believe animated films are an amazing opportunity to show children how diverse the world is and promote tolerance and team work from the beginning to create the right mindset and change the world.
This is why I would have hoped Pixar would promote a world where men and women are represented equally as the norm instead of offering an other fictional representation of our sexist world. This choice leads the studio ignores a huge part of its audience - women and little girls.
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