Smurfette Principle for Animals (a.k.a. Most Animal Characters Are Male)
A natural consequence of the way that The Chick and other female-specific trope characterizations are presumed to be gender-specific, sometimes an author will write their animal-based characters as if most animals were male even though the vast majority of species are actually predominantly female. Humans and other primates are mostly balanced between male and female, but species such as ants and eusocial bees and wasps, are virtually all female. Nevermind that many species such as the brahminy blind snake and some whiptail lizards are all-female. Indeed, (when birds and mammals are excluded) being either completely female or hermaphroditic is the norm for living things on Earth. note One of the very few species that has more male members than female ones in real life is the koala. Less than 45 percent of koalas are female. In real-world life forms, most everything less "evolved" than a duck is either considered "female" based on the reproductive zygote they produce, is a hermaphrodite, or doesn't even have an intersex status because they use a method of reproduction that doesn't include zygotes at all.
In fiction in general there may be far fewer female characters than male ones, but this trope is about the related-but-different issue of overwhelming prevalence of male animal characters and glaring shortage of female animal characters. The gender imbalance for human characters in children's books came close to disappearing by The Nineties, but the significant gender disparity remains for animal characters, even feline ones, in the same genres. This trope is egregious when species in which the characters are scientifically supposed to be overwhelmingly female (or lack males entirely) are portrayed as predominantly male. This trope is related to the issue of gender-based character tropes such as The Chick, Love Interest, or Distressed Damsel, and the especially glaring shortage of animal protagonists who are female.
In the case of animal characters this trope arises from the way that humans perceive animals. On one hand humans do not see the secondary characteristics that are used for gender identification when they look at an animal. Also, people tend to assume the gender neutral animal is a male and use male pronouns unless the animal looks "feminine." Additionally, English (unlike other languages) does not weight most nouns with an inherent gender. While a European might use different words for male or female horses and know that a female and male of a species are not the same word, an urban English speaker may not know they're talking about a male vs. a female instead of just using synonyms. When dealing with a species with sexes that are extremely different in appearance, an English speaker may even think that they're talking about two different species. English-speakers don't usually fuss with specific terms unless the speaker handles the animal regularly or is looking for a synonym. Also, most animators and writers were male early on and even in modern times. The species of animals used to represent characters vary according to gender.
This trope undoubtedly feeds back into causing a plethora of other tropes as well. Insect Gender Bender, Animal Gender Bender in general, Viewer Gender Confusion when regarding animal characters, more tertiary and even Secondary Sexual Characteristics on a female than a male, and the male dog part of Female Feline, Male Mutt. It even inspired the redirect for the latter trope, All Dogs Are Male. A common subversion is Your Tomcat Is Pregnant, which is based on a frequent real-world result of the same phenomena that cause this trope.
Causes for This Trope:
In the case of animal characters this trope arises from the way that humans perceive animals. On one hand humans do not see the secondary characteristics that are used for gender identification when they look at an animal. A cat or dog doesn't have wide vs. narrow hips, wide vs. narrow shoulders, fatty mammary glands, nor applied traits such as hair length. This is what also leads to the Humanoid Female Animal trope when portraying Civilized Animal, Funny Animal, and Petting Zoo People characters.
Also, people tend to assume that the gender neutral animal is a male and use male pronouns in most cases. People will usually only assume the animal is female if it has babies (or appears to have babies) with it, or sometimes if it is a cute, curvy, or "feminine" animal (like a rabbit or cat).
Additionally, English (unlike other languages) does not weight most nouns with an inherent gender. While a European might use different words for male or female horses and know that a colt and a foal or filly are not the same thing, an urban English speaker may not know they're talking about a male vs. a female instead of just using synonyms. When dealing with a species with sexes that are extremely different in appearance, an English speaker may even think that they're talking about two different species. English-speakers don't usually fuss with specific terms unless the speaker handles the animal regularly or is looking for a synonym, so terms like horse, colt, foal, filly, stallion, mare, and stud wind up losing their highly specific meanings when turned to common use (note that the terms used in this example are a direct analog to the English terms human, boy, baby or girl, girl or maid, man, woman, and male prostitute, and were useful to horse-breeders who needed to know if they were purchasing an animal that was too young to do work, could be worked, or even could no longer be ridden for speed because the animal's body had changed due to being used for breeding). This has slowly led to English becoming a neuter language in which male pronouns are used generically, furthering the cycle of so-called "Chickification." Both of these issues cause the Insect Gender Bender phenomenon, especially for ants, bees, wasps, and mosquitoes, who have larval and pupal stages but don't even have the gender trait approximations found in mammals.
Although there are examples of this going back much further than modern works (a Victorian example could be The Wind in the Willows, which lacks female animal characters entirely) this issue has another unique technical basis that may have also been at play. Animals don't talk, so animal-based characterss were usually animated in visual media in the modern United States. Early on most animators and writers were male and before Retta Scott, Disney's first woman animator, came, all of Disney's animators were male. Things are different these days but inertia has kept male animators in the majority (at least for another few years).
In older animated cartoons and TV shows much of the early innovators were artists rather than authors, so the plotlines were sometimes secondary to an artist finding a way to get paid for their visual work. As a result many cartoons were written as comedies, and the easiest way to make a popular comedy at the time was to use gratuitous slapstick. Since there was a Double Standard against hitting a female character this often meant that the characters "just couldn't be" girls unless they were macguffins for the male counterparts to pursue or fight over.
Another reason there are so few female animal characters is that in any work with any human characters, especially if they are not Token Humans, any female characters in the work are usually all human. Works with all-animal casts have to make some of them female.
Also, the species of animals used to represent characters vary according to gender. For example, gorillas, turkeys, donkeys, and walruses are usually male, dogs, frogs, pigs, and bears (including pandas) are more likely to be male, cats (except lions), geese, ladybugs, and butterflies are more likely to be female, and mice, rabbits, foxes, and kangaroos can be either/or. As a result, some species, like cats and mice, come closer to gender parity than other species, like gorillas and walruses.
How Female Animal Characters are Portrayed and How and Why They are Underrepresented in Media
One reason for the shortage of female animal characters was a Double Standard in Golden Age animation against hitting a female character. Because of this Double Standard, this often meant that the characters "just couldn't be" girls. Because of this, the first few Golden Age female animal characters were usually introduced as macguffins for the male counterparts to pursue or fight over or Distressed Damsels to saved by them (i.e., Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck)..
Even these days, its far more common for female animal characters to be portrayed as either The Chick, the Love Interest, or the Faux Action Girl as opposed to as the main protagonist or a protagonist on equal footing with a male protagonist. More recently, more Action Girl and other strong female animal characters have cropped up, but they still usually played second fiddle to a male protagonist.
There are not that many female characters, even animal ones, who are comic relief, not even to this day. This has perpetuated the myth that female animals, and other female characters for that matter, are unfunny. Also, like with human female characters, there are neither that many platonic opposite sex (that is male and female together) friendships nor that many one-male-and-female character or two-female character Comedy Duos.
When characters are animals, male or female, it sometimes frees them from a few gender roles they would have fallen into if they were human or Demi Human, but gender representation issues are still reinforced quite frequently.
Female animal characters are also far more likely to be sexualized than male animal characters. If the animal characters are of the Civilized Animal, Funny Animal, or Petting Zoo People tier on the Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism, it's more often the female ones that are going to be more anthropomorphic.
The reason why Terk (full name Terkina) is female is that, according to producer Bonnie Arnold, when male voice actors auditioned to voice the part, none of them clicked. When Rosie O Donnell stepped in to audition to voice the character, Arnold said of the character's gender change, "You don't have to be a guy to be a best friend."
Cleo the goldfish is the only female animal character in Pinocchio
The movie Chicken Little originally stuck to the fable by using a female Chicken Little and you can even see the original opening with the female Chicken Little on the DVD special features. Michael Eisner had her changed to a boy to appeal better to little boys, because he believed boys would refuse to watch a film with a female lead. This from the guy that was the driving force behind The Little Mermaid.
A blogpost by Radical Misfit Eeni B. Bella StinggRose called Sexism in the Books Read by Children I Know talks about the gender stereotyping of female animal characters, the "male animal is default" phenomenon, and the ratio of male to female animal characters in a given story or book.
In the not-a-sequelto-Bloom County-series, Outland. In the strip, a woman asked why all the well-known animal characters in comics and animation are all male; any female animal characters were just The Girlfriend. Opus announced that the strip was just about to hire the first major female animal character star to join the main cast, Hazel the Hedgehog. In a brilliant sequence that ran for weeks, she lampshaded why most animal characters are male. (Are we asking girls to identify with a "little pig-rodent"? Can she participate in a slapstick pie fight if depicting violence against females is taboo? Is she still her own distinct character if we have to Put A Bow On Her Head?)
Krystal from the Star Fox franchise was originally going to be a fierce, magical, heroic, strong, capable 16 year old protagonist of the game Dinosaur Planet. She was tasked with traveling through time, fighting prehistoric monsters with her magical staff, and saving the world. But as development neared completion, the strategy for the game changed. It was rewritten and redesigned to have Krystal be a Damsel in Distress, and was released in 2002 as Star Fox Adventures for the Nintendo Game Cube.
Subversions, Inversions, Exceptions, and Aversions
Anime and Manga
The titular protagonist of Chi's Sweet Home and Chis New Address is a female kitten. She also has a platonic friendship with a male kitten named Cocchi, which is uncommon.
Home on the Range features three female main protagonists, cows Maggie, Grace, and Mrs. Calloway.
Inverted in that every elephant in Dumbo except the titular elephant calf is female, but played straight in that all the crows and most of the other animals are male. The inversion among the elephants is justified because elephant groups are matriarchal.
Bambi not only inverts this with the number of rabbits that appear as Thumper is the only male rabbit in both original movie and sequel, but also with the total number of named characters (eight females, six males). While not totally feminist, as it shows males front and center and females as side characters or Love Interests, the original Bambi is the only Disney movie which actually inverts the Smurfette Principle.
Bianca from The Rescuers is a female protagonist on equal footing with Bernard the male protagonist.
Kitty Softpaws in Puss in Boots is a protagonist portrayed as basicially on equal footing with the titular protagonist himself.
Rita from Flushed Away is a female protagonist on equal footing with Roddy the male protagonist.
The main protagonist of Chicken Run is a hen named Ginger. Additionally, the male-to-female ratio of important chickens is 4 female to 2 male, and all of the chicken extras are also female; justified in that the movie takes place on an egg ranch (one of the roosters isn't even supposed to be there). However, the fairly important mouse characters are both male.
The main protagonists of Belka And Strelka Star Dogs (English language title:Space Dogs), a Russian CGI film that is based on the Soviet space dogs and honors the first animals who survived an orbital space trip, are two female dogs named Belka and Strelka.
The two sequels to the live action Alvin and the Chipmunks movie feature three female chipmunks called The Chipettes along with the three male chipmunks, Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, making the cast among the chipmunks gender-equal.
The protagonist of the Lassie franchise is a female dog.
The titular protagonist of Flicka is a mare (an adult female horse).
Averted in Warrior Cats: The Clan society is set up for almost perfect gender equality with both toms and she-cats receiving equal training and equal opportunity to become medicine cat, deputy, or Clan leader. Not to mention that there has never been a point in the series where there were no female leaders, all the Action Girls throughout the series, and how more recently most deputies have been female. The only difference between toms and she-cats is that she-cats have to nurse their kits for six months, which is more a biological necessity than discrimination. On top of that, there has been an almost equal number of male and female protagonists. The only real difference between the genders is that female deputies and leaders are not allowed to have kits, because it is believed that it will leave them unable to perform their duties. Leafstar challenges this idea in SkyClan's Destiny, citing the warrior code rule "The word of the Clan leader is the warrior code" as the reason: she's the leader, so she gets to say what's okay and not, and she says that it's okay for female leaders to have kits.
Averted with the Little Grey Rabbit series of books; there are two main female animal characters (Little Grey Rabbit and Squirrel) and one main male animal character (Hare).
Charlotte the spider of the Charlotte's Web and animated and live action movies may not have been the main character, but she played the major role in the story of saving Wilbur's life. Also, she is one of the very few female animal characters whose name is part of the work's title.
The titular protagonist of the Poppy Cat children's books and TV series is female.
The titular character of the Krazy Kat is a female main protagonist, but in many of the animated cartoons she is male instead.
Pokémon can probably be listed as an aversion since the addition of gender in its second generation: Most species (at least in Random Encounters) have a 50/50 male-female ratio. NPC trainers vary; they seem to use Pokemon that are the same gender as themselves.
The titular protagonist of Digger is a female wombat.
Averted with the Pteranodon family and Buddy Tyrannosaurus in Dinosaur Train; the family is split equally genderwise (three female, three male). Also, many other female characters appear in the show.
Dot is on equal footing with her brothers Yakko and Wakko even though the three are Two Guys and a Girl.
Rita the cat is on equal footing with Runt the dog. In "Kiki's Kitten," Rita is even the main protagonist.
Marita is on equal footing with Flavio.
Minerva Mink is the main protagonist of her shorts, even though she is sexualized.
Slappy is either on equal footing with her nephew Skippy or the main protagonist of her shorts more so than he is.
Kitty Katswell the female cat from T.U.F.F. Puppy is a main protagonist who is on equal footing with Dudley Puppy the main male protagonist dog.
Cow the from Cow and Chicken is a main female protagonist who is on equal footing with Chicken the main protagonist rooster.
Inverted among the three main bovine characters in Back at the Barnyard; there are two female cows, Abby and Bessie, and one male "cow" named Otis. Otherwise, however, this is played straight.
Averted and inverted with Blue's Clues. Not only is the main protagonist is a female, many of the other animals are female and the animal characters that show up are more likely to be female.
Averted and even inverted in Minnies Bow Toons. The main protagonist and many of the other characters in the show are female.
Averted in Arthur, especially in the later seasons. The female characters are shown just as prominently as the male characters. Also, there are just as many episodes starring female characters as there are episodes starring male characters.
The Smurfette Principle is even lampshaded. In one episode, Francine and Muffy watched the Show Within a Show, "Trucks: The Musical", but they didn't like that much because it had only three female characters. So Francine and Muffy created their own work, "Agent Double X", which features a main female protagonist.
The Disney theatrical short shown before the 2011 Winnie-the-Pooh movie, "The Ballad of Nessie" features not only a female animal main protagonist, her name is part of the title of the short as well!
Specific Examples of The Ways Female Animal Characters Are Portrayed in Media
In The Land Before Time, the ratio of male to female was originally going to be 4:1, in other words, a straight example of Smurfette Principle. The character Cera was originally going to be male, thus being a basic rival for Littlefoot, while Ducky would have been the only female and a fairly stereotypical one at that. However George Lucas realised that Cera's gender had no real bearing on the plot and asked if Cera could be a female, but keep the character's personality exactly the same. The result was a memorably less clichéd female character and an unusual (for the time) male/female rivalry.
The All Dogs Go to Heaven TV series episode, "All Creatures Great and Dinky," featured an Action Girl female mouse named Moxie among its main protagonists. But she was one of only three female characters in the episode (8 male: 3 female). Another episode, "Free Nelly," featured a female elephant named Nelly among its main protagonists. Another one, called "Miss Guidance," showed Sasha with Charlie on equal footing with each other in a battle of the sexes. The All Dogs Go to Heaven movies, special, and all the other episodes of the show play this trope as straight as most other works featuring animal characters, however.
A few other exceptions to the male animal side character and sidekick rule include Cleo the goldfish from Pinocchio (a movie that has only one other female character), Dumbo's mom and the other elephants in Dumbo, Miss Bunny, Bambi's mom, and Thumper's sisters and mother from Bambi, Mary, Suzy, and Perla the mice from Cinderella and Pom Pom the cat (love interest, but also side character) from the sequel, Dinah from Alice in Wonderland, Nana from Peter Pan, Peg the dog and Si and Am from Lady and the Tramp, The two female squirrels in The Sword in the Stone, Winifred the elephant from The Jungle Book, Abigail and Amelia the geese and Frou Frou the horse from The Aristocats, Lady Kluck, Mother Rabbit, and Tagalong from Robin Hood, Kanga from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Winnie-the-Pooh, Big Mama the owl and Vixey (love interest, but also side character) from The Fox and the Hound, Rita and Georgette from Oliver & Company, Joanna the goanna and Marahute the eagle from The Rescuers Down Under, Shenzi from The Lion King, Vitani from the sequel, and Timon's mom from the midquel, Stacy from A Goofy Movie, Atta, Dot, the Queen ant, Rosie, and Gypsy from A Bug's Life, Kala and Terk the gorillas and Sabor the leopard (villain, but side villain) from Tarzan and Mama Gunda the gorilla from the interquel, Sylvia and the Beret Girl from An Extremely Goofy Movie, Pearl the flapjack octopus, Deb the four-striped damselfish, Coral the clownfish, Peach the starfish, and the anglerfish (technically) from Finding Nemo, Audrey the hen from Home on the Range, Foxy Loxy and Goosey Loosey from Chicken Little, Anda and Kata the moose (love interests, but side love interests) from Brother Bear 2, Mittens from Bolt, and Kevin from Up.
Of all those female side characters and sidekicks the only truly comic ones beside Dory are Abigail and Amelia the geese, Lady Kluck the hen, Timon's mom, and Terk and Mama Gunda the gorillas. And the only female animal side characters at all who show up in a Disney Princess movie are Mary, Suzy, and Perla the mice and Pom Pom the cat.
Most of the older Walt Disney cartoon and comic canon are male, and the females are often just stereotypical female versions of existing male characters, such as Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck. Minnie's The Chick alright, but Daisy is pretty cool for her time, kinda Tsundere-like. A few other female characters in the classic cartoon canon (Twenties, Thirties, Forties, and Fifties) include Francine Cottontail, Ortensia the cat, Clarabelle Cow, Clarice the chipmunk ("Two Chips and a Miss"), Clara Cluck, Fifi the Peke, Dinah the Dachshund, Tillie the Tiger ("Elmer the Elephant"), and Lulubelle the bear ("Bongo" segment of Fun and Fancy Free).
In fact, Figaro the male kitten got his own cartoon series and starred in a few cartoons of his own before either of the main female characters, Minnie or Daisy.
In the 1980s, Disney briefly tried to revive the classic Disney characters through such madness as making Donald a skateboarder and Goofy a fighter pilot a laTop Gun. However, there was a considerable upshot to this: Minnie Mouse became a far more interesting character than she'd ever been after fifty years of being "Mickey's girlfriend". As a matter of fact, she mimicked the young Madonna (in a kid-friendly way, of course). She had her own "Totally Minnie" album, her own television special, and...very quickly and sadly devolved back into The Chick once this was all scrapped and Disney fired up the cutesy-poo "Minnie and Me" merchandise line, where she once again donned her polka-dot dress and giggled over Mickey. Sigh...
Minnie got revamped again for the House of Mouse series, and while Mickey was still the "boss", as the club's owner and emcee, more often than not Minnie was the one giving him orders, being the show producer and club accountant, and very competent at the job. Sadly, again, this didn't last, and once the next series came around, she was againThe Chick. House of Mouse also resurrected Clarabelle Cow as a recurring character, and commonly featured female musical guests, though the ratio was still heavily in favor of the guys.
Minnie Mouse finally has her own show, Minnies Bow Toons. Her friends, Daisy Duck and Clarabelle Cow and her nieces Millie and Melody Mouse show up, as do quite a few other female characters.
Kanga is only female animal character in the original cast, but a few female animal characters were added to the Winnie-the-Pooh franchise. One main example is Kessie the bluebird.
Kessie was Introduced in a few episodes of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and became a regular character in The Book of Pooh.
Two other female animal characters added to the franchise are Mrs. Heffalump, Lumpy's mother, and Porcupine from My Friends Tigger and Pooh.
Interestingly enough, the only ever authorized book sequel to A. A. Milne’s Pooh books, "Return to the Hundred Acre Wood," introduced a strong new female animal character, Lottie the Otter. However Disney was already into the production of the Winnie-the-Pooh film when that book was released.
Looney Tunes tried repeatedly to add female animal characters to the cast, with little success, for reasons noted above. That's not to say that there were no female characters originally.
Poor Penelope Pussycat. No one ever remembers her name. That's because she didn't have a name in the original Pepe Le Pew cartoons — or rather, she did, but it changed every cartoon. She was "Fabrette" on "Really Scent," Fifi in "Two Scents Worth," and other times, she was just a nameless cat who got painted and is left to be chased and harassed by this horny skunk. The only time she was named Penelope during the Golden Age ofLooney Tunes was in 1954's "The Cat's Bah" (which is where they got the name of Penelope for her when she was brought back in "Carrotblanca.")
There was Roxy, Foxy's girlfriend and Fluffy, Piggy's girlfriend, but they were pretty much Distaff Counterpartsof the respective male characters.
Petunia Pig is Porky's girlfriend, but she had a much more prominent role in the Looney Tunes comic books and merchandise than she ever did on screen, having only ever appeared in a handful of animated shorts.
Then there's Mama Bear in Chuck Jones' "Three Bears" series (there pretty much had to be.) She's passive and deadpan (compared to her violent husband and idiot son), but that's what makes her hilarious.
More success was found with its successor shows, Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs, The first has Babs Bunny, who was Buster's equal in every way, as well as Shirley The Loon, Fifi LaFume, Rhubella Rat, Sweetie Pie, and so on. The second had Dot Warner (who was, of course, the only female Warner sibling, but she went to some effort to make sure she was not forgotten by adding "...and the Warner sister, Dot!" whenever an opportunity came up), Rita, Minerva Mink, Marita, and Slappy Squirrel. (Interestingly enough, the Warner Brothers were originally supposed to be a trio of brothers (Smakky, Wakky, and Yakky), with a mischievous little brother character instead of Dot, who was only supposed to be a minor recurring character of "the Warner Cousin". A woman on the production team finally asked that the characters be two male and one female and Wakky and Smakky were merged into Wakko.)
A first season episode of Tiny Toons, "Fields of Honey", actually revolved around Babs trying to find a female Looney Toon who could serve as her mentor. It turned out to be a black-and-white era character, Honey, whose comic schtick was not unlike hers; she had simply been forgotten. But note that in Real Life, Honey existed — and she was merely Bosko's girlfriend and was nothing like the one portrayed here.
Still around, though not really successful: Lola Bunny, introduced in Space Jam. Most classic Looney Tunes fans have a lot of not-so-nice things to say about her, mostly because her addition into the otherwise all-male Looney Tunes roster feels so forced. The Looney Tunes Showhas improved this.
Her predecessor, Honey Bunny (no relation to Bosko's girlfriend Honey), was a staple of the old Gold Key and Whitman Looney Toons comic books for years and years. Sadly, Honey seems to have been largely forgotten since Lola was introduced.