Pop-Culture | Posted by Brian S on 01/4/2012

Rudolph the Sexist Reindeer

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

With the holiday season just behind us, we’re all probably a little tired of Christmas movies. Many, it seems, are tired of one specific movie: Rankin/Bass’ “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. As a young child, I had my mother record this on VHS and I would watch it on loop until well into January.

It wasn’t until I got this movie on DVD a few years ago that I began to notice that the movie isn’t really that good. The animation is crude, even when compared to other stop motion animation of the time. The sound quality is a notch below what you hear in those singing Hallmark cards. The plot barely holds together under even the loosest scrutiny. Also, the messages in the movie are rather objectionable.

A few articles have appeared this holiday season attacking the movie for it’s supposed support of bullying (which only makes sense if you don’t watch the whole movie) and for it’s sheer creepiness (which I can understand). But if parents should be worried about their children watching this film, it has nothing to do with its creepiness or its supposed support of bullying. What I find most objectionable about this movie is its overt sexism.

Somehow I never noticed it until recently, but the sexism is pretty  blatant. For instance, why are all of Santa’s Reindeer male? It’s not merely a coincidence: the film is pretty clear that the boys join in the reindeer games while the girls stay off in the corner…swooning? Admiring? Life isn’t all that different for the female elves either.

Maybe you look at those two examples and find that they’re a little too subtle to be considered sexism. Then let me present exhibit A: when Rudolph and Hermey get fed up with the senseless bullying and run away, Rudolph’s parents and girlfriend all want to go out looking for them. But Donner (Rudolph’s dad) puts the kibosh on that by saying, “No, this is man’s work.” Looking for someone is mans work? Are women bad at looking for things? Do they need to be protected? This movie assumes so.

A little later in the film we encounter Exhibit B: when Yukon Cornelius flips over the edge of a cliff during a brutal tickle fight with the Bumble. It is then that Sam, the narrator, says, “They were all very sad at the loss of their friend, but they realized that the best thing to do was to get the women back to Christmas town.” What does that even mean? Why do the women need to get back home? They can’t handle their grief for some guy they just met?

While I don’t condone these statements in the movie, I can see how they ended up there. This movie came out in 1964. You don’t have to watch but five minutes of Mad Men to see exactly where the writers of this movie were coming from. The 1960s were a different time, one where men were considered providers and women were thought to be fragile. Never mind that in the Rudolph movie the only outright compassion comes from our three misfit heros and the women. The men just walk around like angry jerks waving their manhood about.

Okay, so this movie’s sexist. Should we keep our children from watching it? Are we inadvertently supporting the views in the movie by watching? I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I still enjoy watching this movie. The overall message of bullying being bad is a good one. When I eventually show this movie to my children, I’ll make sure to point out the instances I mentioned. This way we can still enjoy the film while learning from its flaws.

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  • Ann @ at 11:23 am, January 4th, 2012

    Great post, Brian! I love your analysis. Also, I definitely agree with you about enjoying movies (and this goes for music and other things) while learning from their mistakes. A lot of the things we enjoy in daily life have incredibly sexist undertones. That doesn’t mean we should stop enjoying them or feel guilty about doing so– we just need to be concious of the sexism and not shy about pointing it out to others.

  • Emma E @ at 11:42 am, January 4th, 2012

    When I was a kid, I remember assuming that all the girl reindeer were off doing something else, but were just as important a part of Santa’s crew. But I was raised in a household where my mom would cross vaguely sexist phrases out of my books.

    But I have to say, I always kind of was bothered by the idea in the movie of ‘it’s okay to be different–as long as your difference saves the people bullying you’. But, like you pointed out, this was a different era, and on the subject of anti-bullying, the movie does pretty good for the 60s.

  • Suzanne @ at 12:35 am, January 5th, 2012

    Protecting women is a way of honoring them since it is only the women who have the power to grow and nourish new life!! For our culture to move forward men and women need understand and celebrate our differences. Men need to be less fearful of womens powers and women need to stop trying to be like men.

    I agree that there are alot of wierd things about the way characters (particularly Donner and Santa) act in this movie but I don’t think issues of sexism are so important.

    Women have great innate powers men can never have. Seems many men are threatened by this power and try to control women. Women then try to prove their equalness to men instead of simply living with the security of their own fantastic abilities.

  • brian s @ at 10:54 pm, January 5th, 2012

    Thank you for the kind comments. What I’ve found to be most odd was how many times I watched this movie without ever really paying attention to the dialogue. Not only did I realize it’s sexist, but Santa Clause is a total Jerk, and the father figures are extremely unsympathetic. Then I thought about my other favorite Christmas special and I realized that I’d seen Charle Brown Christmas hundreds of times before I understood the message of the movie.

  • lighting the fbomb | secretly important @ at 11:09 am, January 6th, 2012

    [...] can check out my article called: Rudolph the Sexist Reindeer here.  To be clear, Rudolph is not the sexist, but the guys who wrote the Christmas classic definitely [...]

  • Rabidtreeweasel @ at 1:28 am, January 13th, 2012

    Dude, wait … my vagina gives me super powers? AWESOME.

  • yvonne @ at 11:28 pm, January 22nd, 2012

    good point about ‘it’s okay to be different-as long as your difference saves the people bullying you’…that cld be applied to behavior that ‘saves’ people from facing the fact that they are being bullies! it’s what people with disabilities are taught, to their detriment too…u r not supposed to ‘challenge’ discrimination because u r supposed to be “the problem” to begin with…

  • Renegade @ at 12:52 am, December 25th, 2012

    Rabidtreeweasel, it would appear so. And if we use it to save people, we are threatening men by trying to be like them.

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