What if Max became Maxine? Musings on Where the Wild Things Are…

I am torn about the new adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. One of the beauties of that book is it has very few words, leaving much open to the imagination of the reader. Having it rendered in film will, I fear, spoil the imaginings of generations of future readers who will see the story as the film interprets it.

I have yet to see the movie, but the preview alerted me that one of the wild things has a female voice. This prompted me to ask — what if Max had been re-imagined as Maxine? Such a shift would have altered the imaginings of many readers, encouraging them to see females as viable wild leads. While some will certainly scoff at this suggestion, I would ask them:

Why are the majority of  books and films still populated with male protagonists?

What messages do you think this might send to young readers/viewers?

When over half the world’s population is female, while are only 1/10 to 1/5 of characters female?

When females are in lead roles in children’s texts, how often are they framed in terms of the princess/romance narrative?

Quick, here is a fun feminist Friday brain excercise for you, name, as quickly as you can, ten children’s films with a female lead who is not a princess…


14 thoughts on “What if Max became Maxine? Musings on Where the Wild Things Are…”

  1. Alice In Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, Ninja Turtles, Beauty and the Beast…hmm…that’s all I can think of. I’m the first commenter though so I get the easy ones 😀

  2. Why are the majority of books and films still populated with male protagonists?

    I think the answer is quite simple—sexism.

    Female audiences are generally expected to identify with both female and male protagonists, but male audiences are generally expected to identify with only male protagonists.

    So if you have protagonists of one gender being identified with by the whole population, v. other protagonists being identified with by only half the population, guess which makes bigger box office? Hollywood is run by money, not by executives. If an executive no longer makes money, that executive gets replaced by another executive who does.

    Vote with your wallets. If you want more female protagonists, go see the few movies that have female protagonists. If you want more people of color in lead roles, see the few movies that have those as well. Same thing for any under-represented group.

    There’s no way that movie studios will say “Movies with female leads are making us big bucks, but let’s go ahead and keep making mainly movies with male leads.”

  3. My sister and I came up with:
    Matilda (as mentioned)
    Hannah Montana
    Lizzy Maguire
    Lilo and Stitch

    Beyond that we couldn’t think of any others, but we were also struggling to think of kids movies at all. Also I would argue that Hannah Montana is a bit of a princess.

  4. Thanks for this post! I had the same frustration when I read Kristof’s children’s book list a few months ago, so I made my own with female protagonists and greater racial diversity. A few of these books have been turned into movies as well!

  5. hi you! i too am afraid to see that movie. i used to love that book as a child.

    on roles/males/females, miyazaki is good to watch…he has strong female characters…he will also have the iconic “i’m here to save you” type of figure who is male sometimes, but overall, i feel very satisified letting my daughters watch his films. you are right, most stories are setup for males to identify with. (i know you are talking books, tho…)

    (PS, my link has changed to my blog. if you get a chance, can you update the sidebar linke? thanks!)

  6. Even when female characters are present, female readers often tend to identify with male characters. This happens because female characters are rarely presented as multi-faceted human beings. They mostly play the role of lifeless dolls.

    I remember from my childhood that I always identified with the male protagonist because he went somewhere, engaged in adventures, was allowed by the author to have a mind of his own, to have personality, to make decisions.

    1. Clarissa,
      So true! I find it VERY hard to find books for my 10 and 13 year olds that equally value females and males… Even Harry Potter puts the boys first with Hermione being depicted as annoying and overly emotional… There are exceptions out there though, but they are few…

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