Gender Inequity in 'Whoville'

I don't know what sins Dr. Seuss committed in his life to be doomed to have Jim Carrey star in movie adaptations of his books. But I came out of Horton Hears a Who, with my wife and my three excited and happy daughters, irritated by something even more annoying than Carrey's tics. In a new subplot added by the filmmakers, the mayor of Whoville has 96 daughters. He has one son. Guess who gets all his attention? Guess who saves the day? Go ahead, think about it, I'll wait.

No I won't. What's so irritating about this casual slap at daughters is the sense that the makers of the film didn't really mean it. They seemed mostly interested in riffs on pop culture and jokes about violating bodily integrity. But what writers are told, you see, in Hollywood notes meetings, is that every character has to make a journey, towards something he needs and ultimately gets, and what they decided the Mayor of Whoville needs was a better relationship with his son. Here is a father with 96 daughters — 96 amazing, beautiful, unpredictable, mysterious, distinct, glorious human beings — but gosh, what in the world is he going to care about? I know, let's give him a moody silent uninteresting offspring, but this one's got a Y chromosome... that'll be boffo box office!

Have the clowns who made this movie ever met a daughter? Have they dated one? If they did, did they meet the daughter's father? Did they then ask that daughter's father if there was anything more dramatic, interesting, arresting, and moving to him than his relationship with his daughter? Did they ask him if he might find that a close relationship with said daughter might be something he would care about? What do they imagine that we do — sit around, and watch our daughters grow and change and suffer and fail and triumph — and idly wish for something more INTERESTING?

And there's this — not only does the movie end with father and son embracing, while the 96 daughters are, I guess, playing in a well, somewhere, but the son earns his father's love by saving the world. Boys get to save the world, and girls get to stand there and say, I knew you could do it. How did they know he could do it? Maybe because they watched every other movie ever made?

We got into the car outside the cinpeplex and I was quite in lather, let me tell you. How come one of the GIRLs didn't get to save Whoville? I cried.

"Yeah!" said my daughters.

"And while we're at it, how come a girl doesn't get to blow up the Death Star! Or send ET home? Or defeat Captain Hook! Or Destroy the Ring of Power!"

"That's rotten!" cried my daughters.

"How come Trinity can't be the One who defeats the Matrix!" I yelled.

"What are you talking about?" they said.

"You'll find out later," I said. "But here's one: how come a girl doesn't get to defeat Lord Voldemort!"

"Well, wait a minute, Papa," they said. "None of us would want to mess with him."

I took their point. But I still wanted to grab that fictional, silly mayor of Whoville by his weirdly ruffled neck, and say, you see those 96 people over there? Those girls, those women, those daughters? You know what they're saying to you, every minute of every day that you waste thinking about anything else?

They are shouting at you. They are shouting:

"We are here! We are here! We are here!"

Peter Sagal is the host of NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." and the author of "The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them)."

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