Rudolph the Sexist 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.

More articles by Category: Feminism, Media, Misogyny, Religion
More articles by Tag: Sexism, News, High school, Social media, Activism and advocacy, Music



Brian S
Sign up for our Newsletter

Learn more about topics like these by signing up for Women’s Media Center’s newsletter.