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"Cartoons Ain't Just for Boys"

April 25, 2001 PDT, by Robin Clewley

Ten years before Patricia Beckman discovered a career in animation, she worked at the White House press office.

Patricia Beckmann Still from Patricia Beckmann's animation short, "Won & Twoo."

It was a man's world, with President Bush heading the show and men holding most of the important jobs in the administration.

Instead of absorbing the ins and outs of politics, she found herself doodling during press conferences and making faces behind Dan Qualye's back. It wasn't long before she realized she wanted a profession that was less serious, and much more creative.

She found exactly that in animation.

But little did she know that leaving the male-dominated world of politics for a career in Hollywood would lead her into the exact same work atmosphere.

Of course, there are differences. Here, nobody seems to mind the doodles and the mimicking. Her film about Siamese twins -- one homophobic and one homosexual -- cutting down each other for their sexual orientation received raves.

Still, Beckman sees the differences between men and women in Hollywood -- at least to the extent of how they're expected to behave.

"Women aren't allowed to do the kind of humor that I do," said Beckman, who didn't make her film until after she left the studios and branched out on her own. "If you do any sort of sexual humor, you're going to send the wrong message. Besides, I look like the girl next door."

This year, the nonprofit organization Women on the Web chose Beckman as one of their Top 25 Women on the Web. She has created animation for the films Batman and Mars Attacks and also worked in the developmental department of Film Roman, the company that produces The Simpsons.

Beckman now runs her own company, and in October 2000, was awarded an honorable mention from the Playboy Animation Festival for her short animated film, Matilda. Beckman said she was the only female animator nominated at the festival.

"I think that's why (Women on the Web) gave me the award," Beckman said. "Here are all these smart, cool women -- educators, CEOs -- and I create goofy cartoons."

Beckman may be one of the only women in her field, but so are many women working in technology. What makes the animation world different?

"It's a locker room," said Celia Pearce, a research associate at the Annenberg Center for Communication and head of the interactive track at the School of Cinema-Television, both at the University of Southern California. "The mentality, the behavior, is unfriendly to a woman's sensibilities."

Pearce said when she went to a speech on animation given by John Dykstra, head of animation at Sony Imageworks, someone in the audience asked him if he enjoyed creating the animation for the film Stuart Little. According to Pearce, he said, "To be quite honest with you, I like to blow things up."

"That about summed up the industry for me," she said. "For a woman, that's not particularly appealing. And I think that's why women go into the fine arts. It gives them the opportunity to not blow things up."

Pearce said although being an animator does not strike a chord for all women, there is a large percentage of female animation producers. Sherry McKenna, CEO of the gaming company Oddworld Inhabitants, has been in animation production for more than 20 years.

"It's not called a man's world for nothing," McKenna said. "Women are more naturally organized and detailed-oriented than men. That is why the man's world allows us to do this job. A woman's touch in animation may not be as necessary as in producing. Producing is about communication."

At the special effects and animation company Rhythm & Hues, none of the 11 character animators on staff are women, said Pauline Ts'o, vice president of the company. Animation companies Pixar, PDI, Disney and Tippett Studios declined to return repeated phone calls and e-mails for this story.

"Women are not encouraged to do animation," said Eric Jennings, who used to animate for Rhythm & Hues. "It's always perplexed me. Why aren't they here?"

Another reason for the disparity is that animation seems to naturally attract boys at an early age.

Boys like He-Man and Spiderman," said Christine Panushka, professor and chair of the division of animation and digital arts at the University of Southern California. "Most girls aren't interested in that. I like to think of animation as a fine art form. The trick is to bring young women in early and to show them what animation can really be."

McKenna said the disparity between the sexes in the animation industry seems to be changing, but that could be partly due to the technicality involved with animation becoming user-friendly. Regardless, she said women are always under-represented in the workforce.

"Men are taught to have careers," McKenna said. "Women are taught to have jobs."

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