All hands dimorphic: Gnomeo and Juliet edition

I previously complained about Tangled‘s 75%-male cast and extreme sex dimorphism in the romantic leads, as seen in this hand shot:


Keeping to my policy of two-year delays in movie reviews, let me add the same complaint about Gnomeo and Juliet, the charming adaptation from Disney’s Touchstone imprint. Here, a writing team of 8 men and 2 women (including Shakespeare) gives us a named cast of 14 men and 7 women, in a love story featuring these two adorable garden gnomes:

gnomeojulietHe’s only a little taller, and (judging by the gray beard) a little older. And in the movie she demonstrates bravery and feats of strength, as is now the norm. But look at those hands! Take a closer look:

gnomeojuliethandsWhat is it about hands that makes it so essential for men and women to have such differences? In the “man hands” episode of Seinfeld we learned how distressing it can be for a man to find out the woman to whom he was attracted has large hands.


That scene required a hand double. In real life, men’s and women’s hands differ on average but with a lot of overlap in the distributions — lots of men have hands smaller than lots of women. But in animation the gloves are off — and Disney is free to pair up couples who are many standard deviations apart in hand size. If real people commonly had this range of hand sizes, would such an extreme difference be considered desirable?

9 thoughts on “All hands dimorphic: Gnomeo and Juliet edition

  1. In real life, men’s and women’s hands differ on average but with a lot of overlap in the distributions

    You’ll have to provide evidence.

    OTOH, by looking at growth charts from the National Center For Health Statistics, a 5’9″ woman is in the 97th percentile, but a same-height man is only in the 40th percentile. That’s minimal overlap.

    It’s reasonable to presume that hand sizes follow a similar pattern.


  2. I think the interesting question is: Why do they draw the hands (and other body parts) this way? Is it simply to emphasize sexual dimorphism? And if so, why do they want to do that? I think it’s safe to assume that the habit has been thoroughly focus-grouped by young children, so it must “work,” in the sense of getting the kids to pay attention.


    1. I’m not sure. Disney sells the movie to the parents first so they’re the ones Disney needs to impress most. If the parents let the kids see it and they love it for other reasons (action, music, color, funny), then the dimorphism lesson can sink in subliminally.


  3. At first the difference in male/female hand size may seem arbitrary, but I think there is some significant underlying symbolism. Hands are important.

    For one thing, hands are a symbol of human agency. The human hand — with it’s opposing thumb and great dexterity — is what sets humans apart from other mammals and enables us as a species to accomplish so much. In reality, men and women are equal in manual dexterity, even though men’s hands are generally larger and stronger. In fact, women have traditionally done work that requires extreme dexterity, such as sewing, growing crops, preparing food from scratch, and taking care of the sick and wounded. I have known women whose hands were really tough due to hard work.

    To portray men’s hands as huge and women’s hands as ridiculously tiny (like a child’s hand) seems to portray men as more capable of accomplishment and agency. To portray women’s hands as tiny and soft, and in some cases, lacking realistic joint structure, portrays women as weak and delicate.

    For another thing, there’s the issue of body image. Larger girls and women can be made to feel that their bodies are not feminine enough, while skinny boys and men may feel that their bodies are not masculine enough.

    As to the issue of body size, this can also be a health issue. There has been a lot of attention given to the link between eating disorders in women and unrealistic body expectations, but men are also affected. I read recently in a medical journal that about 40% of overweight men do not see themselves as overweight. This may be great for their self-esteem, but it is not good for their health.


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