Date of Award

Spring 5-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Film Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Emily Carman

Second Advisor

Dr. Dawn Fratini

Third Advisor

Ruth Daly


This thesis analyzes the character designs from the Disney XD animated series Gravity Falls (Alex Hirsch, 2012-2016) through a third-wave feminist lens, arguing that these designs reflect an essentialized perception of gender that is in conflict with the themes of acceptance present in the series’ narrative. The series’ narrative pushes forth the idea that female characters are the moral center of the series and serve as an example to their peers, that they are self-assured and in control, and that men can push past any ignorance to care for the people around them, but this effort is undermined by the portrayal of gendered stereotypes of ignorance in the designs of these characters.

By looking at these character designs through the lens of two character design techniques, color theory and shape language, it becomes apparent that these designs perpetuate the stereotype that strong, independent women and girls are doomed to a life of disorganization, dissatisfaction, alienation as perpetuated by Backlash Theory as outlined by feminist journalist Susan Faludi. These designs also reinforce stereotypes against single men that claim that single men are ignorant, selfish, dangerous, cold, and incapable, a stereotype that actively harms real men according to Hannah E. Dupuis and Yuthika U. Girme’s study about discrimination against single men and women. Mobilizing the work of third-wave feminist scholars Kimberlé Crenshaw, Sara L. Crawley, Lara J. Foley, Constance L. Shehan, Elizabeth Grosz, and Judith Lorber also allows one to examine how these character designs represent a constructed concept of an essentialized gender that reinforces gender stereotypes of ignorance.

Finally, when comparing the narrative themes of selflessness and strength in the series to the character designs of female unruliness and male selfishness, this analysis highlights a disconnect between these two elements. This possibility for a disconnect encourages further discussion in the animation and film industry as well as film studies as to the relationship between narrative themes and character design which additionally allows for a deeper understanding of the shaping of gender and character design, which is especially important due to the youth-oriented nature of the animation industry in the United States.

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Creative Commons License
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