Two days ago, on Christmas Eve, I was watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my son. He loves the song and the movie. Me, I love the song. But as a movie it’s kind of a genuine nightmare when you watch it as an adult. But I’ll digress a lot if I pursue that train of thought, so I’ll get back on track now.
We’re watching Rudolph, and we’re eating popcorn, and we’ve just gotten to the part where Rudolph goes to the Reindeer Games but not quite to the point where Santa tells Donner he should be ashamed of himself for siring a freak. My son looks at the screen for a moment, then looks at me quizzically. “Why don’ tthe girls have antlers?”
“Huh?” I ask.
“Only the boys have antlers,” he says, pointing at the screen. Sure enough, the young male reindeer have antler nubs and the adult males have antlers, but there aren’t any on the females of any age. “Why don’t the girls have them?”
“I… don’t know,” I tell him. “I’m pretty sure that girl reindeer have antlers in real life.”
“That’s not fair,” he tells me. “They should have them in the show as well.”
Do female reindeer have antlers?
This, it turns out, is one of those questions that is really simple to answer. Yes. They do.
Care to elaborate?
Sure. A Google search took me to the website of the San Diego Zoo – specifically to their page on Reindeer, or Rangifer tarandus. Both male and female reindeer, according to the zoo, grow antlers.
Males begin to grow antlers in February and females in May. They both finish growing their antlers at the same time but shed their antlers at different times of the year. A male drops his in November, leaving him without antlers until the following spring, while female reindeer keep their antlers through the winter until their calves are born in May. This fact has led many to believe that, based on the presence of antlers, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer must have been a female to have those antlers on Christmas Eve!
Wait. Rudolph is a girl?
A woman actually, if you want to use a term like that. Now, based on the script of the Rankin/Bass movie from 1964, Rudolph was born “a couple of years before the big snow”, and went to the Reindeer Games when she (he, as the script misgenders her) was a year old. Female reindeer reach the age of maturity at four years old, and you’d probably need an adult or near-adult reindeer to help pull a sleigh, so Rudolph would have been three to four years old by the time she returned to find her parents missing, and probably about 6 months older when the “big snow” hit (since Rudolph was born in the springtime, according to the narrator). And since it’s rude to refer to an adult female as a “girl”, let’s go with “woman” if you want to anthropomorphize her or “female” if you don’t.
Here’s where things get a little confusing. See, the Reindeer Games take place in the spring, which starts around March 20. As a result, it appears that Rudolph is a boy – like the other boys he’s growing his antlers, the adult males have their antlers, and none of the females have begun to grow them at all. And these antlers are probably her (his?) second set, since the Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association states that young reindeer “have already grown their first set of ‘Rudolph’ antlers” by the age of 4 months, by which age they weigh around 90 pounds.
[b]That’s not what I meant. Rudolph is female?[/b]
Well, yeah. The majority of the evidence still points towards Rudolph being female, along with the rest of Santa’s sled team. See, as described above, “a male drops his [antlers] in November, leaving him without antlers until the following spring…”. Now, here’s Santa’s sled team from the show:
It’s the night of December 24 in that picture, and the reindeer have antlers. Only female reindeer have antlers in December. Therefore, Santa’s sled team are all female – including Rudolph. Unless the same genetic alterations that caused Rudolph’s nose to glow also caused him to retain his antlers longer than ordinary male reindeer. In that case he’d still be male and the only male on Santa’s sled team. But I find that unlikely – given how Santa and the other reindeer shunned and mocked her for having the glowing nose, they’d probably have mocked and shamed her out for having “girl antlers” as well, if she was actually male.
So, why don’t the female reindeer have antlers in the show?
I’m going to go with a mix of 1960s sexism, and the fact that you probably shouldn’t draw your lessons about anatomy from a stop-motion animation program.