Del Toro has said that he thinks of Pan's Labyrinth as a spiritual predecessor to his earlier film, The Devil's Backbone. And that's probably true: both are adventures into female adulthood.
Pan's Labyrinth is awash with female sexual imagery and symbolism that suggests Ofelia's tale is a journey through—or maybe away from—puberty, menstruation and eventually childbirth. And it's also a tale that makes a direct correlation between a patriarchal stepfather and authoritarianism: by disobeying Vidal, Ofelia's rejecting both an overbearing male presence and a nasty political ethos.
Questions About Gender
Do you see similarities between the patriarchal family system and Spanish government?
How would you relate this theme to other themes in the film such as choice and rules and order?
Is there a problem with how Vidal views his legacy? What roll do women play in the film when it comes to creating meaning and identity in the world?
Chew on This
Ofelia's quest is a feminine one. She's pitted against a male world of war and tyranny…which is also reflected in her fantasy world tasks. (Hey: she doesn't have to go up against the Pale Woman.)
Ofelia's quest, while surrounded by feminine imagery and symbolism, is not gender specific. It is, in its essence, a coming of age story about a young person against the adult world trying to maintain a sense of innocence.