Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gender in Disney films

This topic has been covered a lot, by a lot of people, but I came across two good pieces this week that I wanted to post. First was this image (found here);

This image emphasizes the importance of women being pretty and reliance on men within Disney films, in some of the characters that little girls idolize most.

This film (found here) shows masculinity in disney films.

My favorite piece from it was this quote.
It's much more a question in creating a certain environment of images that we grow up in and become used to and after a while those images will begin to shape what we know and what we understand about the world... it's a slow accumulative affect and it's much more subtle.
I don't blame Disney for sexism by any means, but I think this quote is very true. These images become seen as normal and gendered practices that exist throughout the media become entrenched in our thinking as naturally gendered behaviours based on real biological differences, when in fact, many (if not all) of these differences are social constructs.

What concerns me most is when I watch television programming that is currently geared towards young children... the gender stereotyping on the Disney channel, which airs sitcom-like television programs for kids is way more blatant than in any of these movies, in my opinion.


  1. Was one of the good pieces you read mine? lol jk!

    I don't know why, and I haven't thought it through totally, but I think not ALL Disney movies are as unabashedly gendered. There are at least small strides, I should say..

    Jasmine is sort of different than the rest of the princesses. She is sarcastic, snide and satirical about how she has to be married off to some prince charming. She is really disdainful of gender roles under an oppressive regime, and makes small gains in changing it. She's not complacent like the earlier princesses.

    Belle has that potential as well, though not to the same degree as Jasmine. Obviously, in the end, she is with a charming prince, but throughout the rest of the movie she rejects the idea of traditional masculinity (which is boasted by Gaston). She isn't swayed by it in the least...

    And I haven't seen Mulan, but I thought that was a fairly progressive Disney film?

    I am not saying they are the pinnacle of progression, but if we are going to talk about children's media, I think it's worth exploring how some of the princesses at least have this potential.

  2. Actually, yes, Gina... your piece was good. You tend to look at nuances within the various films much more than I do. I am torn with some of your arguments... on the one hand, I agree with everything you said, on the other, i'm not sure how much it matters.

    Yes, Jasmine is sarcastic and snide and not ready to settle for just any prince, but, at the same time, she is hegemonically attractive and surprisingly white, and, in the end, still falls into a lot of the same gendered stereotypical roles as the other princesses... maybe I would think differently if she ended fully clothed and kicked Jafar's ass instead of getting stuck in a giant hourglass and watch as her prince came to her rescue with the help of a tiny monkey.

    I also think Gaston is a parody of the hegemonic male character and is more subversive than Belle in breaking gender roles, but only if he is taken up that way by others.

    It almost seems to me as though we can give a few characters a few interesting traits and then call them feminist and say that everything is right with the world... we are equal, see? Jasmine cracks a joke, Belle rejects an asshole, and Tiana was even racialized for a small part of the movie (when she wasn't a frog).

    Maybe I am just in a cynical mood today...

  3. OH, I was totally not disagreeing with ANYTHING you said . I was just saying that there should be a more nuanced understanding of how gender is at play in the films.

    As a side note: I think Jasmine does more to express female oppression by being locked in an hourglass than she would by kicking Jafar's ass. It represents the totalizing effect of oppression on women's bodies and we can see it as a physical manifestation, instead of her being a singular, exceptional individual (one who has pulled herself up from her bootstraps, to bring back an earlier thread).

    I CERTAINLY did not mean that just because Jasmine cracks a joke that all is right in the world! I meant that she AT LEAST draws attention to gender roles in unparalleled ways in relation to other Disney movies.

  4. If I were writing an essay, I might go into more nuances, but probably not in the way that you do... postmodern flourishes, right? And you might be right about Jasmine and the hourglass, however, I don't think that any 5 year old watching the movie would pick up on that metaphor.

    On a somewhat related note, I would love to see you try and use these nuances to talk about a few ways that the London Tipton character on Disney's The Suite Life could be a good thing!

  5. I'm so happy my parents never let me watch those movies. But the problem is, most media is portraying exactly those stereotypes. My parents tried to shield me from that negative influence, but I have to say, I can't imagine any story or movie were the protagonists aren't good-looking and attractive, and it's such an important part of heroines in any story that they are always, always pretty. I understand that it pleases the eye and all that, but I just feel I wouldn't hate my body as much as I do now if I wouldn't constantly receive the message that I have to be beautiful in order to be a fulfilled and happy human being.
    I *know* it's not on the outside what matters, and that traditional beauty standards are pretty messed up anyway, but I just can't shake that feeling that I am somehow less worth than beautiful and thin people.