Children all over the world watch Disney movies, adults too – let’s not lie, but is Disney subconsciously teaching today’s youth to behave within a certain gender bracket? Is this reaffirming gender inequality?
Although people like to think we live in a world of gender equality, the sad fact is women are often still seen as being the weaker sex. Through looking at male and female characters in Disney animations, it becomes apparent how the two different genders are portrayed differently in terms of their roles. England, Descartes and Collier-Meek (2011, p.555) further claim that Disney and its well known princess phenomenon is a powerful influence on children’s thinking and consumerism as it is a main contributor to the consumption of traditional gender roles. The Disney princess phenomenon is such a powerful machine that the franchise includes 25 000 products that increased from $300 million from marketing sales in 2001, to $4 billion in 2008 (Setoodah & Yabroff, 2007, p.66). With the market being this saturated in the ideal Disney princess, no wonder today’s youth are feeling a necessity to conform to this ideal.
Male characters in Disney roles tend to be assertive, athletic, competent, intellectual, accountable and far stronger than the female characters. An example is Tarzan, he was raised by one of the most strongest animals on earth, killed a sabre toothed tiger with a stick and throughout the whole film his ripped, masculine body was scantily covered with a piece of cloth. In contrast, female characters are portrayed as weaker, easily influenced, sensitive, frail, complaining and domestic. Sleeping Beauty is an example of an attractive, feminine, domesticated lead protagonist, whose main ambition is waiting for a man to come and rescue her. Further gender stereotyping is also shown through Disney’s femme fatales characters. Interestingly the powerful women in Disney films are often middle aged and quite commonly the villain, think along the lines of Cruella Devil, Ursula and the wicked Queen (England, Descartes and Collier-Meek, 2011, p.557).
How do these processes and underlying connotations influence children’s gender role acquisition and expression? The constructivist approach proposes that children form beliefs about the world around them based on their experiences and observations, therefore viewing material with strong depictions of gender roles will influence children’s ideas (Graves, 1999, p.710). England, Descartes and Cllier-Meek (2011, p.566) further add that constantly reinforcing this perceived gender role will allow these images to be conceived as “normal,” as children will deem this behaviour socially and behaviourally acceptable.
These gender stereotypes are definitely seen within the schooling cliques. It is so engrained that young girls who prefer short to long hair are often identified as butch or being tomboys. Girls who prefer pants to skirts, or sport to shopping are not classified as feminine. A quick survey of my Year 8 English class revealed that all students had watched at least three Disney films and a survey of the girls showed that even though they know being a princess is a storyline, they would still like to be a damsel in distress to an attractive male. Students also made me aware of the newest Disney hit, Frozen (which I ashamedly haven’t seen yet)but state that the main character only relies modestly on the male protagonist. The main character searches for sisterly love rather than romantic love. Well done Disney!
As we grow older these stereotypes are often broken down as people tend to become more confident in who they are and what they want to portray, but within a high school these barriers definitely do exist.
England, E., Desccartes, L. & Collier-Meek. (2011). Gender Role Portrayal and the Disney Princesses. Sex Roles, 64(7), 555-567. Doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-9930-7
Graves, S. B. (1999). Television and prejudice reduction: When does television as a vicarious experience make a difference? Journal of Social Issues, 55(4), 707–725. doi: 10.1111/0022-4537.00143
Setoodeh, R., & Yabroff, J. (2007, November 26). Princess power. Newsweek, 150, 66–67. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/docview/214255116?pq-origsite=summon
Belous, T. (2013). Tatyana’s Blog [Online image]. Retrieved from http://tatyanabelous123.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/gender-stereotypes-in-disney-movies.html
Sdasdgw. (2013). Walt Disney’s Tarzan [Online image]. Retrieved from http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/walt-disneys-tarzan/images/20329729/title/tarzan-photo
WaltDisneyConfessions. (2012). Privilege in the Happy Ever After [Online image]. Retrieved from http://feministdisney.tumblr.com/post/13250073610/privilege-in-the-happily-ever-after