Gender inequality in Disney

As I’ve mentioned previously in another post, I am writing my dissertation on Disney which is regrettably forcing me to over analyse every aspect of my favourite films. I love Disney and I don’t think that will ever change, but over the last week I’ve stumbled upon some interesting points about the the animated films which have definitely touched a nerve!

I’ve been reading a chapter from a book by Rosina Lippi-Green entitled Teaching children how to discriminate, and it has brought out my inner-feminist. In one section of the chapter, she discusses a study which she carried out on all of the Disney films out at that time (1997); she began by counting the amount of male and female speaking characters that were present. Her findings showed that almost 70% of characters with speaking roles were male, and this is the first issue that I have. As a form of entertainment with such a large audience, both male and female, why are men so overrepresented? Because men are the dominant sex in our society and women are supposed to just ‘fit in’ where necessary.

As well as the unfortunate ratio of men to women in the films, they are also trapped in stereotyped roles. Lippi-Green points out that men typically play men doctors, waiters, kings, thieves, hunters, servants, detectives and pilots; women are either mothers, princesses or daughters – with the exception of an evil villain here and there. Are these the roles that we should be teaching children to aspire to? That little girls should just accept their fate as being someone’s wife and not desire a life of their own?

Similar to this, Lippi-Green also found that men are allowed to change and develop in character; they can start off as being bad, but improve themselves and end up being a good guy. Women, however, do not have the same opportunity. A woman is either good or evil, and she cannot switch between the two.

After reading this chapter, I started thinking about my favourite Disney movies and how these themes were apparent throughout them. Another issue jumped out at me: female characters rarely interact with each other, and when they do it’s often not a pleasant encounter. Is popular culture telling girls from a young age that women should not get along with each other, and that they can only have positive encounters with men?

It’s a shame that gender inequality even stretches to family-friendly, much-loved animated films and television programmes, especially by such a large and prominent company such as Disney. I do have to say, however, that Frozen probably comes the closest to trying to resolve these issues: probably the reason why I love it so much. Even though initially it appears as though the theme of love is going to be shown between Hans and Anna, it takes a beautiful twist and ‘true love’ is shown between two sisters, and not a romantic relationship between a prince and a princess. And even though Anna and Elsa’s relationship gets a bit rocky in the middle, they’re soon back to being best friends and showing that not everything is about guys.

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