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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Unrealistic life lessons learnt from Disney

As it’s the weekend I decided to write a different kind of post today, and wanted to go for something a bit more fun!

I’m writing my dissertation on language and gender in Disney films which is a great excuse to spend hours of my life watching The Little Mermaid and all the other classics. However, watching them at this age has unfortunately caused me to start criticising the logic of the films and has got me thinking about what Disney did to my expectations of life. Similar to the video that Jenna Marbles uploaded a few years ago, I decided to list the ‘life lessons’ I received from watching Disney and Pixar films growing up.

1. I remember being about five years old and thinking that if I grew my hair long enough, it would automatically make me become a princess. It did not.

2. From watching Edgar make the milk in Aristocats I was lead to believe that if you mix together milk, sugar and anything else you can find in your cupboard it makes a delicious drink. I tried this when I was about eight and was bitterly disappointed. Also cats are lactose intolerant, something which I found hard to believe due to this film making me think all cats drank milk.

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3. As the song tells us, “when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true“, with no input from yourself needed. In other words, don’t work hard for the things you want in life, just wish for them to happen! It wasn’t until last year that I eventually gave up on this.

4. Simliarly, Cinderella sings “a dream is a wish your heart makes when you’re asleep”. If this is true then according to last night’s dream I want to be chased by spiders? I definitely do not!

5. If you sing to an animal it will instantly become your best friend. I’ve tried this with my dog several times and she just looks at me like I’m crazy.

6. I thought that all Godmothers were Fairy Godmothers; magical women who were fairies and could grant any wish you made to come true. I was always disappointed that I never a Godmother…

7. If you’re going through a rough patch or just having a bad day, the best thing to do is to lay down on the nearest thing you can find and have a good cry about it.

8. For quite a while, I genuinely believed that all stepmothers were evil women who wanted to ruin your life, or even have you killed.

9. The Lion King also lead me to believe that all hyenas were evil.

10. It also made me think that all animals in the wild were friends. I’m pretty sure this scene would end in mass murder.

11. Thanks to Toy Story, I secretly hoped that one day I’d walk in on my toys and teddies running around my room. While this never happened, I still to this day believe that my teddies have feelings, and that they’ll be deeply hurt if I ever abandon them.

12. Making a dress is easy, all you have to do is place some fabric over your head, tie it in the right places and cut some parts out, and voilà. I made a dress once and it was certainly not this easy.

13. You can fall in love with someone just by looking at them. You don’t even have to speak to them. Just wait until they rescue you – which often just entails kissing you – and then ride off into the sunset with them to live happily ever after.

Although all of these obscurities aside, I’m still a massive Disney fan!