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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The internet overreacts to Victoria’s Secret advert

Over the last couple of weeks Victoria’s Secret, the well known American lingerie company, has been under attack on social media because of the advert for their new bra. The advertising campaign for their new product, named the ‘Body’ bra, featured a handful of the glorious models each wearing a different form of the product, with the words The Perfect “Body” sprawled across them

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I understand where the criticism is coming from and how this may upset some people, but personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I read an article claiming that this campaign is going to cause eating disorders, low self esteem and negative body image, which I think is taking it too far. I therefore feel it is important to point out a couple of things…

Firstly, the campaign is not directly calling the models’ bodies perfect. It is referring to the bra itself, which is called the ‘Body’ bra. The aim of the new line is to ensure that there is a bra for every need – for example perfect coverage, multi-way or racerback – which is clearly shown in the advert; they are stating that it is the perfect bra.

Technicalities aside, yes, Victoria’s Secret models do have amazing figures. They’re underwear models, what do you expect? For the last few years now I have watched the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, and though I may be envious of their beauty and bodies, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for them. They work extremely hard to maintain their figures, involving eating a healthy and well balanced diet and exercising frequently. Candice Swanepoel, in an interview with vogue.com shares how she finds that “100 minutes of nonstop action every other day” to be a good way to stay in shape. Her exercises include a range of toning, cardio and shaping which show her dedication to being a healthy size. As well as informing us of her exercise technique, she also explains that when it comes to her diet, she doesn’t cut anything out. She says, “I actually focus on eating more protein and carbs to build a stronger body”, dismissing any criticism of how the models may not eat a healthy and balanced diet.

I believe that instead of ‘bodyshaming’ women, the advert could actually instead promote being healthy, and should provide women with role models to look up and aspire to. Obesity is becoming a huge problem in our society, with 64% of UK adults being classed as overweight or obese. I fear that the issue is not being appropriately addressed, with fears of upsetting or hurting people by explaining how it is important to be a healthy size. In my opinion, our society is becoming too politically correct, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to say something without being told that it is no longer acceptable to say that.

An online petition was made against the Victoria’s Secret campaign, asking them to change it and provide an apology. While the company as yet has not released an apology (and why should they?) they have unfortunately, in my opinion, changed the advert, and it now reads “A Body For Every Body”, which if you ask me, is a bit of a mouthful.

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