The last time you watched one of Disney’s early animated movies, like Snow White or Cinderella, you were probably around 8 years old and planning your next birthday party around your favorite princess. What you weren’t thinking about was the underlying gender roles the movies teach children at a young age.
I recently discovered an article that revealed the gender roles implemented in the films generations grew up watching habitually. Reading about the outdated stereotypes these movies encourage made me come to a realization of the way Disney has contributed to the struggle for gender equality in the real world. The movies exhibit unrealistic situations and expectations to youth. Regarding love, Disney teaches that love at first sight happens all the time, it’s okay to be someone you’re not to get attention, and that being beautiful will result in happiness. My favorite message is one from The Little Mermaid; it’s okay to give up the part of you that makes you special as long as you get the guy. Ariel literally gives up the ability to speak in order to have the chance to see Prince Eric (even though she can’t even talk to him, but of course he will still fall for her because why does actually getting to know someone matter). She abandons her friends, family, and whole world behind for love – an unrealistic lesson to teach girls.
This idea that happiness goes hand in hand with finding a prince is also evident in the music in these Disney films. In Snow White, the song “Some Day My Prince Will Come” implies that she she cannot be happy with her life until marriage.
Disney also implies that there are certain things the genders should and should not do. It’s the guy’s job to be the hero and come to the rescue, and it’s the girl’s job to be the useless damsel in distress in need of rescuing. Men are also expected to be intelligent decision makers and exert their dominance on submissive women. Gaston in Beauty in the Beast is a prime example of the sexism the princess movies exhibit through male figures.
Research has been done analyzing the negative stereotypes found in these Disney movies by looking at the way the princesses’ leisure time is spent. The results were comical. These female characters spend most of their time interacting with animals, and singing and dancing were runners-up. These films are teaching young girls that your time should be spent singing with talking animals instead of something realistic, like reading or working, that will help them out in the real world.
I have yet to hear about a college major in animal language, but hey, I guess you never know.
It was a sad day when I discovered the movies I grew up with had been subconsciously enforcing gender roles on me. Recently, Disney has been straying away from these outdated ideas by producing movies, like Frozen and Brave, that have female characters as the heroes. I hope when the time comes, I’ll be able to take my kids to the newest Disney movie and see no trace of gender stereotypes.