As I watched 16-year old ‘Snow White’ helplessly waiting for her ‘Prince Charming’ to dive in for a swoon-worthy rescue scene, Disney’s gender norms and double standard with males and females were evident before my own eyes. Disney portrays females as dependent creatures, unknowingly giving birth to an array of expectations regarding one’s gender, more commonly known as gender stereotype in society. Females are expected to be fragile, mannered homemakers just like a Disney princess, while the men are expected to be strong, bold, and governing, willing to rescue a damsel in distress any given time, like a true knight on a white horse. These stereotypes are embedded into the younger generation who grow up to be a crucial part of the society. From an early age, Disney movies have always been a part of childhood. Disney has kept up a constant theme of women relying on men to achieve their happy endings. Disney movies portray the princess as a feeble victim, whereas their male counterparts are more intelligent and worthwhile. ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Aladdin’ are only some examples of the most popular Disney movies that display the ever-lasting gender bias, as the brave knight saves the attractive, fragile princess. Young girls watching such movies look up to these princesses as a role model in their lives. Disney-loving girls are easily convinced that their Prince Charming is waiting for them somewhere out in the world. Meanwhile, the young boys watching these movies believe that they are the dominant gender, powering over the females. Disney’s perfect, handsome lead males alter these boys’ perspective of what a male represents in society. Disney movies categorize things based on gender, and send the wrong message to the young minds. Ever since the beginning, Disney has imposed a set of rules for both genders, setting apart males and females for many generations to come. Disney’s traditional rules are unethical because they restrict each gender to their customary roles as they render girls to be ‘feminine’, separates girls and boys into categories of colors, and depicts men as the dominating gender in society.
Disney’s traditional outlook on gender roles is invalid because it has pressured girls to be feminine, persuading them to inhibit a princess-like personality which requires them to be weaker and tentative. Disney is a tool that plays a major part in shaping children in their early ages. Disney movies usually involve a picture-perfect princess, who captures the attention of young girls who hope to pursue their own fantasies someday. Disney’s motive is to promote girls as graceful, feminine beauties to a point where “a 15-year old is incarcerated in a Chicago mental hospital in 1981 and kept there for three years because she won’t wear a dress” (Graff 250). The aforementioned 15-year-old was held in a prison-like situation because she chose not to be threatened by society’s stereotypical depiction of a ‘girl’ and rejected getting dolled up in a graceful dress. According to Disney, dresses are the mirror to a girl’s feminine side, revealing their ladylike personality to our backwards society. Therefore, when the 15-year-old girl stood up for her right to choose her own clothes, she threatened Disney’s century old, socially-acceptable portrayal of a girl. Fragile and graceful are the words used to describe Disney’s princesses, consequently raising society’s expectations from every girl around the world. If a girl chooses the other way around, they are permanently labeled ‘tomboys’. ‘Tomboys’ are often disliked figures in society like the previously-mentioned 15-year-old girl who chose to diverge from Disney’s representation of a girl, opting to wear masculine clothes such as pants and a shirt, instead of a floral dress with heels. As a result, she became a victim of society’s norms that continuously grew through Disney’s biased portrayals of females. Disney sets up specific expectations for women, and anyone threatening the pre-designed system is punished or ostracized in the community.
Disney’s traditional beliefs about gender roles are exceedingly shallow which is immoral, considering how they illustrate genders through specific colors such as ‘Pink’; it is considered a girl color: a representation of sensitivity and serenity. Disney does not just make movies — it is also a source of mainstream media where they use color stereotypes from movies in order to appeal their products to consumers of a certain gender. According to Disney, pink is the color for girls, and dark colors are for boys. One of the Disney’s market strategy states, “‘Let’s pink it up!’ enthuses a sticker on the Barbie beauty set. Toymakers are doing their best to appeal to young girls by using pink in every way possible. It's the same for clothing, where pink — and its pallid deputy, mauve — dominate. Boys get dark colors that won't show dirt: green, brown, navy” (Greene, 1). Disney creates a pink world for girls, expecting them to be pretty, fragile, delicate, dependent, emotional, warm, and loving. Meanwhile, boys are linked to dark colors as they are supposed to be more adventurous, witted, athletic, mechanical, independent, and confident. Pink guides girl to be more feminine. It prioritizes outer beauty above everything else, as it is representation of attractiveness and beauty in a female body. Dark color demands boys to be more outgoing and adventurous just like a princess-rescuer, prince. Playing in mud, riding horses, and fighting the villains are expected to be a key part of a boys’ journey and the dark colors will hide all the stains and blemish on their clothing throughout their journey. Disney’s influence over colors is very significant in children’s lives as well. In order to avoid judgement, isolation, or public shame, both genders tend to opt for the particular color that represents their gender in Disney movies: pink for the girls and dark for the boys, regardless of their personal choices. Disney uses the colors as a medium to attract kids to their products, making the spa and kitchen sets pink, while the superheroes are dressed in blue or other dark colors. Disney discriminates with colors on such a regular basis that today, every girl’s choice of room color is pink or ‘Cinderella’ themed while boys go for darker color or choose a superhero theme for a masculine effect.
Lastly, Disney’s traditional roles style men to have a greatly dominant influence over women. In Disney movies, males lure in females with their handsome appearance, smooth talk, and suave personality, attracting them physically and emotionally which sometimes end with greater violence and abuse. Such materialistic actions, which are labeled as masculine by many, are highly inexact, if not immoral. Disney has always portrayed men to be the leading part of society. The prince charming may not be the protagonist in a Disney movie but in the eyes of our society, he is always the savior. The gap between a girl and a boy is clearly marked, “Beres (1999) not only found that gender stereotyped images are portrayed, but that men’s control over and abuse of women is romanticized” (Beres 357). More often than not, Men in Disney are the ones to take the first step towards dating. The first step habitually gives some authority to the males over the females’ hearts. In order to preserve their first love, Disney princesses have to sacrifice their heart to their male counterpart and blindly follow their directions, an example of which would be ‘Anna’ from ‘Frozen’. She is vulnerable to ‘Hans’s’ charm as he wins her over and takes advantage of her. She ignores warnings about Hans because she refuses to give up her first love, no matter how dangerous it could be, clearly giving Hans the upper hand. Disney, however, displays the whole situation as love gone wrong, and represents Anna as weak-minded and Hans as abusive or violent. Young children find action fascinating where men are the ones with authority, and hope to blend in Disney’s culture. Disney has created an image where men are always on the top regardless of their actions, which is misleading, as it creates a false image and justifies rude and abusive behavior. Such actions attract young boys to follow along which later results in abusive and violent behavior.
Gender roles are just some stereotypes executed by Disney that mislead both the genders in our society. As a society, everyone agrees to these expectations, making all chances of escape scarce. Gender roles act like blind beliefs for the society. Disney enforces these ideas into young minds by incorporating them in their movies. As a result, kids agree to these norms and thrive to meet such ridiculous expectations for their respective genders. Disney’s sexist influence on children continuous to grow rapidly, without an obstacle in path. In the movie, “Snow White”, Snow white is described as weak but loving, poor but attractive; she takes care of seven dwarfs, cooks for them, cleans for them and nourishes her feminine side while the prince charming is masculine, strong and bold. His one kiss is portrayed as the most powerful weapon, enough to recreate a life. “Snow White” being Disney’s one of the most famous movies, reflects how sexist Disney really is about different genders. Disney is a conservative, multimedia platform, pressuring girls into becoming fragile, incompetent homemakers who only know how to look pretty and cook. Meanwhile, boys are being pressurized into being brave, fearless knights who are not afraid to use their dominance for evil. Even colors are categorized as girl or boy colors, hoping to mold each gender in a certain way. As Albert Camus put it, “The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” Disney’s misleading influence on the younger generations can only be solved by understanding its effects. Girls and boys alike are getting brainwashed into believing Disney’s pre-determined gender roles: girls as the helpless princesses, and boys as the knights in shining armor.
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