Disney movies are beloved by people of all ages throughout the world and are some of the highest-grossing films in the industry. However, there is controversy surrounding these adored movies: the gender roles of the characters. In many Disney movies, female characters are viewed as weaker and inferior to the strong and superior male characters. This inequality is inaccurately teaching youth that there are societal behaviors and expectations for certain genders.
The Women of Disney:
In early Disney Princess movies, the princess always gets her "happily ever after" by marrying her prince who saves her when she is a damsel-in-distress. However, this limits women to have a certain gender role. Why do women need a “happily ever after” that includes men? Why can't women save themselves when in distress?In the past, female Disney characters were characterized by stereotypes: they were weak, more controlled by others, emotional, warmer, tentative, romantic, affectionate, sensitive, frailer, passive, complaining, domestic, and more troublesome than male characters.The classic examples of the stereotypical weak Disney princesses are Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Their lives were horrible and then they found men to fix their problems. This kind of message tells girls that they are not strong enough to overcome obstacles and they need men to solve life’s issues.
In addition, in "The Lion King," the lionesses are shown to be very weak and they have to wait for Simba to return and save them. This conveys that the lionesses (women) cannot do anything for themselves and have to depend on the lions (men) for their freedom. In reality, lionesses do all of the hunting for the pride, while the lions sit back and look pretty with their flowing manes.
Another stereotype, although not usually focused on, is that Disney women are more troublesome than men. Cruella Deville in "101 Dalmatians," Ursula in "The Little Mermaid," and the Evil Queen in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" are evil and troublesome women. Although they are powerful, they are not powerful in the positive way that women should be seen as — independent and assertive.
The Men of Disney
Males in Disney movies are also viewed stereotypically: they are strong, empowered, the protectors, the providers, self-reliant, tough, aggressive, courageous, humorous, and heroic.
For example, in "Aladdin," Aladdin is fearless and survives using his wits, agility and street smarts. Throughout the movie, he fights “bad guys” and defeats a gigantic snake. Aladdin also shows his masculinity by wearing a very revealing vest. In "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the prince rides a horse and brings Snow White back to life with a kiss.
Male characters have been portrayed as masculine and even superior in Disney films.
Why are Gender Roles in Disney Movies an Issue?
Gender roles in Disney movies make assumptions about the behaviors and expectations of the characters. These assumptions and expectations include the stereotypes surrounding men and women as discussed before. Some critics would suggest that these stereotypes are the result of hidden motives; however, in reality, the stereotypes are only a side effect of common public norms and expectations for genders. Disney movies can be seen as sexist and can be harmful influences on youth who are beginning to form their views of the world. Considering the society that we live in, Disney movies fall in-line with the sexual biases that presently exist in our culture.
The Steps to Changing Gender Roles
In the 1980s, during a rise of feminism, "The Little Mermaid" was released and Ariel redefined Disney gender roles. No longer was she a damsel like the other princesses, but a strong, rebellious young woman who did not want to conform to the norm. This movie revolutionized Disney movies and started a new era of Disney animation. Pocahontas, Mulan, and Belle were new princesses after Ariel who chose their own paths and did not let someone control them. Newer movies that include strong and independent female leads are "Brave" (Merida), "Frozen" (Elsa and Anna), "The Princess and the Frog" (Tiana), and "Lilo and Stitch" (Lilo and Nani).