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Gender Roles in Disney by Morgan Johnson

Throughout Disney's history, the creators have stuck to a set structure when it comes to the gender roles of their characters. Females are consistently in need of help and the men are always there to rescue them. Over the years, the evolution of characters has brought both ruin and fame to Disney.


  1. Written for Writ.116 and Soc.101
  2. Disney's female characters have consistently been the damsels in distress with characteristics such as quietness, inexperience or helplessness, and enchantment by the leading male characters charmingly good looks. On the other hand, the males are portrayed as a hero who is strong, courageous, and downright handsome. With all these fantasies and high expectations of the real world, how is this shaping the children that watch these beloved classics? What kind of messages are we giving to kids?
  3. Expectations of Appearance

  4. If you've watched Disney films, you've probably noticed the typical "Princess" look. Disney's female leading roles almost always tend to have many of the same physical appearances. Without fail, they display delicate features, unrealistically small waists, large hips, long legs, large and inviting eyes, long eyelashes, large breasts, and dainty arms. In other words, appearances that are not very well known to the real world. Disney has put such a high image of what women should be into the minds and imaginations of children everywhere. It's no wonder we have such a high rate of eating disorders and schools filled with girls striving to be "perfect". With an image like the one below, we've been taught from a young age that beauty is everything. In order to be successful, you must be attractive. 
  5. Now, take a look at the original 1950's Cinderella. She was very pale and had a small waist, but larger than today's rendition, and her eyes are proportional to the rest of the features on her face. In today's version of Cinderella (pictured above), it's easy to see that the vision of beauty has shifted. The creators have given Cinderella a much smaller waist-line, thinned up her arms, made her make-up more pronounced, and enlarged her eyes. You would think that time would've improved Disney's idea of beauty, but it goes to show that things may not have improved much over the years. 
  6. The lead male characters are typically all drawn with similar body types as well. They, generally, are extremely masculine with large, muscular bodies. If you notice their faces, every prince has very strong features such as a deep jaw bone, big white smiles, and dark eyes. Just by walking into a room, they command attention by their appearance and are swooned over by every girl. The men's broad shoulders are very different from the tiny structure of the featured Disney females. All the women in the films would do anything to get the handsome man, which also puts into young boy's minds that looks are everything as well. Boys don't escape the appearance traps that are set for women, they too are cast under Disney's spell. 
  7. Characters like Hercules present the idea to boys that women will only be attracted to men with large muscles. At the beginning of the movie, Hercules was a weak boy. Although he was physically strong, due to the fact that he was a god, he didn't appear to be strong at all. Everyone teased him and girls wouldn't look at him twice. He felt as though he didn't have friends and wouldn't succeed very well in life. With the help of a friend, Hercules became very strong and with that, Meg, the girl in the picture, fell madly in love with him. He had large biceps, flowing hair, and pronounced chin- the whole package. Similar to the expectation of women, men are always portrayed as being strong and dominant. With very few exceptions, they always get the girl.  
  8. If you look below at the picture from Disney's Frozen, Anna's eyes are large, green, and inviting. Her face is rather round with a petite pointed chin while her cheekbones are high and painted a soft pink. Again, she has a dainty neck and small body frame. Looking at Kristoff, the male character, has much more dominant features. His body structure as a whole is much larger than Anna's. He's built, very athletically fit, has tussled golden locks, and a strongly pronounced chin. @johnmorg
  9. The trouble with these images is the notion that, in order to be found beautiful or charming, you have to look this them. By modeling every character similarly, it gives kids the notion that they have to strive to be thin or muscular in order to be attractive. In the article below, written in but cited from , after her research, the author writes "Results concluded that all three princesses [Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella] were pretty and passive and all three had female villains. This strongly enforces a popular stereotype of innocent beauty victimized by villains."
  10. In the clip below, the creator mentions at 4:16 that in the movie Aladdin, in order to get the evil villain, Jaffar, to cooperate, Jasmine "turns on her sexual charm to dazzle and distract Jaffar". At that point, she stands up and her shear cloak falls to the ground as she stands there seductively. She then walks over to Jaffar and puts her arms around him, claiming how "tall and handsome" he is. Due to this, Jasmine is able to distract Jaffar so that Aladdin can sneak in. This gives girls the idea that in order to get what we want, we have to be seductive, sexy, and intriguing. It implies that we can't win simply by being nice and friendly, we have to turn on the sex-appeal in order to get anywhere. It teaches young girls that their bodies can be used to get what they desire and that men will fall instantly. Not only could Jasmine catch Jaffar's attention with her barely-clothed body, she also faked an interest in him by playing with his emotions. She hadn't been interested in him prior to Aladdin's appearance in the scene, but knew she could fake her attraction to, again, get what she wanted.  

    Later on in the clip, it turns the scope over to the men's characters. Several men in Disney's movies play the role of the "Alpha-male" with high and mighty prides. They feel that they are the top dog in all the land and that any girl would be lucky to have them. Thankfully, not many of the lead female characters are enthralled with the stuck-up boys portrayed. The example in the clip was of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Gaston, who could have any girl he wants, is interested in Belle who has absolutely no interest in him. She doesn't find his self-boasting over-confidence attractive, which is a good message for girls AND guys. @johnmorg
  11. Gender Roles in Disney Movies
  12. Interaction Between Male and Female Roles

  13. Disney's classic movies and fairy tales have always been a crowd favorite when it comes to movie nights at home. Sharing these beloved films with children can be a great way to bond and bring back old memories. These tales seem to display good role models and positive, uplifting morals. But recently, a picture has hit the web and become quite the uproar on media sites such as Facebook. Looking closely at the picture below, we begin to start reading deeper into the films than we might have noticed by simply watching the movie. Applying an appeal to pathos, someone took it upon themselves to reveal a darker side to Disney's classical pastimes. We see Princess's like Snow White pictured preciously sitting on the ground with animals but a vicious caption stating "At first it may seem terrible, being so beautiful that other women get jealous enough to to and kill you. But don't worry, once your beauty attracts a man, he'll protect you." Didn't really catch that in the film, did you? Now, it's more than likely that wasn't Disney intent when they created the film, but it's quite easy to see the obscure underlying messages that have crept in.
  14. An interesting thing about females in the films is often the lack of power that they have. Many of the women are stuck doing chores or singing about how they wish their lives could be better. Several are under the control of an evil step-mother or under a spell from a devious villain. 
    The women in these movies also never have to work for their fame or importance. Nearly every "princess" is born into power. Very few, if any, have to work to be in the spotlight. Their ranking is handed to them the minute they are born. What if Disney created a woman that was born into the lower rank of society, but did enough good that the kingdom deemed her worthy of the crown? It'd definitely be a twist in the story that Disney has yet to portray. One character that wasn't instantly born into power was Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Her father was a poor man while Belle seemed to live a rather simple life with her nose in the books, which was an applaud on Disney's part for producing an intelligent female role. Later on in the movie, Belle is captured by a crazed Beast in a nearby castle and promises to stay there for the rest of her life as long as the Beast lets her father go. Throughout the movie, Belle begins to see a sweet side to the once evil-tempered creature and starts to fall for him. Even though he is aggressive and rude to Belle, she doesn't give up. In the article below, which nicely applies to pathos, the author writes "Belle submits herself to the beast.. without trying to escape.... [it] shows that a woman is obligated to stay loyal to the abusive male in her life. She learns to take his outbursts and "fix" him to become sweet again." She also notes that this situation displays a "dangerous error that many women make when struggling to leave a home of domestic violence." Many women do in fact stay with an abusive man in hopes that they're love and affection will change him for the best, a case that Belle played out.
    Also in the website below, Ariel's character is brought into the spotlight. Originally, the character of Ariel starts off by being a wonderful role model for girls. She brings to our attention that Ariel wanted to be an independent woman and explore above water, having high goals and seemingly destined to succeed. She had dreams but felt it was necessary to give them all up in order to win the charming prince. Her whole mindset changes when she meets Prince Eric, who, in turn, morphs her goals. Suddenly, she’s willing to throw everything to the side. @johnmorg
  15. Although the main focus on gender roles has mainly been about what is expected from women, men are not able to skip out completely scot-free. A lot of these Disney films portray men as being the heroic one who is always there to save the day. With countless roles of men in the films, it's giving young boys the feeling that they are the stronger and more capable beings. It ingrains in them the idea that women are simply incapable of handling themselves and unable to be the savior to a man. Even though a few movies show courageous women leads, somehow the man ends up being the praised one. "I am not saying that being portrayed as heroes is somehow damaging to men, but I do believe that constantly being portrayed as heroes may lead many boys and men to a belief that the spotlight is [theirs] for the taking." With Disney's portrayal of real life, how are boys supposed to understand that the hero isn't always them? Without watching the ending of a film, we know that the male will rush in and save the damsel in distress from the evil villain and we can easily predict that the man will suspiciously easily win the love of the female lead by simply glancing her way and flexing his large cartoon muscles. It doesn't come as a surprise that boys now days feel they don't have to do much in order to win the affection of a girl, they merely have to flash a seductive smile and getting them suddenly becomes the woman's main goal in life.