Many children can say that they have seen a Disney movie at least once in their life. In the process they have been influenced by sexism. For this article I have decided to focus on the sexism and gender discrimination found in the movies made by Walt Disney. In an article titled Powerful or Pretty: A Content Analysis of Gender Images in Children’s Animated Films, Sabrina Fischer analyzes many aspects of Disney’s characters and their influence on children. I have chosen to only summarize the portions that directly relate to sexism and gender discrimination: pages 10-29. The analysis covers areas such as how women and men are portrayed in typical media such as Disney movies, what the media tells young men to look and act like, and the impact it has on children.
The gender stereotypes in Disney movies are unconsciously ingested by the youth of today. They stereotypes of gender such as women being subordinate to men will influence children into their adult lives. Fischer discussed famous research done by Henry Giroux. In his research in concluded that the women in the movies are usually subordinate to the men (Fischer, 22). They also concluded the typical portrayals of females and males in the Disney movies to be increasingly related to general gender stereotypes.
For a female, Disney depicts most of its characters to be extremely sexual and passive. For instance, Bell from Beauty and the Beast wears a dress that shows off her large breasts. It was cited that women were five times more likely to wear revealing clothing (Fischer, 17). Fischer depicts how in The Little Mermaid the females usually do not speak. However, if they do talk they often have the outer appearance of a beast or as a monster such as Ursula or even Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmations. Fischer also quoted the fact of being physically “attractive was associated with socially desirable characteristics and being unattractive was linked to socially disapproved traits,” (Fischer, 19).
For a male, Disney shows most of the male characters as showing dominance, anger, and the use of aggression. Fischer quoted that hyper-masculinity is a major theme among Disney movies. The males are constantly showing attributes that involve leading and being the hero in the movie. The males were also shown to be muscular and attractive.
These depictions by Disney movies are typical of gender stereotyping and they cause children to directly relate to the socialization of young children. Socialization is the basically the process where children take their experiences and form their thoughts and values that they will carry for the rest of their life. Fischer describes how children internalize the concepts presented by movies such as the ones made by Disney. By means of the social and cultivation theory children take what they see in the media and use that as a way to socialize themselves. Also, the more time the child spends watching movies like those by Disney, the more likely it is that it will influence their perceptions about life. From there, they use what they have learned to create norms, values, and actions for their own lives.
The “media tells young girls over and over again that women must be beautiful in order to be recognized by men in this society” (Fischer, 17). It also emphasizes that “real men” must be tough and independent or they will be associated with the characteristics of typical females. This often times causes young boys to be called derogatory names.
Children spend almost six and half hours per day with media and “consequently, television is the most significant media with the power to socialize children in American society” (Fischer, 20). As a result, children often see men in dominant roles and women in subservient roles (Fischer, 25). This affects the body image of both young men and women. If young boys constantly see the view of the perfect woman as being skinny and beautiful, they are going to expect all women to try and live up to that expectation. When adolescent females are influenced by the depictions of perfection, they often lack self-confidence and feel inadequate because they cannot live up to society’s expectations. “These stereotypical images of males and females in the media can result in devastating gender inequalities, inequalities which mainly disadvantage women” (Fischer, 25). The gender inequality created by stereotypes such as these often undermines the advancement of women in power. Women are promoted less often, are paid less and are made to feel as though they are intruders into the world of male leaders.
Although Disney was only trying to target his market by appealing to young girls and boys, he has also greatly influenced their socialization and the perception of societal norms. Overall, Disney movies have only propelled the stereotypes created by society. The characters are based off of common gender stereotypes and this is causing our youth to internalize these stereotypes as being normal. When the children use the media as part of their socialization, they are adding to the overall use of stereotypes and gender inequality.
This article raised a lot of negative feelings for me. I have never been one to take gender stereotypes easily. I think that if I had grown up in the time period where the feminists were burning bras and advocating for the women’s right to vote I would have definitely participated. This article based on the stereotypes portrayed by Disney movies and the influences it has had on the youth of America has really made me think how it has affected my life—since I grew up with Disney movies myself.
First, I was shocked. When I first realized that Disney’s goal was to captivate the audience of youth by using the typical stereotypes of the time I could not believe what I was reading. I feel as though the goal for such an influential movie maker should be to positively influence the youth, not put false perceptions into their minds. I suppose that Disney did not realize that he would have such a large impact on the minds of young children. In the end however, he still actively put in stereotypes for children to mimic.
This article also made me very frustrated. In my eyes women should not be viewed as inferior to men. I have believed all my life that each person is created equally and for women to be portrayed as having “no voice” I could just scream! I have seen too many women in my life be passive, just like the movies show and I have realized that cannot always be real life. Women need to take an assertive angle, rather than allow for the patriarchal society we live in today dictate what they can and cannot say or do.
Next, I realized that I have also been strongly influenced by the movies Disney has created. I was disappointed that even I was under Walt’s spell. I think that the view that many girls hold today is that there is a Prince Charming out there. I heard a boy say the other day, “I wish all girls didn’t think that just because a guy sweet talks them, that they are interested in any kind of relationship with them.” I think that his perception of being able to dominate and “sweet talk” girls without any kind of repercussion is a consequence of the media surrounding us today. I wish he would realize that girls would not expect to have a fairy tale relationship with people who “sweet talk” them if boys would only act that way towards females they were interested in!
Lastly, the effects that the media stereotypes have had on youth are alarming. The youth today are expected to try and live up to the standards created by movies such as the ones made by Disney. Males are supposed to be muscular, independent, and aggressive. Females are supposed to be sexy, skinny, and passive. These are not realistic ideals. The pressures these ideals have put on maturing youth have caused them to become obsessed with their outward appearance and social habits. Females have turned to disorders such as bulimia and anorexia in order to mold their bodies into being society’s definition of “skinny.” Males use their words and violence as a way to embody the strength and dominance demanded by society.
Overall, this article was a summary of how media has influenced the gender stereotypes of our time. It’s unfortunate that even our youngest citizens are being exposed to these influences at such a young age.