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The Naïve Princess: Disney and the Exhortation of Gender Roles Essay

Disney is a glimmer in all of our pasts. We all have been affected in some way or another by The Walt Disney Company. Most of us have even taken the Great American Pilgrimage: Disneyland. Disney is a huge force in the child’s industry, even close to a monopolization of the industry. Since Disney has such a strong grasp on the culture of modern children’s society, if we truly value the future of our culture and our children’s children then we must critical analyze the messages that are being sent.

Are the stories and fairytales that are being told ones we want our children to hear? As Walt Disney once said “I think of a child’s mind as a blank book. During the first years of his life, much will be written on the pages. The quality of that writing will affect his life profoundly”. If these messages are that profoundly affecting the lives of our children, are they the ones we want to shape our children’s lives? Some of the most well-known movies such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid” are some of the most destructive.

From the ideas that distort what relationships should look like, to the ideas of abandoning yourself for the unknown. These ideas are extremely destructive to children and the potential futures they hold. One of the largest faces of Disney is also extremely destructive. This is the Disney Princesses; the all beautiful, helpless, and naive girls of fantasy.

One of the large names in criticizing Disney is Henry A. Giroux, Author of The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence and Mickey Mouse Monopoly. He has made many comments and breakthrough ideas that show us we must reevaluate what Disney means to us. From the ideas of Disney hiding behind innocence to the ideas of the destructive forces behind the Disney movies the ideas are truly breakthrough.

Many others have made huge breakthroughs as well, such as Dr. Carolyn Newberger, Psychology, Harvard Medical School. Gender roles are extremely prevalent in Disney films and the ideas that go into our children’s heads are that girls are supposed to be like this, and boys are supposed to be like this. Movies such as Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and Mulan show these gender roles that children are then somehow expected to follow. If we continue to allow our children to go about life with these ideas still in their minds, we allow Walt Disney to profoundly shape our children’s lives.

Interpersonal Literature
“Arguably the most profound outside force shaping our sense of self is our gender – the composite of social, psychological, and cultural attributes that characterize us as male or female” (McCornack, 2007). “The construction of gender identity for girls and women represents one of the most controversial issues in Disney’s animated films. In both The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, the female characters are constructed within narrowly defined gender roles” (Giroux, 2010). Disney’s animated films carry strong notions of gender and the ideas that society wants us to conform to. It’s been there in Disney’s films since the beginning, and it’s continuing to pressure society to conform.

“What’s amazing when you look at Disney, Disney movies over the years is how little the image of females has really changed…You still have the same, highly sexualized female body with big breasts, tiny waists, the fluttering eyelashes, the koy expressions, and the seductress…What we find is that this presents people the kind of notion of what femininity is about” (Picker, 2001).

The Little Mermaid holds nothing back when exhorting the gender roles upon society. Upon first glance Ariel appears to be in a scuffle against parental control, motivated by her dreams to explore the human world, and willing to take risks in defining the object and subject of her desires. This all dissolves when she makes the pact with the sea witch, Ursula. In this pact she sacrifices part of who she is, her voice, so she can gain a pair of legs so she can pursue Prince Eric. (Giroux, 2010) “Once she gives this up the only thing she has left to get the man is her body” (Picker, 2001).

This is a man she has only seen, never met, doesn’t know him the slightest, and she is giving up herself so that just maybe, this handsome man will love her. “Within this rigid narrative, Ariel’s maturity and identity are limited to her feminine attractability and embodied by heterosexual marriage. That Ariel’s happiness is tied to the reward of marrying the right man and entails the renouncement of her former life under the sea is a telling cultural model for the values and choices presented to women in Disney’s worldview” (Giroux, 105). Also look at the way Ariel is presented.

She has the tiny waist, the fluttering eyelashes, and the koy expressions. “This is no way to truly represent yourself. This is putting a stereotype and reinforcing it upon women and how they should act.

The Lion King also presents a strong ideal of gender roles. “All of the rulers of the kingdom are men, reinforcing the assumption that independence and leadership are tied to patriarchal entitlement and high social standing. The dependence that the beloved lion king, Mufasa, engenders in the women of Pride Rock is unaltered after his death, when the evil Scar assumes control of the kingdom.

Lacking any sense of outrage, independence, or resistance, the female felines hang around to do his bidding” (Giroux, 105). This again is detrimental to society, telling society that men are superior to women, that women should sit back and be submissive to any man, no matter what they are doing or want to women to do.

In Aladdin Jasmine also exhorts this gender role once again. “Jasmine, in the Aladdin film, in which there’s a scene where she becomes a seductress, to distract the person who’s after Aladdin. This I find very dangerous because it gives young girls the idea that, that is the way you get what you want. You use your body to manipulate people, specifically men, to get what it is that you want (Dr. Elizabeth Hadley, African American Studies, Simmons College)”.

“One of the scenes seen repeatedly in Disney’s movies is no matter how ever strong or powerful a female character may be, she still needs to be rescued by a male. In the world of Disney females not only get into trouble easily but they also lack the ability to save their own lives”. (Giroux, film) This is seen in multiple Disney films including The Little Mermaid, Tarzan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Beauty and the Beast.

The ideas and ideals that women are helpless and need to be saved are extremely dangerous and damaging to society and the children who watch the films.”One of the girls was playing at the playground and she was up against a fence, [with a hand to her forehead], and the boys were coming to her rescue”. (Allison Wilson, Neighborhood House Charter School).

Within Beauty and the Beast we have a similar story. Belle is portrayed as an independent woman, and portrayed as smart, because of her love of books. She also rejects the macho male stereotype in the film. Sounds good right? While she rejects him, she gives her love to the Beast, who holds her captive in hope that she will love him. “Belle not only falls in love with the Beast but also tames him. She teaches him how to eat properly, control his temper, and dance. Belle becomes the model of etiquette, as she turns the narcissistic, muscle-bound tyrant into a new man, who is sensitive, caring, and loving.

Belle’s transformation of the Beast implies that women are responsible for controlling male anger and violence. If a woman is only pretty and sweet enough, she can transform an abusive man into a prince – forever” (Giroux, 107). ). This is in no way socially acceptable but little girls accept this to be ok. One girl, Abigail age 9, said that if Belle was her friend, she would be happy for her because she found someone she likes, and she stays with the Beast, but also would feel bad for her for the yelling. (mmm) Another, Melina age 9, said that if she was friends with Belle she would tell her to keep being nice and sweet like you are and he will change. (mmm).

In reality the children are confused at what should be going on. Belle should not have stayed with the Beast; his abuse was enough to make her leave him. This is again not only detrimental to society, but damaging to how women react in situations such as relationships. She should have done what she could to leave, because of the abuse she was enduring from the Beast. But no, she is a helpless woman who needs to stand by her “man” and change him. It is her responsibility to do so, not his. This is a dangerous message to send to our children.

Within the films if we look to the Walt Disney quotation, “I think of a child’s mind as a blank book. During the first years of his life, much will be written on the pages. The quality of that writing will affect his life profoundly”, we can analyze the ideas behind them. The “writing” on our children’s minds that Disney is responsible for is damaging and hurtful to society. If we want our girls to grow up and become the naïve, helpless girls that are focused on beauty and beauty alone. Disney exhorts the idea that Beauty will get you everything you ever dreamed, and that should be your main focus.

Disney has a large influence on modern culture, and children’s culture. This means that the ideas and messages that are within Disney films are prevalent and should be taken into account. We don’t want little girls to grow up and be the helpless girl focused on her body in order to get what she wants, nor do we want her to stand idly by as she watches wrong doing over and over again, and we sure don’t want her to stay in abusive relationships and do her “duty” to change the abusive man. This is understood by children, as shown throughout Mickey Mouse Monopoly.

The gender roles that Disney is exhorting upon society are no good, and need to be addressed. We see it happen again and again in Disney films, and it will continue to happen. Disney will continue to exhort the societal gender roles and children will continue to fall for it. They then have this gender role that they need to fulfill in order to get what they want on the pages of their minds. They will become the “gender” that Disney wants them to be.

Therefore, Disney’s reign needs to be addressed. We have all these ideas that form who we are and who we will become. In the future we need to allow children to understand that the portrayal of gender in Disney films are myths, and need not be followed. Our children are the leaders of tomorrow and what will happen to the future of society if we bring up the helpless, naïve princesses that Disney wants us to. We need to empower our children, and allow them to be who they want to be.

Disney needs to step aside in raising our children; they are doing a terrible job at it. The next time our children ask to watch a Disney film, we need to ask ourselves; is the message my child receiving going to influence her to empower herself, or empower the societal gender role?

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