Sexism and Masculinity in Disney Movies

by Melissa Silverstein on March 23, 2010

in Sexism

It’s not only the girls who are screwed up by the Disney movies with their princesses galore and pink sterotypes, it’s the boys who get it too.

Here’s a great video that pulls back the curtain on why these films screw with boys too.

Way to go Sanjay Newton


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Em March 23, 2010 at 12:37 PM

Sorry, but this video’s points don’t work with the clips they’re using. Most of the clips that he’s showing are villains – the whole point of a villain is to present an unfair character that the hero can define themselves against. Of course villains aren’t going to present healthy images to identify with.

Sanjay is using a romantic scene with Prince Eric to support the idea that men are taught to objectify women? He’s holding up Gaston as a harmful image for boys to be identifying with? He’s the bad guy! That’s like saying Cruella DeVille encourages anorexia and makes girls feel bad about their self-image.

He says that the only image presented for boys to identify with is chiseled abs, broad shoulders, built muscles. Aladdin is a small guy, Quasimodo is a deformed hero, and Simba is a lion.

I’m sure there are legitimate issues with the way Disney portrays men and boys, and what makes their heroes, but the examples in this video don’t support Sanjay’s argument.

Anemone March 23, 2010 at 12:58 PM

It’s interesting to hear a male voice talk about this. I think a lot of the same problems can be found in comic books, too. (If anything, I think comic books are a lot worse.)

But I find the protests against Disney princesses really frustrating. Is it Disney princesses that are the problem, or all princesses? I didn’t grow up watching Disney movies, I grew up reading traditional fairy tales and myths, and there are some very powerful themes in those stories (admittedly dumbed down by Disney). And I honestly don’t see the difference between traditional princess characters and women who become doctors or lawyers – there’s as much privilege as there is talent and hard work in those job titles, too.

I find myself on the other side of the fence when it comes to gratuitous/fantasy violence – I object to it (on the basis of media research) but some people think it’s good for kids, or at least not bad. So I can see how easy it is to get at loggerheads with people over these issues.

What am I saying: I think we need to throw out the sexism, but at the same time not throw away the deeper mythic elements to these stories. Otherwise we’d just repeat them with more modern characters.

Bevin March 23, 2010 at 5:33 PM

While I think his overall point is interesting and certainly has validity, I agree with Em’s stance that the clips and examples used to illustrate his points actually undermine his argument. Most of the clips he used were portrayed in the films as being reprehensible and undesirable behavior, and if the barrel-chested body type is so prevalent, why does he only have Gaston and Hercules shown? There’s actually more variance in male body types than female in Disney movies, and his other clips from “Aladdin” and “The Emperor’s New Groove” actually showcase that.

I’m not saying Sanjay doens’t have a point, I think he does– when “appropriate” female roles are so constrained, in a binary viewpoint, it stands to reason that “appropriate” male roles will be equally constrained. And yeah, I agree that the problems in the movies are too readily solved through physical conflict, I think that’s a big problem with most Hollywood movies in general. But the way he presented his argument left me scratching my head, since he seemed to be shooting himself in the foot a lot.

Elayne Riggs March 23, 2010 at 10:33 PM

I agree with Em and Bevin. It’s interesting, but I found myself shouting back at the computer – and sexism in cartoon culture is one of my interests/hobbies. There are a lot of leaps he takes that I just plain find wrong. It’s like he’s cherry-picking to fit his thesis rather than finding examples of obvious sexism that’s, let’s face it, all around us in society anyway, and certainly reflected in mainstream animation. I mean, using The Lion King (borrowed in large measure from Kimba the White Lion anyway) as an example of dominance? Yeah, that’s pretty much what LIONS do! And he keeps returning to the “ideal” of Gaston, who – hello! – is the VILLAIN of Beauty & the Beast. Way too much wrong with this, however well-intentioned.

d March 25, 2010 at 9:13 PM

I’m just echoing what everyone said. And it’s not like he didn’t have some good examples to pull from. Beauty is particularly bad because Belle, by the end, would almost rather have the beast, she has become so attached to his personality and who he was in that skin. She didn’t even believe it was him when he changed until she looked into his eyes.

The best one that illustrates this is The Hunchback. He was a great guy, caring, lonely and desirous of romantic attachment. They made him a hero in the film to a certain extent, but they made sure that he and the heroine stayed just friends, while she became attached to the hunky, blond soldier.

Melissa Silverstein March 29, 2010 at 9:18 AM

I hope he comes on the site and checks out the comments and does a part 2 with all your suggestions.

Andria March 30, 2010 at 12:27 PM

While I can see what he was saying, his argument was weak and dated. Why didn’t he discuss Pixar films?

The clips were loaded for the body type issues alone. I mean, Hercules was supposed to be a god, Gaston was an evil douche, and there are lots of different body types for men (Aladdin, Kuzco, Quasimodo, Arthur, Mowgli). Also, why was Simba the only animal character presented? What about Chicken Little, Dumbo, Robin Hood, the Tramp, Bambi or Bernard from the Rescuers?

Both boys and girls might get jobbed by Disney, but can we all agree that girls get it way (way) worse and this guy clearly didn’t do his homework?

For fun’s sake, here is a look at what Pixar says to little girls:

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