27 thoughts on “What Disney Teaches

  1. Erin, no. Disney also teaches us that it’s OK to steal from the public domain while working hard to ensure that none of your own works enter it.

    (Also, Andersen’s Beauty didn’t suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, and his Beast didn’t have anger management issues.)

  2. I am too ignorant of Disney films to be able to pick out the characters. I wish I could and I wish I could match the men to the women, but I don’t know enough about the films to do this. Any help?

  3. Bare-chested Aladin goes with mid-rif showing Jasmine.

    Prince Charming of Cinderella is the dude in the white military/royalty outfit, and Cinderella is in the blue gown.

    Sleeping Beauty is on the left side, in the pink gown, and her dude is on the right in the red cape.

    Little Mermaid should be obvious. Her “prince” is the guy with the white shirt and red belt on the left side.

    Snow White is in the front with the short black hair, and her dude is the left most guy with the blue tunic.

    I don’t know the last two.

  4. The politics of these films is poor. However is this about Disney or cultural time and place that many of European fairy tails originated?

    Also, not that I’d want to defend the corporate monster, but isn’t the message of Aladdin that the princess should be free to marry who she wants regardless of political considerations?

  5. I think it’s interesting that I can’t recognize any of the male characters other than Aladdin. Disney may have a pro-women spin yet.

    Cool post.

  6. Lisa:
    The woman in the yellow dress is Belle from Beauty & the Beast, and the guy on the bottom right is the Beast after he gets un-beastly.

  7. When I was little, I wanted to be just like Belle so I read lots of books. Now I’m a feminist philosopher. These movies are not as negative as people often make them out to be. Many of the newer princess like Belle and Jasmine are intelligent and bold. As a member of the generation who grew up with all of these movies on my shelf, I’d like to present myself as anecdotal evidence that they do not brainwash little girls. If anything, they helped inspire me to be even more awesome.

    Also, Mulan (not pictured) was a bad ass.

  8. Mulan was a bad-ass, but the Disney version of the story is far less feminist than the actual chinese ballad about her which the movie is based on. (At least, I think so). Below is why.

    “Then there’s the Disney version of Mulan, which I would contend is the exception that proves the rule. Mulan saves China from the Hun invasion, and in the end saves the life of her emperor despite the fact that no one would heed her warnings on account of the discovery that she was a woman. She’s a strong female character who essentially saves her world. So what’s my problem? Just like the story of Annie Oakley, Disney’s Mulan is a reworking of the actual tale to make it more “marketable,” and ultimately, more sexist. In the original Ballad of Mulan, she doesn’t go off to war to restore any damage to the family honor she caused by not being good enough for a matchmaker. In the Ballad of Mulan, she never falls in love with her general- she becomes a general. In the Ballad of Mulan, she doesn’t sneak out in the middle of the night to become the ultimate self-sacrificing daughter- she tells her parents she’d like to go to war. If Disney’s Mulan isn’t sexist, then why was it rewritten to fit the fairytale norm?”

    From here: http://community.feministing.com/2009/09/apparently-you-can-get-a-man-w.html

  9. The bit w/ Prince Charming reminds me of my favorite part from the play “Into the Woods”, where Charming is caught chasing another woman and replies, “Well, I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

    I think what especially saddens me here, though, is the way the drawings have been changed over time. I can’t find a link now, but if you can find how these characters looked in older films, and compare them to the picture above, you’ll see quite a change.

  10. Although I think that Disney movies are intended to promote the status quo, and pay lip service to the equality and importance of women without actually giving them any real value, I will agree with esund’s comment. Exposure even to very simple and small ideas that may seem trivial to us can be overwhelmingly important for children.

    I grew up in a Muslim household, and despite the many issues (feminist and cultural) with Aladdin, it did mean a lot to me, as a child, to be exposed to the idea of a woman from the same background refusing the suitors brought to her by her parents and believing that she deserved to marry the person she wanted to marry. I hate to say it, but that is one my most distinct childhood memories — watching the scene of Aladdin where Jasmine refuses her suitor.

    Does that make the entire thing acceptable? No, but it did give me access to an idea — that I didn’t have to assent to my parents’ demands just because that was our culture or tradition. And saying “No” to such demands was a huge part of my development into what I am now.

    Which is a feminist and a philosopher, unmarried in my late 20s, living alone, wearing American and sometimes revealing clothes, going out on dates, drinking alcohol, and refusing every suitor my parents (still) decide to try and introduce me to… because just like Jasmine’s, they are all pretty much jerks who only want the immigration status that would go along with marrying me (because it suffices to say they would find me and my antics intolerable).

    I am sure my parents are thrilled with Disney.

  11. Too bad they didn’t also include Princess Tiana from the recent Princess and the Frog. The movie generated a lot of controversy w/r/t its race messaging, but the gender messaging was also absolutely awful. Tiana is driven and wants desperately to own her own restaurant but the basic message of the movie is that she won’t be truly happy unless she also finds love. A woman cannot be fully satisfied by her career; she needs to find a man too.

  12. well, we haven’t improved on any of those messages….in fact, we may have gotten worse. Pretty Woman was a more modern-day Cinderella: the woman SO beautiful and sweet that billionaire comes along and takes her out of her awful job as a street prostitute to marry her. There was SO much wrong with that movie as far as being realistic…..let’s see: a billionaire would be SO unable to find women that he has to marry a street pro? Then there’s the reality of street pro’s. She wasn’t even a “higher class” escort, but a street pro! The whole cutesy, humble act was so wrong for someone who sells sex on the streets, who’s unlikely to have graduated from high school, is likely to be doing drugs, running scams, and is unlikely to be charming or interesting for more than an hour….much less for months of dating. I can’t even begin to tell how far from reality that was.

  13. I don’t think the problem with Disney movies is that they’re unrealistic- it’s that they employ negative and prejudicial stereotypes, the relationships portrayed are unhealthy, etc. etc. With respect to Pretty Woman, there is a similar sort of theme of her being rescued by a rich man, and needing to “find love” in order to be saved, but the idea that a sex-worker has to be at least “higher class” in order to be worth loving, or to be nice, or humble, or cute, or interesting, I think is wrong. (And likewise for people needing to have graduated high school.)

  14. Mackensie, thanks for clarifying what happened to be beast. I was worried.

    Obviously, Disney’s impact is in part a matter of amplifying messages from many other sources. Much in my childhood said that women get what power they have from the men the marry, and women who do not marry have no power. It was in fact completely explicitly said. What the Disney movies did was really to put the message into a set of more concrete fantasies.

  15. I’m wondering what you all think about the new Alice in Wonderland film (presented by Disney).


    Alice was arranged to be married but ultimately chooses career and independence. Is this progress? (Although the saint/whore dynamic of the queen sisters was rather cliche…)

  16. Hello, all. :)

    @Alice in Wonderland **Spoiler**

    (I haven’t seen the movie since I first saw it in theatres back in March/April, so bear with me — some of my details could be wrong)

    Progress? Perhaps not. She had to be pretty much persuaded into believing that it was her destiny to kill the Jabberwocky, rather than she assuming the role all or at least mostly on her own (although that may be forgivable, considering her lack of self-esteem and confidence in said world). And then, her first gesture of independence in the real world? Engaging into some colonial business adventure. Sure, she’s not stuck in an arranged marriage!.. But still.. Business. :/

    So she goes from Wonderland, where she’s allowed to dream as she pleases, no one else hurt; to running a capitalist, imperialist project that will possibly oppress brown people, and since the story was still in the late 1800s and all characters were English, they may have been Indians. She gets to be involved in all the nonsense that goes on for 50, 60 more years before Gandhi, et al, kick them out for good.


  17. In any case, weren’t the “Alice” books satires of Victorianism? What’s more Victorian than imperialism? That’s Disney for you: upside-down story logic.

    I still love the Little Mermaid, but that’s the 7-year-old obsessive “wearing out the VHS, knowing every single line in the movie” me talking. :) I never did like the finality of Ariel’s acquiring her humanity and sacrificing her mermaid race to marry Eric. I mean, hide it behind a “growing up” metaphor all you’d like, she’s still selling out her heritage. My little black girl self didn’t like that, so I wrote stories about her and a *daughter* using magic spells to visit the Sea Kingdom from time to time. :) Who knew that Disney would steal my very original idea 10 years later? ;) Plus, there was an older anime show out on Saturday mornings at the time (early ’90s) where this happened, so… :)

  18. I cant even watch fairy tales anymore because the message is so wrong for girls. As a kid i loved them and really thought “my prince would come” and magically make me happy. Its hammered in us from such young age. I eventually learned that that i had to make myself happy.

    Fairy tales ruin lives!

  19. Jenny D, you are so right!

    At least Disney makes up for the crap once in a while by finding a genius like Brad Bird. The Incredibles KICKED ASS!! I still can’t decide if I’d rather fantasize about having Elastigirl for my mom or my best friend or my lover. She is Every Woman! Edna Mode was hilarious too. And completely manless, and married to her non-flesh creative endeavours. And Fro Zone and the rest… I think this one was Disney’s best so far. I hope Dreamworks will keep putting pressure on them to compete so they’ll ditch the princesses and give us more female action heroes to teach our girls how to rescue themselves and work within well-oiled teams in the face of adversity.

    No, more female superheroes won’t give our girls the ability to deflect bullets with super force-fields (referring to Jenny D’s blog). But by introducing them to ideas of egalitarian teams, where each person’s abilities compliment and enhance others’ talents, maybe more women will stop doing Patriarchy’s job for them, stop viewing other women as competition for husbands, stop tearing other women down, and learn how to use their talents to teach and protect each other.

    Stay strong and stay safe, Jenny.

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