Posted by: kaitlynproffitt10 | September 13, 2012

How Disney portrays gender.

In my Children’s Literature class we have been discussing the roles of women in Disney movies as well as in fairy tales. An overarching theme in these stories has been that women should take on a passive role, while the man takes on an aggressive and active role. Women are typically portrayed as being beautiful females that are easily tricked, unable to act on their own accord, or just plain dumb. A quote from one of the readings in my Children’s Literature class states there are two definitions of women. “There is the good woman, she is a victim. There is the bad woman, she must be destroyed. The good woman must be possessed and the bad woman must be killed or punished” (Dworkin). In the Disney movies all the princesses are good and therefore are possessed by princes or a man of some sort; while the evil or bad women such as a which is punished by the end of the movie.  Many women from my generation grew up with these stories and fairy tales such as: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Aladdin; which I am sure played some role in their childhood and “gendering”.

I remember when I was growing up I aspired to be Cinderella, but quickly realized that this was a silly and unobtainable aspiration. While my brother was outside being “rough and tough,” I was inside having tea with my barbie dolls. I truly believe that the Disney movies I watched shaped the way I did gender as a child and still influences some of the ways I still “do gender.”

Here is a clip about some of the different gender roles from a variety of Disney movies:


  1. I was going to post something about this but I saw you already did. I totally agree with what you’re saying and I grew up on the Disney films as well (although I hated barbies and I still played in the dirt). When I look back at those films, I realize how wrongly they portrayed women. However, with the emergence of Tiana, Rapunzel, and Merida, I think it’s safe to say that we are seeing less and less of the Disney princess who is only out to find herself a man.

    In the Princess and the Frog, Tiana doesn’t need or want a man, let alone have the time to find herself one. She’s ambitious and is tirelessly working toward her goal of owning and running her own restaurant someday. On the road to pursuing this dream of hers, she winds up falling in love with a prince. Even though she ends up with a man, she does not falter from her original dream and ends up getting both her restaurant and her man.

    In Tangled, Rapunzel sets out to see the floating lights, the only thing she’s ever wanted. Again, the goal in her life is not one of finding a man, but setting out to see the world. Like Tiana, Rapunzel also ends up falling in love, but she is also reunited with her family and reaches her dream of seeing the floating lights.

    Merida, the newest princess in the movie, Brave, is a rule-breaking girl who refuses to get married and does bad-ass, “masculine” activities such as archery. She doesn’t even end up with a man, rather she changes the laws of her country so that a woman can have the choice to marry whomever she wants.

    So I think there’s been progress in the right direction when it comes to Disney Princesses and even before the three I just mentioned there were strong heroines like Pocahontas and Mulan. Each princess reflects the views of society according to the year they were made and I think it shows in how much the princesses have changed.

  2. Another twist on this issue hopefully became evident when we learned the statistics about the male/female breakdown of Disney’s board, regarding who is making the decisions in the film industry about what viewers “want to see.” I’m curious how the typical storyline shifted from the traditionally gendered to the one portrayed by Brave. I wonder who had influence in that decision, and if Disney is following society’s advances where they could be leading it instead.

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