Posted by: hannahm22 | February 13, 2014

What We Are Teaching Children

I am particularly interested in child psychology. The things we teach children greatly impact their opinions and perspective on the world as adults. If young girls are taught that their place is in the home, they will likely be discouraged from pursuing leadership or management positions. They may also think that it is wrong for them to be ambitious or to seek out promotions. I found the Carli and Bukatko reading very interesting, but I actually was not surprised that boys and girls differ in the way they communicate as early as preschool.

Disney movies are some of the most popular among children, if not the most popular. In one of my psychology classes we studied the influence that television and movies have on children. Firstly, the waist to hip ratio of Disney princesses is nearly a physical impossibility; the thinnest models don’t even come close to it. Secondly, female Disney characters tend to be dependent on others. The movie I find to be the most extreme is Mulan, particularly the song “Honor to Us All” which is about young women beautifying themselves for their future husbands. I’ve always loved this movie but the words of the song are really quite appalling: “Men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient, who work fast-paced, with good breeding and a tiny waist. You’ll bring honor to us all.” It also says how people must serve their emperor, “A man by bearing arms, a girl by bearing sons.” Now of course, in the movie she also takes her fathers place in the war and defies the bounds of her gender. But the rest of the movie is still filled with references to what men and women should and shouldn’t do and their roles in society. The link to the song is here: 

Movies like this teach women to be reliant on men and that their only purpose in life is to be a good wife and mother. This reminded me of the Friedan reading and all of the housewives who felt stuck, like they couldn’t change their situation. It also discourages women from entering politics, the military, top level management, etc. Young girls need to be taught they are independent and not reliant on men. Likewise, young boys need to be taught they do not necessarily have to grow up and provide for a family. It is perfectly acceptable if a man wants to stay home with the children and not work.

I am interested to hear about other movies or shows that you think may have a negative influence on children. Or do you think that these movies don’t have a negative impact? What did you watch when you were younger that impacted you? What are things that the children you know watch now? Do they act in a stereotypical way according to their gender? Were you ever told when you were younger that you shouldn’t be doing something because “girls don’t do that” or “boys don’t do that”?


  1. I personally could not disagree more that Mulan teaches young girls to be dependent on males -it’s actually quite the opposite. It shows, like you said, what was expected of Mulan, but at the end she brought “honor” to not only her family, but her culture, by testing these gender stereotypes and standing up for her true cause. I do agree, however, that many movies, tv shows, toys, etc. teach young girls to be a certain way to be considered “popular” or “feminine”. I personally do not feel that these movies have a negative impact on every little girl watching them seeing that I watched them as a child and am a strong independent woman. I think that in most instances little girls want to replicate these beautiful princesses, women, models, etc, but it is important for parents to teach them the difference between make believe and actual self-esteem. Like we have talked about in class, it is often women’s own lack of self-esteem that prevents them from becoming everything that they are capable of, and I do believe that is largely due to media influences.

  2. I think it’s interesting to note that in the original Chinese poem about Mulan, after the war she comes back and takes her place as a woman in Chinese society. I agree with Bethany that the Disney version of Mulan is empowering to young girls, but the Chinese legend is not. I might be alone on this one, but I think Disney does a good job, especially of late with movies like Frozen and Brave and Rapunzel, of depicting girls and women that are empowering and that don’t necessarily need a man.

    While I certainly think it is a necessity for girls to have strong female characters in media to have as role models, I don’t think that excludes the traditional sense of femininity. In fact, I think it’s important for girls to see that they can be choose to be as feminine as they like or choose to be as independent as they like. I don’t know if I’m making a whole lot of sense here, but I’m trying to say that girls can still hope for romance and a man to take care of them or whatever they want while still being their own person. I hate when girls feel as if they have to choose between a romantic relationship or being considered independent; I hate it more when others look down on girls/women who have a high priority on trying to find a significant other. This probably only makes sense to me.

    As for your other questions, I think the medias portrayal of women is changing for the better. More and more in television shows and movies, especially children’s tv shows, we see working mothers and women in high leadership positions. I think it will be interesting to see how girls today feel about gender issues when they are our age.

  3. I believe that as time has gone on, children’s movies have gotten better about de-gendering and stereotypical male and female gender roles. The “princess culture” of our generation is as prevalent as ever, and Disney princesses are finally beginning to show empowerment to young girls.

    Jennifer Welsh, a LifeScience staff writer, wrote an interesting article titled “Disney Princes and Princesses Still Slaves to Some Stereotypes.” When referencing past Disney princesses, she stated:

    “They tended to their physical appearance a lot, and they were referred to as ‘pretty’ a lot. That was an important character trait for the princesses, but little girls typically don’t play Mulan or Pocahontas, not in their warrior costumes.”

    The character progression from Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to Mulan and Pocahontas demonstrates significant degendering, and may be exactly what our generation and future generations need to finally break the gender gap. With movies such as Mulan, I believe that women are taught that they can be powerful and successful regardless of their gender.

  4. I also disagree with the idea Mulan is a negative influence. I think the songs from the Disney movie are there to show a contrast to how Mulan is acting, but Mulan is the one that really ended up being the hero. To me, this just shows that women do not always have to be what everyone else expects, she can have importance in society doing typically male roles as well.
    With that being said, early Disney is definitely guilty of portraying the princess as typically feminine while the prince is portrayed as typically masculine. But, as we have discussed in class, with each generation, the gap between genders gets smaller. I think it is really interesting to see that that is reflective even in children movies. Frozen is the big new children’s movie and it takes Disney in a whole different direction. The main character, although still a princess, is the hero of the story. She demonstrates many qualities that do not reflect typically feminine qualities. I am not very up to date with other new Disney movies but from what I have heard, the focus is no longer just on finding love, but describes a women taking on heroic roles.

  5. I too remember hearing that particular song within Mulan and thinking, WOW, this is the most sexist song I have ever heard. However, it is very hard to truly understand the words of the song as a young child. I did not know what they were really saying until I had gotten much older. I do find it interesting how Disney put in subtle gender stereotypes within the movie but overall their message was about breaking away from that. I think that was the purpose of the song was to emphasize how people across cultures view women and expect women to act. Mulan broke away from gender stereotypes of woman and was proof of just how powerful women can be. I remember as a child I watched the Little Mermaid,thinking on it now I hated how she gave up everything, her identity, her family, she gave it all up to be with a man. That is something I thought did not help with the perspective of how women should be.

    On the other hand, I do not think these movies contribute to the gender differences of men and women as adults because within each of the Disney movies there is a valuable lesson or meaning behind the movie. I have not been up to date either with the Disney movies out but from what I here they do empower women. There are more adventure movies where Princesses are on a journey getting into trouble to achieve a goal. A few examples, Tangled and Brave. So I do believe that Disney is doing a better job of alleviating those expected differences between both men and women which is what we need because gender stereotypes are engraved as such a young age.

  6. I think that Mulan did quite the opposite than encourage women to be dependent on men. If you notice, Mulan isn’t really buying it through the song and I think that was what the point was. That it’s not right for women to depend on men. I think Disney is trying to now distance itself from princesses who depend on men with movies like Frozen and Brave. Brave encourages girls to be independent above all else and to take control of your own life. Frozen pokes fun at the true “love at first sight” thing in the beginning and shows that love between family is true love. (Which is a new concept for them to show) I think that yes Disney used to encourage girls to rely on men in movies like Cinderella but not so much anymore. And definitely not in Mulan.

  7. I also think that the song in Mulan was more to show how she did not agree with this gender role, and was more to exemplify how she went on to break out of that gender role, rather than feeling trapped into it. I’d say in the past disney movies, especially the princess stories like Cinderella, the Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast all really did play into those gender roles that you had to find a man and get married. Now, movies like Frozen and Brave are teaching girls that they are in charge of their own destinies and they can really do whatever they want. I am so happy movies are moving more towards these directions. But I’d say that although the movies from our generation were more negative, I did not feel that I had to fit into that gender role. I think gender roles are most encouraged by the environment we were raised in. Like if you have a mother that truly fills the gender role of being a stay at home mom, always having her face made up, making dinner every night, and being completely content in this role (which is a completely acceptable role, don’t get me wrong) then you would be more likely to have no problem becoming that role, and perhaps would even strive to have that when you grew up. If you grew up in a house where your mom was a high level position in a business and your dad was a stay at home dad, you would be more likely to want to be in a position like your mom and would not think twice about having a husband who stayed at home with the kids. But that’s just my opinion.

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