As many of JMU’s students traveled this past week for Spring Break, I took myself out to California to visit an old friend from high school who moved out there after we graduated. While out in the 80 degree weather in San Diego, we spent time on the beach, went jet skiing on Mission Bay, and of course we drove up to Anaheim, California to go to Disneyland! After reading superhuman4’s latest blog post, I took specific notes while there about the gender binary I was witnessing. Going to Disneyland was an eye opening experience for me because of the gender expectations that were being portrayed throughout EVERYTHING!
Almost everyone in our generation, and the generation before, grew up watching Disney films. We remember the characters and the story lines all too well. Many little girls wanted to grow up to be Belle or Cinderella and many little boys wanted to be Aladdin or Hercules. These characters were our idols because they were everything that we wanted to be when we were younger.
So, why is it when we look back at the films now we often are uncomfortable with what we see? We see dime a dozen racially inclined stories, too tight outfits, and emotionally testing, sometimes abusive relationships. By looking a little bit further into Disney films, we realize that they were setting up gender roles for us as kids. Using these beloved films as well-known examples, we can teach our students about gender roles and societal “norms.”
From an early age, mainstream media puts images into our brains, telling us what is appropriate for our gender type. Young girls are hounded with images of princesses, who tell them that the key to happiness is being fashionable, beautiful, small waist-ed, and your ultimate goal is finding a prince to save you. Young men are taught that to be successful, you must be good looking, muscular, and manipulative.
Critics have been discussing the topic of Disney’s appropriate role models for years. In an article written by Peggy Orenstein, called “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?,” a problem is evident with the amount of princess and ultra feminine imagery all around us. She writes that you can’t go anywhere these days without someone bringing up the idea of a young girl being a princess. The author opens her article by stating a time that her daughter was called “princess” by a waitress, who brought her “princess pancakes” and tried to guess “the princesses’ favorite color.” The author goes on to ask the question of, does every little girl have to be a princess? Why must young girls stick to such feminine stereotypes? Instead of calling young girls “princess,” maybe we should call them something like “warrior” instead.
Young males who watch Disney films see male characters who are above average in physical ability, like in Mulan, and Beauty and the Beast. To me, at the beginnings of the films, it seems that the males often think of themselves as more intelligent and more worthwhile than women in the movies, even though the women are usually the main –or- title character.
It is important to study gender stereotypes and roles so that our younger generation recognize these roles and are hopefully able to detach themselves from some of the negative ones. Healthy body image is so important to have in life, but the younger generation is being told what they look like isn’t good enough. By exposing the evils of gender stereotyping, we are empowering our younger generation to break free of society’s plans for them and to pave their own way in life.
While I was in Disney I was appalled by the incredible amount of gender specific everything. I legitimately saw a mother telling her son he could not get the Olaf flavored cotton candy because the movie Frozen was for girls. When will we all grow up and learn that looking at gender as a binary is not seeing the whole picture; or even further, why a movie centered around a female is so horrible for little boys to watch.
Your move, Disney.