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    Stereotypes of Women in Disney Animated Films Essay

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    Walt Disney Corporation is one of the most influential media production companies in America. Its media productions range from TV and radio programs, cartoons, and animated movies. The media inventions of Walt Disney Corporation are not only broadcasted in America but world widely, while the target audience is mainly children. However, Disney fairytales movies usually depict gender stereotypes concerning males and females roles, especially for the Disney Princess movie line.

    In this essay, I am going to analysis the women stereotypes depicted in the animated movies in the Disney Princess line, including Snow white and the Seven Dwarves (1937), Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), The little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), Mulan (1998). First of all, animated movies in the Disney Princess line usually portray women as weak and helpless, they are dependent on their male counterparts, especially for those films that are produced in the early years. In each Disney Princess films, there is a beautiful maiden who is suffering, only prince can save her.

    For instance, the heroine in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is depicted as a weak and emotional woman, she always bursts into tears when she faces difficulties or feels sad. Moreover, she needs the prince’s help when she was poisoned by her wicked stepmother who is jealous of her beauty. Without the kiss of the prince, Snow white will sleep forever. Furthermore, the princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty is cursed by an evil fairy that before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall asleep from which she can be awakened by true love’s kiss.

    Again, her life and death are controlled in the hands of a male. Even in a heroine flim, Mulan, the female character still needs help form male. In the training camp, she cannot afford the demanding training as she is physically weaker than men. Beside, each of the Disney Princess movies except Mulan has a central Princess and Prince pairing. It seems that the ultimate goal of each princesses or heroines in the films is to find a handsome and wealthy prince or man to marry, and then they can “live happily ever after”.

    For instance, in Snow white and the Seven Dwarves, there is a song called “Someday my price will come” which is sung by Snow White. The lyrics are: Some day my prince will come Some day we’ll meet again And away to his castle we’ll go To be happy forever I know Some day when spring is here We’ll find our love anew And the birds will sing And wedding bells will ring Some day when my dreams come true The lyrics depicted the dream of the princess is to wait for a prince to find her and marry her, and then they will live happily ever after.

    Moreover, in Cinderella, a maiden, Cinderella is paired up with Prince Charming. In Sleeping Beauty, Princess Aurora is paired up with Prince Phillip. In The little Mermaid, Princess Ariel is paired up with Prince Eric. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle is paired up with the Beast who is a prince originally. In Aladdin, Princess Jasmine is paired up with Aladdin who became a wealthy prince by the help of The Genie. Even in Mulan, Disney arranged a male counterpart called Li Shang for her and they fall in love. Disney reminds us at the conclusion of the film that Mulan is still just a girl in search of a man” (Giroux, 102) Almost all the princesses in Disney films aimed at marrying a prince and live happily ever after. Additionally, Princess Ariel is even depicted as being willing to do anything to be with Prince Eric, even giving up her voice to become human. This indicates the desire of the princess to marry her beloved prince, this dream is so big to her that she is willing to give up the important things in her life in order to accomplish it.

    This stereotyped that every female is driven by finding her prince in order to be happy. It seems that every female’s biggest dream in their life is to marry a handsome and wealthy guy, and they are willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish this dream. However, in reality, a woman can definitely living happily without a man, marrying a handsome and wealthy guy is not the only way for women to be happy and this is not the biggest dream of most of the women nowadays. Moreover, through the Disney Princess movie line, Disney stereotyped what a beautiful and pretty woman should look like.

    In the films, the heroines are usually portrayed as beautiful and gorgeous, they are so pretty that some wicked characters in the films will jealous them and even want to hurt or kill them, such as Snow White. Snow White is a 14-year old princess with short hair “as black as ebony”, full lips as “red as the rose”, skin “white as snow”, and brown eyes. Her wicked stepmother jealous of her beauty and poisoned her with an apple. Besides, Cinderella is about 19 years old with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a fair complexion.

    The sleeping beauty, Princess Aurora is 16 years old with long golden blonde hair, violet eyes, rose red lips, and a fair complexion. Belle is a European looking young girl with full lips and dark eyebrows. We can see that most of the “beautiful” princesses in Disney movies are portrayed with big eyes, dark eyebrows, red and full lips as well as a fair complexion. Also, despite Princess Jasmine and Mulan, all of the other princesses are White people looking with a fair complexion, blue eyes and blonde hair.

    For the Asian Mulan and the Arabian Princess Jasmine, Disney only describe that they are brave and have good personalities instead of describing them as beautiful heroines. Besides the beautiful faces, all of the princesses have perfect body figures with big boobs, tiny waists and slender arms and legs. In fact, most of the princesses in the films are look alike. Disney stereotyped that a beautiful woman should be White people looking, with big eyes, brown eyebrows, red and full lips, as well as an hourglass-like body figure.

    What is ironic is that the princes in Disney films are in fact attracted by the beauty of the princesses and therefore fall in love with them. For instance, the Prince in Snow white and the Seven Dwarves is attracted by the beautiful face of Snow white and love her at the first sight. Prince Charming in Cinderella is also attracted by the beauty of Cinderella, he loves her at the first sight in the royal ball and want to marry her. Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty again loves Princess Aurora at the first sight due to her attractive appearance.

    Belle is a beautiful young woman and therefore attracts the Beast and being loved by him. This portrayal of female characters is in fact stereotyped only beautiful women can attract men and only pretty ladies deserve the love of a prince or man. Furthermore, Disney stereotyped how an attractive woman should look, or what qualities should possessed by a woman who is able to attract men. There is a song called “A Girl worth Fighting For” in Mulan, the lyrics are about men will be attracted by women with some typical qualities.

    For instance, form the lyrics “I want her paler than the moon with eyes that shine like stars”, we can see that Disney stereotyped that men are attracted by pretty women. Disney also stereotyped that attractive women should adore the strength of men, as from the lyrics “My girl will marvel at my strength, adore my battle scars”. Additionally, women are stereotyped that they should good at cooking in order to attract men, as from the lyrics “It all depends on what she cooks like”. The lyrics “My girl will think I have no faults” also stereotyped dream girl of a man should consider the man as a perfect person.

    During this song all of the men sing about what a perfect woman would be like: beautiful, caring, and a great good cook. This is reinforcing the idea that women should be mostly homemakers and nothing else. When it comes to Mulan to say what women should be like she says “A girl who speaks her mind? ” in which the chorus of men reply “Naw. ” (Adam Welker, Mulan – A Feminist Critique ) Moreover, women are stereotyped as submissive homemakers in the Disney films, especially for those produced in the early years.

    Snow White is a typical example, she is always doing domestic work happily, such as when she goes into the hut of the Seven Dwarves, she immediately cleans the hut from top to bottom. During the time that she lives with the Seven Dwarves, she continues to do the housework willingly. Also, Cinderella does lots of domestic works, but she seems to be happy when she is doing those works. Both Snow white and Cinderella are always singing, smiling, and submissively when doing domestic work. This portrayal of animated characters reinforces the stereotype of homemakers as the role of women and the women are willing to take up this role.

    In addition, the animated Disney characters portray and promote the beauty-goodness stereotype. In Disney movies, the kind and good characters are usually portrayed as a beautiful woman such as the princesses, while the wicked and evil characters are usually portrayed as an ugly woman who is angular or fat such as Queen Grimhilde in Snow white and the Seven Dwarves, the stepmother and two stepsisters of Cinderella, the wicked fairy Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and the wicked sea witch Ursula in The little Mermaid.

    This portrayal of female characters definitely reinforces the stereotype that all people with attractive appearances are good and kind people, while those people with unappealing semblances are bad and evil people. “A lot of parents consider Disney high-quality family entertainment, and in a way it is, but when you examine some of the earlier princesses more closely, you do find some of the stereotypical gendered behaviors,” (Dawn England, study researcher of Arizona State University).

    Since the target audiences of Disney’s animated movies are children, the above stereotypes in fact pose a big impact on them. Children are introduced to Disney movies at a very young age. Due to the fact that children often choose role models to look up, it is reasonable to assume that they often aspire to be just like their favorite Disney characters. However the majority of female characters within Disney movies portray stereotypical roles of women, this can have a negative impact on young girls who grow up watching Disney movies.

    For instance, they may assume that they are weak and unable to help themselves when they get into troubles as they accepted this stereotype of women through watching Disney movies. The young girls may just depend on their male counterparts or lovers, instead of working hard by themselves when they have such an assumption. Also, they may affected by the heroines in the films and have fantasies of marrying a handsome and wealthy guy can makes them happy forever, which is definitely misleading.

    Some young girls may even take Ariel in The little Mermaid as role model and imitate her action of giving up everything in order to be with their lover and this is really far from good that the young girls hold this kind of attitude. Additionally, young girls may be misled by the Disney movies that only the princesses within the films are beautiful. They have to look like the princesses in order to become a beautiful woman that can attract men. It can be seen by quite a large amount of little girls love to dress like the Disney princesses.

    The young girls may be frustrated if they fail to look like those princesses and they will lose their confidences, and may be consider themselves as ugly girls. However, the beauty portrayed by Disney movies is not the only standard of beauty. A girl with fat body, a girl with short hair, a girl with caramel-colored skin or a girl with unappealing appearance but is kind-hearted and with confidence can be considered as a beautiful girl. Also, the girls may be misled that only beautiful girls can attract men and those girls who are ugly or without “princess looking” do not deserve their lover’s love.

    Moreover, as Disney films stereotyped what a perfect woman would be like in men’s point of view, the young girls may try their best to fit in those characteristics. However, be oneself can also attract men in the real life. Besides, the young girls may develop a mindset that beauty equals goodness while ugly people are always bad and evil, due to the misled of Disney movies. As what Chris Barker said, “To be a man or a woman is not the outcome of biological determinism or universal cognitive structures and cultural patterns.

    Gender is historically and culturally specific, subject to radical discontinuities over time and across space. This does not mean that one can simply pick and choose genders or that gender is a matter of random chance. Rather, we are gendered through the power of regulated and regulatory discourse. ” We will never realize what the roles of our gender are if we ignore the historical and cultural factors and just consider our biological gender. Because of the historical and cultural factors, there are some social norms and gender roles that we are asked to fit in.

    Walt Disney Corporation, as an influential international media production company, affects the society culturally. The movies, as a cultural text, pose cultural effect on the society, for instance, the stereotype of women depicted by the female characters influenced the mind of people and affect how people decide the roles of different genders. Because of the target audience of those movies is the younger generation, the above stereotypes are even influential in affecting people’s mind since the children start to develop such kind of stereotyped gender roles in their mind in a very young age.

    This is hardly to be deconstructed and they will try their best to fit in those gender roles when they grow up. However, we should not just tie to those social norms and stereotyped gender roles, since everyone has different abilities, likings and preferences, it is hard and miserable to force ourselves to be women that the society or culture want us to be. We should be a critical when we are watching Disney animated movies, and we have to point out the stereotyped gender roles to the children and avoid them to be affected by those stereotypes deeply.


    ANI. “Disney cartoons promote ‘what-is-beautiful-is-good’ stereotype”. The Oaea Times. 16 Jan.2011. Web. 20 Dec. 2012

    Barker, Chris. Sage Publications Ltd: Cultural Studies, Theory and Practice. London, 2012. Print.

    “Disney Princess” Wikipedia. 19 Dec. 2012. Wikipedia Foundation. Web. 20 Dec. 2012

    Mile. “Woman Stereotypes in Disney Movies”. 2011. Web. 20 Dec. 2012

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