Gender Through Disney's Eyes

Gender is an important topic in today's society.  Most people feel pressure to conform to certain gender stereotypes without really understanding what they are and even without being aware of their influence on our perceptions..  Gender roles are the qualities and characteristics that are considered inherently feminine or masculine.  So for example, according to gender stereotypes a woman's place is in the home while a man's place is to provide for the family.  In addition, gender roles are also prominent when discussing homosexuality.  We will discuss these issues in their relation to Disney.

The media uses gender to its advantage and Disney productions are no different.  Disney ventures (which includes radio stations, network television and several film companies) have a huge influence over the public, especially though, children. Currently many people are boycotting Disney due to what some feel is a lack of "family values" and Disney's acceptance of the homosexual community.  This perception of Disney's support of the homosexual community comes from in part from the company allowing annual "Gay Days" at Disney parks and extending company benefits to include an employees' significant other.  Robert D. Williams, the president of Disney's homosexual employee group, stated that about 40% of the employees were homosexuals (Vitagliano, 1997).  Organizations that are boycotting Disney (mainly religious groups, the most prominent being the Southern Baptists) argue that the support of homosexuals is due to profits that ensue.  Organizers of the event in Orlando, Florida say that profits to the city were estimated at $20 million and the majority going to the Disney corporation (Vitaliano, 1997).  It should be noted that even though Disney reaps profits from Gay Days, the company is not an official sponsor nor was it instrumental in initiating the event.

Many people are also concerned with the portrayal of women and the questionable behavior in Disney animated films.  Typically women are shown in a position of princess, queen, or homemaker.  For example, Ariel in the Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella is a maid and then a princess, and Jasmine in Aladdin.  It also seems that they are illustrated as being subservient to the male characters who typically display forceful behaviors, such as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and Hercules.  They both are portrayed using forceful behavior in order to get what they want, whether it is the girl or a material object.  It seems as if women are seen as a commodity in a patriarchal society.  They go from being the possession of their father, right into being the possession of their husband or another male.  For instance, Ariel is handed over from her father to Prince Eric, Jasmine to Aladdin, and Belle to the Beast.  The lack of a mother figure is also a prominent finding in a majority of Disney animated movies.  These characters are role models to the children that watch Disney movies and they are reinforcing gender stereotyped behavior by depicting males as using forceful behavior and females as submissive.

All of these ideas are speculative and open for discussion.  These ideas come from sources who disagree with Disney and are protesting against them.  We as a group have all grown up on Disney movies and I do not think that they have a detrimental effect on me personally or on my view of gender roles.

 
 

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This tutorial was produced for Psy 324, Advanced Social Psychology, Spring 1999 at Miami University.  All graphics are from the public domain, used with permission or under fair use guidelines, or were created by the authors.  Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA).  Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 22:58:20. This document has been accessed 46,072 times since 1 May 1999. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman