Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sexism, Strength, and Dominance: Masculinity in Disney Cartoons

Living in Orlando, where we are surrounded by Disney images, I thought this YouTube video about images of masculinity in Disney films was very interesting, and caused me to reflect on the impact these images had on the development of my concept of masculinity. I think that as children we have all seen at least one Disney movie, regardless of where you grew up, they have been exported and translated for consumers across the globe, I watched them in both English and French and they were always the same. Personally, I remember watching a VHS tape that had Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, and Cinderella on a loop, I hated Pinocchio, but I loved the stories of each princess, and her prince charming, and I can’t help but think there are millions of children who did the same thing. In so many of Disney’s most popular films there are female characters who are beautiful, petite, and in need of rescuing by a strong man, this of course is not the most positive message of femininity to spoon feed small children, Disney has made efforts more recently to show more independent, diverse, and empowered, female characters, films like Brave and Frozen have featured stronger female roles who have been more equal, in regards to their male counterpart. But even as female roles seem to be evolving, slowly (as classic princess characters are much more popular then more recent offerings), the male characters, and their “masculine” attributes, have remained the same. Ideas of masculinity in Disney films have been illustrated by physical strength, objectivism of female characters, domination, and aggression/violence, all characteristics of stereotypical masculinity, and all characteristics that fuel the idea that boys and men can’t be considerate, thoughtful, gentle, or caring. These films have also glorified the physical characteristics of a man, tall and muscular, underscoring that men are the stronger sex, and women the weaker sex, and no room for deviation from these models. Of course in Disney films the male lead, the hero, is also kind to the princess, and shows her affection (usually in the form of a kiss and removing her from a negative situation), but it is usually at the end of the story and only takes up the last few moments of the film. The predominant image of masculinity throughout each story is that of the aggressive, strong, and dominant male, that only taps into feminine emotions on the rarest of occasions, and only when a female is involved. I can’t help but wonder what role these images of masculinity and femininity have played in the development of other children’s concepts of gender roles and norms, given what we consider male behavior and female behavior in today’s society, I would say these films and stories have had a considerable impact on our concepts of masculinity. )

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