Disney Movies EXPOSED!

Disney movies. 
We've all seen them. I'm sure if I asked you right now what your favorite Disney movie is, you'd be able to tell me right away. You'd also probably be able to tell me where you were and who you were with the first time you saw it. For me, Pocahontas was always one of my personal faves. My childhood bedroom was adorned with Pocahontas bedding, posters, and even the matching wallpaper. The obsession was real. Anyway, I think we can all agree on the fact that Disney movies create fond memories within us that we carry with us forever. Whether we're 5 or 65, nothing can make us feel more like a kid again than a good Disney movie. 

Most of the traditional Disney movies star a man and a woman who meet, face some kind of struggle, fall deeply in love, get married, and live happily ever after. Those stories make us feel good, especially as kids, because they help us picture our own futures with the perfect fairy tale ending. I mean, who doesn't like a good horse and carriage into the sunset with a handsome guy, am I right?! But, you may not have thought of the hidden meaning behind the fairy tale plot that we all know and love. What hidden message is Disney sending to their young viewers? 

This week, I challenged the girls to take a second look at their favorite Disney movies by making a character analysis through a gendered lens. Disney movies are stacked with gender stereotypes. You may not have noticed them before, but when you take the time to look a little more closely, they basically smack you in the face every time. Here's the lineup!:

1. Cinderella
Cinderella is jam-packed with gender stereotypes. As I'm sure you know, Cinderella is the isolated and neglected stepdaughter to an evil stepmother that makes her do all of the household dirty work. The stepmother's daughters are allowed to enjoy all of life's privileges while Cinderella is stuck in the house all the time. The only thing that outs Cinderella out of her misery is the proposal from the Prince. Before him, her life was terrible. With him, she gets to live happily ever after. Marrying a rich man to save her life was the ultimate goal. 

2. Mulan 
Mulan is a bit of a change in pace from Cinderella. Set in China, Mulan feels pressure to join the Chinese army to protect her family. She disguises herself as a man and follows all of the gender "rules" so that she doesn't get found out by her peers. After being honored for her sacrifice, Mulan returns to being the girl she always was and even has the opportunity to pursue the love interest she met in the army. Mulan sets a positive example for young girls in showing that girls can do anything boys can do if they out their minds to it. However, it exposes, and even highlights, the gender binary. Mulan's transformation makes it seem as though men are one way and girls are another - there is not gray area, you must choose one. That gender ideal is restrictive and limiting. We all know that there are more than two ways to express gender and it deserves to be highlighted. 

3. Frozen 
Frozen sets a positive example for women and girls because the end goal is different than ever before. Elsa and Anna are sisters living in a magical place called Arendelle. Anna, the younger sister, meets a handsome prince named Hans who sweeps her off her feet and proposes to her. After hearing the news, Elsa erupts with emotion and freezes all of Arendelle. Anna suffers from being frozen to death being struck by Elsa's magic. The only thing the ends up saving her is the true love of her sister. Unlike Cinderella, Anna doesn't need saving from the Prince (he never wanted to be with her anyway). The act of true love doesn't come from a man but rather, it comes from her very own blood - her beloved sister. Men come and go, but family is forever. 

After watching clips from all three movies, the girls and I created this list: 

I then asked the girls to discuss the impact Disney movies have on young girls and young boys. These movies give us hope in new beginnings, magical adventures, and enchanting happy endings. What these movies also do, however, is set a standard for girls, boys, relationships, and families that limit viewers' definition of humanity. There is no right or wrong way to express your gender or live your life - the beauty is in the power to choose it all on our own. 

Disney movies are wonderful. Keep watching them! Just be mindful of how gender is being portrayed. Never accept the gender roles as the rule. Empowered girls choose their own identity and write their own beautifully, unique story