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Gender Role Stereotypes Perpetuated in Disney’s Mulan and Tangled

exploring the rhetoric of Disney films and their tendency to perpetuate traditional gender role stereotypes
by

Ashley Tavares

on 3 December 2012

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Transcript of Gender Role Stereotypes Perpetuated in Disney’s Mulan and Tangled

Background Any given Disney Classic, whether it be Snow White, Cinderella or The Little Mermaid, has presented it’s young viewers with a very clear standard for how to behave, interact, and what is to be expected of them when they grew up. By showing children a Disney Prince or Princess, both of which serve as potential role models, who subscribe to traditional gender roles, Disney is telling children how they think a man and woman should act. Boys What if a girl doesn’t look like a Disney Princess? Just make another movie of course, maybe this time the Princess can be brunette, or ethnic, or come from a low income family. What if a boy isn’t big and strong? Make a movie with a sensitive male lead of course. But how does Disney go about conveying these messages and what exactly is the effect on their young viewers? That is what I plan to find out. Girls a young girl is being shown an impossibly proportioned, perfectly coiffed woman merrily doing house work, being victimized and unable to overcome without the intervention of an outside source, usually male; all the while falling headfirst and rather rapidly into an all-consuming love, providing at last the only true happy ending a young boy is shown a courageous, unconquerable muscle man with insurmountable strength and unwavering conviction, who overcomes all things to steal the heart of a perfect woman. This is what a child sees, these are the gender roles they have laid before them whether they realize it or not, and these are the types of influences that shape the expectations of society. Effect Mulan Disney seemed to break the mold with Mulan, making her autonomous and intelligent, and giving her a goal in life that is more complex than cleaning a house, attending a ball, or wooing the land walking Prince Eric. Mulan serves as the platform upon which more modern Disney films, such as Tangled and even more recently Brave, rest. She was strong and courageous. She wasn’t constantly shown in a state of perfection. She used her wits to accomplish things that her male peers could not, and she was willing to sacrifice herself to save her father. All of these things are true of Mulan, in the end. The rhetoric behind using a
headstrong misfit as the
female lead, a Princess,
does more harm than it
does good.
Mulan is seen as outside of the norm,
because it is not normal according to the perpetuated traditional gender roles, to be a strong, imperfect, self-sacrificing female. In every way that Disney sets Mulan up with an opportunity to be different, they combine it with some sort of negative consequence or sense of guilt, sending a message to the young girls watching that if they are different like Mulan, life is going to be that much harder for them. In the beginning of the film she is labeled a misfit because she is not a typical beauty, and she does not possess the knack for etiquette that seems to come so naturally to her fellow future brides.

The entire beginning of the film is about Mulan trying to fit herself into the mold of the perfect bride, a traditional gender role, and certainly one of the main aspects of being a woman that Disney perpetuates in its Princess films. That is to say there is always a very strong undertone, if not a blatant display of a woman’s main goal in life being finding a happily ever after which is nonexistent if said Princess is not safely in the arms of her true love. Though head strong and obviously not desiring this prim and proper life for herself, she allows herself to be primped and washed and squeezed into proper clothing, all under the guise of not wanting to bring dishonor upon her family. With Rapunzel, Disney attempts again to offer up something of a feminist Princess story, and fails. Rapunzel is victimized by her "mother", is held hostage by the fear of the outside world, and blackmails a criminal into acting as her guide to take her to see first person the flying paper lanterns she has only ever seen from her window. While Rapunzel does take inniative at times, defends herself, (with a frying pan), and saves her love, (with her tears), she is also easily manipulated, uses ethos to appeal to the emotions of her would-be -attackers, and it can be said that all of her strength comes from her beauty. Her magical flowing blond locks, which notably turn brown no longer magic. Her beautiful voice which activates the magic in her hair and gets her out of a scrape or two. Tangled To save her father from death in the army, a Chinese maiden secretly goes in his place and becomes one of China's greatest heroes in the process. The magically long-haired Rapunzel has spent her entire life in a tower, but now that a runaway thief has stumbled upon her, she is about to discover the world for the first time, and who she really is. Focusing solely on Rapunzel's magical hair, we can see some gender bias. Her hair, while it does have the power to heal, is abused by her "mother" to remain young and beautiful which sends a message to the viewer that youth and beauty are to be valued. Also, the fact that when she cuts her hair, it loses its magic, and turns brown reinforces the stereotype that blond hair is more beautiful than brunette hair. Steppin away from Mulan and examining Flynn, the viewer sees an obsessively vain who values cool so much he changes who he is become who he thinks he is supposed to be.
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