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Representation of Women in Classic Disney Films

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Fairy Fatale

on 10 February 2016

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Transcript of Representation of Women in Classic Disney Films

Representation of Women in Disney Films
1937 - Snow White
1950 - Cinderella
Gender roles are what categorize the characteristics of what is considered masculine and feminine. Mainstream media puts an image into our brain, telling us what is appropriate for our gender type. Young girls are bombarded with images, telling them that the key to happiness is to be beautiful, fashionable, and constantly waiting for a man to save them, which results to a negative impact of the
"princess ideal"
on young girls and women. However, throughout the last few years there has been a philosophical discussion on how Disney Princesses has a negative impact on young girls expectations on their future. The feminist theory classifies a voice to achieve women's liberation by eliminating the oppression of women in society.
Feminist Theory
Feminist Film Theory has emerged in the past 20 years to become a large and flourishing field. It all began as a social movement, which soon became global.
Earl feminist and criticism was directed at the stereo-typed representation of women in film.

This theory highlights the stereo-typed image of women in classic Hollywood film has a negative impact on female spectators. Therefore, there was a call for a more positive representation of women in Hollywood. especially in regards to the Disney Princess franchise.

This theory believes that women should be treated equally and not be objectified by men. In classic cinema the representation of women is how men view women. This is rightly so in regards to the Disney Princess franchise, mainly because the majority of the animators were male.
Within most of the Disney Princess films, the male character is established as
. The story will unfold around him.

The female character is

. She is the object of desire for the male character.
1959 - Sleeping Beauty
A women's appearance is valued more than her intelligence.
Women are helpless and in need of protection.
Women are domestic.
Over-weight women are ugly, unpleasant, unmarried and are mostly considered as evil.
The first era of Disney films started with Snow White.
The only asset is her beauty, which saves her in the end.
Her sexuality is a threath to another woman and thus she is killed. (poison apple)
She is naive enough to taste the apple a stranger gave her and not see that her stepmother is truly evil.
She is represented as the stereotypical fair and beautiful, with a nice house , while taking care of the children. (Dwarfs)
In the end, she waits to be rescued by a man.

The image that is shown is being portrayed in Snow White is that women are passive and weak. She is well domesticated. Any strong female character is normally considered as evil.
Cinderella is obedient and is constantly dreaming about Prince Charming, which she seems to believe will come true if she's just patient and dutiful.
She is kept socially isolated by her evil stepmother, who is jealous of her beauty. Once again stepmother's are portrayed as evil.
She is saved from her poor living conditions by a man (the Prince)

The prince cannot recognise the servant girl without her gown, because beauty is the most important aspect of a woman.

Her beauty is also what saves her in the end, simuliar to Snow White.
The first gift to the newborn princess was beauty.
When the fairies give her the gift of beauty, there is an image of the universe, which may suggest that the universe revolves around the idea of being beautiful and other superficial ideals.
She was granted superficial gifts, none relating to intelligence or independence.
She is gullible enough to prick her finger on the spinning wheel needle that puts her into a coma.
She is killed by another woman to solidify power.
She was helpless and useless until a man saves her, waiting patiently for her prince to come to her rescue, just like the other two princesses.

What save her in the end is a kiss. Again, sex is her only salvation.
1989 - The Little Mermaid
Ariel was the first princess to break out of the role of an obedient and submissive woman. However, she displays defiance and stubbornness.
Ariel sells her voice and trades her family for a man.
She changes her physical appearance (as a mermaid) in order to be more attractive to a man.
Ariel does not need her voice to attract a man. She just needs her looks and body.

"You'll have your looks... your pretty face... and don't underestimate the importance of bo-dy lan-guage" - Ursula
1991 - Beauty and the Beast
Belle is a woman who seeks knowledge, but she is criticised by the town's people.
"It's not right for a woman to read... soon she starts getting "ideas" and "thinking" - Gaston
The representation of women during this time is that they should not read, be independent and become intelligent, but she should be an obedient housewife.
The Beast uses violence to try and control Belle. The message that is conveyed from this film is that it's okay to be with a violent and abusive man.
Even though a man is violent, abusive and unattractive, a woman should stay with him for wealth.
Passive Audience Theory
Developed in the 1930s, the Passive Audience theory is popular and is used in most media texts.
It is normall considered that this theory has a negative effect because audience's are
and are powerless to stop it.

The most passive audience for the Disney Princess franchise would be young and impressionable
children. Their target audience is young girls, who can be easily manipulated. Although it is not the companies goal to mainpulate young girls, we must take into consideration that young girls idolize these characters. subconciously these girls mimic the princesses actions and ideals, which in turn can lead to effecting the thoughts and behavour of the child.

We see young girls buying products based off of these princesses, which show how they idolize and impersonate these characters.
Disney movies, which can be seen as very strong influences on very impressionable children may seem to unequivocally present the romantic lives of princesses. In every film, the audience watches a beautiful princess almost fall into a moment of danger, if not for the charming prince, quick to rescue her. Yet, at a deeper level, we see that Disney films are vehicles of gender ideology.
None of the classic films have passed the
Bechdel Test
. However, recent Disney films such as 'Brave' has passed it.

I truly think that 'Brave' has truly changed and paved the way in which women are portrayed in Disney films. Merida shows that you don't need a man to makeyou happy and, after all she is the one who saves the day and acts as our hero and main character.
"There comes a day when I don’t have to be a Princess. No rules, no expectations. A day where anything can happen. A day where I can change my fate."
Starting from the first era of Disney films, it can still be argued that women have been portrayed as passive and have no substance within the character.
Even though women are still stereotypically represented as the
"damsel in distress"
, Disney films are beginning to change the representation of princesses as more powerful, brave, dominant and leading.
Disney Princesses normally have sidekicks or an animal friend to help them on their "journey". These sidekicks are most often male and provide as a big influence on our main female characters.

The 'Classic Disney Princesses' consist of; Snow White (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), Cinderella and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)
Classic Disney Princesses were often potrayed as passive, innocent, while also being dependent on a heterosexual relationship for happiness.
They also enforced a somewhat unattainable white beauty standard.
The Post - Feminist Disney Princess

These princesses claim to be liberal, however these advances are often superficial.
They still remain orientated towards heterosexual love
ie, Jasmine, Ariel, Belle and Pocahontas.
They still long for a man or prince to make them happy.
Classed as Daddy's little girl. ie, Jasmine, Mulan, Ariel, Belle and Pocahontas.
A trope used to keep princesses becoming too independent and remain in submission to a patriarchal society.
Dependency on male authority figures for guidance and acceptances, deminimises the princess's role.
For example; the "save me" mentality. Aurora from "Sleeping Beauty" and Snow White wake only after they have had their true love's first kiss. While Meg from 'Hercules' and Jasmine from 'Aladdin' can only be with their loved ones if they they are rescued from their evil captors.
This tells girls that they must rely on a man to solve their problems and tells boys that their worth is determined on their ability to save a woman.
The 21st Century Disney Princess

The 21st Century has seen four new princesses come to life:
Princess Tiana (Princess and the Frog), Princess Rapunzel (Tangled), Princess Merida (Brave), and Princess Anna (Frozen)
. All of them have strong personalities and willing to fight for themselves instead having someone else fight for them.


Disney has an immense influence in the development of young women, and thus a responsibility to send them encouraging and positive messages. though progresses have been made, Disney has great strides to make in gender equality, especially developments in the white beauty standard ideals and also creating a world that isn't entirely male dominated.
Tiana in 'Princess and the Frog' 2009
Doesn't abandon original pursuits for the prince.
First African - American Princess.
"You can't rely on that star, you gotta have hard work of your own."
Rapunzel in 'Tangled' 2010

Princess who physically overpowers the male lead and later saves his life.
The movie was originally titled "Rapunzel" but recieved a male orientated makeover
She also recognizes the unfairness of her plight and finds a way out of it, outwitting her "mother," who is in fact her kidnapper, to venture to the outside world.
The End

Thank you for watching

Feel free to ask any questions!


Using the

Feminist Theory

Passive Audience Theory
Full transcript