Monday, February 7, 2011

Gender Stereotyping in Disney Films

If we look closely at Disney animated films like the Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Snow White, and Beauty and the Beast, we can definitely pick up on the gender stereotyping performed within the narrative. If we take a step back and scrutinize the general overview of Disney characters, we can see that they are characterized by narrowly defined gender roles. The male heroes or protagonists, for example, like Hercules, Aladdin or the Beast are always the ones to save the inferior damsel in distress. Even more blatant is the gender stereotyping of female roles. They are usually portrayed as subordinate, and if they do have power, they are usually evil characters (e.g. the evil Queen in Snow White and the evil octopus witch in the Little Mermaid). Often times, the female character is always the object or prize won by the male character. Jasmine is created under a dominant male narrative in the sense of being the object of Aladdin’s desire. Ariel constantly has to abide by the wishes of her father, and the only way she acquires autonomy is by sacrificing her most priceless gift: her voice. Only then does she receive the legs to free herself from the water world and walk on land to pursue her lover. Snow White, on the other hand, seems to be restricted to traditional roles like cleaning. Similarly, Belle, even after the Beast captures her father as his prisoner, is expected to perform her role and civilize the Beast with love.

What’s the big deal? What do you think this communicates to the children constantly watching these films over and over, and exposed to the same hegemonic gender stereotypes inherent to the depiction of these characters? Watching children’s media is an extremely influential way for children to make sense of their world, shape their self-perceived identities and how they fit in. Little girls are thus promoted to think that they are expected to have sexed up hourglass figures, long eyelashes and all the other female stereotypes that are created through the dominant male gaze.


  1. It's interesting to see that Mulan isn't part of the Disney's "Princess" club. Mulan is the only Disney female character I can think of that didn't follow the gendered norms and ended up saving a whole country instead of waiting around for a prince to show up. This goes to show how Disney portrays the idea of what a princess is, and Mulan clearly does not meet the standards.

    The gender stereotyping isn't just in the films, but it seems to be extended to the real world and marketing.

  2. While I agree the portrayal of women does uphold traditional gender roles for both women AND men. I don't agree that they effect children. I grew up with Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Lion King, Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, etc. and I didn't realize the gender roles portrayed until recently. In my english class, we are exploring how fairy tales confirm/contradict gender roles and I did find this blog very helpful for my paper I don't agree. If you look at original fairy tales (most written in the early 1800's but told for centuries before) women are portrayed in some as tricksters and in others as innocent virtuous women. Disney typically used the latter because you cannot show your five year old Little Red Riding Hood eating her grandmother's flesh and killing the wolf by tricking him to his death.

  3. Mulan isn't regarded as a princess because she wasn't a princess. She was based upon a real person who in real life was not part of a royal family. It's just a common misconception among little girls that she was a princess.

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