Disney No Longer ‘Frozen’ in Antiquated Gender Stereotypes
From glistening ball gowns, to fairy godmothers and singing animals—Walt Disney has little children everywhere growing up wanting to become a princess. What the mirror on the wall did not teach us, is that the gender portrayals in these movies are not the fairest of them all. Since the first moment that Snow White bit into that succulent red apple, it was obvious Disney was entrenched in misogyny that dated back to the mythology of Adam and Eve.
Now don’t get me wrong: I too was a doe-eyed Disney devotee and it took me a while to realise that it was better to depend upon charming chocolate than a Prince Charming. Hence, if we can look behind the sparkling stars and memorising magic that is Disney, we might see that these Disney princesses are not the best role models for children. Perhaps, a child clunking around in only one of her mother’s heels, as she waits for Prince Charming to bequeath her with its matching pair, should actually alarm parents.
A Bite of the Bible
In 1937, Disney debuted their first bodacious female heroine with Snow White—a damsel who sung to animals and had a tendency to mother short men. She taught children that beauty can be a curse as ugly old crones with apples may come to kill you. However, Snow White did not have to worry as her beauty also attracted a certain male heir who she could depend upon to protect her from his evil stepmother. A paradoxical message was sent out with this princess—beauty was a gift and a curse. However, most disappointingly, Snow White could not escape being cast as “Eve.” In the Bible, Eve is depicted as easily-led, thus condemning her and all women to a life of obedience to man because “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (I Timothy 2:14). Ergo, this stereotype saturates the story of Snow White, as she is tempted by wickedness (the evil stepmother) and thus “falls” literally. It is merely the revisionist idea of the same sexist scripture and yet girls were and still are gobbling it up.
Domestication and Dependency in Cinderella
Cinderella in 1950 taught us that to escape domestication, you should marry a rich man and becoming a trophy wife instead. Don’t worry about working up the ranks with hard work or displaying the wisdom to better yourself through your own skills. Surely, an entrepreneurial dressmaker that employs mice to make their gowns would probably earn a squillion. However, business ventures are thrown aside as a magical makeover is a much better option according to this Disney Princess. In rags and squalor, children are taught that Cinderella could not possibly entice a man, as natural beauty is overlooked. Outrageously
Most importantly remember: if you get those perfect Prada shoes and happen to misplace it, a Prince Charming might just appreciate your fashion taste and come after you.
In 1959, Sleeping Beauty taught us that we can face our battles by being narcoleptic. Pretty much do not drool while dreaming, or snore while sleeping and your Prince Charming shall be besotted. Also, a subtle hint at necrophilia couldn’t escape audience’s attention? Aurora was only saved by her sensual sleeping beauty. No prince would slay a dragon and climb to the highest tower to rescue an ugly damsel, covered in warts. Ultimately it delivered the message that girls do not need to worry about intellect or individuality—just pose pretty like a painting and princes shall come running, apparently.
In 1989, The Little Mermaid taught children that looking like a babe in a bikini gets you far in life—literally from the bottom of the ocean to a beachside castle. Better start hitting those gyms ladies as that is the ultimate message that this Disney debutante delivers. Ariel alters her appearance to conform to a man’s expectations. While we do not rid ourselves of our mermaid scales, women still shave and pluck in their own way to conform to men’s expectations. Furthermore, forget about wooing a man with words or seducing him with sagacity. Apparently women are no Wordworths with their vocabulary, as their words are not worthy to be included. Eric falls in love with her for no other reason than what his eyes behold. Ariel doesn’t even need a witty pick-up line.
All these Disney princesses share the similarity of depending on their male counterparts, while sporting hyperbolised size 6 waists. Disney taught us children that doe-eyes will get us the doe in this world and consequently, we still cleave to these entrenched messages right into adulthood. Girls now dress in skimpy outfits and show off their waist to woo the opposite sex. They pathetically act tipsy and dumb-witted, knowing guys will find this more appealing than them reciting the Linear equation. Not only that, they list “marrying a wealthy man” as a viable career choice. Perhaps we are still pretending to be Disney Princesses today, even if we are not naïve enough to expect a Prince Charming on our next date.
The one princess I related to as a child was Belle as she was a rampant reader—and well admittedly, a brunette. She stuck to her principles and would not bow to the will of men. However, a friend crushed my idyllic perception of her last week, when she noted that Belle only saved the prince through her sexuality. Peace was sealed with a kiss and not an intellectual soliloquy—Beauty over brains. Once again, she was identified by her male protagonist and not for her own inherent right. So I was overjoyed when another Disney Princess bestowed herself onto my cinema screen that I could idolise for her whimsical, witty and wilful nature.
Watching Frozen last week with my friend, I could not discourage the wide smile that crept upon my face. It revealed that Disney was no longer frozen in antiquated gender stereotypes. Here is a quick synopsis to update you: “After the kingdom of Arendelle is cast into eternal winter by the powerful Snow Queen Elsa, her sprightly sister Anna teams up with a rough-hewn mountaineer named Kristoff and his trusty reindeer Sven to break the icy spell.” Ultimately, it was the feminist fairy-tale we’ve been waiting for. It centralises around sisterly love and not idolatry infatuation with a man, like its predecessors. Elsa learns to trust in her own gifts and is brave enough to let them define her, even though they do not conform to the docile and meek perception of women held by the realm. The characters mock the “Romeo and Juliet” perception of love at first sight, when Anna becomes engaged mere hours after meeting a suitor. Furthermore, there was no Prince Charming in sight! In his stead, was an unwashed manual-labourer with a reindeer as a perpetual buddy. Though the most fundamental feminist moment is when Anna delivers a fine right-swing punch to knock out the villain! From start to finish, this movie broke Disney gender preconceptions. Yet the time-old “true love” is not missed, as the movie still smashed box office records. Frozen is definitely a win for the feminists.
It is important to note that the point of this article is not to lock those Disney movies away and rip away daughters’ ball gowns. Just make sure you can see how the magic mirror upon the wall, may only reflect the fairest of them all, in society.
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