Bordo & Martin and Kazyak

Gracie Hall

This weeks reading focused on how media plays a role in constructing gender and sexuality. Martin and Kazyak focused specifically on how popular G-rated films contribute to heteronormativity for children. The authors highlight that by elementary school, children understand that heterosexuality is what is considered normal. The authors claim that in addition to parents, media also plays a role in constructing a heteronormative landscape for children through top-selling (almost always Disney) G-rated films. A G-rated film is described as having “nothing that would offend parents whose younger children view the motion picture” and claim to have no sexual content (318). However, through their analysis, they disprove this and show two patterns that are repeated in G-rated movies and help to enforce heteronormativity.

Firstly, there is the storyline of hetero-romance which is portrayed as “magical, exceptional, and transformative”. Romantic heterosexual relationships are seen from different than all others, they are seen as both magical and natural. Naturally, they derive from chemistry, or in the example of Beauty and the Beast a “spark”. This reference to a spark igniting a heterosexual romantic relationship reminded me of Bordo’s analysis of Gray’s theory in which he compared men’s sexuality to a blowtorch, and women’s sexuality to an oven. Martin and Kazyak continue that this spark is often portrayed to the viewer through swirls of sparks or even fireworks–imagery that can easily be associated with a blowtorch, an explosion, or an “unloading”. The man sparks the relationship like a blowtorch, and then the princess is slow to warm up like an oven but eventually ends up embodying sexuality as well. In all cases, the only sexual embodiment of hetero-romantic love is kissing. These kisses are seen as very powerful and transformative, unlike kisses outside of hetero-romantic love.
(An embodiment of sexuality with sparks in The Princess and the Frog)

The second trend that Martin and Kazyak identify as being a means to establish heteronormativity in children’s media is through “heterosexiness” and the “heterosexual gaze”. Women embody heterosexiness through drawn “cleavage, bare stomachs and bare legs”, and men enact the heterosexual gaze by ogling these women. I think an important point that Martin and Kazyak make is that women of color are much more likely to embody heterosexiness with breasts and hips (ex: Esmeralda, Jasmine), whereas white women are drawn to look like “delicate girls” (ex: Belle, Ariel).

I think that this intersection of race and sexuality is paralleled in Bordo’s “Gentleman or Beast? The Double Bind of Masculinity”. Susan Bordo discusses that men are stuck in a double bind between being an animal and a gentleman. She states that one Disney character who acts as a fictional hero of masculinity and embodies both sides of the double bind is Tarzan. Bordo quotes Bederman saying that Tarzan posses “the ultimate Anglo-Saxon manliness with the most primal masculinity…violent yet chivalrous; moral yet passionate…[and] with a suburb body” (242). However, most real boys and men are not able to act in this way. Ultimately, no boys benefit from the conforming to the standards of manhood. This has had further implications for men of color, specifically black men who find themselves in a more constructive double bind. Black men are often stereotyped as hypermasculine, who posses an “animal” sexuality and aggressive personality. This makes it harder for them to be seen as a gentleman than white men who act in a similar manner. I think that this might be the reason we have yet to see a black prince in a disney movie.

Disney’s 2009 “The Princess and the Frog” featured the first ever black disney princess. Despite this film having exciting potential, it ultimately fell short and reinforced racial stereotypes. One thing that is especially interesting about this movie is that Tiana (the film’s protagonist) is paired up with a racially ambiguous prince. The prince looks white, has a Brazilian accent, and hails from some mysterious European country. Shannon Prince wrote for Racialicious that:

“By giving the prince an olive, but still white, complexion and a Brazilian accent, Disney gets to go forward with their original white hero yet make him ambiguous enough to not be unequivocally criticized as white at the same time.”

The prince is not black, and therefore is seen as a gentleman, unlike the black male character Dr. Facilier who is seen as much more of a beast. Furthermore as a white man it is his duty to swoop in and save Tiana from Dr. Facilier and his evil voodoo magic. This notion of white men saving brown women is not only seen historically through the justification of colonialism, but also again and again in Disney movies for example in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas. In the case of The Princess and the Frog as well as other disney movies, it is always the men of color who are seen as the villains. In Aladdin it is Jafar, in Mulan it is the mysteriously gray huns.

With reference to Bordo, I am unsure how the wrestlers in “Wrestling with Manhood” fit into the media portrayal of the double bind of masculinity. These men are (from what I remember) all white and all act violently and can easily be equated with ‘beasts’. They are traditional and conservative in their ideals of masculinity, with brute physical strength, confrontational attitude and use of violence to solve conflict. I wonder if the portrayals of these men can be seen as “fictional heroes” who embody both sides of the double bind, or if they are a result of another ideal masculinity entirely.


3 thoughts on “Bordo & Martin and Kazyak

  1. Sophie Furman

    Disney movies were always a big hit in my house. When we weren’t watching them we were re-inacting them. What’s interesting though, that I didn’t really think about until now is that we never let our mom play unless she was going to be the “evil” person because it was usually a female – the evil step mom in cinderella, Ursula in Ariel etc. And my dad always played the role of whatever prince. The fact that the first movies that kids usually watch are walt disney films and the structure of society is already placed in them, just shows how hard it is to steer kids away from that closed perspective. However, as a young kid I never realized these significant gender roles in the movies, it’s only looking back that I see what’s wrong. Though I want my future kids to be as open minded and accepting as possible, I can’t imagine not showing them classic Disney films, because they were such a big part of my childhood…is that wrong?!

  2. Zoe Halpert

    It’s ironic that Martin and Kazyak’s study uses only G-rated films (defined by a lack of sexual content), yet these films are being used in the study for their very depiction of sexuality. Disney movies can actually be incredibly sexual; just look as the depiction of Esmeralda as basically a pole dancer. Or, there’s the scene in Aladdin where Jafar magically controls Jasmine (which screams of sex slavery). As Gracie points out, race definitely plays a role in this, as women of color are particularly hypersexualized in Disney movies (for example, Esmeralda and Jasmine).

  3. Sarah Wills

    I also found it interesting when Martin and Kazyak described how the masculine and feminine characteristics are drawn for disney characters. The princesses look fragile and delicate, even the way that they move around alludes femininity. The princes or male characters are big and brawny. One time when I was babysitting over break, we decided to watch Hercules. I remember notices how small Meg, the female role, looked compared to Hercules. Meg looking almost like a stick figure drawing when Hercules held her in his overly muscular arms. This just demonstrates unrealistic ideals of supposedly “natural” love for the children watching the films.

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