From Disney to NBC

By Emma Houser

Most of us probably grew up watching Disney movie after Disney movie and wishing we could be the glamorous princes and princesses. Many parents don’t have a problem with this, they probably see it as a natural phase of childhood, but very few parents actually question the messages that Disney movies, and other similar kid’s movies, send. For most parents the G-rating is probably enough for them to assume that the material is harmless and appropriate for children of any age to watch, but when one really takes a deeper look at the story lines there are subtle messages that many people fail to recognize. Although the movie earns it G-rating by avoiding outright displays of nudity, sex scenes, and drug use, these themes are in no way absent from children’s movies. Martin and Kazyak’s analysis of films shows us that messages of sexuality and romance are everywhere in the g-rated films and can be damaging to the way that children develop ideas about gender, sexuality, and romance.

In one of my classes last semester we discussed the negative effect that Disney, and other corporations, have on the development of children’s identity, especially young girls. After watching hours of princess movies children develop ideas about how they should behave as masculine and feminine beings. One of the things that is very present in these movies in the idea that a woman’s goal in life is to find a man, fall in love, and live happily ever after. This in itself is problematic in that it sets girls up to become dependent and superficial. Martin and Kazyak took this theory even further by suggesting that the heteronormativity that is so present in these films structures social life in a way that promotes heterosexuality as assumed, expected, and privileged. Not only is it the norm, but heteroromantic relationships also have the power to transform individuals. Although it might not seem too problematic to highlight love stories in children’s films, it teaches young boys and girls that this is what life is all about. As children shouldn’t they be focused on playing with friends and getting an education? Why does Disney feel the need push marriage on the young boys and girls watching these movies? Further, these films also discount the importance of other relationships between friends and family members, which are the most important relationships in a child’s life.

We didn’t watch many Disney movies in my house when I was growing up. Of course I knew most of the stories, but to this day I still haven’t seen a number of the iconic Disney Princess movies. Although I didn’t spend a great deal of time watching these movies, my best friend and I used to love to listen to the songs and put on shows using the steps we learned in ballet class. One of our favorites was “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid. To this day we still listen to the song and watch the scene on youtube. Last semester in our intro class I had the opportunity to really listen to the lyrics and analyze the messages it sends to the children that watch it. Many of the other scenes that I’ve watched and discussed in my classes never really resonated with me because they weren’t ones that I was familiar with. It was easy to say that they were obviously sexualizing women and sending messages about masculine and feminine norms. This scene from The Little Mermaid was one that I knew well though and it was hard for me to listen to it and believe that I had really been so blind. To some people Disney was a huge part of their childhood so I can only imagine how strange and interesting it is to watch these movies and see thing that just never registered before.

One thing that we often hear and see in kids and adult movies alike is the idea that men and women are so inherently different. Men are often portrayed as fighters or warriors but then they also play the role of prince charming who is romantic and tender with his princess. This is problematic for boys and girls because it sends conflicting messages about what it means to be masculine and feminine. One thing that we often see in movies is that the girls are almost always attracted to the “bad boys”. They want “real men” but at the same time they want boys who will drop that aggressive, manly act in order to love and care for them. Bordo looks at this issue in her article and discusses the way it affects boys and men in today’s society. Certain groups of males, namely aggressive athletes, experience a great deal of rewards for their aggression in certain aspects of life. The high school football and basketball teams are revered for their athletic performances, especially when they are aggressive. Their ideas about what it means to be a man are directly related to the positive feedback they receive in response to their aggressive performance in athletics. Although this may enable their success in athletics, we constantly see the effect that this has on their lives as members of society. As Bordo mentions, these athletes are charged with rape and public vandalism more than any other group of financially and socially successful group of men. When looking at crime statistics it is easy to say that men commit more crimes than women as a result of biological differences, but when we really look at the way that society, especially the media, portray sports there is no denying the effect that it has on boys and men. We are constantly telling them to “act like a man” and showing them that aggression and lack of emotions proves their masculinity, but then we expect them to treat women nicely. I am in no way saying that men aren’t responsible for their actions, I am emphasizing the point that we need to look at the role that society plays in creating violent men who assault women and hurt each other.


5 thoughts on “From Disney to NBC

  1. Zoe Halpert

    Like Emma, I didn’t see all of the famous Disney movies when I was a child. I saw many when I was older. I didn’t see Beauty and the Beast until I was in middle school. I suppose by this age I was old enough to have a different interpretation, because I failed to see the appeal of the Beast. I knew that Belle saw beyond his “ugly exterior” to the good person inside, but as far as I was concerned, his personality was just as ugly. I was bewildered by how a girl could love someone who held her hostage and acted so aggressively towards her. As Bordo explains though, aggressive behavior in men tends to be rewarded by society.

  2. Gina Pol

    I must admit that when I was younger, I did want to be a princess and live the magical life that they had in the films. But that was my naive mind as a child and I see things so much more clearly than I did then. No more princess dreams! Since I have not seen so many Disney films in years like Aladdin, Princess Mermaid, The Lion King, etc., it would be interesting to revisit these films and see how my thoughts on them have changed over these years.

    The way that men are depicted in cartoons and how they are depicted in other films will often confuse young boys on how they should act when they grow up. In one film they see a tough man capable of hurting other guys and then in another film they see a gentleman who is softening himself due to his love for a princess. Even in their own lives they see football players being rewarded for aggressively attacking another player, which makes it even harder to determine what will make one a “real man.”

  3. Sarah Wills

    Just as you said, Emma, I have fond memories of sitting with my little sister watching princess movies and talking about finding our prince charming. We even would refer to our dad as our mother’s prince charming. We just became engorged in the fantasy that these movies promote. It is a good point that we must not just assume that G-rated films deliver positive messages to children, because if you actually think about the content of these films, there appears to be a hidden agenda, or it is just a money making ploy.

  4. Sophie Furman

    Maybe if parents actually took a minute to analyze the messages in Disney films themselves they wouldn’t be shown to as many kids? Then again, I grew up on Disney films. If I didn’t have the beliefs that I have in spite of watching these films then maybe I would be embarrassed about that. It kind of reminds me of that movie we watched in class last week and how everyones answer to the harsh images they were seeing was that it was “entertainment.” But when does the word “entertainment” just become an excuse? And what is it about women on the quest to find a man that forms a plot for a movie to become entertainment?

  5. Bianca Scofield

    I really liked your comment about disney movies making girls seem dependent and their one true purpose was to find a man (a prince charming) to sweep them off their feet and get married. It does make girls seem superficial and even in stories of female empowerment, the princess is never fully complete without a man in her life, for example: Mulan. Mulan shows the depiction of a woman fighting against the Huns in China in the place of her father. However, the story can never be complete with a woman simply saving China, there must be some heterosexual romance in the end. One of the final lines in the movie spoken by the grandmother is “She brought home a sword?! If you ask me she should have brought home a man..”

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