Bordo, Disney, and On The Town

So I’m currently working on tech for the musical that the theater department is putting on called “On The Town”. On The Town is a story of three men who are in the Navy who get 24 hours of leave in NYC. The three have three different goals–one wants to see ALL the sights, one, all the women, and one wants to find the perfect girl to spend 24 hours with. All three men develop romances with three women and their goal is basically to hook up as much as possible within the 24 hours. One of the women regretfully has to abandon her respective partner because her work demands it of her–he, however, pursues her and chaos ensues. I have two big problems with the show which Martin and Kazyak and Bordo has helped me to flesh out. 

The first is that the main women in the show throw themselves into heterosexual flings with the men in as little as seconds after they meet. The play ensures that the characters in these flings fall madly in love with each other so that by the end of the show they don’t know what life would be like without each other. So, in this way the play makes heterosexual romance exceptional and transformative, as Martin and Kazyak point out in their article. The director has chosen to put in glimpses of homosexual romance, but these are not at all as glorified as the main plots, and thus Martin and Kazyak’s thesis stands.

The other is that the women are all, essentially, “obsessed with men”–as one of the women classifies herself. All of the women rapidly commit to men who constantly flip between their aggressive sexual and gentlemanly identities, solely because they are men who do this. There is no reference to the men being physically attractive, only that they put on these masculine disguises. This gives a message that these are the type of men that women are supposed to fall for. On the other hand, it is repeated over and over that the women in the show are physically attractive or have mastered some sort of feminine art (ie. cooking or sex). These messages only serve to privilege masculinity in romantic relationships along with socializing female viewers to be attracted to masculinity, as we have seen from various readings, is a dangerous social construct. Femininity, contrasted with masculinity here, is weak-willed and bends easily to the will of men. Interestingly, one of the main women breaks out of this feminine mold and is the more aggressive sexual and social partner in the relationship. So the play is not without its feminist aspects (progressive for a play from the 1940s?–MAYBE), however this aggressive woman is seen as abnormal and all other women in the cast are passive and have their actions controlled by men.

Perhaps to contrast a little bit to all of this, I’d like to focus on one of the newest Disney movies, Frozen. In Frozen, the main female characters have agency free of male control, falling in love with masculinity at first sight is frowned upon by most characters and fully realized to be wrong in the end, there is depiction of a happy family with gay fathers, and the main male character gets clear consent before he and one of the female leads kiss. I could go on. However, Frozen still does not challenge the traditional depiction of heterosexual romance in Disney films. I can’t wait for a Disney film which has gay characters as the leads. It will do even more good things for today’s children. Frozen is a good step, but we need to go further.

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6 thoughts on “Bordo, Disney, and On The Town

  1. Zoe Halpert

    I agree; it would be nice to see a Disney movie with gay protagonists! Disney movies (which are an integral part of many people’s childhoods) relentlessly depict heterosexuality as not only the norm, but as the only option. If these are the ideals that children are being presented with, how are they supposed to be accepting of their own and others feelings regarding sexuality?

    Martin and Kazyak do mention that it is possible to read some Disney characters and plots as queer. However, they point out that it is unlikely for anyone who is not well versed in queer studies (let alone children) to have this interpretation.

    1. Brittany Juliano

      On the Town sounds similar to another play that Wick and Candle put on earlier in the year called The Drunken City (which I really enjoyed). In this play, the same structure is presented: three girls, three guys and one crazy night in New York City. Also like you mentioned, there is a homosexual relationship within the play, but there is a clear focus on heterosexual relationships. I agree that Disney should come out with a movie with gay protagonists. That would be amazing! On the other hand, however, if we attend a liberal arts college that favors heterosexual relationships in the majority of productions, then I have to wonder how a major corporation could change that status quo if we cannot. It would be great, if Disney took that next step, but I also think that Connecticut College should.

    2. I believe that when looking at things such as Disney movies we tend to forget about the huge problems that come along with these movies and simply tend to go along with the ‘magical’ spirit presented. Martin and Kazak do a good job at presenting the idea that queer characters could be introduced to the disney character seen but when done in the past most of this has been presented as a type of mockery that depicts queer people in a negative form . Negative television against groups becomes problematic when presented on TV because adults tend to make important decisions with these assumptions, the problem with cartoons is that these ideas are presented to children at a very young age which leads them in a path that teaches them the way a man is supposed to act , this strong figure whose job is to provide, and protect women in exchange of control and power over them.
      -Karen Dayanna Cardona

      1. Sophie Furman

        When you mentioned that the play makes it seem as though these woman are obsessed with men it resonated with me, because from a young age girls are taught by their families, society and these disney films as well that marriage is their man goal in life. Not only marriage but marriage with a male partner. Therefore, girls can easily be looked at as being “obsessed” with guys because they’re taught all their life that that’s their purpose. Without a man you’re all the sudden “alone” even if you have friends and family surrounding you. Though that idea is somewhat changing now I still feel like its prominent in our society and still expected of girls as something they should thrive for.

  2. Sophie Sharps

    I haven’t seen Frozen but as soon as you mentioned this movie, I started watching trailers. On one hand, while there are always problems and criticisms to be made, I think it is important to applaud the improvements and changes Disney has started to make. Movies like Frozen and Brave both at least attempt to change the male-dominated rhetoric of most Disney movies, through the creation of a strong and independent lead. Whether these is effective is another story, and there is clearly lots more to be done (especially in dealing with other intersections and oppressed social groups). Even in the trailer of Frozen, the female lead gets mad and the man next to her calls her “feisty-pants” and tells her to calm down. The notions of women and girls remaining calm and innocent while men and boys would never be penalized for raising their voice (and rather are encouraged to do so) are still so apparent in movies aimed at a children’s audience.

  3. Sarah Wills

    Your description of the this play does seem to have a lot of similarities to the general premises of disney movies. Whether is it prince charming or just 3 men in the navy, men always are always in a position of dominance and just have women fawning over men. Or as Martin and Kazyak describe it as “magical” and “natural” love. Just as you stated, men have a way of wooing women that makes them absolutely boy crazy. This “feminine art” that these females characters have mastered is common through out all disney movies which makes the females passive and nurturing. Martin and Kazyak describe women as often times being half dressed and feeling bashful in the presence of men.

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