Dominance, Double Binds, and Disney

By Emma Weisberg

Double binds have always fascinated me.  The fact that a group of people could be encouraged to act one particular way but then are challenged to act in the opposite manner… all at once!  Bordo describes this phenomenon in her writing Gentleman or Beast?: The Double Bind of Masculinity as “any situation in which a person is subject to fulfill two contradictory requirements at the same time” (242). It’s no wonder there is so much confusion about how to act like “real” man or woman.  There are simply too many rules.  Women are supposed to be curvaceous yet thin.  Flirtatious yet only flirtatious in the right settings—otherwise, we’re seen as whores.  Pure and innocent yet experienced.  Men are taught to be competitive and dominant “on the field” yet gentlemanly in relationships.  Tough yet sensitive.  So, in terms of masculinity, young boys and men set off into the world with often two conflicting ideas of how they should act.  They should always defend their masculinity when challenged by other men, however they should be sweet and sensitive to their romantic interests.

So what happens when both ideas intersect?  What happens if a teenage boy is standing with his girlfriend in the hallway and either he or she is insulted?  It was shocking to read the example of Ally McBeal, when Ally states, “if anyone insulted her, she would want her date to ‘rip his head off.’  If he just turned the other cheek and walked away, she’d be ‘disappointed’”(235).  I started thinking about one of the classic male character depictions in young adult novels and romantic comedies: the “bad boy.”  The “bad boy” is rough around the edges—he’s always willing to get into a fight—but he’s got a soft spot for love.  The lead female character is supposed to change him and bring out his inner sensitive side.  However, if the “bad boy” has an occasional breakout with violence, it’s okay only if he is defending his love’s honor. For instance, on the show Gilmore Girls there was a character named Jess who dated one of the lead characters, Rory.  He was the epitome of the “bad boy”: he’d pick fights and hold so much anger inside, however he had a “soft spot” for Rory and would try to only act with violence around her if it was an act of protection.

There are also many double binds found in children’s movies hidden under the umbrella of heterosexual love.  In Hetero-Romantic Love and Heterosexiness in Children’s G-Rated Films, Martin and Kazyak state that heterosexual love is almost always seen as the be all, end all, that the “primary account of heterosexuality in these films is one of heteromantic love and its exceptional, magical, transformative power” (323).  This claim can be proven with the research conducted on children’s films released between 1900-2005, in which only two of the twenty included no reference to hetero-romance (321-322). These movies are saying that heterosexual romance can solve it all, such as the unsolved war in Pocahontas or the legal system in Aladdin (327). However, what I’ve noticed especially from recent Disney films is that love is also supposed to solve personal character “flaws.”  In the movie Tangled, the lead male Flynn Rider transforms from a selfish thief to a caring man as he falls in love with Repunzel.  In a similar “bad boy” esque tone, Prince Naveen transforms from a self-absorbed prince to a loving man as he falls in love with Tiana in The Princess and the Frog.  Children watching these movies are receiving the message that these “bad boys” can be fixed with just a little bit of love.


10 thoughts on “Dominance, Double Binds, and Disney

  1. Zoe Halpert

    Emma makes a good point about how women are expected to have some kind of power over men, in this case to soften “bad boys.” Bordo also discusses how it is suggested that women are expected to reign in men’s raging sexual desires. I personally find this idea absurd and I think that it contributes to a culture of victim blaming (or rather, survivor blaming).

    I found it interesting that in ancient and medieval times, women were seen as more sex-hungry, and men were supposed to be able to control themselves. This just goes to show how society constructs ideas of sexual desire and which gender is supposed to want sex more. It is not something that is necessarily hardwired into us.

    1. Brittany Juliano

      I liked that you applied the Bordo article to Disney movies. I thought the same thing while reading Martin and Kazyak’s article, not only does the transformative power of Disney movies solve the main plot problems, but it also makes ‘bad boys’ into good guys. I have always disliked this representation of heterosexual men within movies. Even beyond Disney, many Romantic Comedy movies display this same dichotomy. The guy who is rough around the edges and hyper-aggressive towards the beginning of the movie changes into a softhearted man in love by the end. I certainly believe that it is possible for people to change, but this ‘magical’ change suggests that men can be aggressive and mean while simultaneously tame when in the context of a relationship. This, unfortunately, is not the real world case, and I believe that many women delude themselves into believing this fairytale dichotomy. In the real world, a man that beats up other people is also likely to beat up their significant other.

  2. Olivia Rabbitt
    I also found the double bind paradox interesting, not only in the context of children’s movies or social structures, but especially in the context of wrestling. The documentary we watched last session spoke about the “real life” and “fake” wives and relationships between the fictional characters on WWE and how while the aggressive and demeaning actions performed by men were seen only as entertainment and were in fact expected and applauded while in the ring, the “real life” wives were also suffering. When a WWE wife called the police on her husband after he violently assaulted her, I don’t think anyone was necessarily surprised, if you expect a man to act like an animal, of course he’ll do something violent. It is sickening though that this double bind treatment of men is normalized into society.

  3. Gina Pol

    As I was reading Bordo, I was also interested but frustrated at the double bind concept that she brings up. Somehow it always depends on the circumstances that determines how we should act, but it’s so difficult to measure. A great example she brought up was of a boy name Mitchell who went on his first date and was unsure if he should kiss his date good night or not. He was concerned that he might be accused of sexual harassment, but at the same time he wanted to display his masculinity through his kiss. These are the type of situations that we are put into because of the double binds that exist. It would be nice to be like the bonobos and have a strong community with co-dominance of the sexes.

  4. This post really reminded me of the Disney movie El Dorado a story of two spaniards who travel to El Dorado in Latin America to save the “savage’ indigenous from commiting sacrifices. Here the story of the Spaniard colonization, and genecide upon Latin America is completely flipped around and seen as ‘saving’, here they also hyper-sexualize the indigenous women in ways that presents them as always beeing sexually desperate and in need of a man’s precense, this hides the large amounts of rapes and violence against women that took place during the colonization. From ideas like this about Latin Women presented in such places such as Disney movies is where the streotype of the “hot,sexy,fiesty Latina” comes from. Being a Latina women i constantly get called ‘exotic’ and ‘hotter that a jalapeño’ like WHAT?!? , one does not fully realize the impact that such movies have upon the development of children.
    Karen Dayanna Cardona

    1. Sophie Furman

      The “bay boy” who turns into the “good girls” crush, is always an interesting scenario to me, because it’s her first decision that goes against what her parents want. It’s usually the moment in the film that the parents worry that their little girl is throwing her future away with some boy they don’t approve of. It goes with our societies perspective though that the girls first “rebellious,” or “empowering” move still has to do with a guy. It can’t be her doing something on her own, it still has to involve a male for it to be “exciting,” “thrilling” and a “dare devil” thing to do.

  5. Sophie Sharps

    As an avid Gilmore Girls fan myself, the first example I thought of when you mentioned the stereotypical “bad boy” was also the character of Jess. You make some really great points about the double-binds both men and women face, and I definitely think the “bad boy” that so many female leads fall for encompass the double-bind men strive to achieve. Jess broke up Rory’s previous relationship, but this was acceptable because he was in constant pursuance of Rory, portraying the “don’t take no for an answer” approach Bordo refers to. This “bad boy” character is especially reflective of the qualities female characters are taught to possess. Jess is particularly appealing to Rory because he represents danger and risks, which she has stayed away from thus far. Therefore, the “bad boy” represents the double-bind for women to be innocent yet experienced and sensitive yet sexy.

  6. Sarah Wills

    I really like your analysis of the double bind and examples of when both of the ideas intersect. If men are supposed to be bad and tough, yet sensitive, where is the line drawn. The same thing applies to women are supposed to be pure yet experienced. It gets especially complicated because there is trend among women being attracted to “bad boys” which could encourage aggressive behavior in men. One reason as to why I found the WWE movie so disturbing is because those men didn’t really face a double bind ever. As shown, the men were just as aggressive with the women as they were to the men. They were probably even more degrading towards the women by adding a sexual assaults into the mix. The double bind has become normalized and accepting into society. Therefore, this could be why some of the scenes from the WWE documentary were so shocking.

  7. Bianca Scofield

    I think that the sociology of gender is all about double binds, that may be in part why I am so drawn to it. How can society expect to polar opposite identities from one person? We have examined many contradictory identities in class already. For men to be gentlemanly and aggressive at the same time is what women are socialized to want. Beat up whoever is disrespectful of me but never direct that violence towards me. Most men are able to distinguish where to direct their aggression, others, however, do not. For example, the men in the WWE documentary direct their violence to both men and women in the ring, and one wrestler even beat up his wife outside of the ring.

  8. In light of Professor Jafar, myself and CCTEDx’s event this past Friday, Martin and Kazyak’s article, and your commentary on the :”bad boy” esque image as well as the idea the hetereosexual romance (and that heteronormativity romantic activities are the ONLY options) solve all problems (especially for women) AND how in Tough Guise they show G-rated movies like A Shark’s Tale and How To Slay Your Dragon – reenforcing these heteronormative and masculinity gender norms, I immediately thought of this TED talk:

    Not only does the speaker, Colin Stokes (the speaker) COMPLETELY dismiss the facts that these are all heteronormative and predominately white, but a lot of his analysis of these Disney films are extremely problematic (I completely disagree with his analysis of the Wizard of Oz and Star Wars; regardless of the fact that it passes the Bechdel test (which I also call into question its legitimacy and sad reality that our standards of representations of women in entertainment are so low) This also brings up the incredibly critical point that the mass public blindly trusts TED speakers, but that is beside the point.

    My very best friend very slowly came out to her family and friends over the past few months – but I had known since last spring. Through speaking with her and listening to her work through coming out (which she very much so had to work through due to internalized homophobia, thanks to patriarchal corporations such as Disney) I have began to really see how horribly heteronormative our society is. People do not even think twice when assuming everyone is straight. That is all I could think about when reading the Martin and Kazyak movie: how these movies inadvertently socialize us to be heteronormative. It’s infuriating and makes me wonder how different our culture would be if Disney was not shoving straightness and whiteness down our throats.

    On a totally separate note, and relating to Alex’s post and our previous readings on the Olympics:
    ^^ more gender tests in Iran…..

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