I never thought Disney movies were slowly conditioning me to believe all women must have unrealistic body proportions, that abusive relationships are OK and that women are helpless.
As a child, they were harmless entertainment. But in my Social Psychology class, I recently watched a video that featured experts who analyzed the images Disney movies present to young girls. Their conclusion was that these images are, indeed, harmful.
One example the video brought up was how the images of female characters in Disney movies are overtly sexual. They have bodies with exaggerated hips, full breasts and tiny waists. Though Disney is not the originator of oversexed images of women, it packages these images in an innocent fashion by animating them and selling them to young children.
I remember when Aladdin came out, and all the girls at my school wanted to be Princess Jasmine. I remember wanting to look like her down to her clothes, body and hair. Women who grew up with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and other Disney princesses probably remember wanting to look like these characters, even though none of them resembled any real women they knew growing up.
Another negative image Disney portrays is that women can get what they want by using their bodies. Elizabeth Hadley, a teacher of African-American Studies at Simmons College, uses a scene in Aladdin as an example. In the scene, Jasmine uses her body to distract the villain, Jafar, from his pursuit of Aladdin. Hadley says this is a dangerous message because it incorrectly teaches a young girl that using her body to seduce the opposite sex is how to get what she wants.
In addition, Disney portrays women as helpless creatures. Male characters always have to swoop in and save the damsel in distress. The Beast saved Belle from the wolves in Beauty and the Beast, and Prince Eric saved Ariel from Ursula in The Little Mermaid. The presence of strong, independent females in Disney movies is nearly non-existent.
Snow White and the?Seven Dwarves, which debuted in 1937, featured a young girl who enjoyed cooking and cleaning, and her only friends were forest animals. A story such as that would seem absurd in modern times because of the steps women took to get away from that stereotype. In The Little Mermaid (1989), Ariel is portrayed as a stronger character than Snow White because Ariel openly defies her father by eloping with the prince. Despite standing up to her father, Ariel ultimately is willing to give up her voice to get the prince. In the end, all she has left to win his affections is her body.
Mulan, released in 1998, features a strong female character who becomes a war hero. But when she returns home, the sexist expectations of women remain, as if nothing happened. One character even says, “Great, she brings home a sword. If you ask me, she should have brought home a man.”
The most shocking revelation was how abusive Beauty and the Beast is. In that movie, Belle is ripped away from her family and imprisoned in the castle with the Beast. The Beast yells, screams and is appallingly cruel to Belle. However, Belle excuses the Beast’s violent behavior, believing him to be sweet and kind beneath his angry exterior. In the end, Belle falls in love with him, and they live happily ever after.
In a sense, the movie is telling young girls to overlook the abusive and violent behavior of a man because there is a prince within him, and it is a woman’s job to bring it out.
At first, I was skeptical that Beauty and the Beast made young girls believe abuse was OK. But at the end of the video, the experts asked some young girls what would happen if Belle was their friend. One girl said, “If Belle was my friend and I seen her go through this whole thing, I’d probably say, ‘Just keep on being nice and sweet like you are and that would probably change him,’ and in the movie, it does.”Most girls grow up with strong female figures such as mothers, grandmothers or aunts to look up to; therefore, these movies do not have much effect after a certain age.Nevertheless, there are girls who do not have strong females in their lives. It’s not Disney’s job to teach these women to be strong, but because the movies it produces are so popular, I believe Disney needs to take some responsibility and start making films that have strong, realistic female characters.
Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.