When it comes to children, the influence of Disney is hard to miss. Messages about feminism, gender stereotypes, and sexuality are aggressively marketed to young girls through television programming. Nonverbal communication and gestures are forms of the language that Disney typically uses to send its messages across. Disney movies are often portrayed as very innocent, however the messages they feed to children are not. Females are usually highly obejectified and sexualized with large breasts, tiny waists, and fluttering eyelashes. Girls are given an unrealistic image to compare themselves to and boys begin to develop a false image of women. Furthermore, women who do not fit these stereotypes or often seen as unpleasant and ugly and take on the role of the evil character or villain.
There is no doubt that socialization is an important aspect of culture, which is essential to the development of human beings throughout their lives. The media has the ability to act as a key socializing agent for gender role development over time. Unfortunately, many types of media outlets including The Walt Disney Company, uses animation movies to do just the opposite of this, and instead objectify women while claiming innocence. An example of this is the portrayal of women and how the media depicts messages through fairy tales. Fairy tales embody the ways that society attempts to silence and oppress women making them passive. The way animated movies portray women is teaching girls that all they have to offer and their only tool against men is their looks and sexuality. Girls should be called “princesses” to make them feel good about themselves. This preoccupation with body and beauty, often encouraged by the television, films and magazines is so dangerous to the girls’ physical and mental health. One particular animation film that is favored by many girls which I thought I would analyze is Cinderella.
Disney’s Cinderella was a popular 1950s classic fairy tale about a young lady who gets locked away in a tower after her father passes away. Only to come down and be abused and enslaved by her own power hungry, evil step mother and sisters. Cinderella, the protagonist in the film, is forced to become a servant, cook, clean, and strictly fulfill all the female duties around the house for the family. In the film, Cinderella is portrayed as a beautiful poor young lady who has no other family members or friends to confide in. She chooses to bare all the hardship she faces in silence, endure her situation and not stand up against her abusive step mother and her evil daughters. Until one night, the fairy godmother offers Cinderella one wish, in which she chooses to become beautifully dressed in an exquisite ball gown and shiny glass slippers and attend a royal ball. The prince, who is looking to get married, sees Cinderella who greatly attracts him with her picture-perfect body and feminine beauty, and without speaking a single word, instantly falls in love with her. The handsome prince finally marries Cinderella, and they live happily ever after in their castle. This particular fairytale depicts many symbols and the message that physical attractiveness and beauty are the only attributes needed for a woman to find the right man. Most Disney princess characters depend on a man to save their life and share a common asset which is their beauty. Cinderella reinforces the idea that a good woman is beautiful, has no ambition, is submissive, passive, self-sacrificing, and eager to marry. Embedded in this tale are warnings for young girls for what might befall them should they choose to stand up and empower themselves.
After watching different versions of Cinderella, the hidden yet prominent displays of symbols, such as facial expressions and the style of clothing, classism, racism and the expression of gender role become more evident. Cinderella’s old scrap clothing compared to her step-mother and step-sisters’ fancy attire represents a clear division within the class dynamic in the household. When Cinderella changes from her drab appearance and worn out attire into a huge, glittery and feminine ball gown, she is then considered to be worthy and of value. This is a clear indication that money and power are extremely influential in determining a person’s social standing. Furthermore, it is also an example of the looking-glass self, the social psychological concept of the American Sociologist Charles Cooley, which stresses the important role that our impressions of others’ perceptions of us have on how we view ourselves.
Disney’s fairy tales have had a lasting impact on our society and the American culture in terms of its identity. It is a well-known media outlet which is extremely popular with children. When children watch the way gender stereotypes are portrayed over and over in the media, it can affect the way they think about themselves and their beliefs about what they can grow up to be. Society must make an effort to accept the change of societal values and reflect these changes in its modern works of art. It is sad to see that in these fairytales, one of the most valued and honored attributes a woman can possess in life is passivity. A woman is incapable of saving herself from harm or evil, but rather a man is the one who would come to the rescue. Cinderella is saved from her miserable living conditions by a prince whom without speaking a single word, falls in love with her at first sight and whisks her off to his castle. The prince does this not because he is admired by her intellect or the fact that she is such a hard worker, but because she is so beautiful. Moreover, these types of films teach men that in order to attract women, one would have to be rich, charming, famous and good looking.