How Disney movies influence boys and men.
Lots of people have argued that Disney spreads poisonous, sexist, and flawed portrayals of women and girls in society. They have said that all the Disney princesses are vapid, dependent on men, and define an unattainable standard of beauty. We study it, we read it, we discuss it, we get it. But girls are not the only ones who watch Disney films. Women are not the only ones who get nostalgic when watching Disney films. The Disney Prince is as ubiquitous as the Disney Princess. So how Disney is portraying boys and men?
A prince is always on his own
Rule 1: Be a lone wolf. A real man does not have a family or support system. Tarzan, Aladdin, and Prince Eric (The Little Mermaid) are only a few examples of Disney Princes who do not have parents, siblings or any other form of family. Even if the character has a loving family, once he becomes a man he leaves. For example, Hercules left his adoptive family to find himself. Simba left his mother and pride to survive.
This message reinforces the tenets of hegemonic masculinity. Boys are in this world alone, and their only strength can be found in themselves. Family is something that ties a man down. Rarely do male characters rely on loved ones for advice. To be a Momma’s Boy or too dependent on others (even though they unconditionally love you) is thought to suppress one’s manhood.
A prince shows no emotions
Rule 2: Never let ‘em see you cry. Without having a support system, it is not surprising that men grow up with the idea that they must never show their emotions or talk about how they feel. A prince can never cry, even if they lost a loved one or are even close to death. My only memory of a male Disney character is the cub Simba (Lion King) crying when his father died. This is only acceptable because he was young–he is allowed to cry, but only that once. Shang (Mulan), also portrayed the emotionless man. When his father died, he clenched his teeth and prepared for battle.
The only emotion that is acceptable for the men of Disney is anger. If you are sad, upset, disappointed, or frustrated, and you are a man, you release these feelings with anger. According to Disney, a real man solves his internal turmoil by yelling, throwing things, and being physically violent. For instance, the Beast (Beauty and the Beast), always turned to violence despite the audience knowing that he was actually emotionally damaged. We see the effects of these images on boys when we see men who are violent and hateful. These effects can be very dangerous.
A princess is the only valuable woman (Not all women are princess)
Rule 3: All Women are (Not) Princesses. Yes, if you are a prince you will find a princess and love her, respect her, and take care of her. But there is only one princess. There are many other women in the Disney universe, but they do not deserve the same respect and love as a Princess. At least that is the message that is being received by boys.
Take Gaston (Beauty and the Beast). There are other women who are in love with his “manliness” and muscles but they are depicted as dumb, ditzy, blondes. In the grown up world they resemble the girls that men believe they can have fun with, but never commit to or bring home. In Aladdin the girls, other than Jasmine, who like him are depicted as fat and ugly. So while the Disney prince will go to the ends of the world for his princess, not all women are worth this effort, in fact most do not deserve the slightest bit of respect. Once the Prince finds his princess he must protect and love her, although he may not know how to suddenly change his actions and attitudes about women.
A New Breed of Princes
New Rules? How can we protect the young and equally impressionable boys, who consume these restrictive messages about gender? We can begin to redefine masculinity in a way that fosters confident, mature, respectful men. By offering more nuanced portrayals of the “Prince,” we can buttress the persistent gender stereotypes replicated in Disney movies.
—Photo credit: epSos.de/Flickr