Disney’s Hidden Sexist Messages

by Pam Ryan

It is a renowned fact, that the Disney animated movies have sly images and comments of a sexual nature hidden within them. What are discussed less often are the subliminal messages and biased views of life that are hidden in such movies. It would appear that the Disney company, whether knowingly or not, have weaved many sexist messages into their films. These films are aimed specifically at young impressionable children. Are these the lessons we want our children to learn and live by? One of the basic ideas of feminism is the elimination of gender stratification, an idea Disney has rejected whether consciously or not.

  • Aladdin (1992)
    Jasmine is the daughter of a sultan bound by law to marry by her 16th birthday, legally unable to rule alone. The idea of arranged marriages shows us the second class citizenship of women in some societies. Women are thought to be tradable, like livestock. Even Jasmine herself proclaims, “I am not some prize to be won” while three men fight over the possession of her.
    The idea that Aladdin takes on a whole new identity to win Jasmine’s heart seems sweet at first, but the fact is he spends the majority of the film lying to her about who he really is; when he is found out he is rewarded for it. He spends all his time lying to the woman he claims to love more than anything in the world and in return gets to marry her and become the future sultan.
    While Jasmine is kept captive by Jafar her character is written to use her feminine whiles to earn her freedom, not to fight. She is portrayed as someone whose only asset is what she can do with her body. In the end she must be saved by Aladdin while portrayed as a fragile woman.
  • Beauty and the Beast (1991)
    Belle to me represents a woman stuck in an abusive relationship. She’s forced to give up her family, kept in isolation. She spends time being yelled at and hopes her partner will change from the true beast he is. Instead of leaving, she stays and accepts the way he is. Even when she does leave she returns very soon after, like most victims of domestic abuse. In the end the beast changes into the man of her dreams but I think this is a male dominated company’s way of saying that if you stick with a bad situation you’ll be happy in the end.
    Another character, Gaston, plans to marry Belle but the idea he has of her in his head is quite different to the reality. His perfect wife is uneducated and beautiful, a housewife and mother to many strapping boys, and he is praised for his superiority complex and specific criteria. Gaston represents the expectations of that society. He believes he can change her into his perfect wife without argument or hesitation because he truly believes he is a god in the small French town they inhabit.
  • Hercules (1997)
    Meg is a pawn of Hades, forced to use her feminine whiles to distract Hercules and bring him to self-destruction. Acting for all intensive purposes as a prostitute pimped out by Hades, Meg represents some men’s need to have ownership over women and control their actions; to use them as tools to gain assets.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
    Esmerelda represents a world of double standards. She is looked down upon not only because she is a gypsy but because of her liberty. At the Festival of Fools she performs a seductive dance for her spectators, and is ridiculed and almost arrested by the judge. Yet that same man seeks her for himself, giving her an ultimatum, him or life. The desire he holds for her gives her power over him; he doesn’t like that at all. He either wants her for himself or will burn her publicly for her rejection of him.
  • The Little Mermaid (1989)
    Ariel by far is the most anti-feminist character that Disney has ever created. She makes drastic physical changes to her body for the sake of attracting a man; for all intensive purposes, she changes species.
    She signs away her life in the hope she will be saved by the true love of a man. She also bargained away her voice. In doing so she represents women’s sacrifice of their voice and opinions for the happiness of the men in their lives, making them the inferior and submissive gender.
    As with many other Disney women Ariel in the end must be saved by a man, unable to fight for herself. In the end she gladly leaves her family forever and sacrifices her identity and heritage for the chance to stay on land with her prince.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)
    Snow White represents the Disney company’s belief that women should be content to stay at home and become a domestic goddesses. Housework should bring them happiness as well as waiting on men hand and foot. Snow White spends her days serving the whims of seven men. In the end she must again be saved by a man, but not from the seven men she serves, from another woman.
    Women of power are painted to be evil in this film. The queen is created with an evil and vengeful personality and with a bloodlust for her step-daughter. When asking her magic mirror who the fairest one of all is, the male personality of the mirror chooses Snow White; the quiet, fragile and submissive one of the two. She is portrayed as the more attractive of the two.
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28 thoughts on “Disney’s Hidden Sexist Messages

  1. The messages of sexism (against males) is much more apparent nowadays. Although they might just be trying to appease to their mostly female audience I recognize outrageous sexist gestures in not only Disney shows but their new movies like “Zapped”. The male supporting actors are usually un-hygienic, really dumb jocks (or pathetic nerds), and are almost always causing the problems. The leading female actresses are always good-looking, have a sense of logic and (usually) a basic education, are portrayed as “cool”, and always pull through in the end through the “unbreakable bonds of sisterhood.” Whereas sexism may have existed in the past, it was most likely unintentional. However, the sexism in the newly produced Disney shows/movies (the majority of which have leading roles portrayed by females) are disgusting and is one of the most hypocritical situations in “modern society/justice/equality”.

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  5. I agree with Bobby. And FYI, the expression is “for all intents and purposes” not “for all intensive purposes”. I know, my degree is in English.

  6. Ms. Ryan-
    I’m writing an essay for my AP English class on the sexist messages found in Disney. Is there a way to contact you for a follow up quote on this subject? Thank you!

  7. Sorry but I’ve never thought Belle was just a sex object. One of the very first things you learn about her is that she’s literate, which seems to be a big deal for women in her town, it’s implied by Gaston that there’s a mentality at the time of “women shouldn’t be reading books.” Those three blond women in the red, yellow and green dresses who follow him around are the actual sex objects, they fawn all over him and randomly put their boobs on stuff. She’s also brave enough to defend her father from criticism, knowing he works hard at his inventions; and she herself doesn’t seem too affected by the entire town thinking she’s “peculiar.” She’s bored with conventions and wants more out of life than she is getting.

    • I agree. And Jasmine is bold and independent and loves a man for his qualities and not because he’s a prince. People only see what they want to see.

  8. Okay. Everyone is being way too harsh. I agree she reached a bit and was a little one-sided about the whole thing, but it’s ultimately about SUBLIMINAL MESSAGES and there are a lot in disney. (Good and Bad… however if we want to improve in our society we have to accept the bad as well) If she hadn’t come on so strongly and clearly offended so many Disney lovers you could see she made some good points. Like beauty and the beast. I know the message on the SURFACE is inside beauty over outside beauty, but subliminal messages are like messages that secretly creep behind main messages. The beast treated her terribly, yet she saw through the outside appearance, and the horrible treatment, the anger management issues and saw the good in him eventually and fell in love. That’s what it means to be a woman. Have god-like patience and not judge a man by his looks. There should be a beauty and the beast where the woman is a beast. We’ll see how many people like that. (There might be a story somewhere but not nearly as famous as this one). It’s not about attacking the movies themselves. You see the stories on there own aren’t the problem it’s the rest of the media and society on top of that putting pressure on women to be like this and like that. It’s about bringing attention to important issues. We don’t have to diss the movies completely but understand that the are also part of this system.

  9. It’s a bullshit piece written by a manhater. That bobby up there in the comments brings up excellent counter points. If you go looking for sexism, racism, any -ism really, you’ll find it anywhere, even where it’s not present.

    • Yep, is see so much sexism in today’s disney and no one gives…. But when it’s a small thing like this they notice it … -.-

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  12. I can’t even begin to express how happy I was to reach the end of this and see comments calling it out on the incredibly reaching piece of work this was. This writing dedicated to calling out the “sexism” of “the Disney company” tries so hard but really just gives a bad name to feminism. And of all the things, to call out the evil queen in Snow White as Disney “portraying women in power in an evil light…” But she’s the VILLAIN! It’s the character! You’re dissecting the traditional story telling structure and piecing anything with a woman in it as sexist. She HAS to be evil, it’s the character. And if it was an evil king, you’d go off about how Disney is supporting a male dominated kingdom and they’re exercising male control over blahblahblah. You can portray every story in your negative light, but your comments themselves about how “this princess is this” and “her only assets are that” are the real sexist comments here.

  13. In addition to the other comments, all of these stories existed before Disney. Disney actually added a lot of feminine will power to these girls without actually changing the story, something I commend them for.

    • Thanks for this comment. The Grimm’s brothers are to blame for most of the sexism in fairytales. The original stories were studied to actually empower the children, including females. Then the Grimm’s came in and revised everything into a bigoted catholic light.

  14. You are so far off base with your blog that, at first, I thought you were kidding.

    JASMINE
    A strong willed woman who REFUSES to follow her father’s wishes to marry and STANDS UP for herself and what she believes in. Sheds light on the fact that women (and men since, ya know, they’re part of the deal too) used to be forced into arranged marriages and how ridiculous it is. Makes the audience sympathize with HER POINT OF VIEW. And yeah god forbid men should
    fight for a woman’s affections. How sexist of them?!!

    It’s perfectly acceptable to you that Aladdin takes on a whole new personality to win Jasmine’s heart but when Ariel does it for Eric, you twist it into something evil.

    BELLE
    By far your most ridiculous analysis and that’s saying something. Belle saves the Beast not with her sexuality but with her LOVE. She loves the beast not for what he looks like on the outside but for who he is on the inside. At the same time she
    rejects Gaston even though he is very good looking. It’s an important lesson that teaches our children that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Belle is smart and strong willed (a common disney component of its female characters) and “wants more than this provincial life” as if to say you should reach for your dreams.

    ARIEL
    Once again you are waaay off. Ariel changes her appearance because she’s a mermaid and Eric is a human. You may not be aware of this but Humans cannot breathe underwater and mermaids cannot walk on land. She gives up her voice and once again we see the theme of “it’s on the inside that counts”. Eric is unimpressed with Ariel BECAUSE SHE HAS NO VOICE AND CAN’T BE THE GIRL
    HE LOVES EVEN THOUGH SHE LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE HER!!! My god if that’s not a classic case of love her for who she is and not what she looks like then I don’t know what is. Ariel is a princess but disobeys her father (is strong willed) and does NOT follow his wishes either.

    SNOW WHITE
    Right because being a housewife and mother is like the worst thing on Earth but going to work all day is like so righteously awesome dude. Way to villify and demonize motherhood all in one pathetic breath while putting all male gender roles on a pedestal. You are also sooooo right that Disney only paints Women of power to be evil. Never before in the history of Disney movies have any male characters been evil… except Scar, Captain Hook, Gaston, Jafar, and countless others. Snow White was not chosen as being more attractive than the Queen for being submissive or quiet. The mirror doesn’t say that at all.

    I’m sure any sane person who has read my comments can agree that this whole “Disney is sexist” B.S. needs to be put to rest.

    • YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!
      The little opinion you wrote is overloading with B.S.. All of the female characters require to be rescued. They are weak, no matter how strong the character is, a men always have to rescue her. It is not only sexism, but racism also, you can search that up. Disney is overloading with f*cked up stuff that you will hate.

      • ALL of them require being rescued? Didn’t the Beast require being rescued from his curse by Belle? Didn’t Ariel save Prince Eric from drowning? Which in turn led him to hunt for the girl who saved his life, ignoring the obviously very pretty Ariel right in front of him? And Ariel didn’t just change her body for Eric, she changed it because she’d always wanted to be human. Remember the whole “cavern of objects” and the big “Part of Your World” song? She wanted to be human waaaaaay before Eric showed up.

        Bobby makes some excellent points that I’d never even thought of before.

      • What you and the author seem to have a problem with is the very fact that these movies contain romantic relationships. Because, newsflash, when you are telling a story about a straight romantic relationship, these “sexist” issues are going to come up. But… they’re not sexist. They’re the way actual relationships work. Maybe there WAS an ugly girl in a tower in the next kingdom over. And when she got saved by whoever saved her, it was probably pretty awkward. “Okay, you’re safe now. Bye!” Not really the stuff of movies, is it?

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  17. In defense of Belle, she has also got a fiery courage and passion and not at all as you describe.. I admit it has been a long time since I saw it, but I don’t think Belle belongs to your list.. I can see where you are coming from with your other comments, but with Beauty and the Beast, the flaws of the two different male characters are so much more prominent and Belle is the heroine who demonstrates great resilience against both of them and seeks independence and tries to improve them. Nor is she dependent on any of them, but does hope to have a happy ending with her beast.

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