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.