Constructions of Masculinity in Disney movies

Sometimes I google things like “feminism” or “sexism” and this time via a google search for sexism I came across this gem. It is a series of clips from Disney movies depicting masculinity and then deconstructing the ways these characterizations of manhood deploy as standard.

There are some other ones in the ‘related’ section such as this one on racism in Disney.

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52 Comments

  1. The Law Fairy
    Posted August 6, 2008 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Dominique,
    Interesting take on Wall-E. I have to admit, I honestly had not thought of it that way (and I’m usually one of the first to point out sexism in pop culture!), although there was something about the way Eve was portrayed in the beginning that always bugged me, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
    Overall, by the way, I *adored* the movie. It’s one of the very few that had something for everyone, managed to be touching, hilarious, and intellectually interesting all at the same time. Kudos to Pixar for managing to pull off a quality dystopian comedy with a good overall message to boot!
    But, yeah. I didn’t like how Eve suddenly went all giggly. It just didn’t make sense to me, and didn’t fit with the character we were introduced to. Now, Wall-E was adorable, in a little tagalong puppy kind of way, and if it could have been done in a way that didn’t invoke romance but merely hero-worship turning into friendship, or something, I wouldn’t have a problem with the following-around qualities of it. But, yeah, it does fall into the trap of sending the message that unwanted persistence equals appropriate courtship.
    That said, I love that Eve is the strong one, the sensible one, and
    **WALL-E SPOILER ALERT**
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    the one who saves Wall-E’s life at the end.
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    **END WALL-E SPOILER**
    And I like that Wall-E is the romantic, the only one of the two that does any kind of swooning, etc. In way, it does sort of reverse the stereotype of all-business guy realizing there’s more to life by getting to know free-spirited girl (think Dharma & Greg). I also really liked the relationship between John and Mary, which seemed very gender-neutral even though there was obvious attraction between them. If they make a sequel (a high likelihood given the success of the film), though, I have a sneaking suspicion the relationship would become much more gendered :-P
    Anyway, I will give the movie kudos for doing a lot of things better, gender-wise, than a lot of other kids’ films. But, you’re right, they’ve still got a long way to go.
    As to some of the other comments about the movies in the film (which unfortunately I can’t watch at the moment as work blocks youtube), interesting thoughts all around, and from what’s written here it sounds like the video doesn’t make its point particularly well. As to the animal films, however, I do think it’s valid to ask about the choice of animals, particularly where you have multiple species — for instance, which animals are more likely to be represented by female characters versus male characters? Bambi, I think, is a good example of an animal movie that doesn’t go overboard with gender, which makes sense since it’s a coming of age movie, not a romance like most Disney films. But other movies, like The Lion King, might merit a little closer evaluation (also, I think it’s worth noting that Simba grows up and becomes an adult lion *away* from the pack, being essentially raised by Timon and Puumba, while Nala stays with the older female lions — pretty clearly driving home the message that boys need to “rough it” and find their own paths, while it’s perfectly acceptable for girls to simply stay in the home and do what all the other women do).
    Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Disney films, but one thing I dislike about it is how it portrays Belle as being the calming influence on Beast — as though women are the nurturing, gentle presence that “tames” men from their “natural” beast-like states. Obviously, these stereotypes are both anti-man and anti-woman. Anti-man because it simply isn’t true that most men are inherently brutes who must be changed to fit into civilized society (at least, it’s no more true of men than it is of women). And anti-woman because it puts the responsibility on women to make sure that men behave like normal, responsible human beings (which they’re perfectly capable of doing on their own). Overall, the movie does some really positive feminist-friendly things, but that aspect of it is something of a pet peeve of mine.
    Finally, w/r/t the appearance issue, um, what about the girls? While there are definitely at least a couple Disney male heroes who aren’t stereotypically beautiful (Beast before he transforms, Quasimodo), I honestly can’t think of a female lead who isn’t, and would welcome examples if anyone can think of any. Also, this comes with the caveat that it’s been quite a while since I was young enough to make a point of catching each new Disney film (and I still don’t have kids of my own to repeat the practice with a new generation).

  2. Lucy
    Posted August 6, 2008 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    i’m not sure about the others but i highly doubt that Mulan was made to be a sexist film. this is actually my all time favorite disnye movie because it shows females could do it too. yeah, there are those songs- “Make a Man” and “A Girl We’re Fighting For”- but it’s actually irony.
    you don’t have to be man to be a great warrior.
    Mulan proved to everyone that she was just as good (even better) than the other warriors, which were all male.
    oh, i just have to love that woman.
    she brings happiness into my life.

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