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“Gender is the structure of social relations that centers on the reproductive arena, and the set of practices that bring reproductive distinctions between bodies into social processes.” (Connell, Chapter 1, 2009). Unfortunately, gender involves also hierarchy, where we examine inequality in terms of power, wealth and privilege. One of the ways to learn about the gender roles and what kind of social norms and expectations exist in the society is movies (Macionis, 2007). As socialization process begins from early childhood, Disney movies are a great illustration in terms of questioning the representation of roles. In this paper, I will examine the representation of gender roles and stereotypes by comparing three Disney movies: Snow White, Pocahontas, Frozen and try to explain how the portrayal has changed over the time scope.
Before having the lectures on gender stereotypes, I did not pay attention to the movies which I grew up with. When I go back to my childhood, I cannot describe the happiness that I was getting by watching Disneyland movies. There was a single movie that I did not miss so far that made by Walt Disney. Although my mom was warning me that whatever I see in movies is not the real or accurate portrayal of real life, I loved to compare myself to the princesses and dreaming to be beautiful as them. Now I do understand how child’s sense of self-structured by pop culture. I do realize now what kind of stereotypes each movie had that I have watched.
My analysis will begin my favorite Disney animated movie called “Snow White” that released in 1937. From the first perspective, the movie shows how a princess having a good relationship with dwarfs and interesting romance at the end of the movie ending happily with cheerful music in the background. However, if we go into deep analysis we can see that this young lady portrays expectations from the females in the society. She does housekeeping and acting like a mom for dwarfs by nurturing them. She is so naïve that can accept an apple from the stranger and mostly important waits for the prince to save her. In masculinities schema, Snow White can be associated with the emphasized femininity because she has “soft and docile personality that expresses such things as sociability rather than technical competence, fragility in mating scenes, compliance with men’s desires for titillation and ego-stroking, as well as acceptance of marriage and childcare” (Howson, 2005). Prince who saves her from her step-mother is the ideal type of masculinity, which is hegemonic since he has all features of it such as whiteness, richness, educations and etc. (Carole McCann and Seung-kyung Kim, 2013). On the other hand, the release date of the movie let us connect the concept of the movie with the first-wave of feminism. Beginning from the 19th-century, women were fighting for equality. This movement spread, especially with the acceptance of the 19th amendment (voting right for women). However, it slowed down in late 1920’s with the Great Depression. There were scholars such as Simone de Belvoir who was challenging this movement by his writings. According to him, women were the other and should be oppressed by culture (Connell, Chapter 3, 2009). In my opinion, at that time males were afraid of losing their power in the society and did not want to empower women in this sense.
After the Snow-White Disney made three movies: Cinderella and Sleeping beauty, Little Mermaid. These three movies were not different than former one with their scenarios, as they featured beautiful, weak, young females waiting for their strong, brave male partners to rescue them from the situation they are in.
However, Disney revealed a movie called Pocahontas (1995), which grabbed my attention with its uniqueness from previous movies. Unlike, other female characters Pocahontas was strong and an independent girl. She was not looking for a prince to marry, yet she saves his partner from her father’s hatred. If we categorize the type of gender she has, the ambivalent feminist can be fit for the female character. She resists the rules of his father, at the same time corporates with her male partner (Howson, 2005). We still observe the hegemonic masculinity features on the male partner of this movie. I remember I was so surprised while watching the movie and could not believe how female character act like the male and be strong. What was the reason behind this change? Why movie writers changed their attitudes towards women? It can stem from the second wave of feminism (1960-1980), which influenced the social norms and expectations of the females. Even though the revival and wave the feminism movement happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s, that still did not stop the ripple effect for the years that would follow. Like mentioned previously, monumental strides were made for women’s rights and equality in the United States. The mentality of the American people changed dramatically. Due to this movement, affirmative action took place such as equal payment for work, quotas in policies and campaigns, special treatment of women and men with responsibilities (Slides, 13th)
If we analyze the recent movies by Disney, they attempt to eliminate the mistakes that they have done in the past in terms of gender stereotypes and create role model princesses for young girls. Frozen (2013) is the best example of these movies. The main characters in this movie are both females. The main theme of the movie is not the romance but the sister relationship emphasizing family values. The message of this movie is to show that females can make their own decisions and be happy for being the hero of their lives. The type of the gender she represents can be associated with the protest feminists. The central message of the movie challenges a very fundamental of gender order by empowering woman and giving them a chance of controlling everything by themselves (Howson, 2005) The reason behind this kind of movies stems from the change that occurred recently in the society and impact of the fourth wave of feminism, where we can see the neoliberal values. The campaigns spread by the famous woman also influence the roles and norms of gender (Slides, 14th).
In conclusion, it is not easy to live in a male-dominated world, especially where females are discriminated even in the constitution of the country. However, as a female, I believe that we will be able to solve the gender problems if we educate our females.
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