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Gender Roles and Their Connotations in Disney Animation Movies

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Disney Animation and their films are a huge part of the entertainment industry in America. Their influence and reach on children stretches throughout years and has many avenues to influence not just with movies but through clothing, games, and toys. Disney has been around for over 80 years, and during that time, they have played a role in how society displays gender roles. As modern culture goes through changes, Disney can also be seen making changes in the way they represent their characters, especially females. Through different researches and literature reviews, including the movies themselves, Disney can be seen slowly making strides along with the surrounding culture and changing times in America. Disney has for many years been at battle with the public and their audience for being accused of portraying their characters, specifically females, in stereotypical ways. Gender roles and their connotations are a huge part of society, and can impact viewers in the way they compare themselves to the others around them. Media already has a substantial influence, portraying what is expected from society and social norms. Disney was chosen because through its history, the roles of men and women pictured in their films have mirrored the cultural perspective and beliefs of social norms and expectations on gender roles and identity. Disney, therefore, becomes a great illustration and representation of following cultural trends and developments. Also with that, Disney is a great way to follow the influence of views and expectations of behavioral norms linked with males and females.

Disney has been around for many decades, and they still seem to remain a leader in the entertainment industry. The culture that surrounds Disney is ever-changing, and going through different challenges with each era. If they are to please audiences from decade to decade, do their values and depictions change in order to appease the viewers? In order to determine the significance of the change of Disney, the influences of media and gender roles in general need to be researched and described. Although it is already known that Disney is a monumental leader in the entertainment industry, it is unknown if and how they have adapted to the changing values and beliefs on social norms and gender roles. In Disney films, gender roles of both male and female are very prominent. The major change throughout the history of Disney has taken place in the portrayal of female characters. The depiction of females and their gender roles can be described in at least one of three ways.

One, the original portrayal of Disney princesses is the stereotypical damsel-in-distress, and very domestic. This can be seen through Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. A second portrayal arose and shifted the roles of female characters to be seen as rebellious and ambitious. This picture can be seen through the characters of Ariel, Mulan, and Rapunzel. Lastly, a final shift has taken place and the female characters are portrayed as independent and free spirited. This type of depiction can be seen through seen through Merida, Anna and Elsa. These different types of portrayals of women through the various films can be seen lining up with the cultural aspects of what was happening around that same time frame. The social expectations and standards for female gender roles have changed and evolved over time. With that, the media becomes a visual representation of those social norms that are expected in the surrounding culture and society.

In 1937, Disney released their first full-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This story was based off of an original gruesome tale created by the Grimm Brothers, but was changed to create more entertainment to a generation that needed it. Although Disney took away the gore, violence, and unpleasant realities, he created a story that talked of romance with cheerful music and a happy ending. Through the cheerful music, funny characters, and happy ending, the character Snow White starts the Disney trend of a domestic woman who becomes a damsel-in-distress relying on a prince to come and save her. This young, pretty, sweet-natured princess portrays the societal views of what was expected of females and their gender roles. The domestic work that viewers can see Snow White doing does not faze her at all. These tasks consist of doing the dishes, cooking, cleaning, and being a mother figure for those seven dwarfs. This picture that Snow White was portraying was only to reinforce the expectations of women being homemakers, especially during the post Great Depression Era.

Snow White could have been a story about a young girl making her discoveries of who she is, but instead creates a representation to other women and young girls the idea of domesticity. During World War II, many women entered into the workforce. With many men entering into the war to serve military demands, several women went into manufacturing jobs to help the economy. Many women for the first time were working outside of the home, and for the first time experienced a sense of freedom from the roles that society had pressed on them for so long. This type of mentality and the encouragement for women to work was only allowed while America was still in war. Afterwards, all was to return to normal with women in their traditional homemaker roles with their paying jobs being replaced with men. America in the 1950s is showcased as a happier time leading out of World War II, with families moving into suburbs and fostering a happy life with the American Dream. Family was huge during this time, and was often pictured in the advertising and media. With men returning from war and women supposedly returning to the kitchens, came a sense of the reconstructivism of gender roles once again. Men were supposed to be the bread-winners for the family, while women were domestic caregivers caring solely for the children and the home. The media created the ideal woman who was always portrayed the same way time after time baking or cleaning, to imitate the proper roles that women were to have in society.

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Gender Roles And Their Connotations In Disney Animation Movies. (2019, July 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from
“Gender Roles And Their Connotations In Disney Animation Movies.” GradesFixer, 10 Jul. 2019,
Gender Roles And Their Connotations In Disney Animation Movies. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Mar. 2023].
Gender Roles And Their Connotations In Disney Animation Movies [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Jul 10 [cited 2023 Mar 24]. Available from:
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