Disney Films and Stereotypes

I grew up with books and videos of the Walt Disney fairy tales.  I loved them, especially ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’. My cousin used to have a huge colleection of Disney videos (as did I). She had ‘Cinderella’ and  ‘Snow White’ before me, which I think I was slightly jealous about until I got one too (as kids of I guess).

I just saw a cartoon strip on Facebook, essentially condemning popular Disney movies for essentially being sexist and portraying women as either helpless or basically only good for her sexuality. No suchdebatewas around when I was growing up,not that I was aware of anyway. However,while studying EarlyChildhood Education,I can see that there is a lot more awareness and a move away from gender stereotypes. Teachers are encouraged to treat children as individuals and not personal prejudices, including gender prejudices.

Should Disney be condemned for portraying women and men the way he did? I think it should be pointed out that in his time (1930’s), if he portrayed relationships any differently to what he did, he would’ve been crucified. He would’ve been expected to make cartoons  that  were heteronormative and that portrayed traditional gender roles.

However, in the ’90’s and early 2000’s  over thirty years after Walt Disney’s death, traditional and patriarchal story lines did start to become less common. Pocahontas was a strong independent woman. Yes, she did fall in love with Englishman, John Smith, but it was her who chose to be in the relationship, despite cultural taboo. Mulan, a tale set in ancient China, obviously violates gender norms. Mulan becomes androgynous to take her sick father’s place fighting the Hun invaders. Her father even growled at Mulan:

I know my place. It’s time you learnt yours.

I think a part of what he was talking about Mulan’s role as a Chinese woman. Toy Story 2 portrays platonic relationships between Jessi the cowgirl doll, Buzz Lightyear and Woody. From the moment that Woody is ‘toy napped’, Jessi is very outspoken. Even in times when she does have doubt, she ends up making her ow decisions, even to the dismay of the Prospector.


I don’t know where Disney movies will be in the future. I hope that they continue to delight children worldwide like they delighted me. I hope they bring wonder and a sense of idealism to children. They should also be enjoyed by everyone  of all ages and cultures.

Did you grow up with Disney films? Do you like them? Why or why  not?

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