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Constructions of Masculinity in Disney Movies

Because it is important to think critically about your sources of entertainment, I present to you another youtube find:

I won’t deny the influence on-screen characters have on people’s perceptions of who they are or who they want to be. However, I think having other positive role models plays a much larger role in character development than an animated figure that’s part of story line drawn from classic stories dating back generations.

Also in the above piece, the examples used are often the unredeemed hero or villain. Particularly in the movies since Beauty & The Beast overcoming those stereotypes is an important part of the hero character’s arc. For instance, in The Incredibles it takes the whole family and cooperation to defeat the villain. In Mulan it is her use of smarts and skills that allows her to become a successful warrior.

I will say that my wife and I have worked hard at home to provide all avenues of strong, thoughtful, and caring role models to my 5 year old son. While he shows an interest in continuing to explore those parts of his personality, he still gets the most joy by imitating the Power Rangers, a show he’s never watched at home. But since his friends at school all do, he picks it up.

Finally, it’s nice to think of major media creators like The Walt Disney Company having some responsibility to create better children for tomorrow. But any responsibility they have pales in comparison to the responsibility of the parent and the immediate community around the child to raise a thoughtful, caring, and intelligent kid who is ready to contribute positively to society. Blaming Disney for the failure of that is the easy way out.

7 thoughts on “Constructions of Masculinity in Disney Movies”

  1. Well said. I’ve always been annoyed at those who complain about Disney Princesses being poor role models and how they don’t let their girls pretend to be Princesses. My daughter is just a kid, and has fun dressing as a Princesses. Do I think she’ll grow up to be as weak and helpless as some of the earlier Disney princesses? No, because we’ll also surround her and educate her about much stronger women who will be good role models.

    My daughter also likes to pretend to be a robot and a pokemon and a lion. Do I need to worry about her taking on the personality traits of those characters?

    If you’re relying solely on television to raise your kids, yeah, you might want to keep them away from some early Disney movies and other non-Disney shows. I like to think most parents are raising their kids, and not letting TV do it.

  2. I’ve got to say, I stopped that video about halfway through. It’s horrible, John. As a heterosexual male, it made me feel like a terrible loser. The video twists Disney films into messages to men to act like they’re dominant fools. I have watched Disney films all of my life; the label precedes the majority of the films I view, in fact…. not once have I gathered from a Disney movie, or any movie, for that matter, that I am better than any woman or any girl. Gaston, yes, clearly thinks he is. But who wants to be Gaston? He’s disgusting, and that’s the whole point. And Kuzco and Hercules? They’re ego-centric morons who start off as jerks and end up as nice guys, having learned their lessons. The whole point of those movies is that creeps can change.
    But as I said, this video twists the moral messaging of Disney movies. But if the people speaking in this video wish to go on doing that, like a carnival of idiots on show, then by all means, let them. I won’t be paying attention.

  3. I agree – as a woman’s studies minor, one of my friends did her whole thesis on the Disney Princesses with me as a source. As a class of strong women, we all decided that we could enjoy the Disney Princesses and still turn out just fine. However, we credited our parents for that. It’s silly to blame a TV show or movie – shouldn’t you as a parent have more influence??

  4. The presenter can “pick-and-choose” clips as he pleases, but his prejudiced agenda becomes obvious when he picks characters like Gaston and Scar as examples of “Disney’s portrayal of masculinity”. The supposedly typical male characteristics are more often the marks of the Disney villian than it’s hero; they’re tragic flaws that lead the villian to his downfall. — I happen to have grown up with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Mary Poppins. They are all films in which the male hero hopelessly smitten with the heroine, and also completely innefectual at attaining their goal without the aid of strong female supporting characters (good fairies). What “message” does that give to growing boys? …So, really, you can spin these tales any way you like.

  5. As someone who is sensitive to how males (especially husbands and fathers) are portrayed in the media, I have to say that with any fictional presentation that involves both male and female characters, there are going to be the villains or antogonists who are going to have qualities that we don’t like. That helps establish rooting interest. And the hero or protagonist is going to have weaknesses and flaws to overcome. Otherwise, the story will be very boring and we won’t related to the protagonist. Again, it is about rooting interest.

    Walt Disney Feature Animation has produce scores of films over the years and you can find strong, admirable female and male characters, just as you can find loathsome and weak ones.

    Even if you don’t like how a character is portrayed on screen, it opens up an opportunity to talk with your child when they are of age to understand. “What do you like about him? How could he have done things differently?” or “Why didn’t you like him? What were his character flaws? Should you act like that? Why not?”

  6. While I believe the piece was well compiled, I don’t think its premise holds water. Firstly. Disney is used as a target totally ignoring that all the films mentioned are all ‘classic narrative structure’ created not by Disney, but rather by the Greeks. And that structure is clear in the majority of films in your video store. But if we are going to use Disney why use examples of films were the person acting “masculine” loses in the end? Gaston is portrayed as a boorish, brainless fellow and ends the film falling to his death alone. His death is clearly attached to his opinions on the roles of men and women. Do young boys watch that and think ‘I wanna be like Gaston?’ or do they get the message opposite the videos premise… ‘Don’t be like this because you’ll lose in the end.’

  7. There’s a lot of very good and well-constructed criticism (which I mean in the academic sense) and analysis of Disney and its works.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them.

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