Where the boys are: Disney, sexism, and masculinity

Hold on to your hats, junkies, because I am about to sound off! Sanjay Newton decided to investigate Disney’s portrayal of men and how this may impact young boys’ ideas about masculinity with his “Inequality Project: Images of Masculinity in Disney Films” (video below). Sounds interesting, right? I was interested at first, too, because there are some obvious items to pick on. That said, Mr. Newton’s argument unravels faster than it unfolds (for starters, he only calls on 9 of Disney’s 50 animated feature films to support his thesis).

Newton covers four major topics and they are all full of crap:

“Men and their Women: Perpetuation of Objectification”
He says Disney tells little boys they should objectify women by showing us a many clips of Gaston from Beauty & the Beast being a douche, the early (and bad) side of Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove, Prince Eric leaning in to kiss Ariel from The Little Mermaid, and the boys from Mulan singing about their ideal woman. Disney is exceptionally good at telling us who is bad and who is good. So what idiot little boy thinks they should hold the vile villain, Gaston, in high esteem? All these examples suck. They’re either villains or they change as a result of learning.

“Chiseled Bodies and Physical Prowess: Turning Boys Into Men”
This is where Newton gets riDONKulous. Disney wants boys to know they should have a six pack and biceps that block out the sun. First of all, boo-hoo, because guess what they tell little girls about their bodies? It gets better, though. His supporting evidence of choice: Hercules. Good god, man (pun intended)! You choose a freaking demigod?! :: knock knock :: They are supposed to be perfect! My favorite part was when he said the Mulan learned right away that the only way she could pass for a man was by displaying her physical prowess by showing her climb the impossibly high tree trunk. Um, did he even see that movie? She only gets to the top (and gets respect) by using her BRAIN!

“Violence and Dominance: Maintaining Inequality at Any Cost”
This could be the best, though. Newton’s argument in this section is that not fighting means you are weak (showing Gaston and Beast) and Disney movies generally end with a battle between two men for a woman or status (showing Aladdin and Jafar). First, that’s not true. Here, the bulk of his argument is supported with a lengthy clip of Simba and Scar fighting in Lion King. You choose two dominant beasts, that in the animal kingdom only use violence to assert dominance?! Really? (Oh, and just so you know, Sanjay, almost every movie with a princess in it has her saving him at the end.)

Puh-lease!

Where is Newton’s consideration for historical and cultural context? He gets that Mulan is approximately set in 15th century China, right? Despite Newton’s argument, there are lots of different body types for men (Aladdin, Kuzco, Quasimodo, Arthur, Mowgli, and Milo James Thatch from Atlantis). Also, why was Simba the only animal character presented? What about Chicken Little, Dumbo, Robin Hood, the Tramp, Bambi, or Bernard from The Rescuers? Another downfall: he only uses one clip from a Pixar film, and it features a crazed villain (again), Buddy from The Incredibles. Someone concerned about “where we go from here” should probably talk about where Disney IS GOING!

Check it out below, if you dare:

What do you think? Do you see what I mean about his artful ways of using clips and stills out of context? WTF? Note the closing sequence when he shows us Hercules (again) as the ideal man, Wendy on her knees in Peter Pan, and Beast defensively standing over Belle. Hello, Sanjay, Hercules is a demigod (as near to perfection as we can percieve), in Edwardian London Wendy would’ve been the only person in the room that would’ve known how to stitch Peter’s shadow back on (which is hopefully what you were trying to say with that still), and Beast was saving Belle from wild and ravenous wolves.

Welcome to the club, boys!
Both boys and girls might get jobbed by Disney, but can we all agree that girls get it way (way) worse and that this guy clearly didn’t do his homework? For fun’s sake, here is a look at what I found Pixar says to little girls: https://littlejunkies.wordpress.com/2009/06/04/pixar/

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11 thoughts on “Where the boys are: Disney, sexism, and masculinity

  1. spitfire says:

    amen, Junkie1!
    you poked many a hole in this guy’s cherry-picked, poorly researched argument.

  2. Zrose25 says:

    That is crazy! Maybe he is studying to be a journalist… he is pretty good at twisting things to his specific view point.

  3. Jes says:

    Woo! You tell him!

  4. Junkie1 says:

    Tell me about it, guys! What I love is the Little Mermaid clip of two consenting people about to kiss on a romantic boat ride is his idea of men objectifying women.

    Um, why not use the clip of Jafar kidnapping Jasmine, dressing her like a ho, and chaining her up in Aladdin?

  5. Evamarie says:

    “Tell me about it, guys! What I love is the Little Mermaid clip of two consenting people about to kiss on a romantic boat ride is his idea of men objectifying women. ”

    I agree totally! Let’s not forget that her friends orchestrated the situation so that he would be (almost tricked) compelled to kiss her, if there IS any objectifying it’s of Eric, not Ariel.

    • Junkie1 says:

      Disney fans unite! Good point, Evamarie. That’s what is so frustrating about this guy–better points to his argument are staring him in the face, and he is completely missing the mark.

  6. CasualObserver says:

    I think you completely miss the point of his film and his thesis. Disney’s primary objective is to perpetuate strict gender roles disallowing for difference and variation. Feminine character = beautiful, nurturing, a prize to be won. Masculine character = strong, courageous, must battle for “right”.

    Now that’s all lovely in a fairy-tale world, but Disney is careful not to let one take on the characteristic of the other without it being a joke, shameful, or an “impersonation” of the opposite quality, always taking care to point out the unnaturalness of it all. Disney’s social mandate is highly xenophobic, heterocentric, and discourages any digression from socially constructed gender roles.

    • Junkie1 says:

      Not in the least–his thesis is valid, it’s his argument that leaves much to be desired.

      If I had taken on the project, I’d select a demographic of American men; present data that shows violence, depression, obesity, and other relevant metrics; and then review/analyze the Disney films that were released during the formative years of my selected demo as well as those already released. What Mr. Newton did was load his argument with poorly selected clips that were twisted to fit his point with no data to show men are affected in any way (aside from one quote from a professor).

      I also happen to feel the argument is stronger when it includes/focuses on femininity. Unlike boys, girls have never been allowed to have a deformed hero (Quasimodo). Never seen a scrawny hero (Kuzco, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Mowgli, Arthur, Chicken Little, Robin Hood). Not a single fat hero (Bernard, Sully, Mr, Incredible). And, aside from the princesses, not one single feature has had a female lead. To be honest, unless the female characters are prepubescent (Lilo), they are always drawn as tiny women.

    • LeAnn says:

      Those gender roles are perpetuated by the people though. If we had different views of “feminine” and “manly,” then the heroes and villians would be different. Disney goes with what sells the best. Their “odd” heroes doesn’t always sell as well as their “cookie cutter” heroes. The only way to change that is to change what we are drawn to and what we see as hero material. Those gender roles and the sexism is what we buy into… as much as we dislike it. His thesis was completely valid though, there is sexism and stereotyping in Disney… he just really picked the wrong images and videos to show the problems.

      • Junkie1 says:

        I agree. What I find interesting is how far back the imagery goes–how rooted it is in our collective conscience.

        I’m not willing to completely attack Disney’s traditional depiction of the male figure. That “look” dates back to the ancient world. Whereas, the idealized female form has gone from Botticelli to skin and bones and back (somewhat) several times over.

        For guys, Disney idealizes masculine behavior–what kinds of choices men make grants them their masculinity. Disney for ladies always involves attractiveness. It always involves fashion. They always have a male counterpart that most likely will become their husband. They always exude grace. They always come off as flighty; prone to daydreams and fantasies.

        All that to say, the argument for the guys is the more ambitious row to hoe, as it were, and he just fell flat. For me there’s simply not enough meat on the bones of his argument.

        (Holy metaphoric summation, Batman!)

  7. DisneyFan55 says:

    While upon first watch, I had been sold on Newton’s video in which biases against the male gender are continually reinforced in Disney films. However, after reading this article and after having discovered that the video addresses “only nine out of fifty” animated films, I realize that lack of support evidence negates the emotional appeal to Newton’s implied arguments.
    Not only does the lacking quantity of movie references distract me from the video’s intent, but it is the quality in which the movies are referenced that lack even more convincing argumentative sway. I do believe that the perpetual pristine, athletic, and handsome features of male protagonists objectify and dehumanize Disney’s male fictional identities the same way in which women are objectified as sexual conquests. I do believe that Newton’s claim in the video is legitimate; the pervasiveness of violence or at least some type of aggressive physical contact is an important socializing force for young, particularly male, viewers. But when evidence is presented with reference to movie antagonists and extreme examples such as Hercules, it’s easier to associate their characters with these negative images. Mulan’s climb onto a high pole’s arrow target is a scene driven by an individual’s determination. The action is not meant to glorify physical power as a standard for male strength especially when Beast, in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, demonstrates physical dominance and aggression as a weakness while his compassion and selflessness at the end of the movie is a positive force in his transformation.

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