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Critical Self Reflective Essay: Questioning Hegemony Student Name: Dermot Connolly Stenberg College Surrey BC 0312 WMST 101-3 (A) Debbie McCreedy Jan 11th 2013.


Critical Self Reflective Essay: Questioning Hegemony For most people, growing up exposed to a Disney culture was part of everyday life. We escaped reality by watching the movies, visiting the theme parks and along the way spend billions of dollars on Disney merchandize. Disney represented an escape from daily reality in the pursuit of a world where childhood innocence and dreams radiated from behind a pair of mouse ears. In his book The Mouse that Roared Giroux cautions against believing in such dreams where he believes that the dreams that Disney provide for children are not innocent and must be interrogated for the futures they envision, the values they promote and the forms of identification they offer. (Giroux, 2001 p7). Giroux examines Disney through the lens of cultural pedagogy where the media outlets created by Disney are critiqued in terms of the role they play in educating our children. (Sorren, 2011). One such pedagogical challenge is the reinforcement of dominant ideals over time, allowing them to permeate into popular culture. (Giroux, 2001 p98). One such ideal is the issue of gender stereotyping, which has become a regular theme in many Disney movies. The purpose of this discussion is to investigate this role of gender stereotyping further with particular emphasis being placed on the character of Ariel from the movie The Little Mermaid. In addition, this essay will challenge these same gender assumptions by placing them against the backdrop of the era in which they were originally made. The role of gender inequality is perhaps the most controversial issues underlying many of Disneys films. (Giroux, 2001 p85). Most Disney classics have a hero and a heroine. Its your typical romantic story where boy meets girl, they fall in love, have an adventure where their love

CRITICAL SELF REFLECTIVE ESSAY is forbidden only to be reunited at the end in a typical fairytale ending. As a child growing up watching Disney movies, it was never apparent to me that lying beneath the surface of each movie were subtle gender undertones outlining my own depiction of male and female roles within society. Disney himself compared the mind of a child to a blank slate upon which much will be written (Giroux, 2001 p17). The quality of that writing, Disney argues will affect his life profoundly (Giroux, 2001 p17).

The typical hero in most Disney movies is portrayed as a masculine male character of tall build and handsome features. Often, this character is popular and envied by other male characters who are represented as being much smaller in height and build. In many instances, these characters are made to look and appear comical giving the audience the impression that this type of character is not desired by society. (The Disney Effect 2011). The hero attracts the most beautiful of women and the one he ultimately falls in love with is the heroine of the movie. This image of masculinity indicates that this is what is desired by society and one which is most appealing to the opposite sex. (The Disney Effect 2011). The heroine by comparison, is traditionally played by the female character who according to Giroux, are ultimately subordinates to males (Giroux, 2001 p98). They are typically portrayed as beautiful helpless young women placed in a dire situation only to be saved by their hero. (The Disney Effect 2011). This representation of women by Disney depicts them as week and dependent. The female characters are identified only by their relationship and attraction to men, which undervalues their contributions to a society striving for gender equality. (The Disney Effect 2011).

CRITICAL SELF REFLECTIVE ESSAY Equipped with special effects, dazzling imagery and stories that children can relate to,

Disney films grasp the audiences attention and by so doing, expose them to the racist and sexist stereotyping that permeates many Disney films. (Giroux, 2001 p84-85). Giroux advises that because children learn from Disney movies, parents should pay closer attention to the messages they portray. (Giroux, 2001 p85). Prior to reading The Mouse That Roared, I shared Girouxs view that Disneys movies represented innocent wholesome entertainment for children and adults alike. Having now read his book, I took his advice on board and decided to review the The Little Mermaid with a critical eye as my daughter has recently started to watch it. Looking at the movie from the perspective outlined by Giroux, my perspective of Princess Ariel has certainly changed. Where once I considered her to be a typical adolescent rebelling against the constraints placed upon her by her father, I now view her as a character modeled after a Barbie doll interested in only pursuing her sexual desires towards a handsome prince. Upon closer examination, other examples of gender stereotyping are also evident in The Little Mermaid. The very appearance of the two main female characters demonstrates Disneys representations of good and evil. For example Ursula the sea witch is a large overweight squid, unattractive by western standards. Ariel on the other hand, is characterized as a beautiful adolescent wearing only a bra, gifted with a wonderful voice. Giroux remarks that both characters could have being fashioned by the editorial office of Vogue. (Giroux, 2001 p96). The very fact that Ariel is convinced to give up her voice for the pursuit of a man, ultimately reflects her character as being a subordinate to all men. (Giroux, 2001 p99). The sea witchs less that persuasive argument that Ariels sacrifice is not such a bad thing as men dont like to hear women talk; speaks for itself. (Female stereotypes in Disney films, 2011). The underlying message in initial scenes between Ursula and Ariel highlight the fact that as a young woman, the

CRITICAL SELF REFLECTIVE ESSAY only thing needed to win the heart of a handsome prince, is a pretty face. There is even a scene

where Ursula advises Ariel not to underestimate the body of body language while making sexual suggestive poses. (Female stereotypes in Disney films, 2011). While on the surface the little mermaid may appear to many young girls who can relate to the rebellious nature of Ariel, in the end the only message being portrayed to Disneys young audience is the fact that her character, her sense of empowerment and desires for freedom, are ultimately linked to the pursuit of a man. (Giroux, 2001). I would now like to flip the coin and look at the debate from the point of view of the Disney Corporation. Is it possible that the feminist movement has gone too far in the pursuit of a role that is considered gender inappropriate for women in Disney films? Giroux himself promotes the pursuit of critical reflection when reading into the films ideologies, suggesting that the context and content of each film should be considered prior to judgment. (Giroux, 2001 p8485). In 1950 for example, Disney released Cinderella which depicted a beautiful female character again dominated by the desire to win the heart of a handsome prince. (Cinderella, 1950). The films underlying message stated that only women of stature could fall in love with a prince. (Female stereotypes in Disney films, 2011). Women are also depicted as being domesticated where the female mice tell their male counterparts that sewing is for women. (Female stereotypes in Disney films, 2011). Despite these obvious stereotypes apparent in todays society, can we not suggest that Disney was merely reflecting the social norms of the 1950s, where housekeeping and raising a family were indicative of the female role? (E Notes 2000). Is it not more accurate to state that Disney has evolved with society and has made significant efforts to correct their depiction of women since the 1950s? Todays Disneys

CRITICAL SELF REFLECTIVE ESSAY characters are more independent (Pocahontas), stubborn (Princess Jasmine) and driven

(Rapunzel). (Female stereotypes in Disney films, 2011). Perhaps we are even judging Disney too harshly. In Beauty and the Beast for example, is Bella not the depiction for Disney feminism where she rejects the handsome athletic Gaston in favor of the Beast? (Giroux, 2001 p100). Perhaps we are even misinterpreting the messages being presented? Again in Beauty and the Beast the towns people idolize over Disneys Gastons character, where beautiful women fall in love with him and other male characters try to emulate him. (The Disney Effect 2011). Yet is this message being misrepresented? Is not fair to say that Disney is really suggesting that to idolize over a character so arrogant and vain is foolish as he is destined to be humbled by the woman he falls in love with? Without question, Disney has a strong case to answer when considering the impact its movies has on popular culture and the minds of young children. As a parent myself, who grew up watching many Disney movies, my eyes were opened to the gender stereotyping that permeates many of Disneys movies. I focused my analysis on The Little Mermaid as it is a movie my daughter has just recently started to watch. The gender inequalities presented through messages of submission and domination have left me with the opinion that movies such as these depict women in a manner that do nothing to help the fight for gender equality. Without question I believe Disney, like most multinational corporations, must accept responsibility for the impact they have in forming gender stereotypes. But I have also attempted to represent an unbiased approach to the topic by asking if it is fair to single out Disney as being on a deliberate crusade to impose their morals and opinions on the lives of our children? Can the argument not be made that the messages delivered in their movies reflect the era in which they were released? Should we not look instead at the bigger picture and understand why commercial

CRITICAL SELF REFLECTIVE ESSAY media is such a dominant factor in our society? And should we cast our net a little farther to include other multinational companies and public figures who influence public opinion such a many news outlets and other television networks?


CRITICAL SELF REFLECTIVE ESSAY Aladdin (1992). The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103639/ Beauty and the Beast (1991). The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101414/ Cinderella (1950). The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042332/ E Notes (2000). 1950's lifestyles and social trends. Retrieved from: http://www.enotes.com/1950-lifestyles-social-trends-american-decades/womens-roles

Female stereotypes in Disney films (2011). Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57zKcmrT6M Giroux, H., A. (2001). The mouse that roared: Disney and the end of innocence. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield. Pocahontas (1995). The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114148/ Sorren, M. (2011). The Mouse That Roared": How Disney instills greed and consumerism starting at three months. Retrieved from: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/2138:themouse-that-roared-how-disney-instills-greed-and-consumerism-starting-at-three-months Tangled (2010). The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0398286/ The Disney Effect (2011). Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpPgkjeW_kI

CRITICAL SELF REFLECTIVE ESSAY The Little Mermaid (1989). The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097757/