Disney Celebrates “Long History of Sexism,” Says National Publication

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Gaston strokes his chin and stares at his reflection in the mirror

Credit: Disney

The Walt Disney Company is responsible for creating a century’s worth of magical experiences for generations of viewers and theme-park-visitors, but has that come at the expense of its female characters and demographic?

Promo Art for Disney 100
Credit: Disney

As Disney celebrates its 100th anniversary, multiple media outlets have joined right along with them in honor of this massive achievement. Amidst the glitter and glamour, however, one report isn’t afraid to call out the company’s biggest sins and misgivings in the past ten decades.

Related: Immersive Disney Animation is Nightmare Fuel

A report from Newsweek recently reported Disney’s eight biggest mistakes in the company’s history, and the elements featured were far from magical. That said, one of the biggest offenses feels a touch one-sided.

100 Years of Sexism in Disney Animation

Cinderella gets her dress in the animated film
Credit: D23

Newsweek isn’t the first to call Walt Disney Animation sexist , and they definitely won’t be the last. However, there’s a specific missing factor behind the song and dance we’ve seen and heard dozens of times prior.

The article reads,

“Beginning with Snow White in 1937, Disney’s princess films have often centered on handsome princes and damsels in distress. Although it’s easier to dismiss Disney’s older instances of sexism—including plenty of non-consensual kisses—as a product of the times, the company’s later movies aren’t always guilt-free.”

The piece later goes on to say,

“Considering the studio’s princess movies are supposedly targeted at girls, men do an awful lot of the speaking—even during Disney’s 1990s “Renaissance era.” According to a study by The Washington Post, Male characters account for 71 percent of the dialog in Beauty and the Beast (1991), 90 percent of Aladdin (1992), and 76 percent of Pocahontas (1995).”

Snow White face down in the woods
Credit: Disney

Although what the article says is valid to some extent, it doesn’t consider some of the creative elements that occur before and after the credits roll. Most Disney princess films might’ve been a product of their times, but the report neglects to mention just what they are remembered and beloved for.

Related: Op-Ed: Disney Animation Remains Untouched by Disney+ Purge

This writer isn’t going to sit here and say that all pieces of Disney animation are excellent, the Newsweek report is right in the fact that those prior to the Disney renaissance did have a certain 1950s perspective. However, are these movies famous for “non-consensual kissing” and “sexist” elements, or are they remembered for fairytales and their role in making their dreams come true?

Snow White's true love's kiss from Disney
Credit: Disney

As far as the princes and heroes are concerned, the argument could be made that the male counterparts are truly getting the short end of the stick. Sure, a prince can find the glass slipper, scale a thorny tower guarded by an evil dragon, and wake the princess with true love’s first kiss, but how often do they get award-winning musical numbers to celebrate their deeds?

Related: Disney Animation Remakes Mickey and Pooh, Fans Shocked

For the sake of argument, let’s look at Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, considered by some animation aficionados as a return to the classic Disney fairytale after Cinderella (1950) almost a decade before. For many, this is what people think about when they picture the stereotypical Disney movie.

Aurora and Philip dance in Disney's Sleeping Beauty
Credit: Disney

Sleeping Beauty (1959) has been called a film that is far too in love with its side characters, and it’s easy to understand why since Maleficent is practically the bigger presence in the project. Both Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip have little in the terms of dialogue and screen time, but who has a more prominent role to play of the pair of them?

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Aurora might not do much compared to some of her princess peers, but she is asleep for most of her movie. With that in mind, it should also be noted that Prince Philip, in spite of his dragon-slaying abilities, is pushed to the side. According to IMDb, he has somewhere around three scenes where he even gets a word in.

Prince Philip armed to fight Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty
Credit: Disney

The scene with his father, his meeting with Aurora in the forest for “Once Upon a Dream,” and his time spent in Maleficent’s fortress are the only times the viewers get to know him, yet we see Aurora grow up before our eyes. As shallow as it might seem, Philip does all the heavy lifting while Aurora rests on her laurels (so to speak).

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The same thing can be said for most prince characters in traditional Disney movies. Even Prince Eric, who is one of the few princes to get a fully-fleshed-out personality, isn’t as remembered for skewering Ursula and rescuing Ariel as much as his female counterpart is for her singing ability.

Sleeping Beauty Aurora Disney
Credit: Walt Disney Studios

To say that the traditional Disney fairytale is perfect would be thoroughly incorrect, but to call them sexist isn’t the strongest argument either. A better term to describe the gender dynamic in Disney’s movies would be unbalanced, as both sides have something to attribute to the film’s success.

Related: Princess Tiana Makes Waves With New Animated Short

One thing this writer can agree with Newsweek’s report is that Disney has gotten better about shifting said balance to something more equal. However, the princesses definitely have the production company by the mouse ears. There is definitely still work to be done.

Do you think Disney is built on a century of sexism? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments down below!


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