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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

watch it: “Sexism, Strength and Dominance: Masculinity in Disney Films “

I think Sanjay Newton, the creator of this video analysis, misses the mark by quite a bit here. Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston, for instance, is clearly intended as a parody of the very stereotypical imagery of men that Newton says (correctly) is dangerous. Gaston is also the villain whom Belle is repeatedly shown to disdain, and of course he does not win Belle’s heart or hand in the end. He is right, however, about the violent physical battle between two male characters that is the ultimate climax of most Disney films. The Lion King may not, however, be the best example of that, since it is actually about lions, for whom this kind of battle is a part of their world.

I do find it highly intriguing, however, that someone is thinking about how men are depicted in Disney films…

(via Women and Hollywood)

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  • RogerBW

    Meh; I think Disney’s simply bad for society. Its portrayals of gender roles and everything else are fixed by Walt’s vision from the 1950s, hardly the proudest decade in America’s cultural history, but now regarded with nostalgia by the religious fanatics in charge of Wal-Mart and therefore a “safe” set of moral standards to maximise DVD sales.

    (I find it much more interesting to look at what Disney changes from its source material: in the updated Beauty and the Beast, for example, the Beast’s behaviour is ugly as well as its appearance. This changes the message from the original “handsome is as handsome does” to “if you stick with your abusive man he’ll change for the better”.)

  • Lisa

    Been a long time since I saw Beauty and the Beast but I remember thinking how boring he was and how bland he looked when he wasn’t the beast any more.

    Wasn’t Lion King Disney’s “remake” of Hamlet? I seem to recall that ending pretty violently too!

  • Isobel

    Interesting point, Lisa – I hadn’t noticed that but it’s true. In the various written tales of Beauty and the Beast the Beast is always kind to the girl (not so to her father, but always to her). Whilst I do love the Disney Beauty & the Beast, the Beast is pretty beastly even to Belle at the start – it’s more of that classic fallacy of the ‘love of a good woman’ changing a bad man, than the handsome-is-as-handsome-does of the original.

  • e

    The “safe bet” is an interesting concept to me because I almost rarely deal with it. Except for a week ago, when a cousin came over, she’s maybe 11 or 12, and I’m with the family, changing channels. I don’t know her/her mother at all, so I don’t know what she’s allowed to watch/interested in. Thus I found myself skipping nearly everything and focusing on Animal Planet, Disney, Cartoon Network, and The Food Network. Because I knew there would be nothing deemed offensive, and that’s why “family programming” is worth so much money.

  • e

    I see I read “safe set” of moral standards as “safe bet”… but the idea is the same. I don’t have to do any work because it was labeled as family, and know I won’t be getting in trouble for letting her watch it. It’s default profit.

  • And yet–as heretical as it seems to say this on this site–movies aren’t necessarily the most influential part of a person’s upbringing. And according to Newton’s logic, poor people who live in countries where Disney films aren’t commonly screened to the populace should be immune to the isms he so rightly deplores–and, of course, they are not.

    Plus one has to note that people need to gravitate most to the art that speaks to them. For example, my late father–who was born in a foreign country and who did not grow up in a world where frequent movie-going was a plausible possibility–once mentioned preferring one Disney character–Donald Duck–over another–Mickey Mouse–because Donald seemed to him to be more human. It could be argued that this says more about my father’s personality than it does about the creators of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. Then again, if you’re not the type of person who likes Mickey Mouse cartoons, you’re not likely to watch many of them any more than people who hate Barney are going to voluntarily watch many episodes of that show.

    In any event, when I think about all the dysfunctional families I’ve known, the first thing that comes to mind is usually not, “Damn, they really need to stop watching so many damned Disney films.”

  • clay

    Except Gaston was the villain in BATB, not the hero, so it would seem like the movie is condemning both his “real man” persona and his view that refusing to fight is cowardly.

  • Forgotten Name

    “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

  • @e: “…Thus I found myself skipping nearly everything and focusing on Animal Planet, Disney, Cartoon Network, and The Food Network. Because I knew there would be nothing deemed offensive, and that’s why “family programming” is worth so much money.”

    i think you would have to define “offensive”… there’s a lot of programming on Disney and Cartoon Network that could be found offensive. if my boys were still small, i would never let them watch “The Suite Life” or “Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montanah” or “Wizards of Waverly Place”. they are offensive to me because on the surface they are bland, overly sweet concoctions but if you really watch them, they have very annoying/rude/overly precocious youngsters and a terrible attitude towards adults — women in particular. i certainly would never let my nieces watch them. Disney pushes them as “safe” but so is cotton candy, and you’d never let a child have a steady diet of that!

    as for the Cartoon Network — there’s some pretty wild stuff on there. some of it is hilarious but certainly not suitable for children. (or some adults either!)

  • Alex

    Haha, I remember one of the instant win cards my mother would play on my brother was to bring up the story of when he was young and watched Beauty and the Beast in the theater, he cried when the Beast turned into a handsome prince, distraught over how the the beast was gone. So the impression I took away from that was that Belle spent the movie getting over the Beast’s ugly exterior and seeing something of worth inside and her reward is … a handsome exterior.

    Anyways, Disney movies are pretty topical to whatever the modern sensibilities may be rather then pushing a unified theme / ideology over the ages. I agree with clay’s assessment really. The song praising Gaston felt more like gentle ribbing of his persona. Though this might be the effect Tonio was talking about, perhaps in the sense that we see what we want to see. Heh.

  • Disney is such a fat, easy target to hit for issues like this that it’s pretty funny to see someone miss so badly. Not only is it bad textual criticism, as everyone has pointed out so well, it’s not even as accurate to Disney films as it seems to be.

    Basically all of the examples are drawn from the 1990s (and he ignores, say, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”), but if you go forward into the 2000s, say, you get male heroes like the nerdy Milo James Thatch (Atlantis), Chicken Little, and geeky Lewis (Meet the Robinson).

    Rewind a few years, and you’ve got pudgy Bernard the mouse from The Rescuers (twice!), brainy Basil (The Great Mouse Detective), and Taran the young Assistant Pigkeeper (The Black Cauldron). Go back even *further* and you’re looking at scrawny boy heroes like Mowgli (The Jungle Book), Wart (The Sword in the Stone), and Peter Pan. Even my personal favorite, Robin Hood, is far more cunning and skilled than muscular. And, of course, looking at the earliest Disney male heroes, you have Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi.

    I’m starting to wonder if he only relied so heavily on movies that fit his thesis poorly because the rest of them didn’t fit it *at all.*

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Agreed with the dogpile. :) There’s definitely some sexist issues with Disney, but there’s a lot of bad examples here, especially for the first half of the movie.

    Cuzco’s scene there is intended to show him as a jerk-ass, by displaying his sexism. That’s no more of an endorsement of masculinity than Gaston. Similarly, the dominance themes in the initial “Incredibles” clip is another villain, while the repudiation of Mr. Incredible’s own “I work alone” views is a major theme of the film.

    “Be a Man” from Mulan is another exceptionally tone-deaf argument, since during the song a woman lives up to those same ideals, calling into question what makes those “Manly” attributes. They again subvert it for laugh in the end, when they use the song to hi-light the cross-dressing male soldiers.

    “A Girl Worth Fighting For” is definitely a sexist song, but I always thought that was the point; the sexism intended to illustrate Mulan’s Alienation from the group. The song ending mid-note in the ruins of a village also helps to illustrate the shallowness of the song’s attitude as well: They fight for the defense of their people, not to “get the girl”. I’d be willing to accept that I might personally be reading too much intent into it.

  • Cuzco’s scene there is intended to show him as a jerk-ass, by displaying his sexism. That’s no more of an endorsement of masculinity than Gaston.

    And let’s not forget that the most famous symbol of the Disney Studios–the one Disney character almost anyone in every country with a TV set or movie theatre recognizes–is Mickey Mouse, who is almost as far as from being a typical Disney macho hero as you can get.

    Then again Newton probably thought that Kubrick’s use of the Mickey Mouse Club theme in Full Metal Jacket was proof that Mickey was involved in the Vietnam War…

  • The song praising Gaston felt more like gentle ribbing of his persona.

    One local reviewer summed up Gaston best when he noted that it was only natural that the same studio that made Bambi would make the bad guy of BatB a hunter.

    And undoubtedly from LeFou’s view, that song was meant as gentle ribbing–if not outright praise. But it seemed obvious that the audience was meant to have a different idea–and wasn’t Belle already considered a bit of an oddball in that society anyway simply because–among other things–she wasn’t the type to fawn over a guy like Gaston? One can’t help but note that Gaston wasn’t particularly interested in any of the women in that village who obviously already liked him.

  • Karalora

    I’ve seen this before. The guy is way off-base. He cherry-picks from maybe half a dozen Disney films for his points, and most of the material comes from either villains, or dynamic protagonists before they learned to have better attitudes.

    His statement that most Disney films feature a climactic battle between two male characters over the affection of a woman or some form of status, is simply incorrect. For starters, it ignores the great number of films wherein the villain is female! He is also wrong when he states that the plot of most Disney films revolves around a heterosexual romance. I don’t think more than maybe ten Disney films, at the outside, have a romance as the A-plot.

    Really, there’s plenty to criticize Disney about on a sociocultural front. How did this guy manage to miss ALL of it?

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