The silly click-baity headline in the Washington Post says “Researchers have found a major problem” with Disney princesses films. I almost didn’t click on it — learned behavior after being burned by too many silly, low-value listicles (split up into 15 different pages). But the article is actually an interesting read.
Starting with The Little Mermaid, Disney took greater care to make their princesses more active, but they still do their princessing in masculine worlds, where male characters make plans (nefarious or benevolent), invent things, discuss politics, plan rescues, etc. Of course Ariel and Pocahontas and Mulan required a patriarchal society against which to rebel (or, in the case of Ariel in her human form, in which to be a fish-out-of-water). And of course Frozen features a sister-sister relationship, and Brave features a mother-daugher relationship. Nevertheless, the sidekicks and authority figures and random citizens that fill out the casts skew male — a fact reflected in the percentage of dialogue spoken by female characters.
Disney has incredible power over the social construction of girlhood, so I find this level of analysis welcome and instructive. Here’s an excerpt:
In the classic three Disney princess films, women speak as much as, or more than the men. “Snow White” is about 50-50. “Cinderella” is 60-40. And in “Sleeping Beauty,” women deliver a whopping 71 percent of the dialogue. Though these were films created over 50 years ago, they give ample opportunity for women to have their voices heard. | By contrast, all of the princess movies from 1989-1999 — Disney’s “Renaissance” era — are startlingly male-dominated. Men speak 68 percent of the time in “The Little Mermaid”; 71 percent of the time in “Beauty and the Beast”; 90 percent of the time in “Aladdin”; 76 percent of the time in “Pocahontas”; and 77 percent of the time in “Mulan” (Mulan herself was counted as a woman, even when she was impersonating a man). —Researchers have found a major problem with ‘The Little Mermaid’ and other Disney movies