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The representation of gender roles in Disney movies

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2017 21 Seiten

Medien / Kommunikation - Film und Fernsehen



1. Introduction

2. Gender Roles Theories
2.1 Gender Role Theory by Robin Lakoff
2.2 Gender Role Theory by Deborah Tannen

3. Walt Disney and the Walt Disney Company
3.1 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
3.2 Pocahontas
3.3 Tangled
3.4 Frozen

4. Comparison of Characteristics
4.1. Appearance and Intelligence
4.2. Helplessness and Need of Protection

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Media is a big part of people’s everyday lives. It influences both how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. Media can be divided in many different types, for example: television, shows, movies, the radio, newspapers, advertisements and the internet. One of the most famous producers of children’s media is the Walt Disney Company. Since 1937 many movies, shows and other products were designed and published in order to entertain children. Thus, results a huge influence on children’s perception of the world and how they see themselves in the world. In all of them are images of women and men, which are represented in different ways and with different traits.

One popular production of Disney is the Disney princess line which was created 2001 and includes more than 25,000 different products. Currently, the line includes ten movies; four of them will be analysed in this term paper (England 2011: 555): Snow White and the Seven Dwards(1937), Pocahontas(1995), Tangled(2010) and Frozen(2013). These movies have an influence on children and their images of gender roles. But, how are gender roles represented in these movies and is there a remarkable change over time? This term paper will give an overview about the most influential movies of the Disney Princess line and how the image of female characters is presented. It is difficult to analyse all aspects of gender roles but the most obvious ones are regarded and how many differences exist in these four movies.

2. Gender Roles Theories

2.1 Gender Role Theory by Robin Lakoff

According to Lakoff there is a distinction between the language of women and men. Lakoff claimed in her article Language and Woman´s Place a set of basic assumptions about women’s language.

She puts forward that women have more definitions for colour such as beige, ecru, aquamarine, lavender and so on. Those words are very typical for women´s active vocabulary (Lakoff 1973: 49).

Besides the colour definition there are definitions used by women which are regarded as grammatical meaningless but which define the social context of a statement, or determine the speaker´s relation to his addressee and to what he is talking about. There are two kinds of requirements with the same content: (a) “Oh dear, you’ve put the peanut butter in the refrigerator again.” (b) “Shit, you’ve put the peanut butter in the refrigerator again.”

Sentence (a) would be a characteristic manner of women’s speech, whereas the second one is associated with men’s speech. But researches imply that women progressively use also the second variety, however the first variety is incredible and unacceptable for men’s way of speaking (Lakoff 1973: 50).

Moreover, there are some adjectives, that describe approbations or admirations for something for instance which are used by both genders (neutral) like “great, terrific, cool, neat”, on the other hand there are words, which are only specific for women such as “adorable, charming, sweet, lovely, divine” (Lakoff 1973: 51).

Aside from lexical differences there are also syntactic features of women’s use of language, namely the tag-question formation (Lakoff 1973: 53). A tag- question is the definition of an outright statement and a yes-no question. This method is usually used by women when they want to state a claim, whereby they lack full confidence in the truth of that statement. Lakoff mentions thereby an example, if the speaker only askes “Is John here?”, the asker would not be surprised when the respondent answers with “no”, but if you would ask as “John is here, isn´t he?”, the probability would be higher that you get a positive answer (Lakoff 1973: 54).

Persuasive the particularly characteristic of women’s way of language use is, that they speak in general more politely than men. Even the method of tagquestion formation is an aspect of politeness because it does not submit by the addressee a compulsory agreement (Lakoff 1974: 56).

2.2 Gender Role Theory by Deborah Tannen

Deborah Tannen, who is a linguistics professor at Georgetown University and was a student of Robin Lakoff, approaches also in her article “You just don´t understand: Women and men in conversation. “linguistic differences between men and women. Tannen outlines that gender distinctions are built into language (Githens 1991).

She emphasizes that although women are believed talking too much, studies proved that men talk much more at meetings, in mixed-groups discussions and in mixed classrooms. Researchers Barbar and Gene Eakins found that men often talk for a longer time, with 17.07 seconds they outdistance women who talk 10 seconds. The question is who talk more, women or men?

To answer this question, she differs between private and public speaking. While men feel more comfortable by doing more public speaking, women tend more to private speaking. She distinguishes also between report-talk and rapport- talk. For most women speaking is a rapport-talk, which is a way of connecting things and arranging relationships. They prefer private speaking, whereby they feel themselves more comfortable (Tannen 1992: 111). For men, however, talking is preserving independence and negotiating status in a hierarchical social order. They mostly use language for verbal performances such as, storytelling, joking, or mediating information. Subsequently, she gives an example, whereby a woman is complaining that her husband does not talk at home to her, but in the public (Tannen 1992: 112). From childhood, men tend to use language in order to attract attention, that’s why they prefer the public talking.

Githens lists in her excerpt, how far the speech styles of men and women are differentiated from each other. She points ou that women talk much more than men and men get more air time. Women build relations whereas men negotiate status and avoid failure. Female language is much more symmetrically as men´s, but women overlapping by talking while men are speaking one at a time, which means that women are talking more simultaneously during their conversation.

According to the linguist Professor, there are two types of people, namely the high-involvement and high-considerateness speakers. High- involvement speakers are those, who are concerned to show exciting support, whereas high-considerateness speakers are busying themselves with considerate of others (Githens 1991).

3. Walt Disney and the Walt Disney Company

Walter Elias Disney was the fourth son of Elias and Flora Call Disney and was born on 5 December 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. His father Elias was afraid of rising crime rates in the city, so he bought a farm near Marceline, Missouri in 1906. The few years living on his parents’ farm were his happiest years, which he liked to remember till his death. After losing the farm in 1910 the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. There his father Elias Disney bought a newspaper distribution route and let his son work for him as a newspaper delivery boy, while he was the manager (Watts 1997 8). Working hard in his early years made him ambitious. He became an aimed cartoonist and wanted to become successful with it, therefore he had many attempts. Walt Disney and Ubbe Iwerks opened their own commercial art studio in 1920, but they were not successful. For this reason, he returned working at the Kansas City Film Ad Company. During his time working in this company he learned a lot about animation (Davis 2006: 64).

The cooperation which nowadays is known as “The Walt Disney Company(Disney)”, was founded 1923. Disney and his brother Roy had decided to move to Hollywood and opening the new studio, Iwerks also joint them. Only five years after the opening they celebrated their huge success with Mickey Mouse. 1937 they produced Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it was the first full-length animated film. The film won eight Oscars in total and brought over 1.499 million dollars. The company has a wide range of products: starting by toys, DVDs, films, TV shows but also including amusement parks, cruise ship vacations and theatrical productions. The Walt Disney Company has become the biggest company producing movies for children and reanimating existing tales and stories. Therefore, Disney films have a strong international presence and are largely recommended by families. It is remarkable that the company has the most powerful influence on children’s media and product consumerism. Therefore, it is important to answer the question if gender roles are represented stereotypical in children’s media and how it influences the childhood.

The movies can be put together into three groups: Earlier/classic movies (1937-1967), middle movies (1967-1988) and modern movies (1989-now). All movies portray and show some stereotypical or non-stereotypical gender roles (Davis 2006: 98). Nevertheless, the gender roles have changed over time and especially the classical and modern era show many differences. The Walt Disney company has created in 2001 the Disney Princess line as a “marketing campaign” (England 2011: 555). The idea was to attract girls with the princesses’ movies in order to encourage them and let them identify themselves with them easily. Furthermore, the company wants to increase the selling of associated products (Do Rozio 2004). In the following we decided to analyse four of these movies in reference to the representation of gender roles especially the role of women in these movies:Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pocahontas, Tangled and Frozen.

3.1 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full-length animated movie. It was published in 1937 and has won eight Oscars in total. The movie is still one of the most famous published movies of the Walt Disney Company. The plot is based on Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale.

After the death of Snow White’s mother her father the King marries another woman who deals secretly with black magic. She is obsessed with beauty and wants to last young and be the most beautiful woman in and around the kingdom. Therefore, she keeps asking her magic mirror: “Who is the fairest one of all?”. Surprisingly, one day the slave in the mirror answers that it is Snow White. Driven by jealousy she wants to see her death. The huntsman should take her into the woods and bring back her heart. The huntsman is fascinated by Snow White’s goodness and her naivety that he tells her to flee and that she should take care of herself because the Queen wants to see her death. Snow White is led by animals to the dwarfs’ house. She starts to clean the house and cooks for them, hoping that they will let her live with them. Returning home, the dwarfs wonder why their house is clean. This scene introduces also all of them. After finding Snow White, who has fell asleep, she awakens and tells them all about the Queens jealousy and that she needs a safe place to stay. Furthermore, she asks them if she could live with them. They make an agreement. The day after, the dwarfs leave for work but warn her to be careful. Meanwhile, the Queen uses black magic and turns herself into an ugly old woman. She poisons an apple and finds out where Snow White stays. Somehow the Queen makes her eat the poisoned apple. Snow White falls unconscious and the dwarfs chase the Queen to her death. They think that Snow White is dead and do not bury her because she is too beautiful. The prince who was searching for her, finds her, he lifts the cover of her coffin and kisses her. Snow White awakens and they live happily ever after.

3.2 Pocahontas

Pocahontas is a modern movie of the Walt Disney Company. It was published in 1995 and is not a typical “princess-movie”. The story is based on an American legend of Pocahontas, the Algonquian princess and her rescue of English explorer Captain John Smith. Pocahontas is represented as a curious, wise and spirited young woman who searches for her destiny.

Captain John Smith and his crew travelled to the New World to begin new lives. Pocahontas father, Chief Powhatan, wants her to marry a native soldier, she rebels and searches for her own destiny. By doing this she meets Captain John Smith in the forest where other Algonquians are encountering the British settlers. Whereas, she and Smith learn to communicate with each other and even fall in love, the Algonquian and British fear and distrust one another. The Governor is trying to exploit them for their gold, so he orders shooting down any “Indian” especially if they try to protect the forest. Moreover, throughout the movie they move closer towards a war. Both, Pocahontas and Smith try to convince their community to stop fighting. The climax of the movie is reached when a soldier is killed by a settler and the Algonquian believe that Captain Smith has killed him. They capture him and decide to execute him. Pocahontas manages to stop her father and convinces them that a war is wrong. Nevertheless, the Governor ignores that both sides want peace and tries to shoot the chief. Smith prevents it by throwing himself in front of him. He is injured and needs to go back to England for medical treatment. Smith asks Pocahontas to come with him but she believes that her destiny is to stay with her community and ease the cohabitation of both communities.

3.3 Tangled

Long ago, a sunlight became a golden power, which healed illnesses, injuries and aging. With this purpose, Mother Gothel used hundreds of years this golden power to look younger and beautiful. But one day because of the queen´s illness, soldiers found this healing power and healed her. Subsequently the queen gives birth to Princess Rapunzel, who got all the healing properties in her golden hair. Mother Gothel discovers it and takes Rapunzel with her in her dark isolated tower. She raises her as her own daughter without cutting her hair because she does not want lose her beauty.

Every year, the queen and the king release lanterns on the sky, with the thought of their daughter´s return. On her 18th birthday, Rapunzel wishes from Mother Gothel to go out of prison and discover the golden lanterns from close. But Mother Gothel is stringent against her wish and tries to convince her through making her afraid that the world is too dangerous and risky. In the meantime, the thief Flynn Rider steals the crown from the princess and is on the run. In order to hide himself from the soldiers, he sees the big tower and climbs vertically. At first Rapunzel is afraid because she sees for the first time a stranger in her room, so she takes the crown from him and hide it. But then she has an idea, namely she wraps up a deal with him, that she only will give him the crown, if he brings her to the golden lanterns.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
11.9 MB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Duisburg-Essen – Department of Anglophone Studies
linguistics linguistic englisch english efl disney disneymovies disneyprincess princess gender genderroles roles anglistik hausarbeit termpaper

Titel: The representation of gender roles in Disney movies