August 3, 2020

Mickey misogynist?

posted on: Thursday November 8, 2001

by Jamie Gisonde

Will Cinderella end up marrying Prince Charming? Will Sleeping Beauty ever wake up? As children, these pressing questions were the ones that kept imaginations running for hours. Today, questions about these and other animated females present a more disturbing scenario than when Snow White bites the poisoned apple-do these characters and their movies represent a 1950’s mentality of gender and race stereotypes that so many 21st-century parents try to eliminate from their children’s lives? The Department of Women’s Studies, directed by Dr. Mary Anne Sedney, sponsored a dinner and discussion on Wednesday night that examined the way Disney portrays males, females, and race in their movies. After the audience viewed the film, Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood and Corporate Power, they conversed about their reactions to and interpretations of the ideas presented in the video in individual groups over dinner, and then the conversations opened up into a general discussion. The movie analyzed the unrealistic gender and race representations and the consequent effects on children who watch Disney films such as Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, and Snow White. One interpretation of Beauty and the Beast is that the Beast is abusive towards Belle. Her indifference and her unrelenting sweetness teaches kids to overlook violence and abuse because deep within the beast lies a prince. Although she said many people find this view appalling, Staci Denigris ’04 did not. “Personally, I don’t really agree with some of the things in the video.” It made me really angry to think that a simple Disney film was turned into a really sexist [depiction]…saying the beast was a batterer and telling girls that they just need to give as much love to their man and eventually he’ll turn around. That’s not any of the ideas I got from the movie. Obviously, our generation [knows] these movies, and I don’t think any of us have grown up to think that if someone was beating us, we should just keep trying and eventually he’ll change. I think we’re a lot smarter than that.” While Emily Cerretani ’03 understood Denigris’s view, she noted that “those [sexist] points are in [Disney films], and it is easy to see once it’s pointed out. I think subliminally, we do pick up on it.” Nevertheless, the two students found it intriguing that while adults try to protect children from these negative images, it takes an adult realize these underlying meanings, not a child. As the audience tried to sort out the conflict between allowing kids to participate in a popular aspect of childhood or shielding them from it, Sedney raised the empirical question, “[Do] kids respond differently to something when it’s animated [rather than] if the same story line is told with human figures?” Several female students acknowledged the hidden issues behind the cartoons, but enforced that as children, they could distinguish between “fairy tale” and “reality.” One professor suggested that upon viewing Disney movies, perhaps adults should sit down with children and discuss them, so they have an educated outlook about the subject at hand. Sedney found it imperative “for people to be aware that there are other resources out there. There’s lots more children’s literature available…that reviews a bunch of books around issues of gender.” Meridith Hernandez ’02 worked for Disney one summer and maintained that “Disney is responding to a market. It’s a business, and it really isn’t a demon company in my opinion, having worked for them.” Melissa O’Neil, a senior Psychology major, “[saw] the issues being raised…but watched all those movies as a kid and [she’s] not looking for a guy to abuse [her].” She added, “I would let my kids watch [Disney films], but I would make sure I supplemented them with other things that are more women or racial- oriented, it’s just a matter of balancing it out.” The dinner and discussion was sponsored in an effort to bring students and faculty together on a topic about pop culture. “I was at a conference a year ago and saw this movie when it was in production,” stated Sedney. “I thought to myself, ‘I want to bring this to PC.’ I think it is something that all of us, at all ages, can relate to. It’s talking about images that we are all so familiar with, and I thought it was a very good stimulus for discussion.”

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