Review of Related Literature
England, Descartes, and Collier-Meek (2011), authors from Sex Roles, examined gender roles portrayed in Disney Princess films and the gendered nature of the climatic rescues to test their three hypotheses. With the objectives of increasing the understanding of the gendered content in the Disney Princess movies and encouraging discussion regarding the possible benefit of this knowledge, a coded content analysis approach was used to classify and record each gendered characteristic illustrated in the films. The first hypothesis expected the gender role portrayal of the prince and princess would differ. They found their first hypothesis strongly supported in their conducted independent t-test as the prince and princess’ gender roles vary greatly. The second hypothesis focused on the number of rescues the prince would do and the number of times the princess would be saved. This hypothesis was consistent as their findings showed that the prince indeed demonstrated more rescues and the princesses were saved more. Furthermore, the third hypothesis emphasized the changes of the films over time. Specifically, they predicted increased androgyny among characters which they found compatible with the results of their analysis. Since their study only showed the gender role portrayals in the Disney films, a wider range of focus on the study like how children interpret this information is recommended by the authors.
Lang (2016), a Senior film and Media editor, has written on his article that the latest Disney is based on a strong female protagonist. His article emphasized the more assertive and more empowered women of the society. It has represented the modern women at the present. Lang has mentioned how Moana was different from the previous Disney princesses. He believes that the usual roles of princesses in Disney films are dating back to where they wait for their princes save them just like the very first Disney film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In Moana’s story, it would be different. According to Lang (2016), the film does not feature a love story because her journey is about finding herself instead of a husband. Just like the recent films of Disney, Moana is one of the films where its nature is focused on women who, according to Brent, are assertive, emancipated and the equal to any man. This film became one of the progressive films Disney has released. In his article, he has mentioned the stereotypes from the recent movies, Star Wars, and Black Panther. The film was contrasted with the other animated films such as Zootopia, Frozen and Brave where women are the heroines of their stories, which showed a stronger character on the women’s point of view. The article emphasized the strength of a woman despite the stereotypes defined by them.
Griffin, Harding, and Learmonth (2016), professors from different Universities in US, have criticized the film, Moana, according to how women are being portrayed in the film. In the study, the authors differentiated the different films coming from different generations. They sorted out what kind of stereotypes are given to women depending on what era or transition these films belong to. The old films were mentioned in the articles and they also defined the portrayal of the different women in these Disney Princess films. The differences between the stories from the first film and the recent film were shown and presented by the study. Their study wanted its readers to have a further understanding of the differences of the movies from then and now. The first set of films that were mentioned were Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella where the content or the message of the films were all clear, that women are weak and should avoid work at all cost. The women in these films need to be protected and only a prince could save them. In the next set of films that were mentioned, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Tarzan, the women were all independent however they have found ultimate happiness in the arms of a man. The next set which was completely different from the independence aforementioned, as the Disney film had its Renaissance period, Pocahontas and Mulan came, in the story, they have become the heroines instead of a prince or a man. In the same way with The Princess and the Frog, Tiana’s dream is to have her own restaurant and not to be with a man. Frozen was another film where women were not saved by a man but instead they were saved by each other. Moana showed the independence of women and how they are empowered. She discovered herself, her talents, and her duties. According to the authors, she is the epitome of a modern working woman. The buildup of the movies as the story, and the characters being portrayed by women changes, the women represent complex, multifaceted, and intriguing character roles.
Lopreore (2016) used qualitative methods in analyzing the content of the modern Disney Princess films to test her three hypotheses. The student used the films Tangled (2010), Brave (2012), and Frozen (2013) to complete her thesis. She trained and guided three adult participant coders who are familiar with past and present Disney films to help her collect data. Her first hypothesis was supported when they found that the Modern princes and princesses greatly differ from their Classic and Renaissance counterparts. The second hypothesis was proven when they found out that the princes and princesses of the Modern era didn’t differ greatly in their gender role portrayal. The third hypothesis predicted that each Modern prince and princess would display androgynous gender role portrayals. The results revealed that the number of masculine characteristics was not significantly different when compared to the number of feminine features observed in each character. Although the author concluded that the recent Disney Princess films demonstrate androgynous gender role characteristics, she strongly recommended the modification of the coded checklist as future researchers continue to monitor gender role portrayals in future Disney films.
Yerby, Baron, and Lee (n.d.), students who collaborated online, used Disney animations to test the hypothesis that female characters are demonstrated as the weaker sex or display stereotypical characteristics of women. With the objectives of completing their requirements, the researchers used content analysis methods to observe the differences of the characteristics of the male and female characters in each Disney animation. This includes Disney princess films and other prominent Disney animations like The Lion King and 101 Dalmatians. It was found that most of the female characters in the animation exhibit what the authors predicted. Although the princesses begin to display stronger personalities and characteristics with the rising of feminism throughout the years, the male characters still continued to exhibit more dominant features and thus retaining their superiority over women. The authors concluded their study with an endorsement of a hope for the changing gender roles to have positive effects on young girls of today’s society.
Gazda (2015) argued in her article that “Disney has focused less and less on the genuine qualities and faithful morality of their princesses, and instead, on the prince princess dichotomy of finding true love” (p.30). The writer focused at the media influences on girlhood through a close observation of Disney princesses. Her initial interest in this study stemmed from her daughter’s reaction towards Disney princesses. Her daughter’s concept of femininity drew from how Disney portrays women. Thus, proving that there is an influence of the way Disney represents women to a viewer especially to young girls. However, as an involved researcher with the Women and Gender Studies Program, and the Interdisciplinary Arts for Children in The College at Brockport, Gazda also aimed to hone her skills towards the effects of these issues on children. She has observed the necessary presence of a masculine figure or the “prince” of the story in order for the princess’ goals to be achieved. The way Disney designed the male and female protagonists of their films also showed a vast difference. All these findings including her observation on how Disney considers their character to be a princess confirmed the author’s hypothesis that Disney has concentrated on the prince-princess dichotomy of finding true love rather than on the genuine qualities and faithful morality of their princesses. With that in mind, the author recommended that “Disney could focus less on changing the original stories, and instead, alter them so that the princess is a stronger, more relatable role model of young girls” (p. 44).
Maity (2014), a research scholar from the Department of English of University of Burdwan, has designed a study about gender identity and the gender roles of Disney movies and to see how identity is transformed through long term virtues and ideas. The author emphasizes the stereotypical portrayal of females in Disney films. The roles of the princesses in the different stories were, as noticed, always in the representation of women was always framed in gender bias. It is stated in the article that the term “women” has become synonymous with the victim in the patriarchal society. It was mentioned that women’s place should be at home while men should be the ones to provide. It has been a concern that the portrayal of women in Disney films can be seen by its audience which can draw an image depending on the audience’s perspective. The similarities in the stories Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid have been analyzed further depending on the roles played by the princesses in the films. It was common in the films that the women always had to sacrifice, had to serve under the antagonist, and many more. The examples given were of concern especially for young girls who could possibly be influenced by these films. Their advertising campaigns that target young girls aim to attract a wide audience with ultimate goal of encouraging children to personally identify with the characters. It may have a big impact on the behavior of young girls who watched these films. According to the author, an expert in fairytales named Jack Zipes said that fairytales do influence the manner in which children conceive the world; however, there are people who have their own perspective in taking the stories and content of the films being produced by Disney. Sperry and Grauerholz observed that the representation of feminine beauty ideal became the socially constructed notion of physical attractiveness. Their study shows the impact on children and how they look at women through the films of Disney.
Barber (2015), from Indiana State University, made a research regarding the different shifts that happened in the Disney films as America changes in situation. Disney films, according to Barber, changed its ways to groundbreaking ways as observed with the contents and stories of their films. The Disney films mentioned in the study were mostly stories with content that have influence to their audience. The very first shift was when Cinderella, Snow White and Aurora were created. These were the first princesses made by Disney. These princesses have portrayed the stereotypical damsel-in-distress stories. After a few years, Ariel, Mulan and Rapunzel were made. These were the rebellious and ambitious princesses which portrayed the second shift of Disney films. Last but not the least, the third shift was about princesses who were independent and free-spirited. These princesses made a big difference in the was women were previously portrayed. Instead of being saved by a prince charming, the princesses were their own saviors and become the heroine of the story. The study chose Disney films because of “its impact to the entertainment industry” (p. 23) as the study aims to let the readers and the audience of the Disney films, especially the children or the viewers of Disney. It has been looked at as gender role and how the society perceives the acceptable representation in men and women.
Collins (2011), another researcher from Sex Roles, used a wide range of media to provide a qualitative content analysis of gender roles in media with the objective of observing gender roles on media in general rather than in Disney films. The first hypothesis expected that women are underrepresented across a range of media and settings. The writer found this statement to be true as she saw that there were more male characters in television shows and in other media than women. Although the number of women is evidently numerous, the number of male portrayed outnumber them greatly. The second hypothesis demonstrated that women are often sexualized. The author once again analyzed a handful of media on how women are portrayed and she discovered evidences in her findings especially how Black women are shown in music videos. Other than being sexualized, women were also seen subordinated in various ways whether in terms of facial expressions, body positions, and other factors. Finally, the author added that women are illustrated in their stereotypical roles. Although the researcher found all her hypotheses to be true, she challenged the readers to now consider the effects of how media portray women and recommended future researchers to deepen their study as this topic is still in a stage of infancy.
Garabedian (2014), a Graduate Teaching Assistant in James Madison University, discussed the periods that an assistant professor from the Center of Cultural Studies at the University of Southern Denmark named Charlotte Krolokke has design to define the different transitions that the Disney films went through. Her periods were Pre-Transition where Snow White, Cinderella, and The Sleeping Beauty were categorized; Transition Period where The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, Princess and the Frog and Tangled were categorized; and the Progression Period where Brave and Frozen were categorized. The transitions aim to show the readers that the differences among the Disney princesses were portrayed and differentiated. It shows a mere explanation of how the movies differ from each other, not just the story, but the stereotypes represented by the different women in the story and how they become the heroine of their story. Charlotte has defined that the pre-transition was the period where the first wave of feminism occurred. According to Garabedian (2014), “these gender roles are visibly affirmed through the actions of each princess and show a period of Disney’s compliance with what was expected of a predominantly male centered society” (p. 23). In the second period, Disney films portrayed the effects of the second wave of feminism. According to Krolokke (2014), the second wave had “documenting sexism in private as well as public life and delivering a criticism of gendered patterns of socialization” (p. 23). In the third period, Disney did not break the princess pattern. However, when Brave and Frozen were released, they both made a big difference in their story when it comes to their happily ever after. Disney changed their formula and made an ending where Prince Charming isn’t the one saving the day, instead, the princesses in the movies were their own heroes. According to Garabedian (2014), “one reason Disney is so successful at influencing gender roles is its ability to sell products that coincide with its movies.”
Stavis (2014), a Reading Intervention specialist, made an article about the stereotypes in Disney movies. She used the movie Frozen to support her statements about the stereotypes towards women. Her article contained the differences on how the different Disney Princesses from the movies Cinderella, Mulan, and Frozen were portrayed. Through these characters, the differences are how a woman was described before and today. In Cinderella, she emphasized not only the protagonist, but also the antagonist who was her Stepmother and her stepsisters. She enumerated that the stepsisters were described as ugly from the outside is equivalent to being ugly inside. Even the stereotype of being beautiful just to catch a guy’s attention was mentioned in the article. Moreover, Mulan was released with a different kind of story where the protagonist was the one who saved the guy. Mulan disguised herself as a man to save her father and rejected the traditions where the main goal of a woman to get a man. According to Stavis, it was one of the most feminist films that was released that time. When Frozen was shown, the content, the story, and even its songs delivered its message perfectly. It has broken the stereotype of princess should be saved by a prince formula. The story made a perfect build up that it actually had a great happily ever after where her sister was the one who saved her in the end. Stavis mentioned towards the end that “The important idea isn’t whether or not Frozen is actually a feminist movie or promoting stereotypes, it’s the idea that children can be noticing how the sexes are portrayed in films and then forming (and defending) their opinion”
Do Rozario (2004), another researcher, analyzed Disney princess in terms of “her position in her kingdom, her relationships to femme fatale, fathers, and bad boys, and her performance in a genre largely shaped by film musical and fairytale” (p.34). With the objective of examining the function of Disney princesses and with the methodology of content analysis, the author observed that the princesses live in a patriarchal society while noticing the root of kingdom’s power which is mostly from male characters. Moreover, there were many examples of the relationships of femme fatale in Disney Princesses film. The villains, the Evil Queen, Cinderella’s stepmother, Maleficent, and Ursula are the femme fatale of the movies Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, The li, and The Little Mermaid respectively. The roles of femme fatale illustrated that authentic power comes from bad women. Additionally, the relationship of fathers to Disney princesses is greatly observed in The Little Mermaid where Ariel, the main protagonist of the story, is seen as Daddy’s little girl. This also added how the female protagonist goes for bad boys as Eric is seen as someone that influences the main protagonist to disobey whether he knows it or not. Finally, the researcher has detected that although musicals’ initial targets are adults, Disney films have proven that musicals are now enjoyed by children and teens alike. With all the findings the writer has collected, she has successfully analyzed the function of Disney princesses and endorsed the importance of the role of princesses in a patriarchal world.
Stover (2013), a researcher from University of Southern California, used historical events to test her hypothesis that the Disney Princesses represent elements of anti-feminist backlash agenda that aimed to control and disempower feminism. With the purpose of examining both the evolution of Disney and the relationship between Disney’s representation of women in the 1990’s and the post-feminist ideology, Stover analyzed historical appearances of Disney and compared them to the events that were happening during the production of the films. The writer found her hypothesis strongly supported in these comparisons. The events that occurred during the time of the release of the film were reflected in the depiction of the Disney Princess. Though there are changes in the roles portrayed in modern Disney Princess films, these characters especially their happily-ever-after ending continued to be instruments of “selling empowerment as commodity to the empowered female consumer” (p.6). With these findings, the author challenged studios to provide children role models that are not adorned with jewelries and tiaras but rather possess strong personalities and more character that would stay longer in the market.
An online article was taken from Newsweek to widen further the study. Setoodeh (2011) discussed how the “princess brand is on its way on becoming the most successful marketing venture ever.” The writing of this article stemmed from the rising popularity of Disney merchandises and Disney themed events. She stated the beginning of the brand and how the popularity of the Disney princesses led to the making of this market. The writer mentioned examples of how these female protagonists influence women. Since women want to feel like a princess, they buy materials that make them feel that way. Although the author cited several ways of expanding the brand such as new princess movies, Disney princess-inspired clothes, and other gimmicks, she ended with a challenge stating that it’s still a person’s responsibility to have their own “happily ever after.”
The articles and studies the researchers have gathered about gender roles in films prove that the Disney princess films present gender roles stereotypically whether the audiences are aware of it or not. The impact and influence that were mentioned in these articles and studies affect the audience of Disney films. Mostly, children and girls were the ones mentioned who are usually influenced by the contents and representation of the characters in Disney princesses. Even if the audience is aware of it or not, they are the ones exposed to these films and are witnesses of the how the women are represented in the films. There were also other Disney movies mentioned that showed the differences in the story and representation of women in different periods or transitions as films were released in the entertainment industry. The differences among the movies from then and now are evident. The first few movies represent women in a stereotypical way. These women in the movies are usually weak and should always be saved by a man. As the time goes by, contents in these films differ in a way that the women are now the heroine of their own stories.