The jaw-dropping success of Disney’s 2013, smash hit ‘Frozen’ and it’s female star Elsa, had us all heralding a new kind of Disney Princess – fearless and powerful in her own right. with an independent spirit and determination to be her true self. This is progress! or so I thought, until a friend of mine with a young daughter drew my attention to a recent article in the Washington Post which showed how much actual speaking Disney Princesses and other female characters did during Disney movies. In ‘Frozen’ for example, despite Elsa being the main star, only 45% of the TOTAL dialogue in the film is spoken by female characters. I was surprised.

‘Brave’ released in 2012 fares better with 75% of the total dialogue being spoken by female characters but the real shockers are the Disney films of the late 1980’s through the 1990’s in which female characters have less than 30% of the the total speaking parts – Pochahontas or Beauty & the Beast anyone? Researchers had this to say:

‘Disney Princess movies are mostly populated by men, aside from the heroine…..and everyone who’s doing anything else, other than finding a husband in the movie pretty much is male’.

There are no female shop keepers, friends etc and domestic work is routinely shown as being undertaken by female characters. Oh dear….

But is Disney really influencing how kids perceive gender roles or is it harmless fun? Well, Dawn England Professor of Family Studies at Arizona State University has studied Disney Princesses and she and her team found that the unstoppable onslaught of Disney movie related products (worth $4billion by 2008) has created what she calls ‘ a new “girlhood” which is largely defined by gender and the consumption of gender related messages and products’ Her team concludes that viewing depictions of gender roles in these influential movies contributes to a ‘child’s understanding of gender and concepts of social behaviour and norms’ and that ‘strongly gendered messages help to reinforce the desirability of traditional gender conformity’.

So there we have it, there is no getting away from the fact that Disney is a powerhouse of influence on children’s gender stereotypes. There is sill much work they can do in providing young girls with a portrayal of society where all females have the same strong and EQUAL voices as their male counterparts. As parents and consumers we can also play our part and demand that the Disney Princesses keep moving with the times and reflect the amazing and diverse roles that women play in our grown up world.
Link to the original article in the Washington Post:

Dawn England’s original article on Disney Princesses was published in 2011 by Springer Science Business Media