Disney Didn’t Define Gender For Me

Disney movies are as normal to the American childhood experience as potty training and learning to ride a bike. The stories transform our imaginations, the songs are permanently locked in our memories, and the emotions they made us feel are undeniable. That’s what I believed until I took my first Women’s Studies class in college. After that, everything changed. Disney suddenly became the cause of Gender stereotypes. But is it? In light of the recent controversy surrounding the new look of “Brave’s” Merida, let’s take a look.

Yes, looking back at “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White” and other princess movies, the idea that women needed men to be happy is blatant…BUT that’s not something I realized as a child. When I was younger, movies like “The Little Mermaid” were played over and over again because they were bright, musical, and entertaining. That was it.

Disney was recently criticized for “sexing up” Merida from “Brave,” by not only fans but by Brenda Chapman, the co-director of the film. But to me, she just looks like a future version of the character. The newer Merida is practically in the same outfit as the original, but her face just looks more mature. It’s not like little girls aren’t seeing much worse while watching shows on the Disney Channel…or any channel for that matter.

While Disney may or may not have a hidden agenda when it comes to gender, I don’t think it’s fair to say kids who watch the movies and TV shows will ultimately be scarred. That gives kids way too much credit. I didn’t learn gender roles from Disney, I learned them from reality.

The idea that girls are princesses come from their parents indulging them. After you paint a little girl’s room pink and adorn it with tiaras — of course she’s going to identify with the likes of Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. That wasn’t the case with me. Thankfully, I was raised by a tomboy and grew up as a tomboy. Sure, I played with Barbies, but that was as close as I got to the “standard” feminine childhood. The aforementioned classic princess movies were never my favorite. I thought they were dull and I was never concerned if the stars of these stories woke up, or found their lost shoes, or whatever. It wasn’t until “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” that I cared about the human female in any Disney movie. Ariel was a hoarder and Belle wasn’t some helpless girl; she was smart, and clearly knew a douchebag when she saw one.

In addition to the idea that Disney movies cause girls to want to be princesses, they also get the blame for inspiring the belief that women belong in the home. I recall my mom always making me do the dishes, while my brother only had to take out the trash. She was the one who made housework unevenly gender split, not Disney. I don’t blame Snow White’s attention to detail for seven strangers or Cinderella’s endless chore list for my obsession with dish washing. I blame my mom (and Stockholm Syndrome).

When Women’s Studies classes point the blame at Disney movies, they nitpick until their point is made. They forget that Mulan risked her life for her family, and happened to fall in love along the way. All they focus on are the relationships. Know what I took from “Mulan”? I wanted a pet dragon.

You can pick a part every Disney movie that ever existed and you’d find something wrong. But remember, you’re doing the picking as an adult. Could you do that as a kid? Only if you were Doogie Howser smart, which most of us weren’t.

Today the only thing I hate about Disney is the prices for Disneyland. If I ever spawn and/or adopt a child, I’ll let my kids watch Disney, but I won’t rely on movies to raise them. That’s the thing, if you want to blame a company like Disney for influencing your kids, maybe you should spend more time with them instead of letting a screen be their parent. It’s up to a child’s surroundings to make them a good person, not entertainment.