Monday, September 9, 2013

More Gender Inequalities - Disney Store and Disney On Ice

I receive Disney Store emails almost daily, admittedly not because I'm on the lookout for a great deal but instead because every now and then one arrives that makes for a good blog post. Today was one of those days.

It's no secret that I have a problem with the Disney Store, specifically the online site, which embraces the stark gender binary that certain products are for boys and others are for girls.  As a girl who had to go into the boy section in stores as a kid to find a Simba tee because he was my favorite character, that left a big impression on me.  Some may be okay with this, and that's fine, but I'm more of an advocate for a more neutral stance on what is "for boys" and what is "for girls."

But even more important to me are the messages associated with these gender stereotypes.  Take today's email subject line as an example:

Costumes for Princess Play and Saving the Day

The title of the email actually fooled me for a moment, as I took it to mean that perhaps the girls were doing some saving for once! Maybe a Mulan or Pocahontas reference, or Rapunzel even saved the day a few times in her story.  Then I opened the email itself and the image cleared up any hope I had right away.  Once again, the title implies passivity of girls and action of boys.  Yes, the girl dressed as Merida is holding a bow but the other two are twirling in glitter and it's obvious that play is their adventure, while boys' adventure is saving the day.

Once more, I understand there is typically a difference in children's choice in Halloween costumes to fit their gender.  But the message that the girls are only there to play but the real heroes are the boys is what I have a problem with.

Along the same lines is another example I've been wanting to post for some time. The Disney On Ice show "Princesses and Heroes" also implies that these two are different and that the princesses themselves can't be heroes.  If you have any doubt you can just read the description of the show on the website.

I have not personally seen this show, but from the description I'd anticipate more passivity in store for the princesses while the real heroes are the males.  Prince Eric breaks the spell, Prince Philip defeats Maleficent, etc.  The women are either saved or get to have their dreams come true.  This ignores the fact that many of these princesses were quite active in their stories.  For example, Ariel didn't just sit there and wish to become a human.  She went out and got what she wanted, and when it seemed like her plans were falling apart she did something about that too.

It all just comes across as Disney wanting to ignore the accomplishments and strengths of women and emphasize those of men, and that's just not something they should be doing.  The world is moving on - it would be refreshing if one of the most influential companies in the world could do the same, instead of promoting antiquated ideas for the sake of the dollar.


  1. It seems that, for *some* girls & women, the fairy-tale fantasy of being rescued by the handsome prince has some genuine appeal, even in today's more-liberated world. It doesn't really seem "right" or "wrong" to enjoy a story like this... my niece loves Disney films, but she is no shrinking violet - she's super smart and confident and I wouldn't be surprised if she rescues somebody for real someday!

    When she was little she wanted to wear floofy dresses every day, but I don't know if she ever thought of Snow White or Sleeping Beauty as role models.

    That being said, there is obviously nothing wrong with having a story with a strong female character in control of her own destiny. Part of what makes "Game of Thrones" so interesting is the many powerful females - often the men around them don't even know that the women are really in control (such as the awesome "Queen of Thorns")!

    1. Oh totally. I'm not saying all girls shouldn't like those gendered specific things. This is important to remember when I write posts like this. I like to exercise my "sociological imagination" at times. Meaning, I choose to look at things from an alternative point of view, and and how social situations affect different people. There is no "right" or "wrong," I'm simply looking at how one aspect of social context can have an impact on certain humans, especially small ones with impressionable characteristics. :)
      Thank you for your comment as an opportunity to reiterate this!

  2. Really interesting and timely piece, Celeste. I was just at the Disney Store on Saturday with a friend of mine and made my usual joke. I pick up any one of the lavish princess costumes made for six year-olds and say, "Do you have this in a 42 regular?"

    This is a much broader issue with Disney retail as a whole, in my opinion. The vast majority of their offerings are for little girls. They're really missing the boat with boys, men and adults in general (and everyone else who wants to identify with a particular character regardless of their sex). Forget the gender issues, which are pretty obvious, it really all comes down to variety. The entire Disney machine can't possibly be running on the princess market alone!

    1. Sorry for the late reply but yes I do agree with you. I made a post a while back about how the "I am a Princess" commercials for girls actually have some substance to them, and teach all the positive character qualities princesses have and that young girls should emulate. Boys don't really have anything like that teaching them values through something to live up to. Boys, according to Disney marketing, are supposed to like pirates, which DON'T exhibit any good values lol! My example was a "Princes" type thing but now I'm wondering if Marvel superheroes could do the job a little better. "I am a Hero" has a nice ring to it :)
      Anyway, back to my original point, I hate the general fluff of the Princess (TM) brand and if they could only add some more character to it and not project passivity I would be happier.