Review of Related Literature
England, Descartes, and Collier-Meek (2011), authors from Sex Roles, used a coded qualitative content analysis to examine the gender role portrayals in Disney Princesses films. Their objectives were to understand the content of Disney films better and to spur a conversation regarding the possible benefits of the information they acquired from their research. The first hypothesis expected that the princes and princesses would differ in the way they were portrayed. This was easily proven when the princes demonstrated more masculine characteristics than the princesses. The second hypothesis focused on the number of rescues the princes would do and the number of times the princesses are saved. They found out that the princes evidently saved the princesses more. Furthermore, the third hypothesis highlighted the changes in the film over time. The authors saw that the princesses demonstrated androgynous characteristics. It was proven that there was an increase in androgyny among the characters. The authors ended with a recommendation that future researchers would look into how young viewers receive these kinds of information since they just concentrated on the gender role portrayals of the Disney princesses.
Lang (2016), a Senior Film and Media editor, mentioned in his article that the latest Disney princess is about a strong female protagonist. Moana is Disney’s latest princess and her story is different from the previous Disney Princess films. Her story didn’t focus on a love story but instead concentrated in finding her true self unlike the first Disney princess, Snow White, where the protagonist waited for her prince to come. Moana is assertive, independent, and an equal to any man. Lang also mentioned that there were other movies that transcend common stereotypes. Other non-Disney films that were progressive were also mentioned. Black Panther’s predominantly black cast and Star Wars’ possible change in an all-white cast. Movies like Brave and Frozen portrayed strong and confident women. Another Disney movie, Zootopia, discussed common issues like discrimination and portrayed Judy Hopps, a female bunny, as the heroine of the story. This article showed that they are portraying stronger female protagonists that transcend the stereotypes instilled by society.
Griffin, Harding, and Learmonth (2016), professors from different universities in the US, discussed prominent Disney films with female protagonist briefly. They began with praising how much Moana is empowered in her film. They then compared her with the previous female protagonist of Disney movies. The first batch of Disney movies they mentioned were Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Cinderella (1950), and The Sleeping Beauty (1959). They discussed how weak and dependent these women are and how each of them relied on a prince and on others to save them. The next batch of Disney films were The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and Tarzan (1999). They observed that these women had the potential to be independent as they possess stronger personalities than previous princesses. However, in the end, the women gained their fulfilment in the arms of a man. Belle and Jane, both intelligent and beautiful women, could have relied on themselves to attain happiness but chose to be with a man instead. The next set of Disney women were Pocahontas and Mulan. Both of them were able to become heroines of their story. Furthermore, Tiana represented women who find happiness in their work. The Princess and the Frog (2009) was different from other stories. Even though there was still a presence of a man, the female protagonist didn’t necessarily receive her happiness in the arms of the prince. Frozen (2013) was another movie that focused on women taking on leadership roles as Elsa was crowned queen. Their article ended with praising Zootopia (2016) and Moana (2016) for creating more empowered and ambitious female characters.
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 their hypothesis. They stated that female characters are demonstrated as the weaker sex or they display female stereotypes. With the objective 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 study included 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 display 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.
Gazda (2015) conducted a close observation of Disney princesses because she noticed her daughter’s reaction towards these characters. She stated that her daughter’s idea of male and female gender roles could stem from the way Disney portrayed their prince and princesses. Disney’s gender role portrayals could easily influence viewers, especially young girls. In her study, Gazda found out that the Disney has focused less on the genuine qualities and moralities of Disney princesses and has concentrated on finding true love. She observed that there was a necessary presence of a male figure or a prince for the princess to achieve her goals. An example of this is Snow White wishing for the one for her in a song. Although Anna, the protagonist in Frozen (2013), initially sang about opening up their kingdom and putting her lonely life to a stop, she suddenly transitions to singing about meeting the one for her. Gazda also observed that there is a vast difference in the characteristics between the prince and princesses of the story. She ended her paper with a challenge to change the design of Disney princesses so that they can be better and more relatable to young viewers.
Maity (2014), a research scholar from the Department of English of the University of Burdwan, studied gender identities and gender roles in Disney films to observe how identity is formed through long-term virtues and ideas. The author observed that Disney portrayed their princesses stereotypically and their roles were always demonstrated unfairly. She mentioned that women are acknowledged as the victims of the patriarchy. It was observed that women should stay indoors while the men work outside for their families. There were similarities in the films Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid. These movies portrayed that women had to sacrifice, had to serve under the antagonist, and many more. The author mentioned that this could be a concern for the young viewers that could be easily influenced by these portrayals. An expert in fairy tales, Jack Zipes, affirmed Maity’s statement when he mentioned that fairy tales have an influence on children’s perception of the world. Maity added by citing Sperry and Grauerholz’s idea that the notion of physical attractiveness has something to do with how feminine beauty is portrayed. Thus, becoming the ideal form of beauty that is impossible to attain.
Barber (2015), a researcher from the Indiana State University, studied about the different shifts in Disney princesses while events is America evolved too. Disney pattern their films with the occurrences that were happening in society. The author observed three shifts in the portrayal of Disney princesses. The very first shift involved Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora. These princesses were stereotypical damsels in distress. Their story revolved around a prince saving their lives. The second shift of Disney princesses were Ariel, Mulan, and Rapunzel. These princesses were rebellious and ambitious women. Ariel and Mulan both disobeyed their father although they have distinct reasons for it and Rapunzel dreamt of seeing the floating lights. Finally, the last shift included Merida, Anna, and Elsa. These princesses are independent and free-spirited women. These princesses made a big difference in the way 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. Barber acknowledged that because Disney has a large influence over the entertainment industry, young viewers are easily influenced by Disney’s portrayal. The paper was concluded with the author stating how Disney changed their story over time. She hoped that Disney would create better and more diverse stories and characters.
Collins (2011), another researcher from Sex Roles, used a wide range of media to provide a qualitative content analysis of gender roles. Her objective of is to observe the gender roles on media in general. Her first hypothesis argued that women are underrepresented across a wide range of media. Her findings showed that male representations are greater in number compared to female. Although the number of women is evidently numerous, the number of male characters outnumber them greatly. The second hypothesis stated that if women are portrayed, they are often sexualized. Collins saw that women, especially Black women, were often sexualized in music videos. Women were also belittled 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. Collins ended her paper with a challenge to the readers to consider the effects of how media portray women. She also 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 different transition periods that Disney films went through. These transitions were designed by Charlotte Krolokke (2014), an assistant professor of the Center of Cultural Studies at the University of Southern Denmark. The three transition periods are as follows: The 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 Pre-Transition period composed of stereotypical, weak, domesticated women. The expectation of a predominately male-centered society influenced the way the princesses were portrayed. It was observed that even though the second transition period princesses wanted to break out against the traditional role of women, they reverted back to relying on a man to save them. The princesses of this period were still subject to the expectation of society. However, in the last transition, the princesses broke away from their typical roles when the princesses became the heroines of their story. Disney changed their formula and evidently made a progression in their illustration of Disney princesses.
Stavis (2014), a Reading Intervention specialist, made an article about the stereotypes in Disney movies. She utilized chose Disney princess films to analyze the content of the movies and to support her arguments. The author mentioned three films Cinderella, Mulan, and Frozen. She noted the difference in the portrayal of gender roles in these films. In Cinderella, she focused on the antagonists of the story, Cinderella’s stepmother, and stepsisters. She mentioned that the stepsisters were described as physically unpleasant and this equated to being hostile on the inside as well. The stereotype of being beautiful just to catch a man’s attention is greatly presented in the film. Moreover, Mulan had a different story than other princess films. In the movie, Mulan disguised herself as a man to save her father. She was also able to rescue a man in the film. Stavis (2014) mentioned that it was one of the most feminist films that were released at that time. When Frozen was shown, the characters, plot, and even the songs all delivered a distinct message. It has broken the traditional formula of a man saving the damsel in distress because Anna was the one who saved her sister and herself as well. Stavis concluded that it doesn’t matter if Frozen is really a feminist movie or not, what matters is how young viewers are noticing the change in the gender portrayal of Disney princesses.
Do Rozario (2004), observed and analyzed each Disney princess and her reaction in her environment. Her position in her kingdom, her relationship to femme fatale, her father, bad boys, and her performance in the actual film since most Disney films are musicals. The author used content analysis to examine the function of the Disney princesses. She found out that the princesses lived in a patriarchal society with power mostly coming from the 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, and The Little Mermaid respectively. She observed that the female villains of the films demonstrated power. Thus, authentic power comes from bad women. Furthermore, relationships with fathers and bad boys were greatly analyzed in The Little Mermaid. She inferred that Ariel goes for bad boys as Eric is seen as someone that influences the main protagonist to disobey whether Eric 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 should be more emphasized especially in a patriarchal world.
Stover (2013), a researcher from the University of Southern California, used historical events to test her hypothesis that Disney princesses represent elements of anti-feminism that aimed to control and discourage feminism. Stover analyzed the characteristics of Disney and compared them to the historical events that were happening during the production of the films. Her purpose was to examine both the evolution of Disney and the relationship between the representation of women in society and the post-feminist ideology. The author found her hypothesis strongly supported as she saw that the events that were happening during the release of the films reflected the depiction of the Disney princesses. Though there were changes in the portrayal of gender roles over time especially during the Modern era, these characters were still used as instruments in selling empowerment to the female consumer. The author concluded her paper with a recommendation that children should be provided with better role models not adorned with jewelries and crowns, but with strong personalities and better goals and aspirations.
An online article from Newsweek was utilized to deepen the study further. Setoodeh (2011) discussed how the princess brand is becoming a successful marketing tool. The writing of this article stemmed from rising popularity of the Disney princesses and their merchandises. She stated that the beginning of the brand and how the popularity 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.