masculinity depictions in Disney films

September 2, 2008  |  essays

I ran across this short film about depictions of masculinity in Disney films recently and was interested and impressed. Of course there are all sorts of problematic things happening with gender roles in popular media, and Disney films have no shortage of criticism written about them in general, but most often I see those critiques from the perspective of femininity and women, less so with the emphasis on masculinity and men.

I’m glad this work is becoming more commonplace, we really need more revisioning and reclamation of masculinity in our culture.

 

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7 Comments


  1. I totally wrote a paper about masculinity in Disney lyrics for a contested masculinities class. Glad I'm not the only one who noticed :)

  2. that’s really cool, i love seeing masculinity studied in all the ways femininity has been studied.

    now for the “yes, but.” which is that i think disney tends to make a major distinction between “good” and “bad” masculinity, which i largely agree with. (note that it’s been quite some time since i’ve seen most of the movies i’m thinking of.)

    that is, as the video says, all men are expected to be strapping and strong (and possibly also the objectifying women bit; i can’t remember well enough to either agree or disagree with that one). however, if these are his only features, he is typically the bad guy – the video uses gaston more than anyone else as the example of a disney man, but remember that he is not a disney hero!

    take the lion king (always my favorite), where simba becomes strong because he’s a freakin’ lion, but he only comes home and does his hero thing because he learns to believe in himself and care about others. plus he only really wins because he has friends who help him out. i think that’s pretty legitimately masculine, in the best way possible.

    so, i’d say (to borrow the triads that conclude the video) that, according to disney “sexism, strength and dominance” make a (implied: “real”) man, but “caring, compassion and vulnerability” (okay, not vulnerability, but definitely the first two) make a hero.

    if you have none of these qualities you’re the wussy sidekick to the villain, and if you only have the latter, you’re the wussy sidekick to the hero. but that’s another story for another day.

    p.s. couldn’t help note the Gaston song (all about what men are ‘supposed’ to be) includes “and every last inch of me’s covered in hair!” timely! =)

  3. Disney movies are also notoriously racist and the masculinity that is being valorized in these films is largely, if not exclusively, white male masculinity. Racialized (non-white) depictions of masculinity are repeatedly vilified and exoticized. Even in Disney films where all of the characters are presumably non-white, villains are given features, behaviors, and ways of speaking that are very clearly racialized.

    I have been reading and enjoying your blog for a couple of years now. I love how you theorize the intersection of gender and sexuality in your life and I would be really interested in hearing how you (and your lovely readership) see your racial identity intersecting with your gender identity/ expression. (Perhaps in a future post?)

    [Hey, thanks for that. I definitely agree that there is a ton of racial representation in Disney (as a quintessential example, though certainly in just about everything else in popular media counts, too) that warrants theorizing. I don't have the same kind of racial theory background that I do sex & gender, mostly because I am in the privileged position of being white. I often think about how race intersects, but I shy away from it - here especially - partially because I don't have the time that I'd like to do the research and make the references, and it's riskier for me to talk about race as being part of the dominant group. But thank you for the encouragement, I do have a few intersection ideas in particular on my list of posts to write, and I will boost up the priority of talking about race. It's really important, and I know a lot of my fear and hesitation about writing on it is because of my position of privilege, so I feel like I don't know where to start or what to say. But honestly, just saying that would be saying something, at least. - ss]

  4. Yeah, I’d be a little more impressed if the video focused on the characteristics of the disney heroes, and not on the villains. I mean, obviously kids are still learning from the villains, and sure, if the choice is Gaston or wussy sidekick, you’re going to want to be Gaston. But while the Beast “wimps out” of confrontation, and all that, BEAST is the one who is the hero and gets the girl in the end, so I’m not sure how that fits in with what the video is trying to show!!

    I guess the question is, are kiddos going to want to emulate the heroes, who often have more complex masculinities, or the villains (who admittedly, are sometimes more fun for kids to prance around and imitate…or maybe that was just me as a twisted child…)

  5. Great comment “queer white femme”!
    I appreciate your query.

  6. Dear SugarButch:

    I appreciate your response to “queer white femme.”

    In the interest of supporting you in blogging about the ways in which race, gender identity, sex/sexuality (etc) intersect, I’d like to recommend another blogger/blog (but mostly he’s an essayist and public speaker.

    You may have heard of him already — his name is Tim Wise. He’s a self-identified white antiracist/white ally to people of color in the struggle against racism, whose writing focuses on whiteness, white privilege, institutional racism/white supremacy. Most of his essays focus on the ways in which class and race intersect [ -- his workshops, lectures (etc) explore the ways in which racism is linked to genderism/transphobia, sexism/misogyny, xenophobia/national origin, U.S. neo-imperialism (etc).]

    Anyway, http://www.timwise.org is a very accessible resource because all of his (very) short, extremely well researched, fact-filled, witty essays are archived there.

    You will find Tim Wise’s blog here: http://www.redroom.com/blog/tim-wise

    *There are so many great blogs to recommend,
    but here 3 of my most favorite (which I realize
    you may already be familiar with):

    racialicious.com

    angrybrownbutch.com

    and

    princetonprofs.blogspot.com/

    **Racialicious examines the intersection between race and pop culture. This site is particularly useful because it features a large number of guest bloggers (of color, most of them women) from a wide range of racial/ethnic groups; some of the bloggers are queer as well. So, the topics covered on Racialicious are vast.

    Good Luck, brother:)

  7. Hi Sinclair,

    This is a belated thanks for your response to my response. It was very thoughtful and appreciated. It's definitely more challenging to write from a (consciously acknowledged) privileged identity. But I do think it is important and that in some ways it feels partial not to…like when I read straight gender conforming folks talking about their lived experiences without hearing about how their heterosexuality or socially sanctioned and approved gender identity might impact their experiences. I think there is a shortage of white queers talking about race out there in the blogosphere (which is not to say it's not out there) and you strike me as very intelligent, self-aware, and savvy at deconstructing your own identities (flutter, flutter) and you do have an extensive (I am presuming based on comments and blog links predominantly white queer) readership so I hope you do give it a whirl.

    [Thank you, you're so right I think. It feels like this whole new place to explore and I'm so behind on sex/gender/relationship posts already, but I do want to explore race and white privilege this further. I'll push it up on the list. And ps, thanks for the compliments :) - ss]

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