Like most kids, I grew up watching Disney movies.I never wondered about subtext or hidden meaning.
However, integrating this character animation course, the issue was brought a few times. After a while, I finally decided to look into it. I wanted to know why people would make these accusations.
After reading many articles, I could point out two areas where Disney would be accused of sexism: in the workplace and in their representation of women in their animations.
According to my research, it all started with a letter addressed to Arkasan Mary Ford. Mary Ford applied as colour artist at the Walt Disney Company in 1938. She later received a letter saying: “women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men. For this reason, girls are not considered for the training school.”
Someone could argue these were regular practices at the time.
Nevertheless, in 2011, a woman was fired from the Walt Disney Company. She filed for wrongful termination, accusing her supervisor of telling her she had to “choose between working and being a mother”. The dismissal was blamed on restructuring, however, she was promptly replaced by a young man.
In my opinion, sexism in the workplace is unfortunately still very usual, women do have to fight and work harder than men to prove themselves. It is not a myth but reality.
The other aspect in which Walt Disney was accused of sexism, which I would like to discuss, is the representation of women in the movies.
Starting with the first feature length Disney animation: Snow White. The movie was highly criticized for representing, in Snow White, a docile and domestic woman. A woman, that would be properly covered, would stay at home, cook and clean, and have no claim.
In addition, recently, Sleeping Beauty was blamed for giving a wrongful idea about sexual consent, more particularly in the scene where the prince does not ask before kissing the princess.
Moreover, there were claims that many movies were representing helpless women waiting for a strong man to come and rescue them. The prince in Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and the general Li Chang in Mulan for instance.
In The Little Mermaid, Ariel is under a forceful patriarchal law until she refuses her own nature to gain the love of a man, who rejects her.
In Beauty and the Beast, it can be argued that Belle is suffering of Stockholm syndrome after the Beast kidnaps her for the sole point of making her fall in love with him.
Lastly, people were feeling the women were giving an impossible body goal and women objectification. All women have long legs and tiny waist. In Aladdin, Jasmine wears clothes that resembles more a men’s fantasy rather an historically correct costume. However, I blame the rise up of anorexic models in fashion and social media to give impossible body goals rather than fantasy cartoon characters.
After reading these articles, I believe if we are looking for something wrong, we can always find it. I decide to take the best in those movies. Each of these female characters inspired positive traits of characters. Snow White inspires to be brave, Cinderella to be kind, Mulan to be fearless, Belle to be accepting, to see beyond differences.
I have watched these movies tirelessly being a child, and no matter the criticism, they made me hopeful and positive. I have also grown up to have ambition, to make my work the first priority and to fend for myself.
Movies do not shape you, you shape yourself.