November 4, 2013
Exactly 12 years ago the largest media conglomerate in the world launched a line of marketing that has had a profound effect on the upbringing of girls across the world.
They, being The Walt Disney Company, called it The Disney Princess line and it was an advertising and marketing campaign squared solely at young girls including eight of their current movies and more than 26,000 marketable products.
The movies included Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Cindarella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas and Mulan.
Each of the movies aside from Mulan contains a Prince/Princess pairing and it is that interaction that interested a researcher from Arizona State University, Dawn England, and her team who analysed the main characters of all of the movies for signs of traditional gender roles.
They documented their research in a paper ‘Gender Role Portrayal and the Disney Princesses’.
“A lot of parents consider Disney high-quality family entertainment, and in a way it is, but when you examine some of the earlier princesses more closely, you do find some of the stereotypical gendered behaviours,” England said.
“They tended to their physical appearance a lot, and they were referred to as ‘pretty’ a lot. That was an important character trait for the princesses.”
England and her team separated the movies into three time periods: those made before 1960, including Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty; those of the 1990s, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast (focusing on Belle), Aladdin (featuring Jasmine), Pocahontas and Mulan; and the period since, namely The Princess and the Frog (featuring Tiana).
It marks a span of more than 70 years of “family” entertainment and the lead females in the early movies are wonderful examples of existing stereotypes.
“The princesses were significantly more likely to be co-operative, nurturing, tending to their physical appearance and troublesome,” the research found.
“Among the princesses, assertiveness was more common in earlier films and fearfulness and tentativeness were depicted more often in later films.
“While the princes have less screen time overall, they perform a relatively high number of rescues, suggesting that princes see more action comparatively.”
England and her team found that the earlier the film, the more likelihood of the princess being shown performing domestic duties and that the later female portrayals, including those of Mulan and Pocahontas, displayed more traditionally-accepted masculine traits.
“But little girls typically don’t play Mulan or Pocahontas; not in their warrior costumes,” added England.
Perhaps not without design – the language and marketing behind The Disney Princess line does not shy away from its intent to create girls with regal dreams.
“Disney Princesses enable little girls to live the fantasy every moment of every day,” the brand declares.
“Each Disney Princess has a unique story to tell that inspires dreams of fantasy and fairytales, and empowers girls with the virtues of integrity, compassion, hope, honour, kindness, discovery and love.
“We believe there is a Princess inside every girl.”
It’s a marketing spiel that resulted in more than $4 billion in sales for Disney last year.
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