Dr. Dawg

Killing the spirit

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Disney sexism.jpg

Like a moth in congealing wax, the independent spirit of young girls is still too often drowned in the sludge of sexist imagery and symbology that defines our “advanced” society in 2013. The picture above is worth much more than the proverbial thousand words.

That’s the Disney corporation, doing a little cultural reinforcement. A brave princess, modeled upon the daughter of the project’s creator, Brenda Chapman, is transmogrified into arm-candy.

Perhaps it is by no coincidence that Chapman was fired by Disney halfway through the production, and replaced by a male director. In any case, she’s none too happy at the moment, and I suspect most of us can see why.

But these things are never simple. Disney has consciously—one might say self-consciously—struggled with racial and gender stereotypes over the past few years. All sorts of strong lead characters have emerged, young African-American, Aboriginal and Asian women among others, as the corporation continues to wrestle (not always successfully) with prevailing prejudice and its own past.

Proud, independent young princesses (yes, princesses: these classy moves will not survive intersectional analysis) didn’t just spring from nothing over the past two or three decades. They were brought to us by the market, seeking new opportunities in the wave of feminism and anti-racism that exploded in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies. Corporations don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.

But those winds are never prevailing winds. Like society itself, they take many conflicting directions, which savvy corporations do their best to track. Even that mythical “good corporate citizen” is enmeshed in the economy of signs. It’s simply unavoidable: check out this page, on the Yahoo parenting site Shine, paying special attention to the links at the bottom.

In the end, it’s all about selling. A niche market has arisen that seemingly embodies progressive values, but there is also the tried and true one that doesn’t. The answer: segmentation!


For Disney, it’s not just the blockbuster animated films, but the spin-offs. Peggy Orenstein has some trenchant comments, with illustrations, and she makes that key point:

I’ve always said that it’s not about the movies. It’s about the bait-and-switch that happens in the merchandise, and the way the characters have evolved and proliferated off-screen. Maybe the problem is partly that these characters are designed in Hollywood, where real women are altering their appearance so regularly that animators, and certainly studio execs, think it’s normal.

I like the unconsciously ironic use of the term “real women” here. “Real” as in Kardashian hyperreal? Anyway, you’re the market too, like it or not, so let those execs know differently. Go sign the petition, and help keep Merida brave.

[H/ts Angus Johnson and Paul Liberatore]

UPDATE: (May 14) Sometime yesterday, the “feminized” image was quietly removed from the Disney site and replaced with the original. [H/t PK, BC]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on May 13, 2013 10:50 AM.

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