The same old story? The portrayal of gender and ethnicity/race in Disney movies and the possible (re-) production of stereotypes over the course of the past 75 years


Bachelor Thesis, 2013
98 Pages, Grade: 1,0

Excerpt

Table of contents

Table of figures

Table of charts

Table of abbreviations

1. Introduction

2. Theory
2.1. Diversity
2.1.1. Gender
2.1.2. Race & Ethnicity
2.1.3. Ethnic Minorities
2.2. Stereotypes
2.2.1. Gender Stereotypes
2.2.2. Racial Stereotypes

3. Literature Review
3.1. Television
3.2. Children & Television
3.3. Gender & Ethnicity/race in Children’s TV
3.4. The Walt Disney Corporation
3.4.1. Business History
3.4.2. The Princess Franchise (see Disney Consumer Products Website)
3.5. Gender & Ethnicity in Disney Movies
3.6. Adapting the fairy tales

4. Critical Discourse Analysis

5. Methodology

6. Film Analysis & Discussion
6.1. Overview of Movies
6.2. Gender Stereotypes
6.2.1. True (heterosexual) Love
6.2.2. Families, Mothers & Fathers
6.2.3. Demeanour and gender ideologies
6.2.3.1. Women are obedient and dutiful / Men are strong and heroic
6.2.3.2. Women as civilizing force
6.2.3.3. Women as instruments
6.2.4. Physical Appearance & Sexual Desire
6.3. Racial & Ethnic Stereotypes
6.3.1. Varied racial depiction and its implication
6.3.2. The Coloured Princesses
6.3.3. Language & Accents

7. Conclusion

Literature

Pictures

Kurzzusammenfassung

Die folgende Bachelorarbeit behandelt die (Re-)Produktion von genderbezogenen und ethnischen Stereotypen in den Animationsfilmen des Disney Prinzessinnen Franchises. Der Einleitung zum Thema folgt eine Darlegung der Theorie, welche die Konzepte Diversität, Gender und Ethnizität vorstellt, sowie eine kurze Einführung in Stereotypen beinhaltet. Im Literaturteil wird der Konzern Disney präsentiert sowie die Themen Fernsehen und Kinderfernsehen abgehandelt. Des Weiteren werden dort die bisherigen Forschungsergebnisse zu dem Themenbereich „Disney, Gender und Ethnizität“ vorgestellt. Danach folgt eine Vorstellung der kritischen Diskursanalyse und der Methodologie. Das Anschlusskapitel beinhaltet den empirischen Teil mit der Analyse und Diskussion der Filme. In der abschließenden Konklusion werden die Ergebnisse sowohl zusammengeführt als auch mit den anderen Teilen der Arbeit in Bezug gesetzt.

Schlagworte: Disney, Prinzessinnen Franchise, Gender, Rasse, Ethnizität, Stereotypen, Kinderfernsehen

Abstract

The following Bachelor’s thesis deals with the (re-)production of gender-related and ethnic stereotypes in animated movies part of the Disney Princess franchise. The introduction to the topic is followed by an overview of the theory, which includes the concepts of diversity, gender, and ethnicity as well as an introduction into stereotypes. The literature review will on the one hand present the Disney corporation and on the other hand give insight into the topics of television in general and children’s television in particular. It also outlines the hitherto findings pertaining to the scientific field of “Disney, gender and ethnicity”. The next chapters contain an introduction to the Critical Discourse Analysis and the methodology, which is followed by the empirical part consisting of the analysis and discussion of the movies. The thesis is completed by the conclusion, which brings together the findings as well as putting them in relation to the rest of the thesis.

Key words: Disney, Princess Franchise, Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Stereotypes, Children’s TV

Danksagung

Das Verfassen dieser Bachelorarbeit war nicht nur aus akademischer Sicht meine bisher größte Herausforderung, sondern hat mich auch persönlich in vielerlei Hinsicht sehr gefordert - manchmal fast schon überfordert. Die Arbeit wurde zu einem Projekt, welches sehr viel Spaß und Freude in mein Leben brachte, aber auch viele Zweifel und Rückschläge. Dass sie schlussendlich fertiggestellt wurde, ist eine große Genugtuung und Bestätigung, allerdings war es nicht mein Verdienst alleine. Daher möchte ich diese Stelle nutzen, um Danke zu sagen.

Danke an meine Eltern und meinen Bruder, die mich auf meinem Weg immer bestärkt und unterstützt und die mir all das ermöglicht haben. Sie gaben mir die Ruhe und die Zeit diese Arbeit zu schreiben und hatten stets Vertrauen in meine Fähigkeiten, selbst wenn ich es nicht hatte.

Danke an Julia und Viola, die mich immer unterstützt haben wenn ich nicht mehr konnte, und mir einen Tritt in den Hintern gegeben haben, wenn ich nicht mehr wollte. Und für ihr Verständnis, dass ich dieser Bachelorarbeit sehr viel von unserer gemeinsamen Zeit geopfert habe.

Danke möchte ich auch meiner Betreuerin Regine Bendl sagen, welche mir durch ihre Ruhe und Gelassenheit den nötigen Raum und die Zeit für das Schreiben der Arbeit gab, deren Rückmeldungen stets direkt und zielgerichtet waren und welche mich mit Lob und Verständnis dort auffing, wo ich zwischendurch etwas verloren war.

Und schließlich Danke an alle meine Freunde, Freundinnen und Bekannte, welche mir in vielen Gesprächen immer wieder neuen Input und neue Motivation gegeben haben.

Table of figures

Figure 1: Diverse Teams at Work

Figure 2: Illustration of ethnic-cultural and linguistic diversity in selected countries

Figure 3: Distribution of 102 female TV cartoon characters according to their waist-to-hip ratios

Figure 4: Distribution of 71 male TV cartoon characters according to their waist-to-shoulder ratios

Figure 5: Percentage distribution of male and female main characters in fictional shows on children’s TV in selected countries

Figure 6: Percentage distribution of main characters with white skin colour and non-white skin colour in selected countries

Figure 7: Brand Logo of the Disney Princess Franchise

Figure 8: Disney Princesses

Figure 9: Snow White and the Prince

Figure 10: Cinderella and Prince Charming

Figure 11: Ursula

Figure 12: Gaston

Figure 13: Aladdin and Jafar

Figure 14: Shan Yu

Figure 15: Tiana and Prince Naveen

Figure 16: Jasmine

Figure 17: Dancing girls in Aladdin

Figure 18: “Normal” women in Aladdin

Figure 19: Pocahontas

Figure 20: Rapunzel

Figure 21: Mulan as soldier

Figure 22: Firefly Ray from The Princess and The Frog

Table of charts

Table 1: General grid for the analysis of the reviewed movies

Table 2: Check-list used during review of the movies

Table of abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1. Introduction

The goal of this Bachelor’s thesis is to analyze, whether the (re-)presentation of women and men as well as different ethnic groups in Disney movies has changed over the course of time.

Seeing how Disney has grown into the biggest and most prominent children’s entertainment caterer, the contents and messages broadcasted to them warrant a closer look.

During my research for this Bachelor’s thesis, I have been introduced to the basic concepts of ‘discourse’. I have learned a lot about its mode of operation, about how it is created, by what it may be affected and how it affects individuals and society as a whole. The framework of ‘discourse’ combined with a critical view of the Disney Company itself (and not just the movies) contribute greatly not only to the findings in this thesis, but also to understanding why it is important to take a closer look into this topic and not just accept Disney films as products of fantasy and imagination.

Henry A. Giroux (1995, http://www.henryagiroux.com/online_articles/animating_youth.htm), who is one of the founding theorists of critical pedagogy in the United States, wrote: “Children's culture as an object of critical analysis opens up a space in which children become an important dimension of social theory. While youth culture, especially adolescence, has been a strong component of cultural studies, children's culture has been largely ignored, especially the world of animated films.” It seems, that “popular audiences are more willing to suspend critical judgement about such children's films.” However, the influence of animated films in general and Disney movies in particular should not be underestimated.

Feng and Scharrer (2004) conducted a study among college students in order to test whether they would change their attitudes towards the 1991 Disney film The Little Mermaid after a critical review. In a university course the students were introduced to the tale by Andersen, which the movie was based on, and deconstructed the gender roles and stereotypes presented in the movie. Their results were enlightening and frightening at the same time. “[T]hey did not want to change their attitudes about Disney’s The Little Mermaid , which has given them intense pleasure and fond memories since they were children, and they articulated a few strategies which enabled them to uphold their previously existing opinions. They ignored or dismissed the criticism as “overdone” [...]. They said that they liked the film too much to allow criticism to affect them [...]. [O]ne-fifth of the respondents said that though they acknowledged problems with Disney’s The Little Mermaid , they could also suspend their criticism while watching the film and, therefore, still enjoy it. “ (Feng & Scharrer, 2004, p. 51)

The underlying assumption I present in this thesis, is that Disney always has and still is portraying very conservative role models of gender and certain ethnic groups. Therefore, it introduces and re-affirms outdated stereotypes to our children, which may influence them negatively in their development and helps in perpetuating social inequalities. Given that children are Disney’s target group combined with the fact that they are more easily influenced by what they see on television, the messages presented to them have to be carefully studied and analyzed.

Considering all the above, I formulated the following research question: “How is/was gender and ethnicity portrayed in (chosen) Disney feature-length films and how do these portrayals reproduce stereotypes?”

While there has been plenty of research in this field already (Artz, 2007; Ayres, 2003; LaCroix 2004, Manley 2003), most studies and essays only deal with singular movies or particular aspects of diversity. Scientific papers that compare several movies and take a closer look at the possible development in Disney storytelling are fewer (Yzaguirre 2006, Matyas 2010). However, Disney has produced films for a very long time, which allows us to take a closer look at whether Disney has progressed when it comes to the contents and messages distributed by its films or not.

At first glance, the presented literature review may seem disjointed and incoherent. However, this new approach to analyzing the different pieces of gender and ethnic representation in Disney movies is the strength of this thesis. Put together, each one of the topics introduces information, which will be essential to understanding why it is important to consider Disney movies carefully.

As I will illustrate in the theoretical part, gender and ethnicity/race are something given (as in compared to e.g. life-style choices) and are not something we can easily (if at all) change about ourselves. Yet, it is because of these (perceived) differences that people are being treated and valued differently. Therefore, it is indispensable to change the social perception of diversity and turn it into something we celebrate rather than discriminate. In order to achieve this, we have to alter the public discourse on diversity.

The thesis started with the problem statement and the research question to establish the significance of this topic. The theoretical part and the literature review serve to give an overview of the very diverse aspects pertaining to this topic. It will introduce the reader to different concepts, which can be seen as different pieces belonging to the same puzzle. The reader will be familiarised with the concepts of diversity, gender and ethnicity/race. In addition, the basics of stereotyping in general and gender and racial/ethnic stereotyping in particular will be outlined. The literature review starts with an insight into the Disney Company as well as the Disney Princess franchise. Furthermore, the relevant literature on television’s effect on children and the representation of gender and ethnicity/race in children’s television will be presented. The last part of the literature review will give an overview of the hitherto findings connected to the topics of Disney movies, gender, and ethnicity/race. The next chapter will introduce the reader to the basic framework of Critical Discourse Analysis and its underlying concepts, since I have chosen the Critical Discourse Analysis as my method to conduct my study. After explaining my methodology, I present and discuss the findings of my analysis. The conclusion will bring the pieces together and points to possible future areas of research.

2. Theory

This chapter will explain the concept of diversity and how the different dimensions of diversity influence us in our being and in our (everyday) life. Furthermore, we will take a closer look at the two diversity-dimensions ‘gender’ and ‘ethnicity/race’, because the analysis in this thesis focuses on these particular dimensions. Also, there will be a short introduction into stereotyping and an overview of gender stereotypes and ethnic/racial stereotypes.

2.1. Diversity

Although the expression “diversity” is vague and can mean and refer to various things[1], nowadays it is most commonly used to point out the differences in people. One of the definitions offered by the online dictionary Merriam-Webster[2] is: “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements : variety; especially : the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization, <programs intended to promote diversity in schools>”. Schlote and Götz (2010) further explain that in this context diversity can also refer to the economic, cultural and social differences between people. The exact definition of the term “diversity” and what it encompasses is always dependent on the context. (Schlote & Götz, 2010, p. 8)

In this thesis, I conceptualize diversity in the following way: “Diversity [is] representing a multitude of individual differences and similarities that exist among people. Diversity can encompass many different human characteristics such as race, age, creed, national origin, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.” (Wellner 2000, as cited in Washington 2008, p. 3)

One of the most widely used concepts or tools to define and illustrate diversity is Gardenswartz’s and Rowe’s (see Gardenswartz & Rowe, 2009, p. 36) “Four Layers of Diversity Model”. In this model (see figure 1), different layers of diversity are being defined.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: see Gardenswartz, L. &. Rowe, A.: Diverse Teams at Work; Society for Human Resource Management 2002; Source: University of Vienna http://www.univie.ac.at/diversity/146.html

The centre – Personality – relates to individual style and characteristics of a person.

The second layer – Internal Dimension – comprises gender, age, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and physical ability. Gardenswartz and Rowe (2009) argue that we have little control over these aspects of our personality, meaning they are not choices we make, but yet define how our environment treats us and what people expect of us, as well as what we expect of ourselves.

The next layer – External Dimensions – encompasses aspects such as religion, education, marital status, work experience, and recreational habits. These aspects are choices we make and therefore we have more influence over them. Religion/Worldview is offered a ‘special’ position, as it is argued that sometimes we cannot freely choose or change our faith.

The last layer – Organizational Dimensions – contains aspects of similarity and difference that are part of the working environment in an organization.

Although this model is primarily used within a management and business context, it is of good use in this thesis, because it gives a concise overview on diversity in all its facets. All the aspects illustrated represent areas, in which people may find similarities as well as differences. We will see that these differences are crucial to stereotyping.

2.1.1. Gender

Gender usually references to the sex of a person, therefore distinguishing between men and women according to their anatomical difference. Subsequently, there are two genders: male and female, man and woman. Gender in the diversity discourse, however, refers to what is thought to be appropriately male and female, therefore adverting “cultural assumptions and practices that govern the social construction of men, women and their social relations.” In this sense, sex is the biological formation of the body, while in contrast gender points to the cultural and social expectations, regulations and limitations a person will experience based on their sex. Put differently, sex is a biological expression while gender has morphed into a social expression, “[g]iven that gender is held to be a matter of culture rather than ‘nature’, [...]”. (see Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought; retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/bght/genders, 2012)

The above description of gender points to the sex-gender distinction, which has been predominant in feminist literature for the past decades. However, recently this sex-gender distinction itself has become the subject of criticism. Judith Butler (1990) has suggested that the category of ‘sex’ is part of a normative and regulatory discourse which produces the bodies it governs. Although ‘sex’ is a biological category, it is always discussed within cultural discourse and therefore, “sexed bodies are always already represented as the production of regulatory discourses” ( Butler, 1990, as cited in Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought; retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/bght/genders, 2012).

Connell (2000) further illustrates this argument by explaining that there is a pattern in our social arrangements and the everyday activities and practices they govern. These extensive and – above all - enduring patterns among our social relations are called ‘structures” in social theory. Hence, gender cannot be understood as an expression of biology, but neither in a fixed dichotomy in human life or character. Therefore she offers the following definition: “Gender is the structure of social relations that centres on the reproductive arena, and the set of practices (governed by this structure) that bring reproductive distinctions between bodies into social processes. To put it informally, gender concerns the way human society deals with human bodies, and the many consequences of that ‘dealing’ in our personal lives and our collective fate” (Connell, 2000, p. 10).

2.1.2. Race & Ethnicity

When it comes to defining the terms ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ it is important to know that they have no fixed referents. (Author’s note: Referent is a linguistic expression, which describes a tangible object, to which a linguistic expression refers to.[3] ) Rather, the conventions of naming and defining these terms are constantly changing. The fact that the terms ‘race‘ and ‘ethnicity‘ have different meanings at differnt moments in time also highlights the fact that they refer to socially constructed concepts. Hence, ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ belong to the domain of shifting social and cultural meanings in which boundaries are constantly negotiated. (see Spencer, 2006, p. 32)

The process of defining the terms is so important and challenging, because the categorizing and subsequent labelling of a group of individuals is a highly sensitive area due to its political and social implications. Setting those boundaries form the basis of inclusion and exclusion. It may on the one hand allow for individual choice and self-determination or on the other enforce dominant culture, colonial power or government. This situation of ever-evolving expressions and the lack of a definite denotation also lead to many issues in everyday life about what the (politically) correct terms to describe ethnic groups are. (see Spencer, 2006, p. 32)

However, “[t]he modernist connotation of ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ sees ‘race’ either subsumed in ‘ethnicity’, or referret to euphemistically through ‘ethnicity’” (Popeau 1998, p. 177, as cited in Spencer 2006, p. 32) and “the term ‘ethnicity’ is typically used as a ‘polite’ and less controversial term for ‘race’” (Popeau, 1998, p. 166, as cited in Spencer, 2006, p. 32).

Spencer (2006) suggests that in the modern era, ethnicity is generally used as term for collective cultural identity. He argues that while a group would use the term race to categorize ‘them’ from the outside, ethnicity is applied to point to shared values and beliefs. Hence it defines the group, the ‘us’. He cites Van den Berghe, who “drew the influential distinction between ethnicity as ‘socially defined but on the basis of cultural criteria’ whereas race is ‘socially defined but on the basis of physical criteria’” (Van den Berghe, 1967, p. 9, as cited in Spencer, 2006, p. 45). Based on this distinction we can draw the conclusion that ‘ethnicity’ is a more inclusive and less objectifying conept than ‘race’ and therefore has become the preferred term. (see Spencer, 2006, p. 45)

2.1.3. Ethnic Minorities

To highlight why the concept of ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ and its representation in mass media is so important, I want to refer to the concept of ‘ethnic minorities’. ‘Minorities’ in general “are disadvantaged ethnic, national, religious, linguistic or cultural groups who are smaller in number than the rest of the population and who may wish to maintain and develop their identity” (Minority Rights Group International, 2009, as cited in Schlote, 2010, p. 14; see also http://www.minorityrights.org/566/who-are-minorities/who-are-minorities.html).

James D. Fearon conducted a study on ethnic minorities. To be considered in his results, the groups had to have at least the size of 1% of a country’s population. He further differentiated between dimensions of diversity: ethnic diversity[4] and linguistic diversity[5]. Applying these restrictions, Fearon distinguished 822 ethnic groups in 160 countries.

The resulting illustration (see figure 2) “shows the ethnic-cultural and linguistic diversity in some selected countries. A higher score indicates a more diverse population consisting of different ethnic groups”[6] (Schlote, 2010, p. 14).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2: Illustration of ethnic-cultural and linguistic diversity in selected countries. Source: Televizion magazine (23/2010/E), Schlote (2010, p. 14) based on Fearon (2003)

The above chart serves to illustrate that we do live in a multicultural and diverse society in which the concepts of inclusion and visible (re-)presentation in mass media become increasingly important.

2.2. Stereotypes

“[...] [L]ike other social stereotypes, reflect perceivers' observations of what people do in daily life. If perceivers often observe a particular group of people engaging in a particular activity, they are likely to believe that the abilities and personality attributes required to carry out that activity are typical of that group of people.” (Feldman 1972, Smedley & Bayton 1978, Triandis 1977, as cited in Eagly & Steffen, 1984, p. 735)

For example, people believe that characteristics necessary for childrearing and childcare are nurturance and warmth. Thus, if women are constantly seen caring for children, then perceivers will probably be prone to believe that these characteristics are typical for women. However, as we have established before, most people’s activities are linked to their assigned social roles which means stereotypes about a group of people is more a reflection of the distribution of these groups into social roles than a description of the people themselves. (see Feldman 1972, Smedley & Bayton 1978, Triandis 1977, as cited in Eagly & Steffen, 1984, p. 735)

A process of categorizing precedes the process of stereotyping. “Perception involves an act of categorization. [...] [A]ll perceptual experience is necessarily the end product of a categorization process.” (Bruner, 1957, p. 124) We apply this process of categorization not only to objects but also to people. It helps us simplify our complex social environment. (see Allport 1954, Lippmann 1922, Tajfel 1969, as cited in Dotsch 2011, p. 1) Categories serve to gain and access information about our environment while at the same time help saving energy and conserving resources. (see Rosch 1978) Rosch and Lloyd call this “cognitive economy” (Rosch, 1978, p. 3).

McGarty et al. (2002) offer three guiding principles for stereotyping. Firstly, they believe stereotypes are aids to explanation. This means, stereotypes help us make sense of a situation. Secondly, they describe stereotypes as energy-saving devices. This goes in accordance with Rosch and Lloyd (1978), as it implies that stereotypes reduce the effort needed to process our environment. Thirdly, stereotypes act as shared group beliefs, which means they should be formed in accordance with the accepted views or norms of social groups that the perceiver belongs to. (see McGarty et al., 2002, p. 3)

These principles offered by McGarty et al. (2002) imply a rather positive function of stereotypes, however Brannon (2000, p. 160) points out that stereotypes “can be very powerful forces in judgments of self and others” and Prentice and Carranza (2002,p. 269) further warn of stereotypes being “highly prescriptive”.

2.2.1. Gender Stereotypes

The concept of gender roles and gender stereotypes tend to be related, in that gender roles lay the basis for gender stereotypes. (see Brannon, 2000, p. 160)

Gender roles consist of activities that men and women engage in with different frequencies, thus these gender-related behaviours become part of a pattern accepted as masculine or feminine. This happens not because of any innate or nature-given reason for differences between men and women, but because of the associations with women and men. Therefore, gender roles can be defined as and are defined by behaviours typically shown by women and men. (see Brannon, 2000, p. 160)

Gender stereotypes, on the other hand, are beliefs about attitudes of masculinity and femininity. They build on ideas about the psychological traits and characteristics of, as well as the activities and manners appropriate to, women or men. They act as an agent in conceptualizing and defining the terms “woman” and “man” and consequently establish social categories for gender. Hence, gender stereotypes are very influential forces in our judgment of ourselves, others and our environment. (see Brannon 2000, p. 160)

Furthermore, gender stereotypes are not only descriptive, but in addition highly prescriptive as well. The qualities and abilities attributed to women and men respectively are likely to be the ones also required of women and men. Prentice and Carranza (2002) carried out a study to identify the most common traits associated with women and men. Although their results did not differ highly from previous studies, they highlighted and emphasised that old-fashioned images of what a woman or a man should be continue to persist in our society: “The intensified prescriptions and proscriptions for women reflected traditional emphases on interpersonal sensitivity, niceness, modesty, and sociability, whereas the intensified prescriptions and proscriptions for men reflected traditional emphases on strength, drive, assertiveness, and self-reliance. Moreover, the vast majority of these traits showed corresponding differences in the extent to which they were perceived as typical of women and men.” (Prentice & Carranza, 2002, p. 272)

In addition, “[...] the results indicate that people believe women and men to differ in most of the ways they are supposed to differ” (Prentice & Carranza, 2002, p. 272). This analysis is helpful in understanding that gender stereotypes persist, because people believe they are supposed to exist. Connell (2000, p. 54) illustrates that “[g]ender relations are always being constituted in everyday life. If we don’t bring it into being, gender does not exist.”

2.2.2. Racial Stereotypes

Much of what has been said about gender stereotypes can also be applied to racial stereotypes, the most important being that racial stereotypes are based on what we believe are differences between ethnic groups rather than actually existing differences (or similarities). Taijfel’s (1981, p. 116) definition of racial stereotypes supports this argument: “A stereotype about an ethnic group is generally defined in terms of a consensus of opinion concerning the traits attributed to that group. If subjects are presented with a list of attributes and asked to indicate those which they believe apply to a specific group, those chosen most frequently can be assumed to belong to the culturally held stereotype”.

As we can gather from this, racial stereotypes are based in the shared belief of one ethnic group about another. Since these stereotypes are heavily dependent on the cultural background of an individual, they are not only different for every group to which they are applied to, but they will as well be different according to the groups that apply them. Therefore I will not go into further detail here, but will point to specific racial stereotypes (and prejudices) in the analysis of the movies itself.

The above presented concepts serve as a framework for the following literature review. It serves to show that ‘diversity’ plays an important part in our life and has a lot of influence on our life and our actions. A great deal of this influence stems from the (often negative) stereotypes connected to those diversity dimensions. Therefore, a first important step is to be aware of those stereotypes, in order to abolish them.

3. Literature Review

The literature review will give a brief overview of research already conducted within this particular field of interest. The first part of the chapter will give a short introduction into television in general, before dealing with children’s television in particular. The second part of the chapter gives a few facts and numbers on the Disney Corporation and the Disney Princess franchise. The third part connects the first two parts and will give an outline on academic research on gender and ethnicity/race in Disney movies.

3.1. Television

Nowadays, television is to be considered a learning environment. Movies and TV shows have an inherent story-telling function, which has become extremely important. In order to fulfil the task of storytelling, television has developed into a “wholesale distributer of images and the mainstream of our popular culture”. It is through the stories seen and heard on television that people learn about the world and the people in it. (see Signorielli, 1993, p. 229)

The world of television shows and tells us about life, including people, places, striving, power, and fate. It presents the good and bad, the happy and sad, and lets us know who is successful and who a failure. (see Signorielli 1993, p. 229)

3.2. Children & Television

Although children of every generation have always been faced with change and progress happening around them, nowadays they are presented with a special challenge. Today, children are growing up in a society driven by various forms of media. This realization is of importance “because television and its electronic relations seem to play a role, albeit one sometimes difficult to identify, in the socialisation process” of our children. (see Berry & Asamen, 1993, p. 5)

Murray (1993, p. 9) points to the fact that television reaches children at a much earlier age than other media before or since. Due to its central role in our multimedia environment, it reaches not only adults but also children with greater intensity. As children are more impressionable, this increases the potential of television to influence not only the intellectual, but also the emotional development of children immensely. Signorielli (1993) argues that television may be the most suitable media of all for (children’s) socialization. Nowadays, scholars (Hawkins & Pingree 1986, Houston & Wright 1989, as cited in Fitch et al., 1993, p. 38) have established the view that television is a medium, which conveys meaning by means of content and form and “that children are active processors of the medium”. This means that children use content as well as form “to interpret television’s messages”.

3.3. Gender & Ethnicity/Race in Children’s TV

“In order to attain Barbie’s figure (classic edition) a woman would have to be between 6’ 2’’ and 7’4’’ tall or have one rib removed. From a medical point of view she would very likely be suffering from a slipped disc, respiratory problems, and osteoporosis; moreover, she would be infertile: Certainly a very unhealthy person.“ (Herche & Götz, 2008, p. 18)

Seeing the bulk of skinny female characters on children’s TV – especially those broadcasted on a global scale - Herche and Götz (2008) analysed the bodies of 102 animated girl and female young adult characters in order to examine their body measurements. Their results are rather sobering. They used stills of full frontal views and took measurements of the hips, waist, shoulders, and height in order to calculate a waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), a waist-to-shoulder ratio (WSR) and an upper body – lower body ratio (UB/LB).

The waist-to-shoulder ratio for a slim, healthy, young woman would range between 0.69 and 0.80. However, their study showed that this value only applies to 16% of the cartoon characters, while all the other characters fall below that value. The waist-to-hip ratio for a slim, healthy, young woman would be between 0.69 and 0.80 as well. However, as can be seen in the figure below, over half of the cartoon characters (58%) have a value below, which means it is not naturally achievable.

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Figure 3: Distribution of 102 female TV cartoon characters according to their waist-to-hip ratios; the blue column indicates a normal and healthy WHR. Source: Herche & Götz, 2008, p. 18 in Televizion magazine (21/2008/E)

Combining these two ratios, most presented bodies have an unnaturally small waist. These so-called “wasp waists” are not only unhealthy, they would even remain unattainable through cosmetic surgery. In addition, Herche and Götz (2008, p. 18) emphasise another problem: “The problem involved here is not only the impossibility of the goal, but also the sexualisation that goes along with it. [...] The presented body formulas of the animated girl characters, then, do not represent child or young girl characters, but instead little girls’ bodies that have been sexualised, or, put more simply: “Girls as sex bombs”. In the domain of children’s TV, though, this hardly seems appropriate or sensible.”

The third ratio they calculated – the upper body-to-lower body ratio – presented problematic results again. Young women would have an upper body-to-lower body ratio between 0.32 and 0.42. Their results showed, that 57% have legs, which are longer than could ever be reached naturally, and “[n]early every third character has legs longer than even Barbie’s” (Herche & Götz, 2008, p. 19).

In the same study, Herche and Götz (2008) also analysed the bodies of 71 boy and men characters, which are broadcasted globally. They examined their shoulder-to-waist ratio in order to judge the V-shape of their torsos. The V-shape of the male torso is described as the equivalent to the female “wasp waist”. Their results show, that there is “a range of male characters with V-shaped torsos, like one could only achieve by working out professionally for years” (Herche & Götz, 2008, p. 19). However, their results also indicate that the range of differently shaped bodies (ballshaped bodies, “beanpoles”, normal bodies) is considerably wider than with female characters. In addition, the number of male characters who are not sexualised is higher as well (see figure below).

In their conclusion, Herche and Götz (2008) argue that these results demonstrate an overbearing presence of unhealthy role models for children – especially young girls – on global TV. The bodies of the animated characters are not only overly sexualised, but in many cases could only be attained by undergoing cosmetic surgery or damaging one’s health. This can be very damaging to young girls, because “[v]arious studies have clearly demonstrated that body schemata especially are adopted as inner images. The reduction of the beauty ideal to an overly slim body and the increasing discontent with one’s own appearance are inevitable consequences, because, compared with those of the female TV characters, one’s own body can only be regarded as deficient” (Herche & Götz, 2008, p. 19).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 4: Distribution of 71 male TV cartoon characters according to their waist-to-shoulder ratios; a ratio below the blue line is not naturally achievable. Source: Herche & Götz, 2008, p. 19 in Televizion magazine (21/2008/E)

In a media analysis conducted across 24 nations, Götz et al. (2008) examined the main characters of fictional TV programmes. Their results showed “a clear underrepresentation and stereotyped depiction of female characters worldwide” (Götz et al., 2008, p. 4).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 5: Percentage distribution of male and female main characters in fictional shows on children’s TV in selected countries, Source: Götz et al., 2008, p. 6 in Televizion magazine (21/2008/E)

In detail, their conclusion shows that there are “more than twice as many male characters than female characters on children’s TV” (see figure above). In addition, “72 % of all main characters are Caucasian and in most of the countries the reality of ethnic diversity is not represented in an appropriate way” (see figure below). Furthermore are “[o]verweight girls or elderly women [...] virtually absent” and while females are often depicted in groups, males are presented as loners and antagonists (Götz et al., 2008, p. 8).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 6: Percentage distribution of main characters with white skin colour and non-white skin colour in selected countries, Source: Schlote & Otremba, 2010, p. 9 in Televizion magazine (23/2010/2)

The above information combined with the charts clearly show that the content broadcasted on children’s TV does not mirror social realities. Bearing in mind that TV is nowadays a mass-media, frequently used by children and which in general has great influence on their world-views and self-perception, this information helps to understand why we have to take a closer look at Disney movies in particular, since Disney has a very powerful position in the children’s entertainment sector.

3.4. The Walt Disney Corporation

This chapter will give key information about Disney as a company and shows the most important dates, numbers, and figures. While at first thought this may seem out of context in this thesis, it is imperative to first present Disney for what it is – a business, which’s primary goal is to maximise profits.

Wasko (2001, p. 245) wrote in her paper on the 5 biggest myths surrounding Disney: “It is still difficult for many fans, as well as academics, to think of the Disney company as a profit-motivated corporation. The company is thought to be somehow different or special, not tainted with the attributes of other corporations and their money-grubbing policies. Challenging this myth involves understanding Disney as a capitalist enterprise, [...].”

The information presented in this chapter was taken from a company profile created by MarketLine. MarketLine “offers a comprehensive and unique collection of company, industry, financial, product and country information, research and data extending across every major marketplace and industry”. (MarketLine, www.marketline.com)

3.4.1. Business History

The Walt Disney Company’s History starts in the year 1923, when the two brothers Walt and Roy Disney set up the Disney Brothers Studio in Hollywood, California. Their first cartoon, Plane Crazy, directed by Walt Disney, was produced in 1928. The year 1937 marks a milestone in Disney History, because the studio produced its first animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Three years later, in 1940, the company went public and continued to produce other classic animation films such as Pinocchio and Fantasia. The first Disney Land Theme Park was opened in 1955, whereas Disney World Florida opened in 1971 and Disneyland Paris in 1992.

[...]


[1] See a list at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diversity

[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diversity

[3] http://dict.leo.org/forum/viewUnsolvedquery.php?idThread=544420&idForum=2&lp=ende&lang=de

[4]To differentiate between groups, he (note: Fearon) used diverse ethnic and cultural markers: people who share the same descent, have a common language, religion and customs. Ideally, members and non-members should recognize this grouping as an ethnic group.” (Schlote, 2010, p. 14)

[5] “Fearon compared different languages and cultural proximity of the languages for every country.” (Schlote, 2010, p. 14)

[6]Fearon states explicitly that his work, which is based on data from secondary sources from the 1990s, should be viewed as work in progress.” (Schlote, 2010, p. 14)

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Details

Title
The same old story? The portrayal of gender and ethnicity/race in Disney movies and the possible (re-) production of stereotypes over the course of the past 75 years
College
Vienna University of Economics and Business  (Gender- und Diversitätmanagement)
Grade
1,0
Author
Year
2013
Pages
98
Catalog Number
V284783
ISBN (eBook)
9783656859079
ISBN (Book)
9783656859086
File size
1425 KB
Language
English
Notes
My supervising professor told me to submit my thesis for awards and/or prizes. However, in Austria, Bachelor's theses are not recognized as scientific works and are therefore not eligible for awards/prizes. Hence, the wish to make my work available and contribute to the scientific discourse.
Tags
Disney, Princess Franchise, Race, Ethnicity, Stereotypes, Children’s TV, Prinzessinnen Franchise, Gender, Rasse, Ethnizität, Stereotypen, Kinderfernsehen
Quote paper
Eva-Maria Krapfenbauer (Author), 2013, The same old story? The portrayal of gender and ethnicity/race in Disney movies and the possible (re-) production of stereotypes over the course of the past 75 years, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/284783

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