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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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The essay will discuss how Disney Princess animation influence gender perception since Disney consider as one of the most influential media that exist, the impact that creates by Disney can be influential toward the audience perception. Disney Princess animations are well known among children, and they are exposed since a young age. A long-term exposure can influence how a person constructs their perception and judgment, therefore it influences on how they thoughts on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Disney Princess animation also has several eras that differentiate the princess era. The recent the princess movie, the more modern on how Disney portray gender roles, this happen because the gender roles that exist in Disney Princess animation are shifted. The early, Disney princess animation are influenced by 20th century Americans culture and now it leaning more toward on how gender is being portray in the modern era. In this essay, will trying to find out whether Disney Princess animation help influence the gender roles perception that is exist, and how it related with cultivation theory and constructivist approach. The essay will also provide a detail distinctive comparison between Disney Princess Sleeping Beauty animation and Disney Princess Mulan animation, and how the gender roles have shifted in the movie and also discuss a bit toward the newest Disney Princess animation and how they completely scrap the idea of a prince saving the princess in the movie.

Chapter One: Background

There is no doubt that Disney Princesses Animation has considered being part of a small girls childhood. Walt Disney first create Disney Princess Animation on 1973 which titled Snow White and the Seven Dwarf, and from there he began to create more Disney Princess Animation, following with Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Brave, and Frozen. The latest Disney Princess Animation and the Classic Disney Princess Animation are altered, because in the early Disney Princess it being portrayed that the Prince will always have to save the Princess and afterwards the Princess will be happily ever after, but now the latest Disney Princess such as Mulan, Princess, and Frog, Tangled, Brave, and Frozen are more embracing women empowerment, for example in Mulan, she is a women and she is the one that saves China and she is the one that acts to replace his father place in the war, and Frozen the story more toward the relationship of two sisters that will do anything for each other. Clearly, Disney has altered the way they portray gender roles in the movie.

The issue is how Disney influences the gender perception toward the Disney Princess animation, and how the audience unconsciously absorb the information that Disney placed in the Princess animation, and it could influence how they perceive gender perception such as the roles of man and women in the society, therefore it create an expectations that may lead toward unrealistic expectations such as waiting for Prince Charming to save the day in order to make the day better. Although Disney Princess animation has developed and changed the way they perceive gender roles, the classic Disney Princess animation has become the focus on how Gender Roles are being portrayed in the movie. Movies also consider as media and media consider as one of the powerful tools that creates an impact toward someone beliefs and it guides the person values, outlooks and decision (Johnson, 2015). Since Disney Princess animation will most likely to be watch by young girls, it has been stated that young children's are vulnerable in terms of accepting beliefs, it is easily planted in their head rather than planted in adult head. When it comes to Children they are considered as vulnerable in terms of accepting beliefs and accepting messages that they receive from media, especially when they receive it in the enormous amount of media.

Chapter Two: Body

The terms of Gender roles are considered as the product of interactions between individuals and environment because the surroundings help to create the cues toward behavior that is believed to be appropriate. In order to understand gender roles better need to understand the term of gender. Sex and gender have different concepts (Blackstone, 2003). Sex considers as biological concept, meanwhile gender leaning toward meanings, values and characteristics.  Gender roles consider as the roles of men and women are expected to occupy based on their sex. There are the traditional gender roles such as many Western societies believed that women consider being more nurturing than men. The expectations that are created for men and women are influenced by gender roles (Blackstone, 2003). The roles of male and female influence by social valuation, which means the roles it self are created through social construction.   

Disney Princess animation was first created in 1937, although during that year Disney has not yet recognized the impact of how Disney Princesses influence small girls around the world. Disney starts to take the Princess line as a business in the year 2001, they began to focus on the advertising and the marketing that are targeted for young girls (England, Descartes, Collier – Meek 2011).  The goal of the advertising and marketing movement is for young girls to purchase any products that associated with Disney Princess, of course in other terms it means Disney making money aside from making movies because now they have more products to offers and it can create the audience into becoming more interested in Disney Princess animation, this shows how Disney princesses influence young girls and not only they are willing to purchase the product but they also somewhat obsessed watching it because it entertain them without realizing there are a hidden message in the movie such as gender roles, culture, race, ethnicity, etc. Disney Princess line was recognized as a powerful influential toward children's media and product consumerism. It creates a new term of “girlhood” that are defined by gender and the consumption of message and products (Collier-Meek, Descartes, England, 2011).  Disney Princess animation divided into several eras, the first era includes Snow White and Seven Dwarf (1973), Cinderella (1950), and Sleeping Beauty (1959). The second includes The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995) and Mulan (1998). Lastly, the current era which are includes, The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled (2010), Brave (2012) and Frozen (2013), these three eras are different from one another, the first era are mostly very traditional and moving forward it became more modern and the idea of gender also changed in the movie (Johnson, 2015).  In Disney Princess animation, the main audiences were young girls by having the Disney Princess character to have a feminine characteristic.

In Disney Princess animation the gender roles are prominent especially in the early eras of Disney Princess animation. In the early era, the princesses are being portrayed as a damsel in distress. The heroes in each movie are the princes and then the story end up with the princess and the prince live happily ever after. The idea of damsels in distress story line was based on the standard of an early 20th century of American ideals.  As for the male characters they being portrayed as more prominent and they showed the characteristic such as assertive, responsible, stronger, independent and competent rather than the female characters. These characteristics were very prominent in the Disney animation “Tarzan” because in this movie Tarzan was being portrayed in that way and his leading female, Jane was being portrayed as weaker, sensitive, domestic, emotional, etc. How Disney portrays the characteristic of the characters are based on what male and female are being expected to have in the society. During this era, women are being expected to have a sweet, sensitive, domestic, affectionate, emotional characteristic meanwhile male are bing expected to have a strong, leadership, independent, responsible characteristics (Baron, Lee, Yerby). That is why some in the early Disney Princess animation the way the characters being portrayed are very prominent.

Walt Disney, it self-considers, as one of the greatest media conglomerates and Disney itself consider as leading toward inclusive pluralistic society.  The roles of gender in Disney started to changes prominently during the era of Disney releasing Mulan in 1998, the story of Mulan was adapted from Chinese legend, although it comes from the Chinese legend, Disney has altered some Chinese cultural traits and some of the historical facts while they made it in Americanized environment (Cheu, 2013). Based on this, Disney has not only includes gender roles in the movie but they also put cultural aspect in the movie itself. Mulan was also one of Disney Princess animation that existed in the second generation, where her role in the movie was to step in and changed portraying as men in order for her father not to go to war.  She was considering as a female hero in the movie, and she met captain Li Shang. Mulan was one of the perfect examples in explaining how Disney shifted their views in terms of gender roles.

The roles of gender in Disney Princess animation has changes overtime, the gender roles that are portrayed by Disney are through behavior and social roles. The portrayal in the movie can be a stereotypical, neutral nor counter stereotypical to traditional gender roles. In the early Disney Princess animation, Disney put a distinctive characteristic toward the female and male characters.

Disney Princess animation not only they have a distinctive gender roles portrayal, some also criticize how Disney is both sexism and racism in the movie. How this related with gender roles? It creates a picture that gender images are not current with the societal development within gender equity. This was also distinctive by how Disney portrays domestic work that was performed by the female characters.

The gender perception in Disney Princess animation can be related with cultivation theory (England, Descartes, Collier – Meek 2011).  When it comes to gender roles, female used to be describing as discouraged from power and has stereotypical feminine traits in order to emphasize their beauty and their role in a household. This stereotyping of women in the society one of the thing that is influence of why the early Disney princess animation, the female characters has certain characterize (Johnson, 2015). During the traditional era, female are being portrayed as highly sexualized, passive and they usually has less roles than the male.

How cultivation theory related with Disney Princess animation, is the theory suggest how media influence on the attitudes and beliefs of society. Since Disney was considering one of the influential media that exist and the impact that is created by Disney are very prominent. The more the audience are exposed toward Disney the more they are going to be influenced. Cultivation theory is a theory that is being composed by G. Gerbner. The cultivation theory also explains the long term effect of media exposure, since Disney is one of the most influential media in children's life and they are exposed since a young age, the impact could be either in conscious or unconscious level (Chair, Fu, Holloway, 2014). Gerbner also suggested on the theory that the viewer will absorb the messages cognitively through media consumption and it can influence on how the person construct their judgment based on the media exposure.  

Since the early era's of Disney Princess animation until the latest era\'s the way they portrayed the gender roles has been altered, how it influence the way the children develop their idea of concept and social of gender norms due to the exposure of Disney Princess animation, and the way that Disney create a stereotyped roles are very prominent and it can create messages regarding how gender roles in the society existed (Chair, Fu, Holloway, 2014).  Since in the early Disney Princess animation, the gender roles are very prominent, Disney receives many criticisms regarding how in most movies the domestic work performed by the female characters. This create a gendered material that may influence the viewer perception, although young children are mostly aware which gender that is being portrayed and mostly the Disney Princess animation are focused on one gender and children able to tell which gender it is, and therefore it create expectations for themselves and others, because the images that they saw may seem “normal” for the children and they began to connect it with what is socially acceptable in the society, includes the behavior and morality aspects

This also can be explain through constructivist approach which is the effect of viewing content that are gendered stereotypes affect children, because it help construct belief based on their interpretations that the children has observed and experience, therefore it help create a concepts regarding the children social behavior and norms (Collier-Meek, England, Descartes, 2011).  Not only the domestic work that is prominent regarding the gender roles, Disney Princess animation also has a way of having gendered nature of climatic rescues, this explain how the princess are being saved by the prince.

Chapter Three: Sleeping Beauty VS Mulan

In order to explain further on how Disney Princess animation portrayed the gender roles in the movies, it is better to explain through compare and contrast. The first movie is Sleeping Beauty, it was first released on January 29, 1959. The movie about the daughter of the King and Queen, Princess Aurora is being the curse by the evil fairy named Maleficent. Princess Aurora were being raised by three fairies and the fairies give princess Aurora a gifts that will help her with her life which includes the gift of beauty, singing song and princess Aurora can be awakened from her cursed by true love kiss, and on her 18 birthday, she need to go back to her castle to be reunited with her parents, but due to the curse she touch the spindle and princess Aurora curse is began, she began to fall into deep sleep and only true love kiss could awake her.  At the end, Princess Aurora is awakened by the kiss from Prince Philip and they live happily ever after but before Prince Philip had to battle Maleficent in order to reach to Princess Aurora.

Meanwhile, Mulan was released on June 5, 1998. The movie is an about Mulan replacing his dad in a war when the Huns invade China. She replaces her dad and pretends to be a man, her reason for replacing her dad because her dad couldn't walk properly and he was sick. Before she leaves, she prayed to her ancestors for protection and they sent Mushu as her guardian. Mulan joins the troops, her journey was rocky, because she needs to learn to being a warrior. Later on, during the war with the Huns, Mulan identities was reveal and the captain Li, ask her to step back and order her to go home. But despite the order, she takes a risk and saves China.

Based on the plot of the two Disney princess animations, it clearly has a different story and the roles of the main characters are also portrayal differently in the two movies. Sleeping Beauty and Mulan are two Disney princess animations that come from two different eras. Sleeping Beauty comes from the first era of Disney princess, and Mulan was the second era of Disney princess.

During the era of Sleeping Beauty, the ways Disney portrays the characters are still traditional and they adapt a patriarchal society. In Sleeping Beauty, the movie also promotes an idea of “someday my prince will come” and save me. The way Disney portray the female character, especially the main character which, Princess Aurora, she promotes characteristic such as innocent, naïve, passive, emotional and dependent. Since in the movie, Princess Aurora receives a gift of beauty this could create messages that beauty is priority compare to intelligence. While Disney, portray Prince Philip the lead male character as brave, heroic and rebellious. Sleeping Beauty promotes a damsel in distress theme, which the princess needs to wait for prince charming in order for them to live happily ever after. Disney portrayed this because during that time it meets the standard of America early 20th century.

As for Mulan, her era was considered as a rise of feminism. In the movie, the lead female character was portraying as rebellious and wanted to stand up for herself. Such as Mulan, she was able to fight off the Hun army and save China. Mulan era was considered as the new type of Disney Princess. The story of Mulan it self-was based on true story, the character of Mulan is described as braver and independent. The interesting part is about Mulan, unlike any Disney princess characters she transforms her self into men, she cuts her long hair and tries to act like men, with the clothing and she talk with a deeper voice. At first, it was hard for her to fit in the role of becoming men, but she has determination and discipline, therefore, she was becoming one of the best in the army. When captain Li found out that Mulan was a girl, and he ask her to go home, it does not stop her from trying to save China, with the help of her friend Yao, Ling and Chien Po she was able to convince them to help her to save China, and at the end captain Li help them and believe in Mulan. Although captain Li has the typical characteristic of the male character, which is brave, strong and independent, it does not stop Disney to create the same characters for Mulan.

Based on how Disney portray the two main females characters from Sleeping Beauty and Mulan, it shows that the way the describe the character has shifted. Sleeping Beauty characteristic was inspired by the ideals during the 20th century America, while Mulan was inspired based on true story and feminism movement that existed during that time.

Chapter Four: Conclusion

The conclusion toward the impact of Disney Princess animation and gender perception are basically Disney Princess animation are divided into three era's and those era's influence how gender role perceives at that time. The early Disney Princess such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, the role of the main female characters are still traditional, which means they have the characteristic such as dependent, sensitive, domestic, etc. The characteristic that was being portrayed is stereotyping the idea of gender roles, while the main male character is characterized as strong, independent, brave, etc. In the early era of Disney Princess, the role of male and female are very prominent because they story adapt a characteristic of a damsel in distress, which means the princess are waiting for the prince to save them to live happily ever after. This messages leading that female need male in order to have a happily ever after life, these messages exist because during that era it was influenced by 20th century America ideals.

Disney began to shift on how they perceive gender roles during the second era of Disney princess, the second era of Disney princess is known as more contemporary main female characters. The second era of Disney princess which includes The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Pocahontas. Where the three main female characters, Ariel, Mulan and Pocahontas shows a rebellious act and trying to stand up for them and make their own destiny. The characters also show more independent side, during the second era of Disney Princess, in America itself the feminism movement was happening. That was one of the factors that influence Disney to shift on how the creates the Princess characteristics. Mulan and Pocahontas were considering as the most “masculine” princess that exists in Disney princess. Mulan was also considering as more athletic than any other previous Disney prince.  Mulan and Pocahontas were one of the examples that Disney has shifted on how they define the female characters because the two characters undertake of more masculine roles and they took a non-traditional path by proving their independent characteristic and leadership roles. Although the second era of Disney Princes still adapts a between traditional and nontraditional gender behavior, this more prominent in The Little Mermaid, the way the male and the female characters being portrayed by Disney are still in between traditional and nontraditional. While in Beauty and the Beast, Belle the main female character was portrayed as brave and equally feminine and have the nurturing characteristic. The mix gender messages also can be found in Aladdin, due to the main male character shows characteristic such as sensitive, helpful, attributes that would normally associate with femininity.

On the newest era of Disney Princess, Disney has begun shift the way they way they portray gender prominently, from Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Brave, and Frozen. In Princess and the Frog, the main characters Tiana and Prince Naveen were completely the opposite of how the first era of Disney Princess. Tiana was portrayed as hardworking, and she was juggling several jobs in order to achieve her dream, meanwhile Prince Naveen portraying a more androgynous characteristic. Moving forward, while in Brave and Frozen were more family oriented than the rest of Disney Princess. In Brave it tells a story about a daughter and mother relationship while in Frozen it tells a story about sisterhood.

Moving forward, Disney has become less gender-based stereotyping in the movie, and it is clearly that Disney has portrayed stereotypical and non-stereotypical of gender roles. Although Disney has moved from traditional themes toward more modern, both character of male and female has changed between from the early Disney princess to the latest movie. It shows that Disney is evolved in terms of gender roles. To conclude everything, over the year Disney has changed in terms of how they portraying the gender roles and Disney is considering as one of the most influential media that are exist, Disney has a strong influence on how the little children's and Disney Princess animation is considered as one of the movies choices for children's and most children's are watching it through their childhood. To say that Disney has evolve in terms of gender perception and most children's are exposed to animation, therefore the cultivation theory it prove that it influence attitudes and behavior because the children absorb the messages without them being aware of it, therefore the information that the children absorb will help influence on how they perceive the gender roles, and it influence them directly and it can influence on how they process their cognitive understanding.

Mulan and Sleeping Beauty are considered as one of the examples of how the changes are happening in Disney Princess animation. Disney nowadays is more than just a prince and a princess story, it expanding toward sisterhood and the bond of mother and daughter. Therefore, the roles of gender in Disney are not just the obvious of what male and female are expected in the society.

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