Disney Ate My Daughter…

This year, a few prominent feminists have argued against the #MeToo movement. Germaine Greer calls on women to stand up for themselves – “In the old days…we weren’t afraid of him…” (Guardian, 23rd Jan 2018). Camille Paglia has said that treating women as “more vulnerable, virtuous or credible,” is “counterproductive.” (Hollywood Reporter, 27th February 2018).

To a point I agree that these beautiful actresses – alongside many other women with more ordinary lives – don’t help themselves when they denigrate all men; pretend that their skimpy clothing is not sexually provocative; or play the helpless victim.

But, we can’t ignore millions of women who feel that men objectify and use them sexually. What a frightening prospect for parents! Girls treated as trinkets; boys demonised and condemned to undervalue the opposite sex. If some women are – to a degree – complicit in their own objectification, then it is no wonder! Girls are subjected to a barrage of profoundly sexual images of women from the moment they are able to open their eyes. You can buy Little Mermaid socks for your new-born.

Have you ever wondered why Anna and Elsa have such prominent breasts, thick makeup and tiny waists? Have you ever been given the creeps by Pocahontas, with those little tassels dangling off her heaving bosom, pouting innocently at the, much older and stronger, white conqueror? The almost identical appearance of these female Disney characters demonstrates clearly to girls how they ought to look; worse, their gestures and facial expressions are often recognisably sexual. Watch the last 45 seconds of Elsa’s ‘Let it Go’ routine. I have seen three-year-old girls at my daughter’s nursery trying to imitate these moves. Look at the film poster for Cinderella (2015). I used to think it was old-fashioned and obsolete to protest that we should encourage our daughters to have broader horizons than marriage to a fantasy prince. But we seem to have pulled our sparkly stilettos and painful brassieres from the bonfire. We need old-fashioned feminism now!

We cannot feign surprise that teenage girls and young women find themselves objectified in the street, at work and at home: our daughters begin idolising bug-eyed, hourglass-shaped, bits of skirt from the minute they can watch TV, or study the sparkly Disney hairbands arranged at child’s eye-level in the supermarket. That’s before they encounter social media…

My six-year-old daughter has been known to wind me up deliberately from time to time. The other day we were in the library; she eschewed the pile of books I chose in favour of a book about fairy-tale characters going to the hairdresser. She read it aloud to me in a badly imitated American accent – picked up from films she’s seen, mostly at school, and from the American movie voices that she and her friends use when they play. (She knows exactly how to rattle me.) When she reached the book’s ‘happy’ end – ‘and so she married the prince etc…’ I did my best to point out the prince’s limitations, (‘Listen kid, that prince is probably stupid, he has never had to work for a living, he doesn’t even have separate teeth, just one solid white block.’) Receiving an indifferent shrug from my daughter, I turned for support to an acquaintance who happened to be sitting nearby with her little girl –

‘I’m sick of princesses,’ I moaned. My acquaintance also shrugged,

‘I guess some girls just go for that stuff.”

Of course they do! Because children want to fit in. But why are there not more parents protesting against the way women are portrayed in children’s entertainment? Disney must be the worst, but sexual images are everywhere – think Wonder Woman or the re-vamped My Little Pony. Argos boasts a glittering array of children’s ‘make-up and beauty toys’ including the lovely ‘Disney Princess Hairdresser Set’. What an inspiration for our young girls!

The latest powerful, and unimaginably rich, man to fall foul of the recent tidal wave of allegations of sexual misconduct is Disney’s John Lasseter, ex-Head of Animation. (Sources alleged he was known for “grabbing, kissing, making comments.” BBC, 9th June, 2018) Lasseter was a senior adviser when Frozen was made. No one could be shocked by the news that the company behind Anna and Elsa relies on a man who, allegedly, places great importance on women’s behinds. He remains in a “consulting role” until the end of the year when he will seek “new creative challenges”.

I am sick of worrying about the influence of all this on my daughter in private. Surely there must be loads of parents out there who want to rescue their sons and daughters from the jaws of Disney. Anyone want to join our one-family boycott?

11 thoughts on “Disney Ate My Daughter…

  1. I’m with you all the way!!!!
    Stop sexualisation of our children – I just watched a dance routine with my dad by my niece who does a ‘jazz’ dance class – it was raunchy moves set to a sexy song – she’s 9. We didn’t know how to respond. It doesn’t have to be like this.

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  2. I worried about the same things, my little girl did the American accents it wound her father up. My son watched the princess and the frog and when she kissed the frog and turned into a frog herself my son 5 at the time asked if it was because she was black that it didn’t go the way it did in the book. My daughter is 18 this year, fierce, independent, straight A student. And happy and empowered as a woman and about her body. She is also capable of doing a wide array of accents which are incredible and started with the American one from Disney. I allowed her the “magic” whilst she was a little girl along with the tooth fairy and Easter bunny. I always had a problem with her thinking life would be like a Disney movie when life is far more like a Tarantino movie. I told my daughter when she reached puberty that girls are like balloons and our hormones and DNA will determine the shape of that balloon (her figure) I was very aware that because I’m tall and naturally thin she may not follow suit. I certainly don’t have my mums body shape. And my daughter understood this from 12 onwards so embarrassed her own shape as it started to develop, the boob, waist and hip size she had no power over! Please don’t worry too much your little girl is 6 let her enjoy the magic there is plenty of time yet to mould and empower her. I understand what you’re saying about Disney but I do believe the world is a better place with a little magic in it even if it’s disney.

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  3. I feel like, as parents, our only hope of defending against the worst effects of this stuff is to engage with it. Frozen, for instance is actually a huge leap forward for a Disney property. It subverts many of the most toxic tropes of the genre – the handsome Prince turns out to be a total tool and the “act of love” that saves the day is not one of romantic love, rather one of sisterly love. There are still shortcomings, but it marks progress. My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic and all of its spin-offs are actually the opposite of what you describe. The series and movies pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours (as would Frozen) and the focus is on recognising strength in differences, teamwork and friendship. It can be hard to identify the more positive stuff at first glance. The only way to identify the non-toxic stuff is to taste it all.

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    1. Whether or not the plot of Frozen is a fraction less mind-numbing and saccharine than the last Disney film isn’t the point. It’s the appearance of the female characters that disturbs me – believe me I have had more than one glance at them. The ponies too – why the needless eye make-up and weird smiles? They look nothing like ponies!
      The images of the Frozen girls have immense power – they are printed on clothes, toys, eating implements, pencils, etc. etc. and shoved in front of children constantly, (made in sweat shops by the way – https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/dec/04/the-grim-truth-of-chinese-factories-producing-the-wests-christmas-toys).
      It’s as if Anna and Elsa are dictators for little girls: they are everywhere; you just can’t get away from those big, shiny, mascara-laden eyes.
      And why engage with them, when there are so many good films to watch, and books.

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  4. So much of your post resonates with me.
    I have two young daughters and we have done a lot to provide an alternative to Disney Princesses and the like. Initially we just didn’t expose them to it and were very selective about their toys and clothes etc (hard when half the family are actively encouraging the opposite…) but as they have got older it is harder and neither do I want to make them feel bad about what they are interested in by criticizing it. I agree that most of their interest in wearing a lot of pink satin has come from outside influences but how to counter that without denying them their enjoyment in dressing up as a Queen and prancing around the house, or woods or streets? I find it a never ending game of balance in deciding what I censor on the grounds of it being damaging and what I allow them to enjoy because they are separate beings entitled to their interests.
    What we try to do is limit anything Disney, strange toys with massive eyes and long lashes (my little ponies etc) and really encourage everything that counters all the gendered marketing BS. This way we have found some sort of balance.
    The greatest worry for me is the influence ‘princess culture’ has on their self confidence in the long term: That my daughters will want their faces and bodies to resemble those that they see represented on the ‘heroines’ popular culture presents them with. That the pressures to emulate what they are being told is ‘desirable’ will take up more space in their minds than their real interests and ambitions, the things that really bring them joy. This is where I feel at a loss, I have no idea how to instill the level of self confidence needed in them to overcome all of that and, as you say, it starts the day they’re born with a pair of ‘Little Mermaid’ socks… Please share any ideas you have! Great post, thanks!

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    1. I identify with your worries about the future, especially with the pressure of social media. Though maybe many girls are not too deeply affected in the long run. I guess having many different influences helps – watching good films and reading. Sometimes I show my daughter YouTube videos of other kinds of women she could be like – Eliza Carthy playing the violin. I tend to expose and make fun of popular heroines – explain air brushing; point out that Anna and Elsa look a bit like ants. But that doesn’t stop my daughter from wanting all the fun that she imagines other kids have, or wanting to join in. I don’t really know if you can protect them from it completely. I don’t think I always succeed. Thanks for reading my post.

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      1. Yes to all that. Eliza Carthy is great! After thinking longer on your post I remembered the obvious too, which I’d forgotten; that our influence in how we relate to our bodies is important too. Do, we as mothers obsessively count calories in front of our children, refuse to swim in the sea because we feel too thin/ fat / pale / hairy etc? I don’t think we should feel any shame if we do but I try to challenge these things in myself. I hope that by my own attempts to fight a culture that tells me my body and face should be a certain way (even on the days I feel self conscious) will be an example to offer a balance to everything else. Me and all the other real life role models they have; aunties, my female friends… I have really enjoyed reading your other two posts too. You’re writing is great and message much needed.

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  5. The Paper Bag Princess by a Canadian, Robert Munsch is an excellent foil to Disney Princess stories. Published in 1980 it is every bit as important today. My children of both genders loved it

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    1. That book is very good; thanks I’d forgotten about it, please send more book suggestions! Maybe I could write one entitled ‘Anna and Elsa Put on Trousers and go for a Walk in the Woods’… ‘I tell you something Elsa it feels good to be out of that painful corset; I can’t believe I went on that long journey wearing it! What a silly way to behave!’

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