Year: 2020 | Volume: 1 | Issue: 1 | Page No.: 1-7
Recieved: April 30, 2020 Accepted: May 09, 2020 Published: May 19, 2020
Gender Stereotypes in Walter Elias Disney’s Animated Film “Sleeping Beauty”
Muhammad Asadullah and Naila Nisar
The study investigated gender stereotype towards women in Walter Elias Disney’s animated film “Sleeping Beauty”. The study is delimited to the character of the princess Aurora. The researcher took a long review to complete this study. The said movie was seen and all the acts showing stereotypes against women in general and especially against Princess Aurora were analyzed to make inferences. On the basis of the analysis of the film, it was found that the writer and the producer presented women as weak, shy, delicate, dependent indecisive and incompetent. They had to rely on their male counter parts for their petty matters. The fairies failed to protect the princess. Similarly, portrayal of Aurora depicts that she was passive who even appeared in the beginning and at the end of the film. She was finally rescued by the princes instead of fairies, her male counterpart. This depicts that women are dependent of men and they need their support in every problem of life. In view of the findings of the study, the researcher offered recommendations and directions for further research.
Sleeping Beauty, Gender Stereotype, Princess Aurora, Prince Philip, Fairies
TO CITE THIS ARTICLE
Muhammad Asadullah and Naila Nisar
2020. Gender Stereotypes in Walter Elias Disney’s Animated Film “Sleeping Beauty”. Journal of Social Science, Education and Humanities, 1: 1-7
The inception of photography and filmography brought the women in the spotlights. Literary works depict how women are influenced by the way they are portrayed in films and photos and how this portrayal of women is stereotyped. An unending debate over this stereotypical attitude can be seen in studies and at media. Animated films form a special genre in which the protagonists vary from animals and fantasy figures to human figures. Yet, animated films form no exception when it comes to stereotyping the human figures. This stereotype can be seen wide spread in Walt Disney’s films. His film Sleeping Beauty depicts the stereotype of a passive woman waiting for her Prince Charming.
The current study was aimed at investigating the treatment of female characters in Walter Disney’s animated film “Sleeping Beauty”. The researcher presented a detailed background of the study followed by statement of the problem understudy. Later, objectives of the study, research questions, significance and delimitations of the study were enumerated. After this, a detailed review of the literature was made followed by describing the methodology adopted undertake the investigation. Narrative analysis of the data was made and conclusions were drawn from this analysis. On the basis of conclusions, recommendations were given offered and directions for further research were offered.
Walter Elias Disney (1901-1966) was an American artist, film maker, creator of children cartoon series Mickey Mouse and founder of Disney Land. He was born and raised in Illinois, Chicago in Irish-Germino American family of five children. His major interests during his adulthood include drawings and photography. At the age of 16, he also worked with Red Cross during world war-I as ambulance driver to satisfy his passion of serving armed forces. Here, his ambulance reflected his passion for drawings and cartons as he painted both at it. After returning from the war mission, he started his career as cartoonist and devised a method for combining live action and animation. Later, he established a film company, Disney Productions with his brother with an immense amount of $750. Later, they entered Hollywood and produced world’s first synchronized sound cartoon Steamboat Willie in November 1928. Introduction of Tehnicolor is also his huge achievement. After this achievement, he started endless his drive to the art of animation. He produced Silly Symphonies, Flowers and Trees, The Old Mill, Snow White, Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dambo and Bambi, The Three Caballeros, Song of South, Beauty and the Beast, White Wilderness, The Lion King, Lion and Stitch, Inside Out, Toy Story, The African Lion, The Living Desert, Cinderella, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Sleeping Beauty and lots of many others . Walt created Disney Land in 1955 and Walt Disney World in Florida in 1965 to improve the urban life in America. He established California Institute of Arts in 1961 to promote performing and creative arts. All his work is considered as mean of happiness and joy for the every segment of the society including children, adults and mature people.
Walt produced animated movies for children and adults as well. Major themes of his fiction work include childhood, power hunger, importance of family, family structure, selfless love, beauty, romance, feminism, gender discrimination, connection between sadness and happiness, over protection, racial profiling, career planning, religion, political authority and many more .
Walt’s famous animated film Sleeping Beauty was produced and released in 1959 by Walt Disney Productions which is last animation based on fairy tales of Walt Disney. It is the first widescreen film shot Super Technirama 70. The film emphasizes human characters and realistic display of death, sadness and longing are rendered in the film . The film covered broader themes of true love, importance of family, dreams and visions, feminism, animate the inanimate and human interaction at unfamiliar geographies.
The plot of the film clearly depicts that concept of gender and feminism is wider spread throughout the film. Although, female characters in the films have been portrayed skillfully, yet there exists clear sexist and gender stereotypical attitude of the writer and producer towards women . The film has been studied from different literary perspectives; however stereotypical attitude towards women or treatment of women characters in the film lacked the attention of the researchers. Thus, it is imperative to investigate the treatment of women characters in the film lacked the attention of the researchers .
The above discussion clearly depicts that Walt’s film Sleeping Beauty, which is enriched with literary aspects. It offers broader spectrum of researchable areas which need the attentions of the researchers and critics to explore these areas.
Walter’s film Sleeping Beauty offers wider array of researchable domains which include themes of true love, importance of family, dreams and visions, feminism, animate the inanimate and human interaction at unfamiliar geographies. However, treatment of female characters in the film lacked the attention of the critics and researchers. Thus, there exists a deficit in this literary domain of the film. To bridge this gap, the researcher investigated the treatment of women characters in Disney’s film Sleeping Beauty.
Although the Walter’s film Sleeping Beauty offers wider array of researchable domains, however the major objective of the study was to study the treatment of women characters in the film. The researcher investigated the answer of “How female characters were treated in Walter Disney’s film Sleeping Beauty?”
The study may have significance for feminist theorists, critics, future researchers and common readers. The findings of the study may be beneficial for feminist theorists interested in studying gender roles and attitude towards women in the society. It may also open new frontiers for literary critics to discuss different attitudes towards women. Similarly, the study may set new directions for future researchers interested in studying and investigating the feminist and gender perspectives of Disney’s animated movies. The study may also be beneficial for common readers who are interested in literary work on gender and feminism. The study may add new knowledge in the existing body of knowledge as well.
Although there are five female characters in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, however, the current study only made a gender based analysis of Princess Aurora.
Walter’s film Sleeping Beauty offers wider array of researchable domains which include themes of true love, importance of family, dreams and visions, feminism, animate the inanimate. However, the theme of gender and feminism is predominantly presented in the movie. The male are presented as strong, decision makers and brave warriors as is the case with Princes. They are true depiction of masculinity and manly vigor. However, women have been presented physically weak, shy and dependent on one hand. On the other hand, they are presented as evil step mothers and witches. Even, the fairies including Merryweather are weak enough that they failed to protect the princess. Similarly, inability of all the fairies in making arrangement of Aurora’s birthday in the forest depicts the inability of women as portrayed by the writer and author. They even failed to make arrangements of princess’s birthday cake . These roles played by these female characters depict the mindset of the writer and producer of the film. They both are biased towards women. On the other hand, role of both the kings in betrothing of princess and prince is quite patriarchal. They have the discretion to make decisions like marriages of their daughters at their own instead of inquiring them about their consent. Further, the role of prince in awakening the princess from deep sleep by a True Kiss also depicts that women are dependent of their men for their social affairs. The fairies failed to rescue the princess from touching the spinning wheel and lying faint for hundred years. This shows that women are naturally weak and incompetent enough to protect their own selves from the evil. They also failed to fulfill their responsibility of protecting the princess . However, the film also offers a positive connotation of virtue and evil. The virtue or goodness has been presented through the beautiful character of princess Aurora while evil has been depicted through Maleficent who was a witch. This shows that beauty is the symbol of virtue and goodness (Aurora) and ugliness is the symbol of evil as depicted through the character of Maleficent.
Thus, it is quite clear that Walt Disney’s animated movie offers wide spread references of gender biasness of writer and producer to the women. This also suggests that this may not be the philosophy of writers and producer. Instead it may be their intension to highlight the attitude of society towards women and how women show their behavior towards their own gender (as Maleficent did to Aurora).
1.1. Plot Construction
Princess Aurora, whose name was after the name of goddess of dawn, filled the lives of her father and mother sunshine. "She was the fiancée of her age fellow prince Philip from her infancy. The reason behind their marriage was the union of both powerful kingdom from the marriage of Aurora and Philip. Good fairies Flora (who was dressed in red), Fauna (in green), Merryweather (in blue) arrived to give her blessing at her Christening. She was given the gift of beauty by Flora, and that gift was described by a song as "gold of sunshine in her hair" and "lips that shame the red, red rose." She was also bestowed the gift of song by Fauna. At that point, self-proclaimed "mistress of all evil" the film's villain, Maleficent appeared on the screen. She was not invited on the christening of Aurora so she claimed to be upset and announced curse on her. She cursed the princess that when she pricked her finger on spinning wheel's spindle before the sunset she would die on her sixteen birthday. By a good luck, Aurora was not blessed by the Merryweather. So, Maleficent’s curse was changed by her blessings. It was changed that when Aurora pricked a flower she would not die but sleep. She also further added that the only way to awaken the princess was the TRUE LOVE'S KISS. They all know that Maleficent was so powerful and she would try to fulfill her curse at any cost. So, it was decided by the good fairies to take Aurora with them in the woods to keep her save from any harm until she turned into sixteen and curse can be removed. Even for her further safety, her name was changed as Briar Rose from Aurora so that they could conceal her real identity.
She was turned into a beautiful, impressive woman with beautiful nightingale like voice, violet eyes, rose like lips and golden hairs. Three good fairies raised her in a wood cottage and they were known by her as aunts. One day, she sang for her animal friends while picking berries; Prince Philip was attracted by her beautiful angelic voice. In a handsome young man he turned in to and at that moment he was out for riding. They immediately fall in love with each other when they met. Aurora got away from Philip realizing that she had to return home. She even did not learn his name. They even promised to meet again. It was a time when her aunts decided to reveal the truth of her birth to her. She came to know about her engagement with a prince named as Philip even she was taken back to her parents.
On returning of Philip, his father came to know about his meeting with a peasant girl. In spite of his childhood engagement and prearranged marriage with Aurora prince wished to marry with that peasant girl. King Hubert failed to convinced price to marry with Princess Aurora instead of peasant girl.
Aurora and the good fairies returned to the castle. By bad luck, Aurora was lured by the Maleficent who used her magic to take her away from her room up to a tallest tower of the castle, where a spinning wheel awaited her. Fascinated by the wheel, spindle was touched by her, prickled her finger as was already foretold cursed. Under the sleeping spell, she fell asleep. Aurora was placed on her bed by good fairies. She was caused by a deep sleep with a red rose in her hand and the entire kingdom was fall over with her until they can find a way to break the curse. Philip was the answer realized by them. But to waked up her and prevent him from kissing Aurora, Prince was kidnapped by the Maleficent. The three good fairies explained the story of Maleficent's curse in front of prince Philip by sneaking into Maleficent liar and aided the Prince in escaping. Philip battled with Maleficent armed with magical sword and shield. Suddenly the witch turned herself into a fire breathing dragon. Philp killed her by flinging the sword and plunging it into the dragon's heart. Then the curse was removed by a kiss when Philip entered into Aurora's chamber.
At the end of the film, in the ballroom both Royal families arrived. Reunion was made between Aurora and her parents. Then Philip and Aurora danced with each other and came to know about their truth of childhood engagement and also came to know the reality that their beloved was one and the same.
2. GENDER STEREOTYPE AGAINST WOMEN IN SLEEPING BEAUTY
A deeper investigation of the Disney’s film Sleeping Beauty depicts that women are passive creatures having no will of their own. They writer and the producer made a blatant and passive portrayal of them who are just waiting for fate and life to happen to them. A critic Joyce Carol Oates argues that in Sleeping Beauty of Disney, to be “female” is to be without volition, identity. The protagonist of the film “Aurora” has no wish of her own and she remains passive throughout the film waiting for the prince to come and change her fate by kissing her. This depicts that approach of writer women are treated in the society. The figure below shows the treatment of women characters in the film “Sleeping Beauty”.
Figure 1. depicts that almost every film of Disney Company was male dominated and female characters were almost subalterns who have no voice of their own. They just have to obey the male counter parts. The film, “Sleeping Beauty” is full of such gender based stereotypes. Princess had to obey her father to get married with Philip as she was betrothed to him. She has been portrayed weak and impotent enough that she needed a man to awake her from sleep by a deep kiss of her lips. This portrayal of women depicts that they can do nothing at their own and they are always dependent on their male counter parts in every walk of life. Critics have been criticizing Walt Disney for such a portrayal of females in his animated movies. Similarly, the very scene of Love Kiss is sexually explicit which is also gender biased and stereotypical depiction of women in the society. They are considered as sex partners instead of human beings and active participants of the society. This clearly shows how women are treated in every society of the world. They face patriarchal oppression, gender based biasness and exploitation of all type. The movies also depicts that they are weak, incompetent, shy, dreamy, timid and delicate.
A content analysis was done on the Sleeping Beauty by watching the movie from DVD and by reading the scripts of the film to search for themes regarding stereotypes of gender. This theme was formed by texts and/or images whereby the focus was on the female characters of the animation.
The analysis of the examined film includes the recognition of specific traits in the behavior of the princess Aurora. These traits were accompanied by one or more examples in order to establish its legitimacy.
Disney’s modern princess movies (men often speak more than women). The films from the 90's were particularly male-dominated
Source: Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer
In the analysis, the found traits were shown in italic and were accompanied with an (m) for male stereotypes, (f) for female stereotypes. The results of the analysis per princess were compared and interpreted.
4. DATA ANALYSIS
For the actual research, the gender stereotype was analyzed by the sleeping beauty. In the proceeding section Briar Rose the textual analysis of the selected film was made.
Dornröschen (Grimm & Grimm 225-229) was a fairy tale and Disney's film was based on it. Seventeenth century French version named as Charles Perraults La belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods) was the topic on which fairy tale based. A long wished prince was born in the story of brothers of Grimm and caused the royal family to give a big party. Only twelve out of thirteen fairies in the state were invited because of the lack of golden plates. At the party, qualities like beauty and goodness were blessed by the invited fairies. But unfortunately, the princess was casted by the spell by not invited wrathful fairy who was full of anger and spoil the whole party. The curse was that princess was lead to death by prickling the finger in to the needle of the spinning wheel. One fairy left to bless the poor girl after the angry fairy had gone. Death was replaced by the sleep as the blessed fairy was unable to remove the death and undo the speel. All spinning wheels were banned by the king in the kingdom but all proved worthless. An old lady was found spinning the wheel in one of the towers of the castle by the princess at the age of fifteen. So the princess fall asleep and the king and the entire kingdom as well. The king's castle was made inaccessible by the big hedge of thrones until a prince managed to reach the princess. Princess and all the people in the castle waked up when price kissed her. So at the end of the story, both got married and lived happily after that.
Disney changed the fairy tale of brothers Grimm in too many ways. One of the examples was Snow White. Virile innocence of male power was celebrated by the Grimm's text so Zipes further stated it as Disney Americanized Grimm text. It was further stated by him that story of growing princess in the woods under the three good fairies was not the part of the Dornröschen. Again he claims that Coppens was also supported when we found Aurora completely cut off from the family. So the claim that Disney princess often live alone in awkward situation proved to be true (60-61). Aurora's situation was as similar to the Snow White who lived alone at a remote place with the dwarfs.
Fairy godmothers gifted Aurora a lot of features. Therefore she was affectionate (f) towards the animals. Like Snow White, who proved dreamy, she dreamed of a prince who sweeps her away depicting that she is dreamy (f). She acted shy (f) and timid (f) when she met the prince first time in the woods. But the difference between Snow White and princess was that was not shy like Snow White who runs away by seeing the prince. Aurora proved confident (m) when she actually met with the prince and promised him to see him gain on that night. Aurora was attractive (f), charming (f) and feminine (f) so the Prince Philp moved towards her by these features. Aurora showed submissive (f), weak (f) and timid (f) in the scene right after her encounter with prince when fairies told her about the fact that she was a prince and had to move to the palace right now. She did not want to skip the date with the price and did not want to go. But she did nothing except weeping. So she proved weak (f). Curiosity (f) was another female trait that she possessed. Spinning the wheel at the tower was the proof of it. Hypnotized was the point that was given in favor of her. She again proved submissive by spinning the wheel. It showed that without any question she followed the command of an old lady and prickled her finger into the wheel .
Aurora was put to sleep by magic and a True Kiss was the only way to save her. It was similar like the Snow White story. Like Snow White she falls in love with prince at first sight. The idea that when Mr. Righ came in the life of any woman, then she can live happily even with only one encounter with that man was delivered by the Disney. The message seems that women cannot be happy on their own; they need a man to take care of them. They are incompetent and impotent that they need the support of their male counter parts as in case Sleeping Beauty, the prince comes to awake the princess from hundred years of sleep by kissing her at the lips. As Fredericks asserts that females in the movie Sleeping Beauty played the traditional role of house wives and homemaker instead of revolutionist and society builders . Further, Garabedian argues that sexual orientations of women children movies like Sleeping Beauty are quite unethical as they may adversely affect the moralities of children and may cause disrespect for women from the children . Thus, this also depicts the traditional portrayal of women in the society.
Although Disney’s princesses films are based on fairytales or legends and are often created stories instead of realistic tales, however, critics argue that these films portray various stereotypes which can be seen wide spread. Her princesses are skinny with light skin tone having a tiny waist, big eyes, and long straight hair. Critics suggest that bodies of Disney’s princesses are out of proportion. Her princesses like Aurora move like elegant ballerinas. Because of this uniformity of appearance, Disney is criticized for not bringing diversity in female characters. He even did not introduce the non-white princesses until the 1990s.
The analysis of the film depicts that Aurora is typical passive girl who has no will of her own. Disney is criticized for showing her passive as she remains faint throughout the film. Similarly, she is truly a delicate girl having all the womanly features including innocence, passive, trusting on others, blonde, obedient and dependent. She is passive enough that she speaks only 18 lines throughout the film. Similarly, she is portrayed weak enough that she fall asleep only by tough the spinning wheel and no other can awake her but the prince which shows that women are dependent of the men and can hardly do anything for their own safety .
Theme of love which is accompanied by an arrange marriage shows that women have no discretion over their life decisions like the marriage. She was betrothed with Prince Philip during her infancy. Although it was matter of fate that they fall in love with each other, however, originally the decision was quite patriarchal leaving no room for Aurora to take the important decision of her life .
Stereotypical attitude towards women can also be seen wide spread in the novel. Aurora has feminine traits, with an occasional characteristic that is considered as a masculine trait. These traits make her dependent, passive and inefficient. This portrayal of princess shows biased attitude of writer and producer of the film towards women. It also reflect the mindset of the society at that time which held the belief that women were subjugated objects having no will of their own.
Similarly, Aurora was the victim of patriarchy as she was betrothed to prince even when both were infants. This depicts that she was like a subaltern who had no voice of her own and her life decisions were made by her parents. She was used as tool to strengthen the relationship between the two states which would be merged in future.
Similarly, Aurora also faced stereotypical attitude of writer and producer of the film as she was given not much time for screen. She appears very little on the screen throughout the film and we can find only 18 conversations of her.
Since the introduction of women in photography and film making, they have been spotlighted and stereotypes which is exposed to the spectators through these artistic works. Although Disney’s animations are based on animated humans’ characters, however these are not free from stereotypes which include gender, race, ethnicity and color. Among all, gender based stereotypes are wide spread in his films. Female sexuality has also been portrayed in the films of Disney Production.
As the study was aimed at examining the how female characters especially Aurora was treated in the Disney’s movie Sleeping Beauty, the analysis revealed that Walter made a gender stereotypical portrayal of the women in the film. The analysis film also shows that stereotypical portrayal of women was made 70 years ago but it is still persistent. Women are even today portrayed as more feminine. However, the only changed that occurred in Disney Production’s animations is that their princesses became more diversified and belong to different ethnic orientations. However, the analysis depicted that the role women play is still unchanged and they are still living under the influence of their male counter parts.
Although, Walt Disney Company has given space to colored princesses, however the film Sleeping Beauty shows the racism as no black female was presented as heroine. Instead the evil is depicted in black dress which is racial stereotype, a symbol of curse and evil.
After a detailed analysis of the movies, it can arguably be concluded that all the female characters and especially Princess Aurora is a shy girl with all the feminine features. Aurora is dreamy, meek, shy, delicate and beautiful and unrealistic. She is incapable of living her life independently and has to spend 16 years with the fairies. She is impotent enough that she needs the support of her male counter parts to be awakened from the deep sleep of one hundred years. Although both the princess and prince fell in love with each other, the decision of Aurora’s parents about her marriage also shows the patriarchy and male dominancy which have been presented throughout the film. She has been supposed to obey her parents regarding their decision about her marriage. Even, they did not bother to seek her opinion, as she was a subaltern who had no voice of her own and had no control over her life decisions. The analysis of the film also revealed that females were incompetent and indecisive. Good fairies in the film failed to protect the princess on her 16th birthday. They also failed to make arrangements for her birthday celebration which depicts their inability and lack of administrative skills.
Following were the major limitations of the study:
|•||The study fall short of making analysis of only one film Sleeping Beauty. It would have been better to make comparison of female characters in two or more films of Disney from feminist perspective|
|•||To make the findings of the study more specific, only one female Aurora was selected as subject of the study. Researchers may make analysis of other female characters as well|
|•||As the study was novel in nature, literature on this subject was very limited, thus the researcher herself made the analysis of the female characters in the film. Thus, the matter of objectivity of the analysis may arise as the researcher’s analysis was solely subjective analysis|
|•||The study was limited to making the analysis of gender stereotypes in Walt Disney’s film Sleeping Beauty; it shortened the scope of the study. It would have been better to expand the study over racial and ethnic stereotypes|
In view of the findings of the study, following is recommended:
|•||The study made only the gender based analysis of the film. Future studies may analyze ethnical and racial stereotypes found in the film|
|•||Similarly, the study was delimited to make gender based analysis of one female character of the film i.e. Princess Aurora. Future researchers may investigate the gender based analysis of other female characters of the film|
|•||Further, the study made analysis of gendering in Disney’s film “Sleeping Beauty”. It would be of great interest for future researchers to make comparison of gender stereotypes in different Disney’s films|
|•||Concept of feminism can be seen wide spread in the film “Sleeping Beauty”. Future researchers may study feminism in the film|
|There is growing debate over the use of sexuality i.e. Kiss of Prince for Princess. It is argued that such acts may not be suitable for children. Thus, future studies may investigate sexuality in Disney’s film Sleeping Beauty and other animations as well|
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