In the latest issue of Gender & Society, readers are given new insight as to the damaging impact of Disney films on young minds.
The assumption the authors work off of is that children’s movies are devoid of sexual content, though they want to point out that Disney films “depict a rich and pervasive heterosexual landscape.” The meaning of this, in brief, is that kids watching these movies are taught that heterosexuality is the norm (which would be a true story) and that homosexuality is unwanted and unnatural (a reductive leap in logic).
If the going statistic is that ninety percent of the population is heterosexual, is it a huge crime for media to reflect that statistic? If you are gearing your product to far more than a majority of the population, do you really need to be charged with not meeting the needs of a small minority?
Let’s try this: I have just as good a chance of seeing anthropomorphized animals in a Disney film as I am seeing heterosexual love. Does anyone grow up to believe that anthropomorphized animals are the standard in the animal kingdom?
Why? Because there exists a great big real world outside of media.
Yes, media have influences on minds small and large, but they are not the only defining influences on our lives.
In a recent study, psychologists have proven not only a child’s ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, but that our extended dependent childhood allows for greater time spent on the imagination, which has a payoff when we reach adulthood (this comes in the form of innovation and problem solving). Anthropomorphized animals are not the only fantasy elements in Disney movies. Fairy godmothers float from the sky, animals become people, people become animated inanimate objects, and evil stepmothers cast spells. Even more so, when was the last time you saw an honest to God castle, complete with kings, queens, princesses, and princes anywhere in America? Anyone? Bueller?
So why should we expect that children will acknowledge so much fantasy and then draw a line at sexuality? And not just any sexuality, but magic-induced, royalty-heavy heterosexual love? Especially when those kinds of relationships don’t present themselves anywhere in a child’s actual life?
Give the kids some credit.
(Happens every day to me.)
In the late fall of 1991, I was eight, and my dad took my seven-year-old sister and me to see Beauty and the Beast in the movie theater (my seven months’ pregnant mother stayed home and had some quiet time). We were (and are) a big Disney family, my dad especially. At that point, I didn’t have a particular favorite; my sister had been a concrete-firm fan of Cinderella (both the cartoon and the Lesley Ann Warren version) since she was in preschool.
(I want to go to there.)
Beauty and the Beast was the biggest, best shout-out to nerd girl children everywhere. I loved it. (Still love it.) What I took from the movie then, and still carry with me today, are two things. First, whoever plans on wooing me better offer up a sweet library. (Or, in grown-up terms, the person who really loves you will see you for who you are and not try to change that about you, no matter how much society might beg to differ.) Second, the loudest, scariest, gruffest people usually are hiding something broken inside. (Yes, that’s Psych 101, but it comes in handy quite often.)
Those aren’t terrible lessons to learn, and I’d be hard-pressed to believe that I’m the only child who walked out of that movie with that knowledge.
Just because an institution is successful and plays to the largest market share does not make it inherently evil. Does that mean we shouldn’t question it? No. (See depictions of female beauty in Disney movies for an argument as to why Disney isn’t always spectacular.)
A lesson from intro to fiction workshops everywhere: no one is entirely evil, no one is entirely good. It’s worth applying that lesson elsewhere.