Twenty-somethings feel nostalgia about few things more strongly than Disney movies. But while we may have fond memories of these films, it's undeniable that many fall short of even the most basic feminist standards. This is especially true when it comes to the ways in which these films perpetuate gender roles, as YouTuber Laci Green revealed in the latest episode of her MTV show Braless.
Studies show that media exposure can shape one's identity and understanding of the world, which means it's important to question what messages the media — especially that which targets children — sends. Gender roles, according to Green, are "forced upon people straight from the womb" (and have been shown to actually harm children's mental and physical health). They not only limit individuals from realizing their true selves, but also encourage submissive women and dominant men — the perfect conditions for gender inequality.
An additional problem, according to Green, is that when this issue comes up for discussion, the conversation usually focuses on women. While women certainly face unique forms of oppression based on these roles, men undeniably do as well. Green uses "Disney Princes" to illustrate this. According to Disney, "real" men are expected to be:
First, Green notes that Disney promotes a rigid male physical standard that expects men to be "big, tall, muscular and white." She names Hercules, Gaston, Tarzan, John Smith and a host of other "princes" as perpetuating this standard.
According to Disney, men who don't fit this standard are seen as subservient, says Green. In order to prove their manliness, men are encouraged to fight each other, perpetuating a stereotype of violent masculinity.
Men are also expected to be "emotionally unwavering, unquestioning in the face of danger, knowing exactly what to do and when to do it or risk looking like a fool." We often focus on the damsel in distress, Green says, but the flip side of that coin — being the knight in shining armor (think: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White's princes) — is also limiting.
Disney also portrays men as "completely dopey and incompetent when it comes to taking care of themselves," Green says. While we've seen push back against depictions of women as domestic, we largely haven't pushed back on the implication of this role — that is, that men can't take care of themselves.
The experiences of homosexual and bisexual men are completely erased in exchange for a narrow understanding of men as perpetually pursuing women. This ultimately suggests to boys that they should be "active romantic pursuers," while women should "sit around and wait for guys to make the first move." Disney should encourage any individual, regardless of gender, to as Green says, "make your own destiny."
Media images matter, and Green has seen these dynamics play out in her own life. "Most of the guys that I've dated have told me that they have trouble crying, even when they're really upset and need some emotional release," she told Mic. "I think this is a reflection of deeply internalized shame that we instill in boys and men if they appear weak (and by extension, if they're too 'girly')."
Ultimately, Green says, we need to start a conversation and learn to embrace traits not stereotypically associated with our gender. "We all possess feminine and masculine traits (regardless of gender) and they're equally valuable," she told Mic. "Don't let yourself be held back by shame or embarrassment because something is 'a girl thing' or 'a boy thing.' Do what you want to do and and be who you want to be, regardless of your gender or sex!"
Watch the full video below, and check out more episodes of Braless on YouTube.