Disney as a Socialization Agent

After examining a great number of Disney films, it has become readily apparent that Disney is a vastly powerful socialization agent, not only in how negative and persistent its messages are, but also in how it operates within society.  Out of the movies that I analyzed, only five featured characters of color, but each of them were problematic in its own way. The representations of race within these Disney films are worth discussing because they shape how children view their world.   Disney plays such a huge role in the lives of children (especially in the lives of girls), that constant exposure to some of these racist and sexist sentiments socialize them to internalize some of these ideas.

The prevalence of Disney in children’s media is outstanding. Just in the few times that I’ve visited my parents, my baby siblings have been consuming either the Disney channel, a Disney movie, playing with Disney toys, or reading a Disney book.  Educating children about these racist and sexist ideas would be a logical way to counteract these messages, but children are exposed to these messages at such a young age that this socialization is almost an inevitability if exposure goes unmediated.

However, that doesn’t mean that education isn’t an answer for children that grow old enough to comprehend concepts like racism and sexism.  Considering how much television children consume on a daily basis, viewing media through an analytical lens, as well as through social justice lenses with respect to racism and sexism, is an absolute necessity and something that parents need to consider when exposing their children to any film or television show.

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Media Literacy 101

 

This is a video post I’m sharing of Melissa Fabello, an editor of Everyday Feminism, a website dedicated to activism and education. Here she shares the importance of critically thinking about the media we consume, and how we feel after we consume it.

She jokes about how we probably don’t want to be “that friend.” The one that is constantly criticizing media for its lack of diversity in all forms (women, people of color, fat people and thin people, etc). But the reality is, we should all be that friend. We should all work to maintain media literacy.

That’s what I’ve strived for in my criticism of Disney the past few months. I’ve wanted to work on my own media literacy while educating others.

What we consume as a culture and society shapes us as individuals. What we show our children shapes them as adults. We need to educate ourselves and want something better for ourselves.

As Melissa says in the video above, all media is owned by 6 corporations. And those 6 corporations are run by straight, white men. If all of our media and stories are coming from that slim demographic, we really need to think about the stereotypes and misinformation we are consuming when we watch television or read magazines.

What I want for my children, and what I’m sure a lot of people want for their children, is to lead happy and healthy lives. I want them to love themselves and the people around them. I want them to enjoy their world and the media. I don’t want them to grow up hating themselves. So, let’s all work on media literacy.

You can find a post on educating children on media literacy here.

The Purpose of this Blog

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The purpose of this blog is to examine the different roles women play in children’s media – primarily in Disney films. Many criticisms of Disney exist in regards to representation of race and women. While I plan on exploring both of those topics on my own, I will also reflect on my childhood and how growing up in the so-called “Disney Renaissance” affected my perceptions and expectations of the world. As a white girl, I had no shortage of princesses to identify with. Belle and Ariel were two favorites of mine until Rapunzel came along in 2010 (in all honesty, however, my ALL TIME favorite Disney movie growing up was the Lion King).

 I can’t help but wonder, however, who did little girls of other races have to identify with? Mulan, maybe Jasmine, maybe Esmeralda. But the pickings are slim and representations of their races are problematic for reasons I will get into later. We would be kidding ourselves to think that girls of color do not watch and subsequently are not influenced by Disney films.

So, how are women of color represented in Disney? How are they different from the white women? They act differently, dress differently, and almost seem to operate in a separate dimension than white women. For example, why is Mulan a soldier in full armor on screen, but only marketed to parents and girls in her kimono? Why is Jasmine dressed so scantily compared to the other princesses (not to mention how inappropriate her outfit is for an Arabic princess)? Why does Tiana spend the majority of The Princess and the Frog as a frog instead of as the black woman she is? In addition, I want to explore women of color’s erasure in Disney films. Why was there a charismatic chameleon but no women of color in Tangled? Why was there a talking snow man  in Frozen but not a single woman of color in that film, either?

I will be re-watching Disney movies and investigating such dilemmas. I will be working with a feminist lens with which I am going to employ my knowledge of intersectionality within feminism. I will also be stressing the importance of presenting images to children they can identify with.