Behind the Fair Facade

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“Behind the Fair Façade”
Representations of Femininity in Three Walt Disney Animated Features

Bachelor Thesis
Bethany Schouten, 3278972
Media en Cultuurwetenschappen
Genderstudies

Supervisor:
Domitilla Olivieri
May 31st, 2011

“Behind the Fair Façade”
Representations of Femininity in Three Walt Disney Animated Features

Bachelor thesis by Bethany Schouten, 3278972

Index
Introduction3

Methodological and theoretical Framework 4

Corpus9

The Research: SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS 11

The Research: THE LITTLE MERMAID18

The Research: THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG24

Findings and Interpretation31

Identity Formation35

Conclusion38

Literature 41

Media43
Introduction
The Walt Disney Company’s cultural products have been a great influence on popular culture since the 1930s and an inspiration for generations all over the world ever since. For many, including myself, the Princes, Princesses and fantastical creatures of Disney’s animated fairy tales have become symbols of their youth. Seeing the films gives rise to a feeling of nostalgia, they become a memento of one’s childhood world. But what kind of world is this? What kind of realities do Disney’s fantastical representations construct? In my thesis, I will analyze a specific element of Disney films: gender roles constructed through the representation of femininity in their animated features. I will study how this representation changes over time: has Disney’s highly criticized construction of gender roles changed over time, and if so, what realities do contemporary Disney discourses construct? I propose to research how femininity is represented in Walt Disney‘s animated features, how this representation changes over time and what kind of effects this has on the identity formation of young girls. According to Judith Lorber, the institution of gender relies in part on what she refers to as gender imagery: “the cultural representations of gender and embodiment of gender in symbolic language and artistic productions that reproduce and legitimate gender statuses” (Lorber in Baker-Sperry and Grauerholz, 2003: 711). Walt Disney’s animated features which emphasize such things as women’s passivity and beauty, are indeed gendered scripts and serve to legitimatize and support the dominant gender system (Baker-Sperry and Grauerholz, 2003: 711). In my study I will focus on the representation of femininity and how this influences young girls. Accordingly, I will analyze the feminine beauty ideal. The feminine beauty ideal is that which enforces that “the socially constructed notion that physical attractiveness is one of women’s most important assets, and something all women should strive to achieve and maintain” (Baker-Sperry and Grauerholz, 2003: 711). This ideal is an important focus of my study. The feminine ideal is viewed by many as an oppressive patriarchal practice which objectifies and devalues women, there are however women/girls who ‘willingly’ engage in this while claiming not to feel oppressed, but empowered (Baker-Sperry and Grauerholz, 2003: 711-712). Furthermore, I will look at what other kinds of femininity are presented. What other forms of femininity are offered to those who do not fit into the so-called feminine ideal? This analysis of some of Walt Disney’s animated features can provide insights into the relationship between gender, power and culture while drawing on the cultural and social significance of beauty to women’s lives (Baker-Sperry and Grauerholz, 2003: 712).

Methodological and theoretical Framework
Representation
Crucial to the methodological and theoretical framework of this research is an understanding of representation as a construction of reality. Walt Disney animated features do not present a copy of the real world, they are a construction of one. Accordingly, ideas about femininity, masculinity,...
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