Heterosexuality in Disney Relationships: Elsa & Anna & Honz & Kristof

Understanding and discussing Heterosexual relationships of the chosen Disney characters is a key argument for the extended essay. There will be one of these posts for each chosen character(Cinderella , Jasmine , Elsa & Anna), which will anayle gender roles of the characters and who the princesses interact with their male ocupants.

  1. The Pretty Princess Mandate

Frozen offers an opportunity to explore the narrowness of the Pretty Princess Mandate because Elsa and Anna’s appearances are remarkably similar. Their eyes are incredibly large (larger than their wrists) and their noses are incredibly small. Their waists are diminutive, too, which in children’s media and toys is always a cause of concern due to the implications for girls’ body images. (The princesses’ waists are smaller than their heads and only about as wide as their hands are long.)

In contrast, the male lead characters, Hans and Kristoff, are substantially larger—a gross exaggeration of the relatively small average physical differences between real men and women. The underlying message of this dimorphism is that female bodies are most desirable when they take up as little space as possible, while men’s bodies are most valued when they are expansive—a message that can promote self-consciousness and body image issues.

With children ages 4 and 5, parents can address these issues by co-viewing the movie and talking back to the screen, modeling critical viewing. Your child will listen to what you say. Consider making comments such as the following:

  • “Anna and Elsa look very similar to one another. Their eyes are very, very big and their noses are very, very small. They are pretty, but there are lots of ways people can be pretty! Sometimes sisters look very different from each other, and that’s okay. Everyone is pretty in their own way.”
  • When Anna tells Hans, “I’m awkward! You’re gorgeous,” and Hans takes Anna’s hand, you can briefly pause the movie to point this out: “Look—in this scene, you can see that Anna’s eyes are larger than her wrists. Do you see it, too? That’s so strange! Nobody has eyes larger than their wrists. I don’t like it when the people who make movies make girls’ bodies so unrealistic. It’s not healthy for girls—sometimes it makes girls think their bodies aren’t good enough, even though they are fine the way they are. That really bothers me.”

Make it real: After viewing, you could pull out some albums of family photos, old and new. Explore them with your child, paying special attention to the differences and similarities between siblings in your own extended family. How similar or different do sisters look in comparison to one another? What about brothers?

With children ages 6 to 8, you can make these points while co-viewing, but later—perhaps over dinner or while in the car running errands—you can expand upon these ideas and work towards a dialogue, and introduce new ideas into the mix, too. Try something along these lines:

  • “I noticed that Elsa and Anna look really similar to the other Disney Princesses, especially Rapunzel. They all have the same huge eyes and tiny noses, and tiny waists and wrists. Girls and women have many more body types than the Disney Princesses do. When Disney only shows girls who look a certain way as princesses, how do you think that makes girls feel who don’t have that same look?”

Make it real: If your child owns Frozen dolls for both male and female characters, you may be able to use them to show your child how extreme Disney’s gender dimorphism can be. When I first unpackaged the Disney Store fashion doll versions of Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff, I was shocked at the Kristoff doll’s heft and decided to weigh each doll on my kitchen scale. The results:

  • Elsa: 4 3/8 oz
  • Anna: 4 5/8 oz
  • Kristoff: 11 oz

In other words, Elsa and Anna are so wispy and slight in build, and Kristoff is so bulky and thick, that the two sisters together weigh less than Kristoff.

If your family owns these toys or similar ones, you might say: “I noticed when we were playing that your Kristoff doll feels much heavier than the Anna and Elsa dolls. It really surprised me. What if we do an experiment with the kitchen scale to see exactly what the difference is between these toys?”

If your results are similar to mine, you could say: “Wow, it is so strange that the two princess dolls combined don’t weigh as much as the Kristoff doll! That isn’t right—it doesn’t take two mommies to equal the size of one daddy. Men and women don’t have bodies that are that different from one another. It’s silly to think that women should be that much tinier than men. Remember, everybody’s body is fine the way it is—and except at the doctor’s office, the number on the scale doesn’t matter.”

  1. The Gender Stereotypes

As modern Disney Princesses, Elsa and Anna defy several stereotypes regarding feminine behavior. They are active, not passive. Although Elsa is often anxious, she is authoritative and speaks plainly to Anna during moments of conflict. Elsa also has real power and decision-making authority once she becomes Queen, as indicated by the Duke of Weselton’s eagerness to discuss matters of trade with her.

On the other hand, in the first part of the film, men are portrayed as the ones who wield power and have voices worthy of attention. For example, the King of Arendelle and Grand Pabbie together decide on the course of Elsa and Anna’s futures. Meanwhile, the Queen of Arendelle hardly speaks: The King has twelve lines of dialogue, Pabbie has seven, and the Queen speaks only two brief lines: “Anna!” and “She’s ice cold.”

Subsequently, the course of action the King elects is decisive, but it is clearly ineffective. It is not in their best interest to be isolated from others and from one another; in fact, as the film plays out, this decision proves to have been psychologically damaging.

With children ages 4 and 5, if you wish to address these gendered representations of authority and power while co-viewing, be as specific as possible. Here are some examples:

  • “In the opening scene, the ice harvesters sing that ice’s magic is stronger than a hundred men. That makes it sound like only men are strong. But I know women are strong, too!”
  • “The King and the troll, Grand Pabbie, are doing all the talking in this scene. I wish the girls’ mommy, the Queen, talked more in this part of the movie. I bet she would have had some good ideas about how to help Elsa with her ice powers! Shutting the girls away didn’t help them at all.”
  • “It’s so brave of Anna to go find her sister. I like the way she takes charge and lets other people know that she will handle things with Elsa. Did you know that as the youngest of the two sisters, she is second in line to the throne? That means she has real power and authority in the kingdom, and if anything happened to Elsa, she would become Queen, herself. It’s great to see her take charge and be such a good leader.”

With children ages 6 to 8, you can raise these points while co-viewing, but you could also connect some dots in a later conversation. For example:

  • “In the beginning of Frozen, I noticed that the men like the King and Grand Pabbie have all the power. But what’s interesting is that later in the movie, Elsa becomes Queen, and now she doesn’t just have snow and ice power—she has real political power to make decisions for other people, too. For example when the Duke of Weselton mentions that Weselton is Arendelle’s trading partner, do you know what that means? It means that Weselton and Arendelle do business together. They sell each other the things that they make, and the Queen has an important role to play in that process. That is just one of the ways in which being Queen of a country is a big job—now once she is Queen, Elsa has real work to do to as the leader of Arendelle.”

Make it real: In the middle part of the song “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” Anna speaks to a painting of an armored Joan of Arc riding into battle (“Hang in there, Joan!”). Joan of Arc is an interesting, complex, and brave historic role model for girls. You could point the painting in Frozen out to your child and then tell her more about Joan—referencing either online sources or an illustrated book such as Diane Stanley’s Joan of Arc. Also noteworthy for parents seeking to broaden their daughters’ princess toy collections: The Papo toy line sells a small Joan of Arc action figure (wearing a suit of armor, as in the Arendelle portrait gallery) and horse.

  1. The Romance Narrative

All of Walt Disney Studios’ previous princess-themed films were romance stories, first and foremost, in which young women are in search of a romantic “Happily Ever After”—sometimes after falling in love at first sight. In contrast, Frozen is the first Walt Disney Studios film to argue against love at first sight.

With children ages 4 to 5, offer concrete points of agreement and criticism so that they know where you stand. For example:

  • When characters such as Elsa and Kristoff warn Anna against marrying someone she just met, you can state your agreement and support by saying, “That’s right! You shouldn’t marry someone you just met. It’s important to really get to know another person first.”
  • When Anna sings about how she dreams she’ll find romance, you might comment, “It’s too bad she’s focused on finding romance right away! She is so lonely, it would be healthier if she focused on finding new friends.”
  • At the end of the film, when Kristoff asks Anna if it’s okay for him to kiss her, you could say: “Wow, it’s really good that Kristoff asks Anna if it’s okay to kiss. He is showing his respect for her. They are still getting to know one another, and that was a healthy question for him to ask.”

With children ages 6 to 8, or perhaps younger depending on the child, feel free to make these same observations while co-viewing, but plan a conversation about healthy relationships of various types later on, when you’re not in front of the screen. Some talking points:

  • “At the beginning of Frozen, little Anna begs Elsa to do the magic, because she thinks her big sister is amazing. I think a lot of girls think their sisters (or brothers) are amazing, even though they don’t have magic powers! It’s nice to see a movie that focuses on sisters learning to get along. Too many movies make it seem like a girl’s main goal should be finding a boyfriend, or a prince, but other relationships are also really important—just like Merida’s relationship with her mother in Brave.
  • “I think it’s really interesting that in Frozen, Elsa’s mantra—‘Conceal, don’t feel’—actually makes matters worse. When her father taught her that, he meant well, but it was really bad advice. It’s actually important for us all to be in touch with our feelings and pay attention to how we react to the problems we face in life. If you are ever in a situation or a relationship with someone who is making you upset, or uncomfortable, or sad, please don’t ignore it or try to hold it in. We can talk about it together. I want you to know that you can always tell me about your feelings.”

Hains, R. (2014) The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years  Napperville, USA: Sourcebooks Inc.

Cited on Hains, R. website Hains, R.   (Date Unkown) Frozen (2013): A parent-child discussion guide


Heterosexuality in Disney Relationships: Cinderella & Prince Charming

Understanding and discussing Heterosexual relationships of the chosen Disney characters is a key argument for the extended essay. There will be one of these posts for each chosen character(Cinderella , Jasmine , Elsa & Anna), which will anayle gender roles of the characters and who the princesses interact with their male ocupants.

  1. The Pretty Princess Mandate

Cinderella is very focused on the heroine’s beauty, although there are other admirable things about her, such as her kindness. You can help children see these other admirable qualities about Cinderella, which may not be obvious to them at first.

With children ages 4 and 5, co-view the movie and talk back to the screen to model critical viewing. Your child will listen to what you say. Consider comments such as the following:

  • “It would be hard to get to know someone well enough to want to marry them from just one dance!”

You can also ask some questions that are simple but go beyond yes and no answers:

  • “What do you think the prince liked about Cinderella? What made him notice her?”
  • “How else might the Prince and Cinderella have gotten to really know each other?”

With children ages 6 to 8, you can make these points while co-viewing, but later—perhaps over dinner or while in the car running errands—you can expand upon them and work towards a dialogue. Remembering to avoid yes/no questions, try something along these lines:

“In falling in love with Cinderella, the prince seems to be reacting to her appearance. But besides being pretty, what are the things that you think make Cinderella special as a person? What are some ways that the Prince could have learned these things about her?” Give your child time to respond to this question; listen carefully to what she says and respond accordingly.

You might add, “What do you think about the idea of falling in love with someone at first sight? Do you think that’s how most people find someone to love?” Listen to your child’s response and acknowledge her perspective.

Notice that the Pretty Princess Mandate does not apply to the stepsisters. In fact, they are not only mean; it is pointed out that they are ugly. This depiction of female goodness being equated with beauty is found time and again in older Disney films, and it’s very important to point this out to your children. You might say something like,

“Did you notice how they call the step-sisters both mean and ugly? Do those things always go together?” Take this chance to help your child think through this idea, asking them, “What if the step-sisters had been mean but more beautiful than Cinderella? Would that have changed the story?”

Take this chance to talk about how being physically beautiful is not linked to being a person with a beautiful heart or kind behavior. Point out other media characters they are familiar with who don’t fit this stereotype. You might even think of someone in your own life who doesn’t fit the conventional ideal of beauty, but provides a lot of love and kindness to your child.

Make it real: Talk about how healthy relationships develop, focusing on how getting to know one another as friends before becoming romantically involved. Who in your social or family circle might have a story that you could share? Consider sharing the story of how you and your partner met and decided to get married, or that of an aunt and uncle or of family friends.

  1. The Gender Stereotypes

As an older Disney Princess, Cinderella fits into stereotypes regarding feminine behavior. She is mostly depicted as a passive damsel in distress, waiting for others to help her. She does tend to help those in need, though, such as the mice and farm animals. Point this out to your children and prompt them to think through her behaviors in relation to what you and your family value.

With children ages 4 and 5, point out Cinderella’s passive and active behavior as it happens on screen. Be as specific as possible. Here are some examples:

  • “Cinderella really looks out for others who are in need, just like how she helped Gus.”
  • “Cinderella doesn’t seem to know how to help herself so that she can go to the ball.”
  • “Cinderella seems to be waiting for other people to make her dreams come true, instead of figuring out how to make them come true herself.”

With children ages 6 to 8, you can bring these things up as they happen, but you could also connect these dots in a later conversation. Try something like this:

“When we watched Cinderella, I noticed things that I really liked about the way she acts, like the way she takes of others. But I also noticed things that I didn’t like so much, like the way she waits for someone else to save her.”

You might then ask your child, “What do you think about the idea of waiting for someone else to save or help you?” Listen to his/her thoughts and then say, “Are there times when it’s better or easier to ask for help? How could you do that in a way that still gives you some control?” “What about helping others, can you think of a time when you helped someone else when they needed it? Did they ask for help or did you just see that they needed it?”

Make it real: Cinderella can be a great chance to explore the concept of giving and receiving help. Help your child consider how to best ask for and give help, role playing some specific examples of situations that might come up in their daily life, such as reporting bullying behavior at school or helping someone with a problem in class or on the playground.

Hains, R. (2014) The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years  Napperville, USA: Sourcebooks Inc.

Cited on Hains, R. website Shewmaker, J, W, Ph.D.  (Date Unkown) Cinderella (1950): A parent-child discussion guide

Heterosexual Relationships in Disney: Jasmine and Aladdin

Understanding and discussing Heterosexual relationships of the chosen Disney characters is a key argument for the extended essay. There will be one of these posts for each chosen character(Cinderella , Jasmine , Elsa & Anna), which will anayle gender roles of the characters and who the princesses interact with their male ocupants.

  1. The Pretty Princess Mandate:

The characterization of Princess Jasmine in Aladdin provides an opportunity to discuss and critique the use of beauty as a means to an end. Though her intelligence and quick-thinking is highlighted throughout the film, the message that Jasmine can use her looks to persuade other characters to do what she wants is pervasive. You can help your children think about other ways they can persuade people and get others to hear their point of view.

With children ages 4 and 5, you might say:

  • “I like that Jasmine is wearing pants, but I don’t like that the rest of her outfit shows that much skin. I think it is too revealing.”
  • “The clothes Jasmine wears in the marketplace are more realistic of how women would dress in public during the time the story takes place. Why is she dressed so differently when dressing like a “normal” person?”
  • “Jasmine is really smart and has a good sense of humor, but Aladdin seems to focus a lot on her looks. He should give her more credit.”
  • “See how Jasmine pretends to like Jafar to distract him from noticing Aladdin? She doesn’t seem to like it though—how else could she distract him?”

With children ages 6 to 8, you might comment:

“When we were watching Aladdin this afternoon, I noticed that Jasmine has a lot of great qualities—she’s smart, funny, and athletic—but she also uses her looks to get what she wants from Aladdin, Jafar and the Sultan. What do you think about that? What are other ways you can get what you want?” Give your child time to respond to this question; listen carefully to what she says and respond accordingly.

“I noticed that Jasmine’s clothes are very revealing and show a lot of her skin. Do you think that’s okay? Why or why not? What do you think Jasmine’s outfit says to girls and boys about how women should dress?”

Make it real: Consider discussing different ways people can be beautiful, not just in physical appearance. Who do you know who has a beautiful heart, beautiful laugh or beautiful mind? Take the conversation a step further and discuss how we are taught what is “beautiful” by the media as well. Look through magazines with your child and ask her what the pictures tell us about what it means to be beautiful. Do the real women in real life look like the people in the magazines? If they don’t, does that mean they’re not beautiful?

  1. The Gender Stereotypes

Jasmine is portrayed as a very intelligent, quick-thinking young woman who rebels against her father in order to stand up for what she believes in. This is fairly atypical of the “princess” stereotype and Jasmine takes an active role in helping to save the day with Aladdin. Take the time to point out Jasmine’s positive qualities to reinforce to your child that these are traits you like and think are important to have.

With children ages 4 and 5, remark on her positive characteristics and voice your questions and opinions out loud. Part of teaching children how to critically think about what they’re consuming is to ask questions yourself, even those you don’t know the answers to.

  • “Jasmine is very brave for standing up to her father for what she believes in. I like that she speaks her mind and makes sure that she is heard.”
  • “Jasmine is such a quick thinker! Did you see how she caught on when Aladdin came to help her in the marketplace and then pretended to be crazy to stay out of trouble?”
  • “Wow Jasmine is really athletic! Did you see how she leapt over the alley without any help? She doesn’t want Aladdin to treat her differently; I like that about her.”
  • “The Sultan only mentions Jasmine’s mother once in the whole movie. I wonder what happened to her? What do you think?”

With children ages 6 to 8, try to help them ask their own questions about the film. Have them reflect on the characters and have them practice imagining the background of the characters to better understand what motivated them to make certain choices.

  • “I really like how Jasmine stood up for herself in the movie. Where do you think she learned how to do that?”
  • “Before Jasmine ran away, she had spent her whole life behind the palace walls. What do you think her life looked like before she made the decision to leave? Who did she spend time with? What did she do?”
  • “Being honest is really important to Jasmine. If you found out a friend had lied to you, what would you do? Why?”
  • “Even though Aladdin pretends to be really confident to impress Jasmine, underneath he seems unsure of himself. What would make it hard to show someone how you really feel or tell them what you really think?”

Make it real: Find other strong female role models from history, or check out the library for other books that feature real-life princesses. Talk about what qualities and characteristics make those women special and unique and strong. Help your child make an “About Me” book that highlights all of her special qualities and characteristics.

  1. The Romance Narrative and Healthy Relationships

In general, the Disney princess films follow a fairly predictable story line: boy meets girl, they fall in love, they live happily ever after. But how real is that story line? What does that teach our children about how relationships form and develop in real life? Consider having a conversation about healthy relationships, both romantic and not.

With children ages 4 and 5, critique the romance story and remark on how quickly they seem to fall in love. Take time to point out the positive aspects of the relationships portrayed but don’t be afraid to douse the fantasy story with a bit of reality.

  • “I like that Jasmine talks about her feelings with her father. It’s important to be honest with the people you love.”
  • “Aladdin took Jasmine on a pretty amazing first date, but that wouldn’t be enough for me to fall in love with him and decide to get married! It’s important to get to know someone first before you decide to commit to each other like that.”
  • “The Genie, Carpet and Abu are all trying to tell Aladdin to be honest with Jasmine and tell him to be himself. Instead of listening, he gets mad and tells them to leave him alone. Aladdin isn’t being a very good friend to them.”

With children ages 6 to 8, use this opporutunity to hear their thoughts and feelings about honesty, trust and relationships. Try something along these lines:

  • “Jasmine stands up for what she believes in, even if it means disagreeing with her father. I like that they can be honest about their feelings with each other. That’s something I think is important for a healthy relationship. Can you think of a time when it was hard to tell someone how you felt but you did it anway?”
  • “Jasmine keeps giving Aladdin chances to tell her the truth about who he really is, but he keeps lying to her. How do you think that made Jasmine feel? Has someone ever lied to you? How did it make you feel?”
  • “Remember when Aladdin asks, ‘Do you trust me?’ to Jasmine? It made me wonder whether he has really earned her trust. He’s been lying to her about who he is. What do you think? How would you earn someone’s trust?”
  • “The Genie, Abu and the magic carpet try to encourage Aladdin to tell Jasmine the truth about who he really is, but Aladdin ignores them. Good friends always try to help you make good choices. What else makes a good friend?”

Make it real: Talk with your child about healthy relationships and the importance of trust, honesty, and communication. How does your family solve problems? Is it okay for children to disagree with their parents? Consider sharing a story of how you developed a friendship and what is important to you about that relationship. Share with your child qualities that you think are important in friends.

Hains, R. (2014) The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years  Napperville, USA: Sourcebooks Inc.

Cited on Hains, R. website Andberg, K. [LCSW] (1992) Aladdin : A parent-child discussion guide

How Fourth-Wave Feminism is Changing Disney’s Princesses

This article provides insight on what the extended essay is about as it packages my argument on the evolution of Disney female characters and their roles.

Click here to see the article



Ebersol, K. (2014) High Brow Magazine:

How Fourth-Wave Feminism is Changing Disney’s Princesses. Available at: http://www.highbrowmagazine.com/4388-how-fourth-wave-feminism-changing-disney-s-princesses#sthash.1Ajw1w2b.dpuf
(Accessed: 3o December 2o15)




This source is not focused on Disney however ‘Frozen’ is briefly mentioned in one of the paragraphs, which relates to one of the key arguments / discussions of the extended essay.

Disney’s Frozen (2013) in addition to frustrating the parent of every young child in the United States determined to sing “Let It Go” over and over again, was heralded as a new kind of Disney story. Rarther than retelling the typical girl yearning for her prince story, it ultimately focused on the love between two sisters, one forced into isolation for fear of her “power” to turn everything into ice. In Chapter 6 we discussed how the film has been read as telling a story of gay acceptance, as the story of Elsa and her secret certainly mirrors the coming-out narrative. Yet, the movie does more than this. It decenters the heterosexual love plot so central to Disney films. In this film it is not the romantic love between a man and a woman that saves the day, but the love between sisters Elsa and Anna.

Just as the feminist and civil rights movement influenced the way we think about gender and race, it is impossible to think that the GLBTQ rights movements would not have an effect on our understanding of heterosexuality. As scholars and students focus attention on representations of dominant groups in the media through whiteness and masculinity studies, they also study the construction of heterosexuality in the media. The intertwined relationship of homo- and heterosexuality, where each category requires the other to make any sense at all, neccessitates that change in one will bring change in the other.

Morrow, W, H. &   Battles, (2015) K. Sexual Identities and the Media: An Introduction:  711 Avenue, New York: Taylor & Francis


Images of Couples and Families in Disney Feature-Length Animated Films

How do children gain information about couples and families?

First and foremost, they learn by observing and participating in their own families. However, families do not exist in vacuums, and familial interactions are clearly not children’s only source of information about family relationships. Media are other sources from which children gain information about their world, including couples and families. As Drotner (2001) argued, “Young people use various forms of media to negotiate who they are and what the world is like” (p. 301). Children often make use of popular stories, myths, and fairy tales to make sense of themselves and their surroundings (Corsaro, 1997; 356 L. R. Tanner et al. Wolf & Heath, 1992). This may be particularly true for children who are not provided with sufficient information about how to cope with emotional and social needs. Gunter and McAleer (1997) found that these children look to fulfill these needs in alternative ways, including television. As such, these researchers suggest that television may have a more significant role in these children’s “schooling in life” (p. 21). Because media are sources of this social education for children, it is important for parents to actively participate in children’s consumption of media images. In order to do this effectively, parents need to learn what kinds of messages the media are transmitting, and how to discuss these messages with their children. Since parents may seek advice from family professionals in learning how to critically analyze and discuss media with their children, family therapists ideally need to be familiar with the social messages contained in children’s media and how these messages may inform family member’s understanding of themselves and their relationships. The Disney Corporation is a major contributor to most avenues of children’s media. To date, the Disney Corporation owns a major television network, cable television networks, and radio stations. Disney also develops children’s books, cartoons, movies, videos, computer software and games, as well as many other products designed for children’s use including backpacks, lunch boxes, and clothing. One of the more popular forms of Disney media is the feature-length animated film. Family relationships tend to be major themes in these movies. Indeed, family relationships are often central to the plot and story line, and films that present family members who are not central to the story are by far the exception in Disney animated films. Feature-length animated films are the oldest form of Disney media. As such, they are also some of the few forms of children’s media that can be shared intergenerationally. A strong potential exists that Disney feature-length animated films are a part of most children’s lives in the United States; therefore, media produced by Disney and in particular the animated film are an important starting place when considering the content of children’s media. Disney animated films have been the topic of recent research and analysis (Arcus, 1989; Beres, 1999; Beveridge, 1996; Dundes, 2001; Godding-Williams, 1995; Martin-Rodriguez, 2000; Palmer, 2000; Tseelon, 1995; Wiersma, 2001). Most research has examined one movie for specific issues; only three known studies examined more than one of the Disney animated movies (Arcus, 1989; Beveridge, 1996; Wiersma, 2001). Topics of research have included gender-related analysis (Beres, 1999; Dundes, 2001; Tseelon, 1995; Wiersma, 2001), cultural, racial, and ethnic analysis (Gooding-Williams, 1995; Martin-Rodriguez, 2000; Palmer, 2000), character illustrations (Arcus, 1989), and representations of mental illness (Beveridge, 1996). A significant amount of research on Disney animated films has examined the films in relation to gender images and themes. Wiersma (2001) sampled 16 movies and found that gender images contained in these movies have not changed dramatically since the release of Snow White in 1937. She Couples and Families in Disney Films 357 also found that images tend to be gender stereotyped. Dundes’s (2001) analysis of Pocahontas revealed similar findings, as she suggested that representations of women have not changed in recent movies, they have only become disguised. Beres (1999) not only found that gender stereotyped images are portrayed, but that men’s control over and abuse of women is romanticized. Analysis of The Little Mermaid revealed a tendency to oversimplify the original myth on which the movie was based and to exaggerate the idea of romantic love (Tseelon, 1995). This study is designed to identify the prominent themes about family relationships in Disney feature-length animated films. With this information, family therapists can help parents act as mediators, reinforcing themes parents agree with and presenting alternatives to themes they do not. The findings of this study also can help family therapists in working with children to better understand the kinds of messages children may potentially be using to make sense of their family and themselves. METHOD Sample A thematic analysis (Boyatzis, 1998) was performed on a selected group of 26 feature-length Disney animated movies. Using purposive sampling, movies were selected that are most commonly watched by children today, and are among the more popular or most watched movies among multiple generations of Disney viewers (see Table 1 for the movies analyzed). The movies were chosen based on their inclusion in the category of Disney Classics, as well as recent movies released in theaters not yet deemed classics. From this group, additional selection criteria were used including movies released in theaters for the first time after 1990; movies reissued to theaters more than once; and movies rated in the top 10 animated films, top 25 movies, or top 10 musicals in Disney’s “100 years of magic survey.” The movies selected represent those with either sustained or current popularity. The movies will be referenced by easily recognized one-word abbreviations. Data analysis was conducted in two phases. First, a template was developed in the form of codes, or questions, to organize the indexing of material (Crabtree & Miller, 1992; Seidel & Kelle, 1995). These codes were organized into three broad categories: families, parents, and couples. Within each of these broad categories were the following codes or questions: (a) Which persons are present within this category? For example, what persons comprise a family? (b) How is this category created? For example, how are families created? (c) How do persons relate to maintain the relationships in this category? (d) What is the nature of persons in this category? For example, what is the nature of specific family members? Relevant material was indexed into these codes. The movies were observed and detailed information was recorded that was relevant to each 358 L. R. Tanner et al. code, including interactions, statements, song lyrics, and character illustrations. The coders independently coded two movies in their entirety to ensure consistency in the indexing process. Few discrepancies were apparent, but those that emerged were discussed in order to reach agreement on the process of future indexing. The remaining 24 movies were divided between the two coders, each indexing 12 movies. In the second phase, we analyzed the indexed material inductively to develop themes for each code. This allowed us to derive meaning from the indexed material (Seidel & Kelle, 1995). Two coders completed both phases of the data analysis. After all of the movies were indexed, inductive analysis was used to identify common themes within each category. The two coders independently developed themes for each code. The coders discussed these themes with one another and a third member of the research team to develop overall themes. The third member of the research team had viewed all of the movies and served as a peer reviewer. While no formal inter-rater reliability was performed, this process allowed us to have confidence that the findings were consistent across members of the research team. Several strategies have been established to enhance validity and trustworthiness of qualitative research findings (Creswell, 1998). To ensure the TABLE 1. Disney Movies Coded with Release Dates Disney Movies Date Released Snow White & the 7 Dwarves 1937 Pinocchio 1940 Dumbo 1941 Bambi 1942 Cinderella 1950 Alice in Wonderland 1951 Peter Pan 1953 Lady & the Tramp 1955 Sleeping Beauty 1959 101 Dalmatians 1961 The Sword in the Stone 1963 The Jungle Book 1967 The Aristocats 1970 Robin Hood 1973 The Fox and the Hound 1981 The Little Mermaid 1989 The Rescuers Down Under 1990 Beauty and the Beast 1991 Aladdin 1992 The Lion King 1994 Pocahontas 1995 The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1996 Hercules 1997 Mulan 1998 Tarzan 1999 Emperor’s New Groove 2000 Couples and Families in Disney Films 359 integrity of qualitative research, Creswell (1998) advised investigators to utilize at least two of these strategies. We used four primary strategies: clarifying biases, peer review, creation of an audit trail, and performing counts. Prior to coding the movies, the coders clarified biases, perspectives, and orientations that we likely brought to our research. This process, commonly used by qualitative researchers, allows the researcher and consumer of research to be aware of the potential influence of their belief systems on the interpretation of findings. Both coders were graduate students in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Colorado State University. Both adhere to feminist principles in their academic and clinical work. In addition, both also have a strong interest in working with young children and their families, predominantly through the use of play therapy. Peer review was used throughout the coding process. The coders communicated periodically about the coding process and particular themes, and discussed the emergent findings with a third member of the research team who was familiar with the movies. An audit trail was developed so that themes can be traced back to discrete units of text. This process allowed for the re-examination of units of coded data to ensure that generated data categories have remained true to the movies. Additionally, after themes were developed, the coders analyzed the data to develop counts on the numbers of movies that depicted the theme. RESULTS The results are organized according to three broad categories (i.e., families, parents, and couples), with a section on each of the four specific questions, when relevant. Some of the movies contained little or no information relevant to the category or theme; in such cases, these movies will be mentioned. All percentages have been rounded. Families WHO COMPRISES A FAMILY? Two (7.7%) of the movies contained little information about family structure (Alice and Hunchback). “Traditional” family structures—mother, father, and biological children—were presented in 8 (30.8%) of the movies (Bambi, Peter, Lady, Sleeping, Dalmatians, Lion, Mulan, and Emperor). “Alternative” family structures were illustrated in 16 (61.5%) of the films (Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Cinderella, Stone, Jungle, Aristocats, Robin, Fox, Mermaid, Rescuers, Beauty, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Hercules, and Tarzan). Both traditional and alternative families were illustrated in 4 (15.4%) of the movies (Peter, Dalmatians, Jungle, and Hercules). Peter and Dalmatians put relatively more emphasis on nuclear families. In Jungle and Hercules, alternative family forms were relatively more emphasized. 360 L. R. Tanner et al. Of the 23 alternative families represented, 3 (13%) were stepfamilies (Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Aristocats), 10 (43.5%) were single parents (Pinocchio, Dumbo, Stone, Aristocats, Fox, Mermaid, Rescuers, Beauty, Aladdin, and Pocahontas), 7 (30.4%) were adoptive families (Pinocchio, Dalmatians, Stone, Jungle, Fox, Hercules, and Tarzan), and 3 (13%) depicted community as family (Peter, Robin, and Tarzan). None of the movies contained representations of same-gender parents Extended family members, defined as persons outside of the parents and children, also were depicted. Six (23%) of the films in the total sample included extended family members (Peter, Lady, Robin, Lion, Mulan, and Tarzan). Lady and Lion included only one biological extended family member (an aunt and an uncle). Several extended family members that were either biological extended family or community as extended family were included in the other four films. Mulan illustrated the first of these in that all those in her biological family, both dead and alive, were included in the film. On the other hand, Peter Pan, Robin Hood, and Tarzan depicted community as extended family. In Tarzan, the group of gorillas was considered to be one large extended family grouping. Furthermore, when Jane and her father decided to stay with the gorillas, they too became members of this extended family grouping. In Peter Pan, all of the “lost boys” considered themselves as family/brothers regardless of the fact that none of them were biologically related to one another. HOW ARE FAMILIES CREATED? Nine (34.6%) of the movies contained little information relevant to this theme (Pinocchio, Dumbo, Alice, Peter, Stone, Jungle, Aristocats, Hercules, and Emperor). In the remaining 17 movies, a predominant theme was that marriage and/or children were the expected course for couples—a theme illustrated in 14 (82.3%) of the movies (Dwarfs, Bambi, Cinderella, Lady, Sleeping, Dalmatians, Robin, Fox, Mermaid, Beauty, Aladdin, Lion, Pocahontas, and Mulan). Only two (11.8%) of 17 of the movies did not represent this expectation (Hunchback and Tarzan). Marriage/children as the expected course for couples was most often illustrated by the characters getting married shortly after meeting or falling in love (often in the very next scene), and at times having children soon afterward. In 101 Dalmatians, Pongo and Purdy (dogs), as well as Roger and Anita (humans), met in the park and the next scene portrayed their weddings. After the wedding, Pongo and Purdy immediately began having children. Similarly, during the last half of The Lion King, Simba and Nala fall in love, are assumed married, and by the end of the movie have a baby. HOW ARE FAMILIES MAINTAINED? WHAT IS THE NATURE OF FAMILIES? A predominant theme in 15 (57.7%) of the movies was that family relationships are a very high priority (Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, Peter, Lady, Dal- Couples and Families in Disney Films 361 matians, Aristocats, Robin, Beauty, Aladdin, Lion, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tarzan, and Emperor). This theme was often illustrated in the connections characters had to their families and the assistance they gave one another. For instance, after Bambi’s mother died, his father cared for him even though Bambi had never met him and had friends who would have cared for him. In addition, when all the animals were running from the fire, the parents were sure to gather all of their own children with them. In Aristocats, Madame left the majority of her fortune to the cats, and she spent most of her time and energy caring for them because she thought of them as her family. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle told the Beast to take her as prisoner in place of her father, illustrating that she believed her family came before herself. Furthermore, Gaston believed he could coerce Belle into marrying him by preventing the institutionalization of Belle’s father because he knew she did not want her father institutionalized. There do not appear to be any patterns across time for representations of families. Parents WHICH PARENTS ARE PRESENT? Two (7.7%) of the movies did not show either parent of the main character(s) (Alice and Hunchback). Eleven (42%) of the movies included representations of both parents (Bambi, Peter, Lady, Sleeping, Dalmatians, Jungle, Lion, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, and Emperor). In 36.4% of the movies representing both mothers and fathers, fathers were illustrated as marginalized from, while mothers were central, to the family unit (Bambi, Peter, Lady, and Tarzan). When Bambi was born, his mother presented him to all the forest animals while his father stood far off in the distance on the top of a mountain. Bambi’s father continued to be shown as a distant figure throughout the movie until Bambi’s mother was killed. Then, the father finally came down off the mountain and interacted with Bambi. In Tarzan, the father was physically present with the family on a daily basis and was present at the birth of his child; however, he rarely interacted with the children and behaved as a distant disciplinarian. Representations of only one parent were evident in 10 (38.5%) of the movies (Pinocchio, Dumbo, Stone, Aristocats, Fox, Mermaid, Rescuers, Beauty, Aladdin, and Pocahontas). Single parent families appeared early on in the Disney films (Pinocchio was the second movie released), and remained a consistent theme across time. Of the ten movies that presented single parents, 60% illustrated single fathers. Interestingly, the movies that showed single mothers tended to be older films; Dumbo and The Aristocats were released over 30 years ago, while The Fox and The Hound and The Rescuers Down Under were released over 10 years ago. Just over half (66.6%) of the movies with single fathers were released within the last 13 years (Mermaid, Beauty, Aladdin, and 362 L. R. Tanner et al. Pocahontas). Furthermore, during the seven years these movies were released (1989–1995), only one other Disney movie (Rescuers) was released that did not illustrate single fathers. HOW DOES ONE BECOME A PARENT? In most films, it was given or implied that children were born to parents. However, eight (30.8%) of the films presented images of people taking on parental roles for children to whom they were not biologically related (Pinocchio, Peter, Dalmatians, Stone, Jungle, Hunchback, Hercules, and Tarzan). Mothers who were not biologically related to their children were represented in 62.5% of these films, and 87.5% illustrated fathers in this way. As soon as Kala rescued and began caring for Tarzan, she considered herself to be his mother. In addition, even after Tarzan found out about his birth parents, he told Kala, “You will always be my mother.” By the end of the movie Kercheck accepted Tarzan as his son, and treated him as such when he asked Tarzan to lead in his place as he was dying. In 101 Dalmatians, Purdy and Pongo instantly became the parents of 84 stolen puppies because the puppies had no other place to go. Remarrying was also illustrated as people become parents, as three (11.5%) of the movies included stepparents (Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Aristocats). Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella presented stepmothers, while a stepfather was presented in Aristocats. Both stepmothers were depicted as the villain in the movies and were seen as uncaring toward their stepdaughters. Both were also jealous of their stepdaughters’ beauty. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the queen tried to kill Snow White because of her beauty. In Cinderella, the stepmother treated Cinderella as a slave and did not allow her to go to the ball because Cinderella was prettier than her own daughters. In Aristocrats the stepfather was presented in a more positive, but somewhat unrealistic light. The stepfather continually took care of Duchess and the kittens, however the speed with which O’Malley was welcomed into the family by the kittens as a father suggests that it is an easy task for stepfathers to become part of the existing family. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF MOTHERS? Eleven (42.3%) of the movies did not depict mothers. Three (20%) of the 15 movies that included mothers presented little information about the nature of mothers (Sleeping, Fox, and Hercules). In the remaining 12 films, two predominant themes emerged about the nature of mothers: mothers as primary caregivers, and mothers as protectors. Seven (58.3%) of the 12 movies presented mothers as primary caregivers (Peter, Lady, Jungle, Aristocats, Rescuers, Mulan, and Emperor) and 5 (41.7%) contained images of mothers as both caregivers and protectors (Dumbo, Bambi, Dalmatians, Lion, and Tarzan). Couples and Families in Disney Films 363 There were many representations of mothers as primary caregivers who are automatically attached to their children and provide them with unconditional love. This theme appeared consistently across time beginning with Dumbo in 1941 through the most recent of the movies, The Emperor’s New Groove in 2000. In Peter Pan, Wendy describes a mother as “someone who loves and cares for you.” In The Jungle Book, the theme of mothers as primary caregivers is seen when Bagheera states, “I knew there would be no problem with the mother, thanks to the maternal instinct” when talking about Mowgli’s wolf parents. Representations of mothers as protectors tended to be presented in earlier movies (Dumbo, Bambi, and Dalmatians) and emerged again more recently in The Lion King and Tarzan. In 101 Dalmatians, not only was Purdy active in the attempt to save her children, she also was aggressive toward the men who kidnapped them. Even though Bambi’s father was presented as the protector of the family, his mother was presented as responsible for his protection as well. Similarly in Tarzan, Kerchak was presented as the protector of the entire gorilla family; however, it was Kala who initially saved Tarzan from the tiger by physically fighting and getting away from him. Kala also protected Tarzan from Kerchak until Kerchak was more accepting of Tarzan. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF FATHERS? Nine (34.6%) of the movies did not depict fathers. Two (11.7%) of the 17 movies that depicted fathers included little information about the nature of fathers. In the remaining 15 films, three themes about the nature of fathers emerged: fathers as controlling, aggressive, protective disciplinarians, fathers as nurturing and affectionate, and fathers as self-sacrificing. Images of fathers as controlling, aggressive, protective disciplinarians that expect their children to earn their love rather than giving it unconditionally were illustrated in 8 (53.3%) of the 15 films (Bambi, Peter, Lady, Stone, Mermaid, Lion, Hunchback, and Tarzan). In Tarzan, Kercheck did not accept Tarzan into the family as his son until he had proved that he was worthy of Kercheck’s love. Furthermore, Kercheck was presented as the primary disciplinarian for all the gorilla children. In Lady and the Tramp, when Jim and Darling were training Lady, Darling wanted to let Lady sleep with them because Lady was whining. However, Jim insisted that they must be firm with her. This representation of fathers was not isolated to movies released during a particular time period. Seven (46.6%) of the 15 movies continually presented fathers as nurturing and affectionate parents that listened to their children (Pinocchio, Dalmatians, Jungle, Beauty, Aladdin, Mulan, and Emperor). In Beauty and the Beast, Belle’s father listened to her concerns about not fitting in and was supportive of her not wanting to marry Gaston. Throughout 101 Dalmatians, Pogo was very nurturing and involved with the puppies. 364 L. R. Tanner et al. Fathers were shown as self sacrificing in 8 (53.3%) of the 15 movies (Pinocchio, Dalmatians, Jungle, Mermaid, Beauty, Lion, Mulan, and Tarzan). These fathers often sacrificed themselves in attempts to save their children. Gepetto was swallowed by a whale while searching for Pinocchio; King Triton agreed to take Ariel’s place in Ursula’s “garden” in order to save her; Maurice risked his life in the forest in order to save Belle from the Beast; and Kercheck was killed while defending the gorillas from Clayton and his men. There did appear to be some patterns across time in how mothers and fathers were represented in the movies. Couples WHO COMPRISES A COUPLE? All couples shown in Disney movies were heterosexual. In Mulan, while Lee Shang thought Mulan was a man, they were only friends; however, the moment he discovered she was a woman, they fell in love. HOW ARE COUPLE RELATIONSHIPS CREATED? Overall, very little information about couples was presented in the films, and three (11.5%) of the movies did not provide any information (Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Peter). In the remaining 23 movies, the notion of love at first sight was a theme in 18 (78.3%) of the movies (Dwarfs, Bambi, Cinderella, Lady, Sleeping, Dalmatians, Stone, Jungle, Aristocats, Robin, Fox, Mermaid, Beauty, Aladdin, Lion, Pocahontas, Hunchback, and Hercules). For the most part, it took a matter of minutes for couples to fall in love. In Little Mermaid, Ariel fell in love with Eric at first sight, and he fell in love with her after only hearing her voice. In Pocahontas, John Smith and Pocahontas fell in love based on appearances, as they did not speak the same language. Lucky for them their love gave them the ability to overcome this language barrier as Mother Willow told Pocahontas to “listen with your heart and you will understand,” and she suddenly understood what John Smith was asking her. In Aristocats and Lion King, it took a little longer for the couples to fall in love—about a day. HOW ARE COUPLE RELATIONSHIPS MAINTAINED? Very little information was given to the viewer about how love and relationships are maintained in most of the movies. In the majority of the movies the couples fell in love, got married, and “lived happily ever after.” The idea that love is “easy” and requires no work is most clearly illustrated in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Snow White manages to fall in love while sleeping (it does not get much easier than that). Furthermore, when asked if it was hard to fall in love, Snow White replied, “It was easy.” Although Snow White is an older film, there has not been much change in this message in more recent movies. Couples and Families in Disney Films 365 Another common message was the notion that when a man and a woman meet, they almost always fall in love. In The Fox and the Hound, after Big Mama realized Vixey and Todd were about the same age, she got a big smile on her face and began to tell Vixey about how handsome Todd was. As soon as Vixey and Todd met, they fell in love. In contrast, 3 (13%) of the 23 movies had stronger messages about how falling in love takes time (Rescuers, Mulan, and Tarzan). In Mulan and Tarzan the main characters did not fall in love with each other until after they had gotten to know one another, which took the entire movie. Unlike Pocahontas, Tarzan and Jane had to work for several days to overcome their language barrier and get to know one another rather than having this happen instantly. In The Rescuers Down Under, this idea was more subtle than in Mulan and Tarzan; although the movie did not show the time that it took for Bianca and Bernard to fall in love, it was suggested that they had known each other for a very long time before Bernard proposed to Bianca. The idea that falling in love takes time appears to be a more recent development in animated movies; it was first introduced in 1990 with The Rescuers Down Under and developed into a stronger message in 1999 in Tarzan. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF COUPLE RELATIONSHIPS? When a film provided more information about how to make relationships work, it was often related to division of power or roles in relationships. Eight (34.8%) of the 23 movies illustrated couples with unequal power divisions in their relationships (Bambi, Cinderella, Alice, Lady, Beauty, Aladdin, Lion, and Mulan). Only Alice in Wonderland presented the female partner as having more power, as the Queen of Hearts had far more power than the King, and the King was portrayed as being very weak. In Lady and the Tramp, there appeared to be an unequal division of household labor, for example Darling prepared breakfast as Jim read the newspaper. In Mulan, a song lyric stated, “Men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient, who work fast paced.” Even though Mulan did not adhere to this expectation, the only other option presented was for her to fill a “male” role (soldier); thus, suggesting that there are no “female” alternatives in relationships. Three of the 23 movies (13%), 101 Dalmatians, The Rescuers Down Under, and Tarzan presented images in which the couples shared power in their relationships. The time span between release dates for these movies suggests that this has not been a strong theme in Disney animated films. The first of the three (Dalmatians) was not released until 1961. Then, there is an almost 30-year span between 101 Dalmatians and The Rescuers Down Under, and a nine-year span between The Rescuers Down Under and Tarzan. Throughout 101 Dalmatians, images of shared power between Pongo 366 L. R. Tanner et al. and Purdy were evident. They often were presented as a united parental team supporting one another in parental decisions. For example, when Purdy told the children to go to bed, they asked Pongo if they could stay up; he concurred with Purdy. When the puppies were stolen, Pongo did not declare that he would save them, but instead told Purdy, “It’s all up to us;” they both went to save the puppies. In the beginning of Tarzan, Jane was carried through the jungle by Tarzan. By the end of the movie however, she was keeping up with him as they skillfully maneuvered through the jungle side by side. Bianca and Barnard (Rescuers) both shared equal status in the Rescue Aid Society and were often shown making decisions together. Furthermore, no clear power differences were illustrated between the two throughout the movie. In The Emperor’s New Groove, both equality in a relationships as well as more traditional divisions of power for couples were apparent. Pacha appeared to take an active role in his children’s lives as they eagerly ran to him as soon as he arrived home. Furthermore, Pacha’s wife, Chicha, also was presented as a highly competent person as she was able to care for the family when Pacha was gone for extended periods of time. The couple also was shown discussing important matters that affected the family such as Pacha’s trip to see Kuzco. This equality, however, was not evident throughout the entire relationship. For instance, Pacha chose not to share important information, such as the fact that Kuzco planned to destroy their home with Chicha. Furthermore, Chicha never left the house and was always shown doing domestic duties, such as cleaning the house and caring for the children. In addition, her pregnancy was never directly commented on throughout the movie; in fact she did not have the baby by the end of the movie. This seems to suggest that being pregnant is what wives do, an image consistent with gender stereotypes related to couples. DISCUSSION The results of this study provide information for family therapists when working with children and their families. Considering that millions of people have purchased copies of Disney animated films in the United States, these films are likely to play a role in the development of children’s culture and may influence children’s and adult’s information about families. The following section will discuss four salient themes in the way in which Disney animated films represent couples and families: (1) family relationships are a strong priority, (2) families are diverse, but diversity is often simplified, (3) fathers are elevated, while mothers are marginalized, and (4) couples are represented based on traditional gender roles. Clinical implications of the findings of this study also will be provided for two types of Couples and Families in Disney Films 367 clinical situations: assisting parents in becoming mediators of their children’s media use, and using Disney movies as a means to integrate children into family therapy. Family Relationships are a Strong Priority Disney animated films contain strong messages about the importance of family relationships. The majority of families were presented as providing a caring and nurturing environment for family members. Family members were often shown making great sacrifices for one another, and putting their families’ well being before their own. The value that Disney animated films places on family is likely consistent with the values that most parents and family professionals want to instill in children. Therefore, this theme in Disney movies can be reinforced with children by parents and can be used by family therapists in working with families on strengthening family relationships. Families are Diverse, but Diversity is Often Simplified Another salient theme in the movies is that families are diverse. The movies portray a variety of family forms, including two-parent, single parent, and stepparent families. Several families created through adoption are depicted, and three films (Peter, Robin, and Tarzan) show a family being created through community. Having a variety of families portrayed in the animated films is beneficial for children in two ways. It presents children with images of families other than their own, helping children to realize that there are many family types they can belong to later in life. It also increases the likelihood that children will be able to see a representation of their own kind of family in at least some of the movies. Unfortunately, families with gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender members are not represented in the Disney animated film. Consequently, children in these families are not able to benefit from the variety of family forms presented in the same way other children can, in that they are not able to see a reflection of their family in any of the animated films. While diverse family forms are presented, it is unfortunate that some of the family forms were presented in an unrealistic or negative way. For example, in films depicting stepfamilies, all of the stepmothers are portrayed as evil and the stepfather is portrayed as good and caring. Also, in families where the biological parents are not in a relationship together, Disney films tend to simplify the relationships, which in the real world can be quite complex. For example, a film will only present one parent while very little explanation is provided for the absence of the other. These depictions do not provide good examples of both parents staying involved in their children’s lives in healthy productive ways after the divorce or break up of parents. 368 L. R. Tanner et al. Stepfamilies are often simplified in a similar manner; often only one or two parents are shown, when in reality these families often include four or more parents. This tendency to simplify complex family structures is problematic because repeated viewing of these films has the potential to influence children’s expectations about themselves and their own families. For example, if a child internalizes the Disney representation of divorced families only including one parent, the child’s fear of loss of a parent through divorce may be unnecessarily heightened as he/she may worry about never seeing one of his/her parents again after a divorce. Similar dynamics may occur if children internalize the Disney representation of remarriage of parents; for instance, they may assume that stepmothers often dislike and mistreat stepchildren. Fathers are Elevated, While Mothers are Marginalized Although not typical in the sample, there are several nurturing fathers depicted in Disney movies. In some ways, this treatment of fathers as involved with and nurturing of children appears to be a positive trend in the Disney animated family. However, close examination of this trend reveals that this development of fathers’ role has taken place at the expense of the mothers’ role. The majority of the films that present fathers as nurturing either have completely left out mothers with little or no explanation, or the films marginalize mothers from the story (Pinocchio, Jungle, Beauty, Aladdin, Mulan, and Emperor). Furthermore, between 1989 and 1995, only one of six Disney movies released had illustrations of mothers. This depiction of parents suggests that fathers are only required or able to be nurturing when a mother is not available to nurture the child. This is problematic when considering how this theme may influence boys’ and girls’ beliefs about the potential or expectation for fathers’ relationships with and responsibilities to children. Traditional Gender Representations of Couples In most Disney movies, couples are depicted in ways that are consistent with traditional gender stereotypes. The majority of couples fall in love at first sight and “live happily ever after.” These images encourage an expectation for relationships that is unrealistic, as couples do not tend to live happily ever after without effort from both partners. Images of love at first sight in the films encourage the belief that physical appearance is the most important thing when entering an intimate relationship. These representations of couples also tend to present the image that marriage and children are the ultimate goal in life for all people. Although on the surface this may seem like a harmless and even positive message, this can be problematic for people Couples and Families in Disney Films 369 who find that they do not want to have children and for people who choose not to or cannot marry for various reasons. In conjunction with many of the messages about families and parents presented in the animated films, girls appear to receive conflicted messages. On one hand, marriage and children are presented as the ultimate goal of life. On the other hand, women are often depicted in marginalized and powerless roles once married with children. Although these messages are beginning to change in some newer films, there are also current films that continue to perpetuate this unrealistic expectation for relationships. CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS Although the animated films, as a whole, present more images consistent with traditional gender stereotypes related to couples and families, there are many alternatives to these messages presented throughout several of the films. Because children’s existing knowledge influences the way children view media (Durkin, 1985; Van Evra, 1998), both couterstereotypic and stereotypic ideas about couples and families have the potential to be reinforced and learned through repetitive viewing of Disney films. Therapists working with parents and families can use the findings of this study to help coach parents in how to reinforce their values about couples and families with their children. The findings of this study can also provide therapists with relevant material when integrating children in family therapy. Helping Parents Serve as Mediators Two determining factors in how children make sense of media images are their existing knowledge base (Durkin, 1985; Gunter & McAleer, 1997; Van Evra, 1998) and parental mediation (Atkin, 1981). Therefore, it is important for therapists to coach parents in how to take an active role in their children’s viewing of media in general. Encouraging parents to first clarify their own values about particular issues or topics related to couples and families and gender expectations within both can be a helpful starting point for parents. Therapists may ask parents: “What are three of the most important values you want your children to learn about intimate relationships?” “Why are these values the most important?” “In addition to your own relationship, what kinds of relationships do you want your children to learn about?” For example, opposite-sex, two-parent families may want their children to learn about single-parent families and same-sex parent families. “Which of your values and beliefs about couples are not as important for your children learn?” “What are your beliefs about gender expectations in relationships?” “Do you feel that there are certain expectations for women and others for men?” Some parents may already be 370 L. R. Tanner et al. clear about their answers to these questions while others may not have clarified these questions for themselves. Once parents have a clear understanding of the values to which they want to expose their children, therapists can coach parents to reinforce media images that are consistent with their beliefs and mediate those that are not. It often will be important for therapists to teach parents what questions to ask their children. For example, parents might be encouraged to use difference questions like, “How would the story be different if Jasmine’s mom was included in the story?” “What would have happened if Cinderella and the Prince had more time at the ball to get to know one another?” Parents also can present alternative explanations for events in the film. For example, when Sleeping Beauty is riding sidesaddle while the Prince is leading the horse at the end of the movie, parents may suggest such alternative explanations as, “Look, she is teaching him how to ride the horse,” or “They must be taking turns riding the horse; when do you think his turn will be?” Parents also can encourage children to develop their own alternatives by asking, “Why do you think she is riding the horse and he is walking?” Using Disney Films to Incorporate Children in Family Therapy Therapists who have a greater understanding of the messages that inform children’s culture through popular stories, fairy tales, and movies can use this understanding to more effectively incorporate young children into family therapy. As Corsaro (1997) and Wolf and Heath (1992) argue, children use this kind of information to make meaning of themselves and their surroundings. Therapists can use the Disney animated films to illustrate common themes the family is struggling with or that represent the goals the family is working toward as a way to help them in therapy. Therapist can request that the family watch a particular movie or several movies together and talk about the ways in which they are similar and different than the families in the movies, as well as what aspects of these families they particularly like or do not like. Therapists also may ask the family to re-author the story together and individually in session. In re-authoring the Disney story, families are likely to metaphorically re-author their own family story and present their desired solutions to the family problem. These interventions can serve multiple functions for the family: (a) to encourage them to interact as a family unit toward their desired goal, (b) to be inclusive of all family members, (c) to teach parents how to play an active role in their children’s social learning through media, and (d) to enable the family to be proactive in dealing with their problems and talking about how they want their family to be. Two themes identified in the results section will be used to illustrate ways the Disney animated films can be used to incorporate children into family therapy. Couples and Families in Disney Films 371 Who Comprises a Family? For a family with young children that is attending therapy to deal with blended family difficulties, interventions using the Disney films may be particularly helpful. If the family is not familiar with any of the three movies that include stepparents, the family can watch one of them before the next session. The therapist can encourage the parents to ask the children some of the difference and alternative explanation questions listed in the previous section and to re-author the story. The therapist may want to ask individual family members to re-author the story and then ask the whole family to reauthor it together. For a family that is struggling with integrating a stepmother into the family, a child may re-author the story in a way that includes her mother and father, and presents the stepmother as nicer to the children. This intervention also may serve as a way for the family members to tell a story about what they think the problem is. For example, a child who views his stepparent as the problem may write them out of the story in their reauthoring. What Is The Nature of Fathers? Using the animated movies in family therapy also may be helpful when working with a father who has not been very involved in his child’s life and now wants to become more involved. The therapist can have the child list their favorite Disney animated movies and then ask, “What do you like about the dad in that movie?” “In what ways do you wish your dad could be like that dad?” The therapist may then ask the father, “What kind of dad did you want when you were your child’s age?” The therapist could then present a re-authoring of the movie where the father and child in the movie did not have contact for a long time and then ask, “How would this father go about interacting with the child and becoming part of the child’s life.” This intervention is likely to present the family with a picture of what each sees as the solution to their family problems as well as potentially what they see as the problem. LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS This is a descriptive study; it only reports common themes related to couples and families depicted in Disney movies. The design of this study does not allow us to determine what meanings children derive from these movies or the influence that these meanings have, if any, on their beliefs, values, and behaviors. It would be beneficial to conduct future research that interviewed children individually or in focus groups to determine the meaning they derive from these movies. Additionally, future research that determines the influence of media messages on children’s understanding of and behavior infamily relationships would be helpful. Research that examines the effectiveness of incorporating Disney movies into therapy with adults and children would provide a stronger base from which to design interventions.

Tanner, R., L., Haddock, S.,A., Zimmerman, T.,S., Lund, L.,K. (2003) Couples and Families in Disney Feature-Length Animated Films American Journal of Family Therapy, 31 (5) pp. 335 -373. Ebscohost [online]. Available at: DOI: 1080/01926180390223987

The Crisis in Women’s Identity

I discovered talking to Smith seniors in 1959, that the question is no less terrifying to girls today. Only they answer it now in a way that my generation found, after half a lifetime, not to be answered at all. These girls mostly seniors, were sitting in the living-room of the college house, having coffee. It was not too different from such an evening when I was a senior, expect that many of the girls were wore rings on their left hands. I asked the ones around me what they planned to be. The engaged ones spoke of weddings, apartments, getting a  job a secretary while husband finished school. The others, after a hostile science, gave vague answers about this job or that, graduate study, but no one had any real plans. A blonde with a pony tail asked me the next day if had believed the things they had said. ‘None of it was true’ she told me. ‘We don’t like to be asked what we want to do. None of us know. None of us even like to think about it. The ones who are going to be married are the lucky ones. They don’t have to think about it.’ But I noticed that night that many of the engaged girls, sitting silently around the fire while I asked the others about jobs, had also seemed angry about something. ‘They don’t want to think about not going on’ my pony-tailed informant said. ‘They know they’re not going to to use their education. They’ll be wives and mothers. You can say your going to keep reading and be interested in the community. But that’s not the same. You won’t really go on. It’s a disappointment to know you’re going to stop now, and not go on to use it’. In the counterpoint, I heard the words of a woman, fifteen years after she left college, a doctor’s wife, a mother of three, who said over coffee in her New England kitchen.

The feminine mystique permits, even encourages, women to ignore the question of their identity. The mystique says they can answer the question ‘Who am I?’ by saying ‘Tom’s wife…Mary’s mother’. But I don’t think the mystique would have such power over American women if they did not fear to face this terrifying blank which makes them unable to see themselves after twenty-one. The truth is – how long it has been true , I’m not sure, but it was true in my generation and it is true for girls growing up today – an American woman no longer has a private image to tell her who she is, or can be, or wants to be. The public image, in the magazines and television commercials, is designed to sell washing machines, cake mixes, deodorants, detergents, rejuvenating face-creams, hair tints. But power of that image, on which companies spend millions of dollars for television time and ad space, comes from this: American women no longer know who they are. They are sorely in need of a new image to help them find their identity.

Friedan,B. (2010) The Feminine Mystique London: Penguin

The Surgeon (doctor) Riddle

This old riddle I knew as a child has recently been used to demonstrate ongoing gender stereotypes determined by research Wapman, M. and Belle,D. (2014) cited in BU (Boston University) Today.

The riddle:

father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!”

How is that possible?

15 percent of the children and 14 percent of the BU students—came up with the mom’s-the-surgeon answer. Curiously, life experiences that might suggest the mom answer “had no association with how one performed on the riddle,” Wapman says. For example, the BU student cohort, where women outnumbered men two-to-one, typically had mothers who were employed or were doctors—“and yet they had so much difficulty with this riddle,” says Belle. Self-described feminists did better, she says, but even so, 78 percent did not say the surgeon was the mother. (The results were no different for an alternate version of the riddle: a mother is killed, her daughter sent to the hospital, and a nurse declines to attend to the patient because “that girl is my daughter”; few people guessed that the nurse might be the child’s father.)

Barlow, R. (2014) BU Research: A Riddle Reveals Depth of Gender Bias . Available at: http://www.bu.edu/today/2014/bu-research-riddle-reveals-the-depth-of-gender-bias/  (Accessed: 16 November 2014)

Jasmine’s Influence during the 90s

In 1992 Aladdin was released during the Third Wave of Feminism, where women were beginning to have the right to: freedom of speech, work , drive and even be involved in politics. Expectations for a “breakthrough” year for women had been high since the late 1970s; in fact, 1984 had been prematurely, advertised as the “Year of the Woman.” 

On election Tuesday 1992, American voters sent as many new women to Congress as were elected in any previous decade, beginning a decade of unparalleled gains for women in Congress. In November 2002, women attained another historic milestone when the House Democratic Caucus elected 15-year veteran Nancy Pelosi of California as Democratic Leader—making her the highest ranking woman in congressional history.

Political observers discussed the rise of a “gender gap,” predicting that 6 million more women than men would vote in the 1984 elections.30 When Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro of New York was chosen as the Democratic candidate for Vice President that year—the first woman to appear on a major party ticket—expectations soared for a strong turnout by women at the polls. Jan Meyers of Kansas, one of a group of women running for national office in 1984, credited Ferraro’s high profile with having “a very positive impact” on her campaign in suburban Kansas City for a House seat. Ferraro put women in the headlines, increased their credibility, and forced the Republican Party to focus on women voters, Meyers said shortly after winning a seat in Congress.31 Some expected women to vote as a bloc on the hot-button issues that were important to them—reproductive rights, economic equality, and health care; the emergence of a women’s voting bloc had been predicted since the passage of the 19th Amendment. But this bloc failed to materialize in 1984, and Ferraro and Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale of Minnesota lost in a landslide to the incumbent President Reagan.

In 1992, women went to the polls, energized by a record-breaking number of women on the federal ticket. The results were unprecedented; the 24 women who won election to the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time that November comprised the largest number elected to the House in any single election, and the women elected to the Senate tripled the number of women in that chamber.32 Dubbed the “Year of the Woman,” 1992 also marked the beginning of a decade of remarkable gains for minority women. Twenty-three of the 34 African-American, Hispanic-American, and Asian-Pacific-American women who have served in Congress were elected between 1992 and 2005.

California’s 1992 congressional races were a microcosm of the changes beginning to take place nationally. During the 102nd Congress, from 1991 to 1993, women held three seats on the California congressional delegation—roughly 6 percent. In 1992, a record 71 California women were nominated to run in the fall elections for federal and state offices; nationally 11 women won major party nominations for Senate races, while 106 women contended for House seats in the general election.33“The days of cold lonely fights of the ’60s and ’70s, when women were often laughed at as we tried to push for new opportunities, are over,” said Lynn Schenk, a congressional candidate from San Diego. “No one’s laughing now. If people truly want someone to be an agent of change, I’m that person. And being a woman is part of that.”34 Six new women Members from California, including Schenk, were elected to the House in the fall of 1992 alone. Two others, Representative Barbara Boxer and former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, won election as U.S. Senators, making California the first state with two women in the Senate. By the 109th Congress in 2005, 21 members of the California congressional delegation were women—38 percent of the state’s total representation in Congress.

Women’s impressive gains in 1992 were not the product of any one galvanizing event, but rather the confluence of several long-term trends and short-term election year issues. Demographics, global politics, scandal, and the ripple effect of the women’s liberation movement all played a part in the results of that historic election.

In 1992, the incumbent candidates faced a tougher-than-usual contest for re-election. An economic downturn that had begun in 1991 was predicted to be the leading edge of a long-term recession. American business mired as the country transitioned to a peace-time economy after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The national focus shifted from the Soviet–American conflict and national security to areas where women’s influence was more established—education, health care, welfare reform, and the economy. While Americans worried about their jobs, they watched apprehensively the resurgent Japanese economy and the reunification of Germany. The check-writing scandal in the House “bank” (operated by the Sergeant at Arms), where a large number of Representatives had overdrawn their accounts—in some cases on hundreds of occasions—also contributed to the anti-incumbent sentiment within the electorate that disdained business-as-usual politics in Washington. Moreover, the debate over the abortion issue had reached a divisive point, with a pro-life President in the White House and the Supreme Court considering a ruling that could have reversed Roe v. Wade.

The issue of whom President George H. W. Bush’s administration would appoint to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall became a galvanizing one for women candidates. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, a conservative he had earlier appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Thomas’s antiabortion stance, as well as his opposition to affirmative action, made him a lightning rod for liberal groups and Democratic Senators. But his confirmation hearings became a public forum on sexual harassment in the workplace when Thomas’s former aide Anita Hill accused him in televised hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee of making unwanted advances. Beamed into millions of homes, the spectacle of the all-male Judiciary Committee offering Hill little sympathy and at moments treating her with outright hostility reinforced the perception that women’s perspectives received short shrift on Capitol Hill. Seven Democratic women from the House marched in protest to address the caucus of their Democratic Senate colleagues, but they were rebuffed.

While controversy stirred by the Thomas–Hill episode provided good campaign rhetoric and a convenient media explanation for the “Year of the Woman,” other contributing factors included the availability of funding, the growing pool of women candidates with elective experience, and the presence of a Democratic presidential candidate, who shared their beliefs on many of the issues (24 of the 27 women elected that fall were Democrats). Also significant were the effects of redistricting after the 1990 Census, the large number of retiring Members, and the casualties of the House banking scandal; the combination of these effects created 93 open seats in the U.S. House during the 1992 elections.35 Candidates of both genders embraced the popular theme of change in government by stressing their credentials as Washington outsiders, but women benefited more from this perception, because they had long been marginalized in the Washington political process. AsElizabeth Furse, a successful candidate for an Oregon House seat, pointed out during her campaign: “People see women as agents of change. Women are seen as outsiders, outside the good old boy network which people are perceiving has caused so many of the economic problems we see today.”36

For all the media attention paid to the “Year of the Woman,” it was but a part of the larger trend of women’s movement into elective office. A number of women expressed exasperation with the media focus that hyped the sensational news story but largely ignored more enduring trends and influences. “The year of the woman in retrospect was a small gain, but it was the start of what was a big gain,” Senator Barbara Boxer observed a decade later. “I don’t even think it was the year of the woman then, but it started the trend of electing more women.”37 Others felt the label diminished women’s achievement and reinforced perceptions that their impact on Congress was temporary. As SenatorBarbara Mikulski of Maryland said: “Calling 1992 the Year of the Woman makes it sound like the Year of the Caribou or the Year of the Asparagus. We’re not a fad, a fancy, or a year.”38

The trend that culminated in the 1990s had begun decades earlier in the state legislatures, where women began to accumulate political experience that prepared them to be legislators. The first Congresswoman with elective experience in a state legislature was Kathryn O’Loughlin McCarthy of Kansas. For decades McCarthy proved the exception to the rule; between her election to Congress in 1932 and 1970, when great numbers of women began to serve in state capitols, hardly more than a dozen Congresswomen had held a seat in the state legislature or a statewide elective office. It was only in the last 30 years of the 20th century that women made significant gains in state legislatures and, subsequently, the U.S. Congress. For example, in 1970 women held about four percent (301 seats) of all the seats in state legislatures nationwide. In 1997 that figure plateaued at around 1,600, and for the next five years women made up about 22 percent of state legislators nationally. In 2003, 1,648 (22.3 percent) of the 7,382 state legislators in the United States were women.39

Ultimately, however, the “Year of the Woman” spawned expectations that women candidates in subsequent elections could not realistically meet. Contrary to widely held beliefs, women were not about to change the political culture overnight—especially not on seniority-based Capitol Hill. Later political battles over issues such as reproductive rights, welfare reform, and the federal deficit dashed hopes that women would unite across party lines, subordinate ideology to pragmatism, and increase their power.

Moreover, the belief that sexism would be eradicated proved overly optimistic, as old stereotypes persisted. Along with Representatives Barbara Boxer and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Mary Rose Oakar of Ohio led a 1985 protest of House women demanding equal access to the House gym and fitness facilities. Unhappy that the women’s gym lacked the modern exercise equipment, swimming pool, and basketball court accessible to the male Members, the three lawmakers made their pitch in a song belted out to the tune of “Has Anyone Seen My Gal?” before a meeting of the House Democratic Whips.40 However, women still contended with unequal access to gym facilities and other indications of sexism.41 Once when fellow freshman Leslie Byrne of Virginia entered an elevator full of Members, a Congressman remarked, “It sure is nice to have you ladies here. It spiffs up the place.” Exasperated, Byrne quipped, “Yup, chicks in Congress.”42 Another Member of the class of ’92 observed that Congress had failed to keep pace with changes in American society. “Out in the real world, we took care of a lot of these basic issues between men and women years ago,” said Lynn Schenk. “But this place has been so insulated, the shock waves of the ’70s and ’80s haven’t quite made it through the walls.”43

After the 1992 elections, women Members were still in a distinct minority, although for the first time in congressional history they accounted for more than 10 percent of the total membership. Subsequent growth was slower, though steady. On average since 1992, 10 new women have been elected to Congress each election cycle, while incumbency rates have remained well above 90 percent. In August 2005, women made up 15.5 percent of Congress—an all-time high. Some women noted that although they had failed to achieve numerical parity in Congress, they had dramatically altered the political culture within the electorate. “In previous years, when I have run for office, I always had to overcome being a woman,” said Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. “All I’ve ever wanted was an equal chance to make my case, and I think we’re getting to that point—and that’s the victory.”44

Chosen area of interest

I stated before that this essay was going to be about Disney females roles and Merchandising. However due to my current background research, my area should include ; the roles of the chosen characters, gender , personality traits, stereotypes , physical representation and evolution of the characters.

For the purpose of the essay I am replacing Mulan or Jasmine with Cinderella as it will portray Disney’s evolution and create a binding argument on my topic.