1 Berk Ariel Berk Advanced Media Theory Kirkpatrick What Makes A (Wo)Man and What Makes a Monster?: Disability and Gender in Disney For decades, academics have studied the media’s influence on how we understand the world and ourselves, with Walt Disney movies receiving special scrutiny for the ideologies they circulate to children. Many of these studies have focused on diversity, such as the depiction of different races and genders, but the exploration of the ways in which disability is used and represented is still relatively new. Disney movies perpetuate problematic stereotypes about disability, but even more interesting are the ways that disability and gender intersect. Using disability theory and textual analysis, three Disney movies that thematize disability and ablebodiedness, The Little Mermaid (1989) , Beauty and the Beast (1991) , and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) , were analyzed for the overlap between gender and disability. These movies use disability as a tool through which appropriate and expected gender roles are constructed; Physical disability allows males a progressive negotiated masculinity that encourages traits commonly seen as “feminine”, but restricts females to a traditional femininity that focuses entirely on the body. Disney may appear to use disability as a way to teach acceptance of difference, but instead the disabled body acts as a symbol of a misguided gender performance. The disabled characters are accepted into normalized society when they learn to perform the ideal masculinity or femininity. This intersection of gender and disability is an intriguing overlap in identity studies and in the hegemonic representations in mass media, specifically the wonderful world of Walt Disney.
2 The Walt Disney Company is one of the most influential media conglomerates in the world, and, therefore, a critical area to study the circulation of ideologies in the media. As of the 2013 report, the Walt Disney Company was ranked #66 on the Fortune 500 list, and #7 of the world’s most admired companies. 1 Disney has established itself as the leader in family-friendly entertainment, advertising itself as innocent and wholesome, but it is precisely because these texts are produced for children that they should be of concern. As Stuart Hall says, “certain codes may, of course, be so widely distributed in a specific language community or culture, and be learned at so early an age, that they appear not to be constructed…but to be ‘naturally’ given.” 2 Disney is prevalent in the lives of many children, and can be dangerous because the messages the movies portray may be seen as unquestionably true. Repeated exposure of certain ideologies at a young age can influence how a child may understand the reality of themselves and the people around them.
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- Fall '13
- Gender Studies, beast