Disney’s Invisible Hand In Gender Definition

Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Disney's Invisible Hand In Gender Definition

Introduction | The Activity | Evaluation

Copyright;1998 Brian McKenna


While growing up, what did you think you would need to have a happy life?

Was is to be swept off your feet by a lawyer or doctor, have the most amazing wedding, no career ambitions, raise a happy family and be a popular member of the community while all the time maintaining a tremendous beauty?
Was it to be a strong respected individual that could do everything both at work and home, find a beautiful spouse, have all the answers, demonstrating amazing heroic ability under pressure and financially care for your family?

Did you immediately assume that the first situation was for a woman and the second for a man? Neither sentence states an indication that it is for a particular sex, nor should they. However we live in a society that has been impacted strongly by the media. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, gender roles were defined by such shows as the Donna Reed Show, the Dick Van Dyke Show, and Leave it To Beaver. On the silver screen, a young boy would learn what it was to be a man through the spaghetti westerns and John Wayne war movies. A young girl may have believed happiness came from being beautiful, submissive and following in the steps of her man. Girls saw the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Jane Mansfield and Greta Garbo as bigger than life stars by playing these types of characters.

So has society changed? And if society has changed, is it for the better or worse? Many can point to significant advancements in putting both men and women on an equal playing field, but has the media helped or hurt the cause of women? A major player in the movie medium over these years has been Disney. We can all remember growing up with amazing feature length cartoons. Unfortunately, the message behind the story may have done more damage then the 90 minutes of viewing pleasure.

As many have learned through the economist Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the government has an invisible hand that can greatly affect the economy. When a government employs a laissez-faire (hands off) policy to the economy it supposedly works best. Your responsibility will be to determine what impact Disney has had on society’s view on gender roles. Have they had an invisible hand and, if so, what impact has it had on you and your classmates?


You will need to begin by forming groups based on gender and hopefully no more than 3 or 4 in a group.

Day 1
  1. List as many Disney animated movies that you can. Next, select five or six of these animated features. They can be a classic like Snow White or a relatively new film such as The Little Mermaid. If you need help in thinking of movies, then go to this Disney animated features site which has many of the movies that Disney has done.
  2. Once you select the five or six movies, create a table from a program like Microsoft Word. The headings for the columns will be: "Movie", "Heroine", "Characteristics of the Heroine", "Hero" and "Characteristics of the Hero." Complete the table with your group and turn it in at the end of class. You should have a list of 5 or 6 characteristics per hero/heroine and you will find out that it may be repetitive within the same gender.

Day 2
The class will begin with a discussion lead by your instructor. The topic will be what assumptions can you make from the table your group created and are those assumptions good or bad. For example, one can state, "Disney movies send a message to society that the male should be a _____________, while the female should be a ______________. I can support these assumptions from these particular movies and characters." If more time is available, then students should preview these excellent articles on Disney stereotypes before this class discussion:

For Young Asians, "Mulan" a Complex Image
Katherine Kim, Andrea Quong and Marian Liu of Brave New World, a Pacific News Service, discuss their feelings of Disney's first attempt at an Asian character.

Children's movies are often rife with negative imagery
Scott Sleek, staff writer from the American Psychological Association's the Monitor, discusses Disney stereotypes with special emphasis on male and female gender roles.

Animating Youth : the Disnification of Children's Culture
Penn State University's Henry A. Giroux takes an in-depth look at Disney's status in our culture. Section V is devoted to gender themes and racist stereotyping.

Disney and Racism
When Disney put the 1930 Fantasia back into circulation, did they redo the musical score and make further alterations for the original movie was so racist? Find out at this site.

Another hot topic that concerns Disney - Homosexuality
The Value of Families
Although many have criticized Disney for its "supposed" gender bias, many more have fought over Disney's acceptance of homosexuals. This site can begin further discussion and research for you on a highly debatable issue.

Support Disney
As the title suggests, this site supports Disney in its recent efforts to be more open to homosexuals.

Back to the next activity on Day 2
  1. You will now return to your groups to create a plot for a movie. All groups must follow these guidelines for their plot:
    • There must be two lead characters with both genders being represented.
    • The story takes place in the present time within your community.
    • Your essay explaining the plot will include a description of the characteristics of the two lead people, the situation that they face, how each handles the situation and how everything is resolved.

    To get you started, think about what you may see in a film review or on the box of a movie in the video store.
    You will have the remainder of class and the first few minutes of the next class to finalize your essay. If it is in 12 point font and double-spaced, then you should expect to have it be roughly a page in length. Don’t forget to give a title to your movie.

Day 3
  1. After making the final revisions to your essay, you will turn a copy into your instructor.
  2. Each group will then proceed to give a summary of their movie to the class. Besides the summary, tell your classmates why you felt the hero/heroine needed or deserved certain characteristics. This summary should take only a few minutes.

Concluding the Activity
The lesson will conclude with a discussion on how your movies compare/contrast with a Disney movie. Are the differences good? Could Disney still make successful movies if they moved away from their reliance on each gender maintaining certain characteristics? Are there any children movies out there that support a change for Disney? How have these definitions of "proper" gender definitions affected your attitude and goals?


Rubric for Assessment on the Activities
In-Class/Preparation Time
You will have 3 class days to work on the project. Each day you will be assessed for how effectively you work. If you are on task for the entire class, then you will earn 5 points. If your are off task (misbehaving, goofing off, doing other work, not doing any work), then your actions will cause a deduction in points.

Explanation of On Task behavior

Table Your table must include a minimum of 5 movies. It is recommended that you do one or two more movies to offset any movies that are done poorly.
  • ____/2 Points Movie 1
  • ____/2 Points Movie 2
  • ____/2 Points Movie 3
  • ____/2 Points Movie 4
  • ____/2 Points Movie 5
  • ____ Additional Points
  • ____ Total Points for Table

Rubric of how a movie should be evaluated.

  • 1/2 Point Appropriate movie shown.
  • 1/2 Point Appropriate hero and heroine selected for the movie.
  • 1/2 Point Appropriate characteristics listed for the hero.
  • 1/2 Point Appropriate characteristics listed for the heroine.
One can earn a maximum of 2 points per movie. Additional movies can earn a maximum of 1 point per movie. You can earn over the 10 points for this part of the assignment.

Your essay must be typed and grammatically correct. This will be completed with the group you work with on the computer.

____/20 Total Essay Points
  • 18 - 20 Points A well thought out essay that demonstrates knowledge on the gender issue. No errors. It is also insightful.
  • 16 - 18 Points A well thought out essay that demonstrates a fair knowledge on the gender issue. May have one or two errors.
  • 14 - 16 Points A fair essay that includes errors, a general knowledge of the gender issue
  • 14 - below An essay with too many errors and demonstrates very little knowledge on gender issues.

Total Points______/45
  • A : 40 ˝ - 45
  • B : 36 - 40 ˝
  • C : 31 ˝ - 36
  • D : 27 - 31 ˝
  • F : 27 and below