Watching the films, it is hard not to run up against some fairly basic questions: like do these cars go to the toilet? Do they use a medium of exchange? Where do they get their fuel from? Why is there an army vehicle saluting the US flag? Why do they speak with different accents? Was Radiator Springs built on land expropriated from indigenous Cars on the American continent? How come there are male and female cars, and how do they procreate? Who designs them? Who builds them?
Some days ago, Disney Spain launched a press release in which it claimed that 90% of Spanish girls preferred dressing up as a princess to a doctor, an animal or a flamenco dancer. A very high figure..if it were true. In reality it was 90% of the daughters aged 4 to 7 years of 359 Spanish women. Bearing in mind that, according to 1999 figures, there are 10,165,237 women in Spain with sons or daughters, it does not seem a very representative sample.
Even so, we should not underestimate the influence of Disney: we are talking about an industry which engages millions every year, which has been present in the collective imaginary since 1937 (when they released their first film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) and which, with its princesses alone, generates around 4 billion euro. The company itself estimates that every girl watches the DVD of her favourite princess 40 times (it says nothing about boys)
As Ismael Ramos Jiménez says in Deconstructing Disney: towards a co-educational storytelling (third prize in the Rosa Regás co-educational curriculum materials festival, edited by the Andalucian regional government)’ "Disney stories rely on a presumption that they are ideal for educating, as well as cultural legitimacy when it comes to teaching values and ideals".
However, as storytelling specialist Jack Zipes points out: "Disney stories reproduce gender stereotypes that have an adverse affect on children, despite what parents might think [..] They think they are essentially inoffensive and they are absolutely not.
The association of gender roles in boys and girls begins at very early ages: at the age of three there is already a clear idea of what corresponds to each role", explains Eva Velasco, equality officer in the Hortaleza district (Madrid). A learning that happens through imitation of family, friends and televisual personalities, such as Disney heroines. And in the princess stories, in general, the female character, even if she is a protagonist, is subordinated to the masculine one: the salvation of the princess depends on him. That is: women are not capable of looking after themselves and need the help of a man. At least, any woman who is not a witch.
Because Disney only offers two models of woman: the young princess, pretty and innocent who ends up meeting the man of her dreams to get married (Pocahontas is the only film in which there is not a wedding) and who with the exceptions of Bella and Tiana never pick up a book or have a job; or the witch, usually mature, with curves, independent, powerful and intelligent, but ugly and evil. It is not surprising that girls should want to be the princess.
The princess, at home.
And the princess has a clearly defined sphere: the private one. Even in the case of the latest heroines -Mulan, Rapunzel- where there has been a desire to give a more active and modern image of woman as an active and independent being, we see how in the end they pass from the care of the father to the care of the partner. In the case of Mulan, she even rejects jobs in the imperial court in order to go home to her father and, after this, get married. Bridging the gap, there is something similar at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean (also by Disney, by the way): rebellion is nothing more than a short period of liberty before moving on to be a faithful and loving wife (and mother). In the world of Disney it is men who dominate the public sphere, who wield power and who have a status of supremacy: kings, viziers, princes, knights, etc..
One of the most paradigmatic examples, as Ramos notes, is perhaps The Lion King, where the spectator is witness to the "struggle incarnate for power between the males on the one hand and the exclusion from this struggle and the passivity of the lionesses on the other, when everyone knows that it is the female felines who are the fiercest animals in the hunt and in protection of the pride; attributes that Disney denies them in order to relegate them to mere passive spectators in the passing of power between males".
[R: also worth pointing out here is that the main enemy of the lions in the Lion King are the hyenas. The main hyena is female, and has an African American accent (played by Whoopi Goldberg]
Disney thereby builds a bipolar world, in which beauty, seduction and the home belong to the domain of girls, and strength, violence and public life to that of boys. As Ramos concludes’ "after consulting many girls and boys about what their favourite cartoon films were we received a multitude of Disney titled. After also asking many girls and boys what their favourite Disney characters were we can conclude that the girls want to be princesses and the boys do not."