Harvard Groups Evaluate Disney Films’ Female Stereotypes

By By U Wire

By U Wire

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.?The animated figure smiles coyly, bats her long eyelashes and swings her hips, using her feminine charms to distract the villain and allow the hero to save the day.

According to the 2001 documentary “Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood and Corporate Power”?screened to a selected audience at Harvard University’s Boylston Hall on Saturday?this familiar scene from Walt Disney’s “Aladdin” perpetuates stereotypes of women as little more than temptresses.

The film festival, “Gender, Ethnicity & Disney,” organized by Women IN Color (WINC) and funded by the Harvard Foundation and the Ann Radcliffe Trust, featured the documentary and Disney films “Aladdin,” “Mulan” and “Pocahontas.”

Faculty members led discussions following each film.

Through a series of interviews with children and experts?including Harvard Medical School’s Carolyn M. Newberger, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry?the documentary contended that Disney’s animated films reinforce gender, class and racial stereotypes under the guise of fantasy.

WINC members said they thought the film festival would be an enjoyable introduction to their organization, which seeks to raise awareness about these issues.

WINC President Annie Wong said that although Disney has tried to incorporate stories from a variety of cultures, she is still wary that Disney’s portrayal gives children false impressions of other cultures.

“The danger is that kids will think about these cultures in a certain way,” Wong said.

Event organizer Heather J. Thomason, who described herself as “mildly obsessed” with Disney movies, said Disney needs to take responsibility for the images it encourages?but said she acknowledged these stereotypes are a reflection of larger society.

“Disney doesn’t create these stereotypes, they reinforce them,” Thomason said.

Students who attended the event said the documentary changed their perception of Disney films.

“It was kind of disturbing seeing the effect they had on the kids and our whole society in general,” Michael W. Chen said. “I usually watch them for entertainment, and when you look deeper into it, it was disturbing.”

Chen attended the event with Sharon L. Fong, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, who said she is currently taking a class that deals with feminism and fairytales.

She said she was particularly interested in the documentary’s claim that these films influence the way children interact.

“The kids on the playground would unconsciously play out the gender roles that have been set for them from the movies,” Fong says.

But some members of the audience said they were not as interested in the greater implications of Disney movies.

“I came because I’m one of those crazy Disney fans and I really like seeing the movies on the big screen,” said Megan E.M. Low.

She said Disney movies are entertainment?and should be taken at face value.