A reader of this blog recently asked my opinion on an article by Allison Hull entitled “Why Does Disney Hate Boys So Much?” It took me a while, but here are my thoughts.
The main argument of the article is worth considering and I will get to it later. First, I need to talk about some issues I have with the finer points. One area of concern is this passage:
Feminism has produced a hatred and overgeneralization of men. Where are all the John Wayne figures? Gone are the men who can be funny, sensitive, and yet virile and able to save the day. In their place are whiny babies, bumbling idiots, or mean, hurtful men.
The feminism line is a stereotype and “virile” is not a trait that I am looking for in portrayals of men. Competent, capable, with strength and sensitivity–yes. But “virile” has too many connotations of traditional masculinity, in my mind. (I do agree, however, that men and boys are often characterized as bumbling or hurtful.)
There is also a comment about “the Left” being responsible for the “scurry to make girls feel empowered and valued.” I think the desire for more balanced female characters is more broad-based that just “leftists.”
And, finally, the conclusion misses the mark for me:
[Disney’s] stories suggest boys are supposed to take a backseat to girls and let them do whatever they want. Boys’ dreams just aren’t considered as important. They don’t need to be cultivated and encouraged because they just don’t matter as much. Is this the message we want to send to our boys who will soon become men? Sit down, shut up, and listen to the women?
There is a whiff here of the snide remark against feminism made earlier, with the implication that feminism has led to girls and women running roughshod over boys and men. And the final two sentences speak to the fear that strong women will emasculate men, saying, for all intents and purposes, that “real men” should not sit passively and listen to bossy, overbearing–i.e. feminist–women. It seems Hull is seeking better portrayals of males as some kind of counterbalance to feminist influence. In contrast, I believe the point of improving depictions of men and boys is not to push back against feminism and the empowerment of female characters, nor to combat some imagined threat of emasculation. Rather, the goal is to create more balance between the sexes and challenge stereotypes about manhood and masculinity.
Finally, I don’t think anyone can argue that boys “don’t matter.” They may be less present on the Disney channel than elsewhere, but male characters still dominate the stories told in many areas of our popular culture, including much of Pixar’s work prior to the release of Brave.
In the main, however, this article raises an issue that I have talked about myself. I wrote a post a few years ago entitled “Raising Up One Sex While Denigrating the Other.” I was not talking about children’s films, but the question I asked was similar to the one being posed by Ms. Hull: why do producers of television and film believe the empowerment of girls and women requires the denigration and stereotyping of boys and men?
I’ve only seen two of the films Ms. Hull has described here–and the ridiculously popular Frozen is not one of them. Nor am I familiar with the programs on the Disney channel. So I am putting this question to all of you: does Disney “hate” boys? Have you noticed the trends outlined here, with male characters in children’s television and film becoming increasingly negative and stereotyped?
Comments welcome and encouraged! Thanks!
Disney logo from logos.wikia.com.