Bad News About Those “Empowering” Disney Princess Movies

Photo: Disney.
Little girls (and guys!) might adore Disney Princesses. But there's a major problem with some of our favorite supposedly female-centric films: how much time men spend speaking versus women per classic movie. According to a new study by Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer — two linguists who dug into the dialogue across the Disney Princess animated movies — men are taking up way more than their fair share of talking time, particularly during the films of the '80s and '90s. This could pose a major problem for the developing minds of young audiences. "We don't believe that little girls naturally play a certain way or speak a certain way,” Fought, a professor at Pitzer College, told The Washington Post. "They’re not born liking a pink dress. At some point we teach them. So a big question is where girls get their ideas about being girls.” So, how do the speaking stats break down? In a word: depressingly. Once upon a time, women held their own in the classic Disney Princess films. The Snow White comparative male-to-female dialogue time is about equal, while Cinderella breaks down to 60-40, and Sleeping Beauty to 71-29. But the movies made after that didn't hold to that standard. Men made up 68% of all speaking in The Little Mermaid, 71% in Beauty and the Beast, and 76% in Pocahontas.

— a movie about a woman trying to assert herself in a man's world — featured women speaking only 24% of the film. And Aladdin was dominated by male voices at a whopping 90% of the one-hour-and-thirty-one-minute run. "There's one isolated princess trying to get someone to marry her, but there are no women doing any other things. There are no women leading the townspeople to go against the Beast, no women bonding in the tavern together singing drinking songs, women giving each other directions, or women inventing things," Fought explained. "Everybody who’s doing anything else, other than finding a husband in the movie, pretty much, is a male.” In other words: Disney is failing the Bechdel test, big time. The good news? Things are starting to look up on the Disney Princess front. In recent films, including particularly Tangled and Brave, the trend of more men speaking than women is reversed. But oddly enough, Frozen stacked up poorly, with less than 50% of the dialogue coming from women despite the fact that the story itself centers on two sisters. There's still a long way to go.

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