As a fan of The Walt Disney Company and often promoter of such, it’s admittedly hard to bite my tongue when I read what I consider to be extreme, worst-case scenarios about how the company is viewed when it comes to treating the fairer sex. Surely there is some exaggeration in how Disney presents role models to young girls with the Disney Princesses and various cute, fluffy animals dressed in pink bows. In fact, I’d like to think that most of the company, in particular the consumer products side (which tends to see the brunt of it all) is rather conscientious of their impact on impressionable youth. Still, you won’t please all the people all the time. Someone will always find offense in anything.
And yet here I find us: just a few days away from the theatrical release of Beauty and the Beast 3D which celebrates a new kind of princess — one who’s more obsessed with books and intellect and manages to fall in love with inner beauty despite lack of the outer. Just a couple of months from the release of Pixar’s Brave that features a strong-willed, capable heroine who doesn’t have love on her bucket list and doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter mold of the classic beauty. And just when I think to myself, ‘wow, how far we’ve come,’ someone must come along and do something that singlehandedly does something that sets us so far back, it makes me think ‘wow, we still have so far to go.’
In this case, it is new merchandise previewed today on the Disney Parks blog, under the title of ‘New Shirts with Character.’ At first look, there’s absolutely nothing offensive about them. They’re rather creative images of the Fab Five (minus Pluto) in which various descriptors are plugged-in to the character’s form to complete the image. And I must admit that had I seen the Minnie shirt alone, I would probably think not much more of it (albeit a bit redundant). But it’s when you compare Minnie, aimed at girls/women, to the others who are traditionally more of a male demographic that the problem begins to materialize and the differences are made clear.
To demonstrate, let us break down each individual character and his/her descriptors:
- Mickey’s has 10 descriptors: Clever, Awesome, The Boss, Mischievous, Genuine, Curious, Original, Leader, Funny and Brave
- Donald has 7 descriptors: Angry, Fabulous, Quack, Duck, Temper-tantrum, Funny and Feisty.
- Goofy has 12 descriptors: Goof, Fun, Comic, Weird, Genuine, Laugh Out Loud, Clumsy, Tall,
Smart, Wacky, Silly and Funny
- Minnie has 11 descriptors: Cute, Sweet, Gorgeous, Adventurous, Genuine, Adorable, Beautiful, Lovable, Fun, Pretty and Hot
To recap, out of 11 possible words to describe the sole female of the group, six — that’s more than half — could be applied to her physical appearance. Not Intelligent, Charming, Smart, Polite or even Fashionable. It’s clearly her looks that warrant stressing. In contrast, the only other character to have their physical appearance highlighted is Goofy who’s simply Tall.
In defense of the rest of the company, it’s worth noting that although worlds do overlap, Theme Park Merchandise is created solely within Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide for sale at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts, a more-or-less independent of Disney Consumer Products who is responsible for the merchandise you typically find elsewhere. Likewise, Disney Theatrical (which operates under Walt Disney Studios) is also responsible for its own merchandise.