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'Princess culture:' Do movies like Frozen 2 reinforce gender stereotypes?

Disney princesses have come a long way from the days of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Anna and Elsa, the heroes of the Frozen films, have superpowers and a mission to save their kingdom. But a critic says even these films reinforce gender stereotypes.

Disney films still have problematic underlying messages about girls' potential, says linguist.

Elsa, Anna and Kristoff are back in Frozen 2, out now. (Disney)

Snow White's stepmother wants to be fairest of them all, so she poisons Snow White. It takes a kiss from a prince to wake her.  

Cinderella's ticket out of a life of mopping is to catch the eye of a prince who whisks her away to live happily ever after. 

Mermaid Ariel literally trades her voice for the chance to marry a man. 

So compared to those Disney princesses, Anna and Elsa of the Frozen films are with the times. They have superpowers and a mission to save their kingdom. 

But Carmen Fought — professor of linguistics at Pitzer College in Claremont, Southern California — has found that even the most recent Disney films still reinforce old-fashioned gender stereotypes.
 
Anna and Elsa, the heroes of the Frozen films, are more powerful than princesses in earlier Disney films. (Disney)

While Disney princess movies are supposedly geared largely toward little girls, in all of the movies except Cinderella there are more male characters than female, Fought told Jason D'Souza, guest host of The Early Edition. 

That includes the first Frozen movie. In fact, Fought says there are twice as many male characters as female characters. And in the first Frozen film, males speak 60 per cent of the words. 

Fought says men in these films also get to do the most jobs. 

The role of the princess

"The person who owns the sauna, the person who takes care of the reindeer, the person who is an evil prince from another town … all these other roles besides being the princess are going to men. So it's sending sort of a funny message to little girls about what their potential is in the world."

Fought says that her research found that Disney's newer princesses are stronger and better role models than the older ones. However, Fought says there are still dangerous underlying messages. Physically, Disney princesses are still incredibly thin with unrealistic bodies.

Mermaid Ariel literally trades her voice for the chance to marry a man.  (Conglomerate Media and Kingsway Productions)

What is a princess?

CBC also asked students at Vancouver's Crosstown Elementary School what they believe a princess is.

"It is a person that lives in a castle... It is a beautiful person that is a really powerful girl," said one girl.

Students were also asked who their favourite princesses are.

"Elsa," said another girl, citing the Frozen character's powers as the reason why. When asked what made her powers the best, the student answered: "Because she's pretty."

Fought says these kinds of comments from children are not surprising. 

"You see that there's a combination in the comments from the students about praising things like their powers and their skills. But then ultimately it tends to come back to appearance," said Fought.

Start a conversation

Fought says she is not recommending that parents ban their children from seeing Disney princess films, but that they talk to their children about what they're watching. 

"Isn't that nice that [Elsa] has a good relationship with her sister? ... or, 'Everyone's telling her how pretty she is. But I don't think that's the most important thing,' " suggests Fought. 

"It does help the children to have a good idea of what values to take away from the movie, rather than just swallowing whatever Disney is presenting us as important."

Listen to the full story here:

With files from The Early Edition and Jodie Martinson

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