Sex Trouble: Feminists Worry That Disney Movies Are Making Girls Heterosexual
Is your daughter a victim of male oppression? Blame Aladdin – as well as The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, The Lion King and Toy Story 2.
Disney cartoons and other G-rated children’s movies are full of “gendered sexuality,” subjecting women to the male “objectifying gaze,” as “heterosexuality is constructed through hetero-romantic love relationships as exceptional, powerful, magical, and transformative.”
These were the conclusions of Women’s Studies professors Karin Martin and Emily Kazyak in their 2009 research paper, “Hetero-Romantic Love and Heterosexiness in Children’s G-Rated Films.” The sociologists examined “all the G-rated films grossing $100 million dollars or more between 1990 and 2005″ and found that these movies convey what feminists call “heteronormativity”:
Heteronormativity includes the multiple, often mundane ways through which heterosexuality overwhelmingly structures and “pervasively and insidiously” orders “everyday existence” . . . Heteronormativity structures social life so that heterosexuality is always assumed, expected, ordinary, and privileged. Its pervasiveness makes it difficult for people to imagine other ways of life. . . . Anything else is relegated to the nonnormative, unusual, and unexpected and is, thus, in need of explanation. Specifically, within heteronormativity, homosexuality becomes the “other” against which heterosexuality defines itself. . . .
Heteronormativity regulates those within its boundaries as it marginalizes those outside of it. . . .
Heteronormativity also rests on gender asymmetry, as heterosexuality depends on a particular type of normatively gendered women and men.
The feminist critique of heteronormativity and gender roles dates back to the earliest years of the Women’s Liberation Movement (so-called “second-wave” feminism) of the 1960s and ’70s. Radical lesbian manifestos by Artemis March (“The Woman Identified Woman,” 1970) and Charlotte Bunch (“Lesbians in Revolt,” 1972) denounced heterosexuality as part of a “sexist society characterized by rigid sex roles and dominated by male supremacy,” which “denigrates and despises women,” where women’s “subordination” as inferiors is central to a “sexist, racist, capitalist, imperialist system.” (For more, see Part One of this series, “Radical Feminism and the Long Shadow of the ‘Lavender Menace’.”) Feminism’s anti-male theories were further advanced by Adrienne Rich’s influential 1980 essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”, which has been so widely cited that lesbian scholars like Professor Judith Butler invoke Rich’s phrase “compulsory heterosexuality” without bothering to credit its originator. (See “Reading ‘Heterophobia’: Adrienne Rich and ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality’.”)
Martin and Kazyak’s critique of heteronormativity and gender roles in children’s movies relies on the work of radical feminists, including Gayle Rubin, a controversial lesbian activist whose treatise “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” is cited as authority for how heterosexuality is part of a system of “inequalities, like race and class, [that] intersect and help construct what Rubin calls ‘the inner charmed circle’ in a multitude of complicated ways.” Readers of Rubin’s 1984 essay may be shocked to learn that she favorably cited the pedophile group NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) in opposition to laws against child pornography:
For over a century, no tactic for stirring up erotic hysteria has been as reliable as the appeal to protect children. The current wave of erotic terror has reached deepest into those areas bordered in some way, if only symbolically, by the sexuality of the young. . . . In February 1977 . . . a sudden concern with ‘child pornography’ swept the national media. In May, the Chicago Tribune ran a lurid four-day series with three-inch headlines, which claimed to expose a national vice ring organized to lure young boys into prostitution and pornography. Newspapers across the country ran similar stories, most of them worthy of the National Enquirer. By the end of May, a congressional investigation was underway. Within weeks, the federal government had enacted a sweeping bill against ‘child pornography’ and many of the states followed with bills of their own. . . .
The laws produced by the child porn panic are ill-conceived and misdirected. They represent far-reaching alterations in the regulation of sexual behaviour and abrogate important sexual civil liberties. But hardly anyone noticed as they swept through Congress and state legislatures. With the exception of the North American Man/Boy Love Association and American Civil Liberties Union, no one raised a peep of protest.
It is perhaps unnecessary to point out the ironic contradiction: in 1984, Gayle Rubin was citing NAMBLA to denounce a “child porn panic” as a menace to “important sexual civil liberties”; twenty-five years later, Rubin’s radical treatise was cited by two university Women’s Studies professors who see G-rated children’s films as a menace.
“Don’t worry about perverts and kiddie porn, Mom. It’s those heteronormative Disney movies that are the real danger!”
The “erotic terror” Karin Martin and Emily Kazyak want to protect girls from is heterosexuality and normal gender roles portrayed in movies like Aladdin, Pocahontas and Beauty and the Beast:
These films repeatedly mark relationships between cross-gender lead characters as special and magical by utilizing imagery of love and romance. Characters in love are surrounded by music, flowers, candles, magic, fire, ballrooms, fancy dresses, dim lights, dancing, and elaborate dinners. Fireflies, butterflies, sunsets, wind, and the beauty and power of nature often provide the setting for — and a link to the naturalness of — hetero-romantic love. For example, in Beauty and the Beast, the main characters fall in love frolicking in the snow; Aladdin and Jasmine fall in love as they fly through a starlit sky in Aladdin; Ariel falls in love as she discovers the beauty of earth in The Little Mermaid; . . . Pocahontas is full of allusion to water, wind, and trees as a backdrop to the characters falling in love. The characters often say little in these scenes. Instead, the scenes are overlaid with music and song that tells the viewer more abstractly what the characters are feeling. These scenes depicting hetero-romantic love are also paced more slowly with longer shots and with slower and soaring music.
These films also construct the specialness of hetero-romantic love by holding in tension the assertion that hetero-romantic relationships are simultaneously magical and natural. In fact, their naturalness and their connection to “chemistry” and the body further produce their exceptionalness. . . . These formulations include ideas about reproductive instincts and biology, and they work to naturalize heterosexuality. We see similar constructions at work in these G-rated movies where the natural becomes the magical. These films show that, in the words of Mrs. Pots from Beauty and the Beast, if “there’s a spark there,” then all that needs to be done is to “let nature take its course.”
Translation: “Damn those patriarchal oppressors and their hateful heteronormative ‘ideas about reproductive instincts and biology’!”
This kind of gender-theory deconstruction of popular culture is now ubiquitous in Women’s Studies programs, and it is certainly no accident that the most widely used anthology of feminist literature is edited by three lesbian professors. Academic feminists are hostile to any claim that heterosexual attraction is natural, as I observed three months ago:
If you consider sexual desire and romantic love between men and women to be natural and healthy, you are not a feminist. . . . There is nothing natural about sex, according to feminist ideology, no biological urge that causes women to be attracted to men.
Because feminists view heterosexuality as intrinsic to “male supremacy,” they argue that women’s romantic interest in men is “socially constructed” — a delusion imposed on them by patriarchal brainwashing — and Karin Martin blames mothers for encouraging girls to be heterosexual. In the anti-Disney screed she co-authored with Kazyak, Martin cited her own research from another 2009 paper titled “Normalizing Heterosexuality: Mothers’ Assumptions, Talk, and Strategies with Young Children.”
Obviously, mothers are letting their daughters watch Disney movies as part of these “strategies” to teach their girls how to be victims of male heterosexual oppression. Being beautiful, so as to attract “the male gaze” as sex objects, is what Martin and Kazyak condemn as the “heterosexiness” of female cartoon characters:
Heteronormativity requires particular kinds of bodies and interactions between those bodies. Thus, as heterosexuality is constructed in these films, gendered bodies are portrayed quite differently, and we see much more of some bodies than others. Women throughout the animated features in our sample are drawn with cleavage, bare stomachs, and bare legs. . . .
[In the 1996 Disney feature The Hunchback of Notre Dame] Quasimodo accidentally stumbles into Esmeralda’s dressing area, and she quickly covers up with a robe and hunches over so as not to expose herself. She ties up her robe as Quasimodo apologizes again and again and hides his eyes. However, as he exits, he glances back toward her with a smile signifying for the viewer his love for her. A glimpse of her body has made her even more lovable and desirable. . . .
[W]omen’s bodies become important in the construction of heteronormative sexuality through their “sexiness” at which men gaze. Much of the sexuality that these gendered bodies engage in has little to do with heterosexual sex narrowly defined as intercourse or even behaviors that might lead to it, but rather with cultural signs of a gendered sexuality for women.
So, for all these years American parents thought their daughters were just watching kiddie cartoons, when instead these Disney movies are actually part of how “heterosexuality is constructed” by the patriarchy to impose “gendered sexuality” on little girls. Please, professors, tell us more about this animated misogynistic oppression:
The best example of the representation of sexiness appears in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Esmeralda, the Gypsy female lead, is drawn with dark hair, big green eyes, a curvy body, cleavage, and a small waist. She is also drawn with darker skin than other lead Disney characters like Belle (Beauty and the Beast) and Ariel (Little Mermaid). Darker skin and hair and “exotic” features are part of the representation of heterosexual sexiness for women. Moreover, Esmeralda spends much time in this film swaying her hips and dancing “sexily” while men admire her.
Not all scenes with the signification of sexiness are so elaborated. When the candlestick and duster are turned back into people in Beauty and the Beast, the now-voluptuous maid prances bare-shouldered in front of the chef who stares. Throughout Aladdin, especially in fast-paced musical scenes, sexy women prance, preen, bat their eyelashes, shake their hips, and reveal their cleavage. When Genie sings to Aladdin, he produces three women with bare stomachs and bikini-like outfits who dance around him, touch him, bat their eyes at him, and kiss him. He stares at them sometimes unsure, but wide-eyed and smiling. When Prince Ali comes to ask Princess Jasmine for her hand in marriage, his parade to the castle is adorned with writhing, dancing women with bare stomachs and cleavage. Later, Jasmine sees Prince Ali as a fraud and tricks him with similarly sexy moves. Heterosexiness in Aladdin is delivered through the bodies of women of color who are exoticized.
Translation: “Those heteronormative Disney oppressors aren’t just sexist, they’re racist, too! How dare they ‘exoticize’ women of color!”
This is perhaps a good place to mention that Christian conservatives — despite our hateful enthusiasm for patriarchy — have frequently criticized the messages embedded in Disney products. Often, the same “hetero-erotic” themes that offend feminists offend conservatives, but for different reasons. Youthful rebellion against parental authority by the pursuit of forbidden love is fairly common in these movies. Ariel’s romance in The Little Mermaid is a rebellion against her father Poseidon, and forbidden romances are also central to the stories in Pocahontas and Aladdin. The use of magic — which Bible-believers must condemn as sorcery and witchcraft — is another common Disney plot device. (Did you say “Magic Kingdom”? And do we know who rules this kingdom, boys and girls? Satan!) Pocahontas is particularly egregious to conservative sensibilities, depicting English colonists as violent, greedy predators, while portraying the natives as peaceful proto-environmentalists who live in harmony with nature. Any conservative Christian theologian would see the “mystical” elements in Pocahontas as a celebration of pagan nature worship.
Likewise, the “heterosexiness” that Martin and Kazyak view through the prism of gender theory is offensive to many conservative parents, although for different reasons. Conservatives don’t think their daughters should have to bare their cleavage or make “sexy moves” to attract male interest. Nor, for that matter, do conservatives think that our daughters are apt to find healthy relationships by becoming slaves to “chemistry” and acting on every magical “spark” that might persuade them to “let nature take its course.” Mature adults understand that “chemistry” — especially wild hormonal impulses of adolescence — often leads young people to irresponsible and reckless behavior. Whether we are Christians who oppose fornication on moral grounds, or rationalists who wish our children to learn responsible restraint on their potentially harmful erotic impulses, conservative parents reject permissive attitudes about letting children pursue their “feelings” and “instincts” in romance.
Paradoxes abound when comparing feminist and conservative critiques of popular culture. Martin and Kazyak condemn the heteronormative “gendered sexuality” expressed by the costumes and gestures of female Disney characters. Most traditionalist parents would be appalled if their daughters dressed and behaved like the Hunchback‘s Esmeralda, Aladdin‘s Jasmine or The Little Mermaid. (“If you think you’re leaving the house dressed like that, Ariel, you’ve got another think coming! Wearing those seashells like a little beach tramp! Now march yourself back upstairs and put on a sweater, young lady!”) While it is acceptable for two Women’s Studies professors to condemn the “heterosexiness” of Disney princesses, however, any conservative who criticized these characters’ cleavage-bearing outfits would be denounced by feminists for engaging in “slut-shaming.”
The question of whether Disney cartoon features are entirely “family friendly” in one that thoughtful conservatives have often discussed. Yet the parts of these G-rated movies that are most wholesome, from a conservative perspective, are predictably singled out for criticism by the feminist professors Martin and Kazyak:
[T]here is much explicit heterosexual gazing at or ogling of women’s bodies in these films. . . .
When the main characters refrain from overt ogling and sexual commentary, the “sidekicks” provide humor through this practice. For example, in Toy Story 2, Rex, Potato Head, Slinky Dog, and Piggy Bank drive through aisles of a toy store and stop at a “beach party” where there are many Barbies in bathing suits, laughing and dancing. As the male characters approach, a jackpot sound (“ching”) is heard, and all four male characters’ jaws drop open. Then “Tour Guide Barbie” acrobatically lands in their car and says she will help them. They all stare at her with open eyes and mouths. Mr. Potato Head recites again and again, “I’m a married spud, I’m a married spud, I’m a married spud,” and Piggy Bank says, “Make room for single fellas” as he jumps over Potato Head to sit next to Barbie. They remain mesmerized by Barbie as she gives them a tour of the store.
Anyone who has seen Toy Story 2 — at least, anyone except lesbian Women’s Studies professors — knows that this is one of the funniest scenes in the whole movie. The reactions of the four male characters are so funny because they are so true-to-life. And the reaction of Mr. Potato Head, reminding himself that he is married when unexpectedly finding himself seated next to vivacious young “Tour Guide Barbie,” is exactly what any Christian pastor — or any wife, for that matter — would expect a married man to do in such a situation. If only Bill Clinton had remembered he was a “married spud,” the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Clinton’s impeachment could have been avoided.
Marital loyalty requires that both husbands and wives strive to resist the temptations of “heterosexiness,” but this obligation — a sacred duty, as Christians would say — is most often breached by men. Bill Clinton certainly wasn’t the first middle-aged married man to discover that career success could be leveraged as sexual access to misguided young women for whom male power had the effect of an aphrodisiac. This is not to deny that the reverse scenario occurs, as when female teachers like Mary Kay LeTourneau and Debra Lafave engage in illegal sex with underage males. However, for every sex-crazed female “cougar” stalking young male prey, there have always been many more married men willing to take advantage of foolish young women. In fact, this was the subject of one of the most famous musical quarrels in history. Hank Thompson had a Number One country hit in 1952 with this lament:
I never knew God made honky-tonk angels.
Should have known you would never make a wife.
You have lost the only one who ever loved you,
And went back to the wild side of life.
To that, Kitty Wells famously replied with her own Number One hit:
It wasn’t God who made honky-tonk angels,
As you wrote in the words of your song.
Too many times married men think they’re still single.
That has caused many a good girl to go wrong.
Amen, sister! Complaints about double standards and an endless finger-pointing blame game in the War of the Sexes long pre-dated the rise of the feminist movement, and there is more wisdom in those Grand Ole Opry classics than in all the “gender theory” treatises ever published by Women’s Studies professors. The true classics in our popular culture endure over time precisely because they reflect important truths about human nature. Take it away, Elvis:
Well, a hard-headed woman,
A soft-hearted man,
Been the cause of trouble
Ever since the world began. . . .
Samson told Delilah
Loud and clear,
“Keep your cotton pickin’ fingers
Out of my curly hair!”
Oh yeah, ever since the world began
A hard-headed woman been
A thorn in the side of man
Is that song an example of patriarchal heteronormative misogyny? Certainly. Why do you think they called him the “King,” huh?
We laugh as we imagine the feminist critique of old rock-and-roll songs, but Ph.D.s in Women’s Studies expect to be taken seriously when they tell us Disney cartoons are part of a male-supremacy plot to brainwash girls into becoming heterosexual. But nothing would horrify parents more than if their daughter were to become “heterosexual” in the generic sense — that is to say, becoming sexually available to all men.
Strippers, porn performers, and prostitutes are “heterosexual” in that sense, and yet it is conservatives, not feminists, who most frequently criticize women’s degradation in what is euphemistically called “sex work.” Conservatives are condemned for “slut-shaming” — and Republicans are accused of waging a “War on Women” — when they criticize the reckless promiscuity defended by many feminists.
Duke University Women’s Studies major Miriam Weeks (“Belle Knox”) insists it is an “empowering” expression of her “sexual autonomy” for her to perform oral sex, let men ejaculate on her face, and be penetrated every possible way in the teen porn videos where she is paid to endure sexual humiliation. Miriam Weeks is not strictly heterosexual, and has enacted numerous lesbian scenes in her brief porn career. She describes herself as bisexual and has said she started watching porn videos when she was 11 or 12. By the time she was a college freshman, the Duke feminist told one interviewer, she was already so jaded she could only “get off” watching videos in which females perform oral sex on men.
Like the old song says, it wasn’t God who made honky-tonk angels. And whatever academic feminists may theorize, it isn’t Disney movies that turn girls into pathetic creatures like Miriam Weeks.
First published at TheOtherMcCain.com
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