Disney is Still Killing Feminism

“I can’t even watch television any more!” Kayleigh complained a couple weeks ago as we hung around on the couch during a rare bit of down time. “Everything I see just frustrates me!”

Women’s studies, we decided, was ruining our lives. Everything from tampon commercials to made-for-TV movies and Disney Channel reruns made our inner feminists cringe. Female actresses were complaining about petty and stereotypical situations, while fitting into the miniscule clothing laid out for women on the small screen and giving into the needs of boyfriends and male bosses.

We discussed the ways our women’s studies classes were polluting our minds, making it impossible to accept things at face value, turning us into what others may perceive as argumentative and bitter feminists, a stereotype we try hard to disprove. For Kayleigh, she was often made to feel guilty for her long-term relationship with her boyfriend, Jeff, who does not openly embrace feminist ideology. For me, I was made to feel guilt about putting on makeup and styling my hair in the morning.

There was only one solution: we ordered pizza and “bitched” — a term that clearly oppresses women, by the way — about the ways society portrays women while watching television and scrunching our faces in disgust as we saw pharmaceutical and dating ads that proceeded to push women into a socially constructed box.

It was not a good night.

Then tonight while I was getting my things together to come home for Thanksgiving, I sat down on the couch where Kayleigh was watching “Sister, Sister,” one of my favorite TV shows from my youth. “Of course they have to have the long-term boyfriends,” Kayleigh said.

And all of a sudden it was back in my mind. I began to pick apart the rest of the episode. The girls were called frivolous, and accused of only loving to shop and talk on the phone. There were two “cat fights” in the episode, and one of the twins ended the episode by skipping out on work to be with her boyfriend for the evening. It mattered more, she said.
I expressed my frustration to Kayleigh, who was watching silently on the next couch over. “Well, what’s the big deal about that one? It doesn’t always have to be career first, Maggie,” she said.

And she’s right. It doesn’t always have to be career first, but is this teaching young girls about the ways to responsibly juggle being in a relationship and being successful in the business field? No.

But when I relayed this thought to Kayleigh, she replied, “Tia and Tamera are actually really empowered women.”
This is true, too. I always thought of them as pretty independent young women, and I looked up to them as role models when I was younger. But this might be why it’s so problematic. If the “empowered” television characters are exhibiting these kinds of weaknesses to be seen by young adolescent girls, then what are these viewers going to think?

My guess is that they’re going to think you have to choose your battles. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, right? Well, I disagree with this. Granted this television show is more than a decade old now, and some advancements have been made in the genre, but I would love, love, love to see a likeable — hell, lovable — young feminist character that young women can look up to and admire.


One Response

  1. I had this conversation with my sisters on Tuesday night, only it was about how Disney portrays middle eastern people in Aladin or pretty much any character that isn’t white. We were youtubing commentary. I made a reference to women’s studies. I said, “It’s like WS classes, you walk out into the same world looking at it completely different. Everything is corrupt. Everything pisses you off. Then you want to change everything.”

    I just think it’s funny that you were thinking about it at the same time i was thinking about it.

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