To discover what characteristics the media shows as making up the “good” woman I looked at movies, toys, and other examples of popular culture. Here are a few examples of places where I found my inspiration.
1. 101 Dalmatians. Dir. Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske and Wolfgang Reitherman. Perf. Rod Taylor, Cate Bauer, Betty Lou Gerson, Ben Wright et al. Buena Vista Pictures, 1961. DVD.
101 Dalmatians is an animated film for children that tells the story of two dogs trying to save their puppies from two dognappers and their evil boss who wants the puppies for their fur. It was successful and is still popular to this day. Although a large amount of the characters are animals, there are still gender stereotypes present in the human characters. Cruella DeVille is the villainess of the movie, and she is shown to be forceful, aggressive, smart, and conniving. She is a sharp contrast to the female owner of the Dalmatian pair, who is silly, passive and gentle. I used an image of Cruella in my booklet to show an example of a powerful woman who is depicted as evil. She is just one example of a female villain being characterized by her assertiveness.
2. Aladdin. Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. Perf. Scott Weinger, Johnathan Freeman, Robin Williams et al. Walt Disney Pictures, 1992. DVD
Aladdin is an adaptation of a Middle Eastern fairy tale. It is different in that is has a man as the main character and takes place in Arabia, but otherwise it is not much different from other Disney princess movies. There is a scene where the princess Jasmine cries and I used an image of that in my montage of crying princesses. Jasmine is more assertive than other princesses and scoffs at Aladdin when she first meets him. She still follows the stereotype of a thin, beautiful, heterosexual princess who has little control over the world around her. She was always at the mercy of the men around her, be it her father, the villain, or Aladdin.
3. Alice in Wonderland. Dir. Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske. Perf. Kathryn Beaumont et al. RKO Radio Pictures, 1951. DVD.
Alice in Wonderland is adapted from a book by Lewis Caroll and is about a girl named Alice who falls down a hole into a magical land. Along her travels she meets the Red Queen, who beheads people if they displease her. In the picture I used in my booklet, she is furious and has her hands balled into fists. The Red Queen is angry and volatile, unlike the calm and reserved Alice. The queen is also chubby and ugly, which contrasts strongly with the young, pretty Alice. The queen has an army of card-men at her disposal and she orders them around. Alice is painted as a victim in the entire movie and especially in the scene with the queen, where she is forced to paint roses and then put on trial.
4. Beauty and the Beast. Dir. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. Perf. Paige O’Hara and Robby Benson. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 1991. DVD.
Beauty and the Beast tells the story of a woman who falls in love with a beast who is really a cursed prince. This movie was progressive in some ways and dangerous in other ways. I used a picture of Belle crying in the montage, but Belle is, for the most part, an assertive character. She is intelligent, loves to read, and rebuffs the most handsome man in town. But she eventually falls in “love” with the beast in what would normally be termed Stockholm Syndrome. The beast has imprisoned her at his castle and he is controlling, violent, verbally abusive and has a terrible temper. He is basically a cartoon example of an abusive boyfriend. But in the end he turns out to be a prince, he falls in love with Belle and they live happily ever after. Belle at one point runs away but comes back with the beast because he does something nice for her. This is a terrible message to send to young girls and overall it tells them to be assertive only so long as you are still charming and to stay with abusive partners.
5. Cinderella. Dir. Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson. Perf. Ilene Woods et al. RKO Radio Pictures, 1950. DVD.
Cinderella is the story of a young girl who is ordered around by her stepmother and stepsisters. She eventually makes it to a ball with her fairy godmother’s help and falls in love with the prince. This is a classic fairy tale and one of the earlier Disney princess movies. I used an image from the film of Cinderella crying after her stepsisters ruin her dress for my montage of sobbing princesses. Cinderella is not only weak and passive but she also emphasizes the importance of a good woman being beautiful. She is pretty while her evil stepsisters are “ugly,” and it is she who gets the prince and the happy ending. I have a picture of her evil stepmother in my collage of evil women.
6. The Little Mermaid. Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. Perf. Jodi Benson, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Christopher Daniel Barnes et al. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 1989. DVD.
This is the story of a young mermaid who falls in love with a human prince. Its popularity remains profound to this day. There are many themes in the movie that are upsetting from a feminist perspective. I used an image from the movie of the main character, Ariel, lying face down and crying. I used this picture in a montage amongst other helpless, weeping princesses. Ariel served as an example of a supposed “heroine” who was weak. Another example of Ariel not being pictured as assertive is when she gives up her voice to pursue her prince. This contributes to the idea of a good woman as being quiet and passive. Ursula, the evil sea witch and villain of the movie, makes an appearance in my collection of evil female villains.
7. Sleeping Beauty. Dir. Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Eric Larson and Wolfgang Reitherman. Perf. Mary Costa et al. Buena Vista Distribution, 1959. DVD.
Sleeping Beauty is the tale of a princess who is cursed by an evil witch and on her sixteenth birthday falls into an enchanted sleep that is only broken when a princes kisses her. This movie is similar to Snow White in terms of its polarity of female “good” versus evil. The picture that I used shows Sleeping Beauty crying after being told she can’t see the man (who she met one time) again. She is hypnotized into touching the spindle that sends her into the sleep by the evil witch, Maleficent. The good fairies who try to help Sleeping Beauty has some magical powers but are mostly useless. Sleeping Beauty also is the ultimate picture of the passive woman, as she is asleep for a large part of the movie. I also used an image of Maleficent as another example of a powerful negative woman.
8. Snow White. Dir. David Hand, William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce and Ben Sharpsteen. Perf Adriana Caselotti et al. RKO Radio Pictures, 1937. DVD.
Snow White is the story of a princess who is pursued by her jealous stepmother and so runs away and lives with dwarves. She is poisoned by her stepmother with an apple but saved by a prince’s kiss. This is a great example of the dichotomy of the good and helpless woman versus the bad and powerful woman. Snow White is foolish and cowardly and the image I used showed her crying after being frightened by a forest which only appeared dangerous in the dark. She is gullible and easily tricked into biting a poisoned apple by her conniving and magical stepmother. Her evil stepmother is killed and she is rescued by a prince. I used an image of the stepmother on my page of villainesses. Snow White’s only talent, besides being beautiful, was cooking and cleaning. Old-fashioned stereotypes about the ideal woman are at a height here in this earliest of the Disney princess movies.