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Female Characters in Disney Princess Films Speak Less than They Used To, Study Finds

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After examining films like “Cinderella” and “The Little Mermaid,” linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer found female characters spoke less than their male counterparts in modern animated Disney princess films, as reported Monday by The Washington Post.

According to the study, women speak as much as or more than the men in Disney’s earliest princess films: “Snow White” (1937), “Cinderella” (1950) and “Sleeping Beauty” (1959). In contrast, men speak 68 percent of the time in “The Little Mermaid” (1989), 71 percent of the time in “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), 90 percent of the time in “Aladdin” (1992), 76 percent of the time in “Pocahontas” (1995) and 77 percent of the time in “Mulan” (1998); despite the majority of those films having female lead characters.

This is due in part to the fact the newer films include more male characters. “There’s one isolated princess trying to get someone to marry her, but there are no women doing any other things,” Fought explained. “There are no women leading the townspeople to go against the Beast, no women bonding in the tavern together singing drinking songs, women giving each other directions, or women inventing things. Everybody who’s doing anything else, other than finding a husband in the movie, pretty much, is a male.”

“My best guess is that it’s carelessness, because we’re so trained to think that male is the norm,” Eisenhauer added. “So when you want to add a shopkeeper, that shopkeeper is a man. Or you add a guard, that guard is a man. I think that’s just really ingrained in our culture.”

Newer Disney princess films have made progress towards breaking that trend: The female characters in “Tangled” have 52 percent of the lines, while in Pixar’s “Brave” they had 74 percent. 2013 megahit “Frozen,” however, gave 59 percent of its lines to men.

On the other hand, while the earliest princess films gave women more lines, many of those lines were focused on looks. 55 percent of the compliments towards the protagonists praised her looks; only 11 percent praised skills, and the rest were for things like personality or possessions. In modern films, about 38 percent of the compliments given to the women in the modern films had to do with their looks, and 23 percent involved their abilities or deeds. In “The Princess and the Frog” (2009), “Tangled,” “Brave” and “Frozen,” an average of 40 percent of compliments directed at women involve abilities or accomplishments, while only 22 percent regard physical appearances. It’s also worth noting “Frozen” and “Brave” were both written and directed by teams including women.

“If you watch the behind-the-scenes documentaries, there’s so much explicit discourse on what the princess is going to be like, and always it’s a feminist discourse in some way,” Eisenhauer said. “They want her to be powerful. But the discourse never, ever, seems to have gone beyond the princess.”

As to why this research is important, Fought said, “We don’t believe that little girls naturally play a certain way or speak a certain way. They’re not born liking a pink dress. At some point we teach them. So a big question is where girls get their ideas about being girls.”

Comments

  • Regless Unkown

    Well this article is adorable. Love the comparison between Tangled, Brave and Frozen that implies frozen is somehow worse for not having women monopolize the dialogue. Stay classy.

  • GiveItARest

    The Gender & Racial Numberists have to just…stop. Just. Stop. The number of words spoken? Number of times a person with (insert color) skin appears? Could this be used as rationale to “influence” the media?

    This mindset is dangerous to free thinking societies. These movies are artwork! How dare you try to hamper or desire to insert your influence into someone’s art because you have an end-justifies-the-means agenda.

    Someday I can only hope that those enlightened will look back & realize that they were the true purveyors of bigotry.

  • Eshuster

    But another thing about some of these movies have more male characters is also because the female heroes spend much of the movies struggling against male antagonists. In Frozen, for example, two of the major male characters are villains. I think part of that is because the movies prefer not to have women be villains.

    Like an example used here, “There are no women leading the townspeople to go against the Beast”. But the character leading them is a villain. Now, I do agree that it would be more equal to have women in all roles, but going back to Frozen as an example, the current trend is away from the main interest of the princess being to find a husband. To me — especially as a parent of a little girl — I’m more interested in the fact that these heroines are stronger characters, instead of being concerned how many women characters there are.

    And one more point, even though these stories are fantasies and don’t necessarily need to reflect reality, most are set in a sort of medieval setting, where the societies are dominated by men.

  • Larry Tate

    Oh grow up if you arent interested in social studies then ignore it. no one made you read that.

  • Bl00dwerK

    If women were villians they’d be bitching about that…

  • http://blog.chrismagr.com/ ChrisMaGR

    The study’s findings tell half-truths. It was very difficult to animate male characters in the early days of animations, that’s why the princes’ presence was kept to a minimum. In older movies, the princesses would speak to themselves or to animals, that’s why they seem to speak so much. Also most of the time the older princesses would speak about finding Prince Charming, so it’s not just a matter of how much they speak, but also what they say.

  • Guest

    Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, 101 Dalmations & Little Mermaid all had female villains

  • Saulo Stz

    This is not only the animations, the majority of Hollywood movies have more actors than actresses casted for the same production.

  • Saulo Stz

    This is not only the animations, the majority of Hollywood movies have more actors than actresses casted for the same production.

  • rgough

    Let me get this straight: They included in their data set a movie — The Little Mermaid — in which a major plot device is that the female protagonist is MUTE during most of the movie. And then they complain that she doesn’t speak enough? And they claim that her not speaking is a sign of sexism?

    I’m guessing that these “researchers” started with their conclusion and cherry-picked data to support it.

  • Livnthedream

    If the ‘social studies’ were less agenda driven (hooray, lets remake society because [current year]) I wouldn’t have an issue with it. They clearly set out with a purpose here. Last I checked that isn’t how good science is done.

  • Livnthedream

    And all have been complained about quite a lot. Just like Gone Girl and Bridesmaids. Galbrush sucks.

  • Bl00dwerK

    People weren’t bitching about everything when those came out…