Linguists Discover Something Disturbing About Your Favorite Old Disney Movies

Many of Disney’s princess movies are overwhelmingly dominated by male speaking roles, according to new research.

Linguists Carmen Fought and Karein Eisenhauer analyzed dialogue from Disney’s princess movies to see what messages they might be relaying to children, reports the Washington Post.

“We don’t believe that little girls naturally play a certain way or speak a certain way,” Fought told the Post. “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.”

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According to the pair’s research, which is still ongoing, men, on average, had three times as many speaking roles in the five princess films of the Disney Renaissance era from 1989 to 1999 than did women.

“There’s one isolated princess trying to get someone to marry her, but there are no women doing any other things,” Fought told the Post. “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.”

Disney’s most recent princess offerings, starting with “The Princess and the Frog,” have shown more balance between men and women speaking.

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In addition to analyzing how much male and female characters spoke, Fought and Eisenhauer also looked at what they said. They found that in older Disney princess films, 55% of compliments directed toward women were about their appearance, as compared to 11 percent for their skills or accomplishments. The princess films from Disney’s Renaissance era, in contrast, had only about 38% of compliments that were about women’s looks and about a quarter about their skills or accomplishments.

Despite the purported improvement in balance between men and women speaking, as well as the change in focus of compliments directed toward women, Fought and Eisenhauer remain skeptical of Disney’s princess films.

“The Renaissance-era movies starting with ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ were talked about as being not your average frilly princess films,” Fought told the Post. “They have ‘active women who get things done. That’s fine, but are these movies really so great for little girls to watch? When you start to look at this stuff, you have to question that a little bit.”

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