A. Theoretical Framework
The current study of the researchers did not cover the effects of watching gender role portrayals in Disney Princess films on viewers especially children. Rather, the study revolved around the topic of how Disney princess films portray or represent gender roles specifically women. It focused on the evolution of the characteristics portrayed by the Disney princesses in the films. In Eagly’s Social Role Theory, men and women act in different ways depending on how society expects them to. This theory demonstrates three patterns: (1) Household roles are taken by women more, (2) People have distinct occupational positions depending on their gender, and (3) Women have more inferior job positions than men. This principle indicated the historical division of labor between men and women (Eagly, 1987). Society expects that men often have responsibilities outside home while women are to work inside. This expectation would be passed down to future generations and would impact the social behavior of each gender. As a result, the stereotypes in society would govern the behavior of men and women.
Bearing this in mind, Disney princesses assume roles that are stereotypical. Early Disney princesses such as Snow White and Cinderella are seen to be cleaning the house, consequently, taking up the gender roles of women that are expected by society. Aurora, another Disney princess in the earlier Disney princess films, displayed weakness and was portrayed as a damsel in distress. This affirms society’s assumption of women having weaker characteristics than men. The princes of the stories often rescue the princesses. The earlier Disney princesses, therefore, illustrated the stereotypical gender role assumptions of society. Society recognizes women as homemakers, Disney therefore also portrayed these female protagonists as homemakers. However, it has come to many that Disney has evolved since then. In Disney’s newest princess movie Moana (2016), the female protagonist has been portrayed androgynously. Moana was recognized as the chief’s daughter, and even then, she would rule the villagers after her father.
Other communication theories were also utilized. Since it was mentioned earlier that the current study did not cover the effects of watching gender role portrayals in Disney Princess films on viewers especially children. The researchers, however, acknowledged that exposure to these films has an influence on children’s perception of each gender’s position. The constructivist approach and cultivation theory both verify the effect of viewing stereotypical gender roles on audiences. Constructivist approach argued that children emerge their ideologies from the things they observed and experienced (Martin et al. 2002), and “therefore, viewing stereotyped or egalitarian depictions of gender roles will influence children’s ideas about gender” (England et al, 2011, p. 557). Gerbner et al. (1980) discussed the role of television in the lives of viewers especially children. Cultivation theory explains that a long-term exposure to media violence may have effects at a conscious and unconscious level according to Griffin (2014). It has been proposed by Gerbner (1969) that heavy viewers might have skewed perceptions of the world due to false representations being on shown on different forms of media. Since Disney films cater mostly to younger audiences, their perceptions of the social world are rooted from the symbolic environment constructed by television. This symbolic environment is what gives order and meaning to human actions. The cultivation theory simply suggests that viewing Disney princess films for a prolonged amount of time will develop the way children perceive their norms and traditions. Therefore, if the audiences continuously view Disney princess films and the way gender roles are being portrayed, then there is a possibility that that is what they perceive to be normal in the society. Additionally, Klein (2000) along with other authors has pointed out that cultivation theory posits that higher levels of exposure to gendered messages are likely associated with stronger effects on children’s gender socialization. In the study, it was mentioned that these theories are somehow evident because parents perceive Disney as quality family entertainment which gives children an easier access to these films (Buckingham, 1997), sometimes the portrayal of gender in these films are accepted even by the parents where children are easier to influence to.
Social Constructionism Theory studies the development of different occurrences in society. Society is viewed depending on a person’s objective and subjective form of reality. This is also mainly concerned with examining the process by which people describe or explain the world in which they live in (Gergen, 2011). This theory explains how concepts, ideas, and other issues are formed. The existing notions of society are formed because people give them reality through social agreement. Men naturally construct and inhabit a world with others. This would be his dominant and definite reality (Berger and Luckmann, 1966). How men create their world depends on how they perceive it. This perception becomes society’s reality as long as it has been accepted by many. The approach emphasizes the idea that society is actively and creatively formed by man and idea that are formed portray their world.
B. Conceptual Framework
In line with this, as the Disney princesses’ characteristics evolve through the years, the gender stereotypes being portrayed by the princesses could be based on how the world looks at women in our society. Considering the approaches of the theory, Disney created princesses depending on how women are perceived in the generation they existed. For example, in the generation when Snow White was created, it can be noted that women in the 1930’s were more feminine than they are now. The women in that generation were mostly working in their home. These were the times when the males were considered as the breadwinners and the women have lighter workloads. However, as women in society changed in personality so does women in movies evolved. In particular, the Pixar film Brave portrayed Merida, the princess in the movie, to desire to be an archer rather than a princess. The personalities portrayed by Merida in the film are androgynous. Unlike Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Merida was not saved by a man. The story ended with Merida being the heroine of the story. The differences between the two movies were dominant in terms of the gender portrayals and the content of the stories also differed with a more distinct plot.
To emphasize the approach of the theory in the film, the personalities portrayed by the Disney princesses, the gender stereotypes evolved as how the society perceived women in certain generations. In differentiating the transitions that separated each film, it could be seen that the portrayal of personalities of the Disney princesses evolved depending on the generations the Disney movies were released.
C. Operational Framework
Gender schema theory suggests that the people create an understanding of the world around them by arranging what they learn into concepts such as gender (Klein et al., 2000). These schemata formed from their parents, people, environment, and media such as television and movies develop children’s concepts. According to this theory, the depiction of gender roles observed in one’s environment unfolds their concepts of gender. Therefore, if Disney illustrates a particular gender stereotypically, then that may emerge as a child’s conception of that specific sex, in addition to their observation of other mediums such as their family and friends. Furthermore, stereotypes have been defined as “standardized conceptions of people, primarily based on an individual’s belonging to a category” (Schweinitz, 2011, p.4). The theoretical framework exhibited that the possession of characteristic traits symbolizes the categories of race, nation, professional role, social class or gender (Schweinitz, 2011), which could also be a possibility because the roles given to different Disney characters vary depending on the transition where these movies exist.