Lecture: The Development of Women's Language Use in Disney Films
The representation of women’s language use in the media plays an important role in both perpetuating and challenging stereotypical gender roles in society, and a particular area for concern is the impact that this can have when aimed at young audiences. Children’s fairy-tales have been especially scrutinised by critics for the status that they carry in society as traditional and timeless narratives that are passed down through generations, but their messages and attitudes towards gender may not always keep up with the developments and progress in gender theory or politics. To this end, I will be discussing the relationship between women’s language use and the representation of gender in Disney films, and providing analysis of portrayals of women’s language in Disney’s Cinderella (1950) and Brave (2012). To substantiate my own analysis, I will also engage with several different research traditions, primarily referring to Robin Lakoff’s contributions to the deficit approach, and more recent developments in gender theory and feminist linguistics. Subsequently, we can observe development in the way that women’s language has been presented in Disney films, which marks a shift in attitudes towards gender and begins to challenge stereotypical gender roles that are often portrayed in the media.
In order to show that there has been development in the portrayal of women’s language in Disney films, it is important to use examples of Disney’s earliest films, e.g. Cinderella (1950), as well as examples from the more recent additions to the Disney franchise, such as Brave (2012). Both films feature women as the protagonist, and also include a range of women in the role of a supporting character, providing substantial material for analysis. The fact that both films form part of the Disney princess franchise is also significant, as these films can have a deep impact upon young audiences who learn what a princess behaves like and looks like, which is problematic when such films offer prescriptive and stereotypical depictions of women’s language and gender roles in general. Generally however, Disney’s the portrayal of Disney’s female characters has undergone a development from flat, two-dimensional personalities to rounded, fully realised, three-dimensional characters with increased agency and independence. Therefore, this talk will take as its starting point different research approaches in order to establish the theory that will inform my analysis, and then I will present my interpretation of women’s language and its impact on gender portrayal in Cinderella, before moving on to compare and contrast these findings with my analysis of Brave. In conclusion I will argue for the increased diversification of gender portrayals and representation of language in Disney films, which serves to usurp and transform the stereotypical roles of women in society.