Some unintended and unwanted lessons that male Disney characters teach our boys
I was raised on Disney. Between their classic movies and Disney channel, a third of my childhood entertainment was created by them. It’s impossible for a child that lives in America to not be influenced by this entertainment juggernaut. As much as Disney has entertained me, it has also taught me many life lessons and influenced the way I see the world.
Most of these lessons were good, but sometimes my undeveloped mind misinterpreted what was being said. For instance, in The Lion King during Mufasa’s powerful Circle of Life speech, he told Simba “When [lions] die, our bodies become the grass and the antelope eat the grass. And so, we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.” In my mind, I took that to mean that everywhere there was grass, a lion had died. That misunderstanding fucked me up for about a month after I saw the movie. I couldn’t go outside without reliving Mufasa being trampled by stampeding buffalo.
I told you that story because this article is about the unintended lessons that Disney taught my generation about dating and relationships. Now as my smarter, PhD earning, younger sister pointed out to me, there are plenty of pieces talking about how Disney has warped our thinking, especially due to the model of the Disney Princess. While that is true, most of it surrounds how it affects young women. Let me delve into how these movies affect young men.
Lesson 1: It’s OK to lie about yourself to get someone to like you (Aladdin and Mulan)
One of the most ironic scenes in Aladdin is when the titular character is outside the royal palace trying to psych himself up to talk to Jasmine. The advice that the Genie gives him is “bee yourself” (no typo, the genie was a bee when he said this). It’s ironic because he had to fake the persona of Prince Ali Ababwa to even talk to her in the first place. Of course, by the end of the movie, she finds out who he really is and loves him regardless (it’s not hard with those abs and that smile) but that’s only because his fake persona allowed him to get access to her once she was behind those literal and figurative castle walls.
What are our boys supposed to learn from that: I guess it doesn’t matter if you use alternative facts to woo someone, they’ll forgive your lying once they get to know you.
A QUICK ASIDE: Can we talk about General Shang in Mulan for a second? He’s the general of an army of men. All of a sudden he finds out that one of his soldiers is a woman. He ends of marrying that woman, even though the whole relationship previous to that point was built on making her more “manly.” Forget LeFou in Beauty and the Beast, maybe Disney has been featuring queer characters for longer than we thought.
Lesson 2: Kissing is the best way to see if they’re into you (Sleeping Beauty and Snow White)
First kisses are amazing. The joy that comes with gathering up your courage, leaning in and they don’t pull away (which has happen to me a couple of times) is one of the most exhilarating feelings ever. Even if one of you ends up being a bad kisser, the simple fact that you’ve broken that tension is enough to make that moment magical. It’s special because of the slow build. First you notice them, then you talk to them, then they agree to hang out with you, light physical contact, then…the kiss. Regardless of if it takes a couple of hours or a couple of years, there are plenty of ways to find out someone’s interest in you BEFORE locking lips.
But in not one but TWO movies, Disney decides to build the story around a kiss being only way the female character can fall in love. While this isn’t an egregious statement on its own, it is terribly concerning when you realize that in both cases the women characters are ASLEEP when that kiss is given.
What are our boys supposed to learn from that: I guess if someone likes you it should get physical right away. Is there no middle ground between not interested and making out?
We can all agree that kissing is a huge step in the relationship and it’s a very good indicator that they’re into you, but why is Disney so obsessed with teaching our young men that it needs to be the FIRST indicator?
Lesson 3: It’s not about what they say it’s about what they don’t say (Little Mermaid)
Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better when the woman is conscious. I could write a lot of words about how Disney totally disregards sexual consent but I think the lyrics to The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss the Girl” makes that point crystal clear. I’m sure you remember when Ariel went on a whole date without speaking and Prince William’s conclusion was “we should take this to the next level.” Here are some excerpts from the song:
“She don’t got a lot to say but there’s something about her. And you don’t know why, but you’re dying to try. You wanna kiss girl”
“Yes, you want her. Look at her, you know you do. It’s possible she wants you too? There’s one way to ask her. It don’t take a word, not a single word. Go on and kiss the girl“
“Boy, you better do it soon. The time will be better. She don’t say a word. And she won’t say a word, until you kiss that girl“
What are our boys supposed to learn from that: If I want to kiss someone, I should just do it and ignore what they want. Consent be damned.
How this affects us today
As you can see, this article isn’t about social awkwardness on first dates. While we feature and celebrate the bravery and resourcefulness of the Disney Princess, oftentimes we do so at the expense of not recognizing the faults of the Disney Prince. Through Disney movies, and a slew of other popular media, boys have been made to believe that we deserve our Princesses NOT because we are worthy but because they should be grateful we are interested in them.
When you’ve grown up in a society that deems the highest form of romance a man kissing an unconscious woman, it makes sense why issues like rape culture on college campuses are so prevalent. We as men have been told that if we take initiative with a woman, she will ignore our faults and be eternally grateful for our attention. But that’s not real life. Everyone talks about how Disney Princesses are damaging to young girls but let also start acknowledging that Disney Princes might be just as damaging to both boys and girls. For every girl that thinks she needs a boy to give her purpose, there’s a boy who calls a girl a slut because she refused to date him or a boy that assaulted a girl because he thought “she was into me.”
Beauty and the Beast is a story where a man with anger management issues holds a woman hostage in his house until she agrees to fall in love with him. Instead of society condemning that criminal behavior, we call it a love story.
What are our boys supposed to learn from that?