By: Sally Gao
One of the easiest places to find stereotypical women is in cartoons.
It’s hard to find women featured in them in the first place, but when they are, they’re portrayed as weak, vulnerable or subservient. From Disney movies to comics to cartoon shows, the media’s construction of women is everywhere. And they paint an unrealistic picture of who they are in general.
Even from the early to mid 1900s, female Disney cartoon characters are mere objects of affection. They are usually helpless when it comes to defending themselves. Sometimes they are nothing more than just decoration. Many of the Disney women have stereotypical female roles like the housemaid. In most instances, however, they don’t have any role but to support the leading male characters. Most of them are written as princesses who need to be saved from the “wicked witch” and then who fall in love with the handsome prince. It’s very rare to see women take charge in Disney films, with the exception of Mulan (1998).
The illustration of Disney female characters is also cliché. For example, in Aladdin (1992), Princess Jasmine has a typical slim body with defined curves and a tiny waist. Her arms and legs are so thin they could hardly be distinguished from each other. These elements further girls’ insecurity about their body image. And they are also not reflective of real life.
Nonetheless, women are not treated much different in comics, either. In fact, they also need rescuing and it’s often by a superhero. Some female comic characters may start off as being strong and independent but they soon become damsels in distress. (Hint: That’s when Superman comes flying with his cape.) Whether it’s Batman, Spiderman or Superman, it’s always the men doing the saving and the women playing the victims. It seems like the female comic characters are vulnerable to danger and do not have the muscle power or brain power to protect themselves.
When women are the heroines, however, their bodies are sexualized. Lara Croft, for example, wears tight clothes that show off her long legs and defined waistline. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is even more discrete. For her costume, she wears a sleeveless garment baring her cleavage and a pair of thigh-high shorts. Both female characters wear very sensual clothing and their attractiveness is more prominent than their other characteristics.
And finally, television cartoons also stereotype women. In fact, they make women look powerless. They are usually written as housewives or stay-at-home moms. In The Flintstones, for example, Wilma is a housecleaning and cooking wife. She is obedient and serves her husband. Similarly, in The Simpsons, Marge is a stay-at-home mom who looks after her two kids while her husband goes out to work. This delivers a message that women’s place is in the home.
Some other cartoon shows over feminize women, however. Two characters, Jessica Rabbit and Betty Boop, are prime examples of stereotypically feminine women. They have full figures with big chests and they wear red lipstick. Their seductiveness makes them desirable to men and above all, makes them subservient.
Overall, this negative portrayal of women in cartoons furthers gender inequality. And it’s about time this type of stereotyping stopped so children will no longer be misinformed about gender roles. After all, women are much tougher, stronger and more independent than ever now.