The message of toxic masculinity that is often delivered in Disney animated films are the same flawed values that are being used by President Donald Trump in his branding. Colleen Clemens the director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania defines toxic masculinity as “a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away (Clemens, 2017) .” As Senior Content Developer at Tooling U-SME, Grace Dugar writes in her Masters Thesis “As a pillar of American culture, Disney films exert immense influence on contemporary society. The unavoidable presence of Disney in America has provoked much criticism of the ideologies Disney promotes within these films” (DuGar, 2013).
Walt Disney Co. is an empire worth about a $130 billion dollars according to GOBankingRates (Dennison, 2019). Beyond the corporations immense wealth it has left an indelible mark on American culture as Garey Laderman writes in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion “Disney cultural productions, including films, television shows, and theme parks have left an indelible mark on the life of the nation. In many ways, his work helped usher in the emerging value systems that transformed the United States in the first part of the century.” Disney is a major power player in the cultural zeitgeist. The marketing of Disney characters is so woven into the fabric of our society and psyche that many Americans would probably dismiss the similarities between our current President and some of the characters depicted in Disney films.
However, the similarities of Donald Trump and Disney characters played a crucial part in him winning the 2016 election for Trump by reinforcing characteristics of toxic masculinity. Michael Kramp of Salon.com writes “Quite simply, men in the United States do not hold the same cultural status or identities that they did 50 or even 20 years ago. And the increasing racial diversity of the nation has specifically complicated white men’s presumed patriarchal authority. The angry, even violent actions of some men, including President Trump and many who enjoy his juvenile antics, suggest that they do not quite know how to handle these changes” (Kramp, 2019)
One of the main points that is noteworthy is the strong heterosexual vibes that Donald Trump asserts, he projects a high libido, someone who can’t wait to take his princess from the ball, one could argue he went as far as owning his own ball, the Miss Universe Organization. Similar to the many heterosexual characters in Disney Films that are often vying for a love interest and go through great lengths to obtain these beautiful brides such as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, the 1997 film Hercules, or the 1995 film Pocahontas; all films which have similar themes of a woman waiting to be rescued from a life of relative despair by a wealthy male (Kritselis, 2014).
It is important to note that homosexual characters are practically nonexistent in the Disney World and that in the 2016 election that Donald Trump beat a more qualified woman whom he often questioned her competence, similar to the dynamic between Maui and Moana in the 2016 film Moana. One could also argue that Trump believes he can have any woman he wants because of his vast wealth which was echoed by his “grab ‘em by the pussy comments” in his infamous 2005 recording. He actually courted or stalked Princess Diana before her passing according to the Daily Mirror (Shammas, 2019). This type of behavior is similar to messages in Disney Films such as the movie Aladdin which shows the hero of the film Aladdin being turned into a wealthy prince by the genie so he can court Princess Jasmine, in addition to the concept that if you are rejected by a woman you should continue to pursue her which is a message in the 1950 film Cinderella where Cinderella runs from the ball only to be pursued by Prince Charming with the lame excuse of returning her slipper.
Even the idea that women will love you if you abuse them is present in the 1991 film Beauty & the Beast where Belle is the Beast’s prisoner and as Alex Kritselis of Bustle writes “Belle is the Beast’s prisoner. He is constantly screaming at her. He denies her food until she agrees to dine with him! Still, this human woman is drawn to the slobbering, oversized monster. The Beast doesn’t show any real affection toward Belle until the movie is practically over, but don’t worry, he still gets the girl” (Kritselis, 2014). Similar to the commander-in-chief Donald Trump who has been accused of sexual assault, jokes about calling women fat pigs, and on at least one occassion refused his wife an umbrella when it was raining (Agerholm, 2018).
An even more comparable example to a Disney Film would be the striking similarity of the character Maui in the 2016 film Moana where Maui pushes Moana off her boat. Furthermore, the disparaging comments that Maui makes about Moana throughout the film often questioning her intelligence, is further evidence of how toxic masculinity is celebrated not only in Disney films but in mainstream America. Trump’s actions are similar to the virtues extolled in Disney Films and because of his wealth he is rarely held accountable. A similar message that has been subconsciously embedded into the fabric of Disney films and American society which is that wealth is the prerequisite for being treated fairly and that wealthy men exhibit toxic masculinity.
(Ryan Glover is a contributor for The Packie. Follow him on Twitter @actorrglover, Instagram @actorrglover, Facebook Ryan Glover)
Agerholm, Harriet. “Donald Trump Holds Umbrella Over Himself As He, Wife and Children Board Air Force One.” 16 Jan. 2018.
Clemens, Colleen. “What We Mean When We Say, “Toxic Masculinity” 11 Dec. 2017.
Dennison, Sean. “How Much Is Disney Worth?” Google, Google, 12 Apr. 2019, www.google.com/amp/s/www.gobankingrates.com/making-money/business/how-much-is-disney-worth/amp/.
DuGar, Grace, “Passive and Active Masculinities in Disney’s Fairy Tale Films” (2013). ETD Archive. Paper 387.
Kramp, Michael. “Boys and Men in the Age of Trump: How the President Is Affecting Our Understanding of Masculinity.” Salon.com, 8 June 2019.
Kritselis, Alex. 7 (2014)Problematic Lessons Disney Movies Teach Boys About Masculinity .
Laderman, Gary. The Disney Way of Death. Journal of the American Academy of Religion , Mar. 2000..
Shammas, John. “Diana Was ‘Bombarded with Flowers from Donald Trump… but She Wasn’t Impressed’.” Google, Google, www.google.com/amp/s/www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/donald-trump-gave-princess-diana-6266166.amp.
Tanner, L., Haddock, S., Zimmerman, T., & Lund, L. (2003). Images of couples and families in Disney feature-length animated films. The American Journal of Family Therapy. 31, 355-373.