There's a Huge Problem With Disney Princesses You Never Noticed

Disney films will never be the same again


Next time you're marathoning your favorite Disney movies, try this experiment. Pause the singalong and try to figure out who's doing all the talking. A new study, highlighted by The Washington Post, shows that even though the main characters are princesses, it's a group of dudes that's dominating the dialogue.

Carmen Fought from Pitzer College and Karen Eisenhauer from North Carolina State University are analyzing all the dialogue from Disney princess movies. They presented their preliminary research at the Linguistic Society of America's annual meeting earlier this month. They crunched the numbers to figure out how often male and female characters dominated the dialogue.


The gender balance wasn't always bad. In Snow White, men and women have an equal number of lines. In Cinderella, the dialogue is 60 percent female, and it's even better in Sleeping Beauty, in which 71 percent of the lines come from female characters. 

  But when the "renaissance" of Disney movies happened in the 1980s and 1990s, somehow that came with a lot more mansplaining. In The Little Mermaid, men talk 68 percent of the time; those numbers go up to 71 percent in Beauty and the Beast, 76 percent in Pocahontas, 77 percent in Mulan, and 90 percent in Aladdin.

What's the reason behind this disparity? The researchers say it's because newer Disney films have much bigger casts than the old-school ones, and those ensembles are usually heavily male. 

"My best guess is that it's carelessness, because we're so trained to think that male is the norm," Eisenhauer told the Post. "So when you want to add a shopkeeper, that shopkeeper is a man. Or you add a guard, that guard is a man. I think that's just really ingrained in our culture." In general, female side characters in these movies don't have a ton of agency, and exist only to find a husband or do domestic tasks.

Things aren't that much better nowadays. Men still talked more than half the time in The Princess and the Frog and Frozen, though Tangled had 52 percent female dialogue and 74 percent of Brave's lines came from women. So while it's a great thing to have explicitly feminist characters like Merrida around, Disney needs to seriously step up its game when it comes to the supporting cast. After all, every powerful woman needs a few other powerful women to have her back — even if she's a princess.

Words by Megan Friedman Cosmopolitan US

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