When you’re a child who hasn’t yet had his or her feminist awakening, it’s inevitable that you’re going to watch your favorite movies without employing a critical eye. You’re not going to be fussed about whether there’s adequate female representation among the cast. You probably won’t notice sexist remarks or plot lines. All childhood-you cared about was having some nice music to sing along to and plenty of bright, exciting colors on the screen. It was a simpler time. Let’s be honest, your biggest concern was whether you’d behaved well enough to get dessert that night. You had minimal awareness of important social issues.
However, all of that changes when you revisit your favorite kids’ films as an adult. How on earth did so many blatantly sexist moments get into the final cuts of films? Who even thought they were a good idea in the first place? Under a wise, socially-educated gaze, movies like The Little Mermaid and Peter Pan become painfully sexist — not to mention pretty racist, too. Even some pretty unexpected kids’ classics contain some super questionable moments… Are you ready to have your childhood ruined?
16. Snow White cleaning the dwarves’ cottage
Yes, I know that this movie was made at a time when women were expected to be nothing but pretty faces and housewives. However, it doesn’t make looking back at Snow White any less cringe-worthy. While a ton of scenes in this film are pretty questionable sexism-wise, one particularly memorable moment is Snow White’s immediate transition into the role of homemaker when she moves in with the Seven Dwarves.
While Dopey, Grumpy, Sneezy and co. all go off to work like all men should, Snow stays at home cooking and cleaning. Admittedly, she does have the help of her little woodland critter friends, but the point still stands. She’s perfectly happy to just wander around the house serving the men and looking pretty. You could be so much more, Snow! For one, go confront your bitch of a stepmother! Don’t leave it to the men to get revenge.
15. The whole chat about virginity in Wish Upon a Star
Wish Upon a Star was a popular TV movie on Disney Channel back in the 90s. However, no amount of entertaining teenage hijinks can make up for just how bad its discussion of virginity is. It’s basically slut-shaming in movie form. When asked why she’s still a virgin, Katherine Heigl‘s character Alex doesn’t provide a sensible answer, such as not being ready for sex or just not wanting to sleep with anyone yet. Nope – she has to go all holier-than-though and say that it’s because she has morals. That’s right – any woman who dares to have sex immediately becomes a scandalous, immoral harlot. It’s a pretty unhealthy mindset to be teaching young girls, Disney.
14. The sexist jokes in The Santa Clause
How many of you watched this classic holiday movie over the Christmas period? I ended up catching it twice. Tim Allen‘s magical transformation into actual Santa makes for one beloved and much-watched movie. However, it’s only when you get older that you realize it’s not so great in the sexism stakes. Within about two minutes, somebody makes a joke about a sexy secretary sleeping with her boss. Ew. The sequel is even worse: the whole plot revolves around Santa having to find a wife in order to fulfill another clause in his contract. The way that this quest deals with women is pretty awful – they’re just commodities for men to pick and choose from! Even if they hate the guy at first, they’ll fall for him eventually because all men are wonderful! Nope. So much nope.
13. Ariel giving up her voice for a guy in The Little Mermaid
The fact that Ariel is considered one of Disney’s more feminist princesses is pretty concerning to me. Sure, she’s headstrong. Yes, she ignores her patriarchal father’s wishes and goes after what she wants. However, let’s not forget that what she wants is a man. She doesn’t really want the chance to control her own destiny – she just wants to transfer herself to another male guardian. Ariel even trades her actual voice in order to get the chance to attract a man. Like, come on, girl! You shouldn’t have to give up something so crucial just to please Eric! Also, the metaphors write themselves. It’s almost like women have had to consistently stay silent and voiceless to avoid offending the men around them…
12. The entire plot of The Swan Princess
Remember this animated movie based on the classic ballet and fairy story? The Swan Princess is one of the few semi-decent animated movies not produced by Disney. However, that doesn’t stop it from being horrendously sexist in every way. The men in the movie only seem to value women according to their appearance and are the only characters permitted to be strong or powerful. The women are weak and expected to accept that men are the dominant sex. Odette, the titular princess who is doomed to be a swan in daylight due to a curse on her family, does literally nothing to try and save herself. She just sits around waiting for her prince, Derek, to declare his love for her and break the spell. Her lack of initiative is so frustrating. WOMEN CAN DO THINGS TOO, EVEN WHEN THEY’RE PART SWAN!
11. The premise of Switching Goals
You don’t even need to watch the movie Switching Goals to understand just how horrifically sexist it is. The movie centers on twin sisters Sam and Emma Stanton, portrayed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Sam is very sporty but wants to be able to attract boys (because apparently sporty women just can’t do that the way they are). Emma is a stereotypically girly-girl who wants to try sports but doesn’t think she’s enough of a tomboy to do so. So apparently, girls can either be sporty OR girly and attractive. You can’t combine these things to be a well-rounded individual. They must remain separate attributes in separate girls. Here’s a thought – why not just teach young girls to be whoever the hell they want? It’s not that hard! Stop trying to make us all fit into arbitrary categories!
10. The King in Cinderella expecting all women to be pretty (and interested in his son)
Once again, Cinderella is undoubtedly a film that was produced in a different time. Women were expected to be passive and pretty, they weren’t expected to have ambitions except for marriage and motherhood, the usual sexist rubbish. However, the film doesn’t get a free pass just because it’s old. The way the King in particular talks about women is pretty gross. Prince Charming’s father basically sees women as a commodity, existing only to look beautiful and dance nicely at his son’s ball. He also just kind of expects them all to be immediately attracted to the Prince because, of course, women are a homogeneous group who all agree on what is and isn’t attractive. Not great, guys. Women exist for more than their looks and are actually individuals with unique opinions. I know – it’s revolutionary stuff!
9. Wendy in Peter Pan being forced to become ‘mother’ to the Lost Boys
Time hasn’t exactly been kind to Disney classic Peter Pan. For one, its portrayal of Native American characters has raised a lot of eyebrows. Alongside this blatant racism, its treatment of Wendy – one of the only female characters in the film – is pretty rough. Because she’s a girl, it’s pretty much immediately assumed that she’s going to become a surrogate mother to the Lost Boys. Action and adventure don’t feature in the world of women – their job is to look after the boys after a long day of excitement. A poignant moment is when Wendy is totally excluded from interacting with or even seeing the Native American characters. She’s instead instructed to be a good little woman and collect firewood. Poor her!
8. Aurora being okay with Philip ignoring consent in Sleeping Beauty
The love story between Sleeping Beauty‘s Princess Aurora and Prince Philip is actually pretty skin-crawling when you think about it. They first meet as strangers when Phillip comes across Aurora singing in the woods. She is understandably quite taken aback by the appearance of this random dude and tries to escape, but Phillip literally grabs her and forces her to dance with him. Of course, they fall in love instantly, and Aurora seems to forget that this is controlling and creepy behavior. Things only get worse when Phillip comes to rescue Aurora from her magical sleep. He kisses her on the lips without her consent, something Aurora doesn’t seem to find worrying at all. Hey, who cares if your guy is slightly creepy if it’s ‘true love’? Not Sleeping Beauty, apparently.
7. 101 Dalmations making a joke about women being bad drivers
How can a movie that’s ultimately about dogs be sexist, I hear you ask? Well, quite easily, as it turns out. While Cruella De Vil is undoubtedly a puppy-murdering villainess who needs to be stopped, her portrayal is actually pretty sexist. For one, her value is almost entirely based on her looks. Because she doesn’t conform to society’s traditional beauty standards, she feels the need to wear excessive makeup and dress in extravagant clothes. She’s never encouraged to value any other strengths she might have – she’s written off because she’s ‘ugly.’ On top of that, a pretty blatant “all women are bad drivers” joke is made when Cruella drives erratically to try and steal back the puppies. That’s a low blow, Disney, and factually incorrect.
6. The little girl’s appearance in The Jungle Book
In Disney’s classic movie The Jungle Book, we only get one brief glance at a female character. Of course, she’s not given a particularly positive part. Why would she? She’s only a girl. Instead, this LITERAL CHILD is accused of being a conniving temptress who is trying to steal Mowgli away and return him to his village. Like, COME ON.
She drops her water pot in a suggestive manner, and young Mowgli is so captured by her seductive beauty (reminder: SHE’S A CHILD) that he’s nearly convinced to leave all of his friends and go back to human society. Luckily, Baloo and Bagheera are there to inform him that all women are awful and Mowgli should stick with his animal friends. It’s like a really strange version of “bros before hoes.”
5. The classic damsel-in-distress vibe of Maid Marion in Robin Hood
Back in the 1970s, Disney decided to adapt the tale of Robin Hood but with an animal-based twist. Robin and Marian became foxes, and all of the other characters were assigned their own animal form. Of course, being a ’70s creation, the film doesn’t allow its female lead to have any agency whatsoever. Her basic role in the film is to get into difficult situations and wait around to be rescued by Robin. All Marian can do is swoon when her knight – well, fox – in shining armor turns up. Her hand is there to be won, and Robin, of course, achieves it. Marian isn’t allowed to help Robin bring down Prince John and Sir Hiss – she just has to be a pretty, simpering damsel in distress. Ew.
4. The Pevensie girls being excluded from battle in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Based on the classic book by C.S. Lewis, this tale of Narnia introduces four major characters: the Pevensie siblings. Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy all have very different personalities and various strengths and weaknesses but do ultimately love each other. They’re each given their own role in the conflict that plagues this magical land in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe… Although the guys are given a somewhat better deal. While all four siblings want to fight for the future of Narnia, only Peter and Edmund are allowed to do so. This is despite Susan literally being gifted a weapon earlier in the film. Sure, maybe Lucy was a bit young to be going into battle, but surely Susan could have played some part? She was a darn good archer! But no. The girls had to stay behind and wait meekly for their brothers to return.
3. Meg constantly has to get saved in Hercules
Meg is yet another disappointing Disney female lead who had the potential to be so much more. In her first scene, this sassy and independent Greek woman claims that while she is a damsel, and is in distress, she doesn’t need saving. However, she goes on to prove herself wrong throughout the film. Hercules has to step in to rescue her from Hades’ clutches, and Meg becomes get another lame duck heroine who sits around waiting to be saved. She’s also repeatedly slut-shamed for having a precious partner (who ultimately left her), is hit on by Hercules’ pal Phil, and ultimately has no agency due to being Hades’ slave. Meg deserved so much better.
2. E.T. dressing in female clothes is ‘shameful’
Whenever I watch E.T., I come away wondering why exactly Steven Spielberg hates women so much. For one, all of the female characters in this film exist to fulfill the usual stereotypes of their gender. They’re all wives, mothers, or annoying sisters. Speaking of sisters, Elliot’s sister is basically excluded from the ending farewell scene with E.T., despite being fundamental in the actions that saved his life. That doesn’t seem fair. Finally, the moment in which E.T. has to dress in women’s clothes is seen as so shameful and horrifying that only his literal death is worse. Like, what’s so bad about being a woman, Steve? Why is it a fate almost as bad as death? Educate yourself on gender issues, man.
1. Mrs. Banks abandoning her Suffragette ideals to please Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins
Man, Mary Poppins had the potential to be such an awesome feminist film. For one, Mary herself is a total badass: she takes no prisoners, is clearly an independent woman, and basically schools ineffectual father Mr. Banks. The children’s mother, Mrs. Banks, is also pretty awesome based on first impressions. She’s a full-on suffragette, campaigning hard for women’s rights and even singing a song about the fact men are essentially trash.
However, Mrs. Banks goes and ruins it by ultimately remaining subservient to her husband. He doesn’t like her silly little idea about getting votes for women and is so hostile to the idea that he tried to prevent his wife from continuing her efforts. Instead of telling her husband to f*ck off, Mrs. B just hides her political actions and remains a meek and subservient wife and mother. Come on, Mrs. Banks. You deserve the freedom to openly be your best self. Don’t remain a slave to the patriarchy!