Linguists Find That Disney’s Leading Ladies Lack Language

by Courtney Bissonette


Once upon a time, Disney never stopped being problematic. Linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer have been working on a study that analyzes the dialogue in Disney movies in order to determine the verbal equality between male and female characters and to determine whether or not it plays a major role in the lives of children who view them.

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The study has already found that around 70% of all dialogue spoken in most Disney princess movies is by male characters. According to the research, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Tangled and Brave are the only films where women speak more than men.

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In addition, not one Disney movie, including any movie where the woman is the lead role and title character, provides more speaking roles to female characters than to males counterparts. Similarly, not one Disney princess movie has a greater number of female characters  to that of male.  


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Interestingly, the study found that despite the two-dimensional characters of the first three original princesses, the princesses of the Disney Renaissance from 1989-1998 had fewer female speaking roles, despite having more empowering storylines for the female characters that did appear. The princesses within the past ten years did slightly better than those of the Renaissance, but did not compare to the original three.

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The study found that the movie Brave had the most lines spoken by a woman, and Cinderella had the closest amount of female characters to male characters. However, Sleeping Beauty  was closest to equality all around. Despite this, the title character has the least amount of speaking lines of any princess, and Aurora is widely considered the worst princess, as far as feminism is concerned.

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This begs the question of whether these numbers really matter. Is it immediately un-feminist to provide fewer roles and fewer lines to women?  Or is it more important to tell stories about strong women overcoming hardship? This is a question of quantity vs. quality. While it is easy to get caught up in numbers, they are not necessarily indicative of how this affects the minds of young girls. The study is ongoing and will hopefully provide more tangible information on how this data affects us. 

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The study focuses on The Little Mermaid as one of the worst offenders, however, it may be important to remember that the story was taken from a Dutch fairytale of the same name.

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The story is about a mermaid losing her voice, so it’s hard to blow the whistle and call something unequal when the story is following the guidelines set by a fairy tale written several hundred years of age.

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There has been a push for more feminist princesses, yet Disney always seems under fire for not being feminist enough. 

In my opinion, it’s far more important to show strong women even if they are outnumbered by the men. Kids don’t go to Disney movies and count characters and lines, they go to be entertained and if they provide us with strong female characters, there are worse offenses in the world of children’s movies.   

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