Event Title

Gendered Parenting and the Nuclear Family: Using Disney Films to Understand American Conceptions of Family

Presenter Information

Leah Miller, Dickinson College

Location

Stern Center Great Room

Start Date

19-4-2018 6:15 PM

Description

I employ methods of literary, historical, and media analysis to examine Disney films as a global phenomenon. My project consists of two chapters; the first will examine mothering as a dominant theme across Disney animated films produced in the 1940s and 1950s whereas the second chapter will analyze fatherhood as central to Disney movies produced in the 1990s. I argue that the image of the unrealistic mother within early Disney films is a reaction to contemporary anxieties towards women entering the work force during World War II and the rise in focus on motherhood within psychoanalysis. This unrealistic depiction of motherhood leads to an erasure of mothers that continues into Disney films produced in the 1990s, thus pushing fathers to be the central parental figure. This narrative of the absent mother and overbearing, emotionally distant father act as examples of the challenges in removing mothering from mothers. These stories centered on fatherhood are ultimately a reaction to the nineties “crisis of masculinity” where people began to redefine masculinity as capable of sensitivity and emotion. These historical moments are thus critical to our understanding of parenting as they shape concepts of motherhood and fatherhood.

As my first chapter focuses on mothers and mothering, I chose to use Dumbo (1943), Peter Pan (1953), and Sleeping Beauty (1959), to illustrate how these films depict both a mother and a mother figure who represent the pinnacle of unrealistic motherhood. In my second chapter, I use The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998), and Tarzan (1999), to argue that Disney films produced in the 1990s critique the overbearing masculinity of the patriarchal figure while placing responsibility on women of color to resist the patriarch. The conclusion of my project analyzes Finding Nemo (2003) as a contemporary film that queers parenting through the inclusion of a disabled step-parent figure and a father that performs mothering. Ultimately, this contemporary film exposes an increased acceptance of a more queer approach to family and child rearing.

The films analyzed throughout this project complicate the notion that only biological mothers are able to perform positive forms of mothering and that families require the biological mother for the healthy development of the child. By providing families centered on “created kinship” rather than solely presenting images of the nuclear family, these Disney animated films resist popular attitudes toward the American nuclear family. In doing so, these films also explore the limitations that come with repairing the nuclear family and the challenges that come with deviating from dominant cultural concepts of family.

Presentation Type

Presentation

Comments

Advisor: Assistant Professor Katie Oliviero

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Apr 19th, 6:15 PM

Gendered Parenting and the Nuclear Family: Using Disney Films to Understand American Conceptions of Family

Stern Center Great Room

I employ methods of literary, historical, and media analysis to examine Disney films as a global phenomenon. My project consists of two chapters; the first will examine mothering as a dominant theme across Disney animated films produced in the 1940s and 1950s whereas the second chapter will analyze fatherhood as central to Disney movies produced in the 1990s. I argue that the image of the unrealistic mother within early Disney films is a reaction to contemporary anxieties towards women entering the work force during World War II and the rise in focus on motherhood within psychoanalysis. This unrealistic depiction of motherhood leads to an erasure of mothers that continues into Disney films produced in the 1990s, thus pushing fathers to be the central parental figure. This narrative of the absent mother and overbearing, emotionally distant father act as examples of the challenges in removing mothering from mothers. These stories centered on fatherhood are ultimately a reaction to the nineties “crisis of masculinity” where people began to redefine masculinity as capable of sensitivity and emotion. These historical moments are thus critical to our understanding of parenting as they shape concepts of motherhood and fatherhood.

As my first chapter focuses on mothers and mothering, I chose to use Dumbo (1943), Peter Pan (1953), and Sleeping Beauty (1959), to illustrate how these films depict both a mother and a mother figure who represent the pinnacle of unrealistic motherhood. In my second chapter, I use The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998), and Tarzan (1999), to argue that Disney films produced in the 1990s critique the overbearing masculinity of the patriarchal figure while placing responsibility on women of color to resist the patriarch. The conclusion of my project analyzes Finding Nemo (2003) as a contemporary film that queers parenting through the inclusion of a disabled step-parent figure and a father that performs mothering. Ultimately, this contemporary film exposes an increased acceptance of a more queer approach to family and child rearing.

The films analyzed throughout this project complicate the notion that only biological mothers are able to perform positive forms of mothering and that families require the biological mother for the healthy development of the child. By providing families centered on “created kinship” rather than solely presenting images of the nuclear family, these Disney animated films resist popular attitudes toward the American nuclear family. In doing so, these films also explore the limitations that come with repairing the nuclear family and the challenges that come with deviating from dominant cultural concepts of family.