Most of us growing up with television and cinema, have watched the odd Disney animated movies. Storytelling through these media, influence how we shape our thinking and potentially even the choices we make in future. From previous research I shared on the topic of gender differences, we learned that children actually choose to behave more feminine or masculine based on inputs from their environment. For most children Disney movies played a role in their first big entertainment experiences. A lot of girls dreamed of becoming some kind of princess and a lot of boys dreamed of becoming an action hero. The stereotyping in these movies as well as storybooks has an indirect and potentially subliminal influence over children’s world view and choices.
A recent study of Disney animations in relation to gender typification showed the evolution of how female characters were portrayed starting with Snow-white in the 1930’s to current day leading ladies in Frozen and Moanna. The researchers watched 54 productions several times, with the objective of determining the patterns as they relate to organisational readiness and gender. The underlying assumption is that movies influence how we see the world indirectly and how women in the animated world have been portrayed can influence future goals of girls growing up. Not all of us can grow up to be a princess, hence the patterns that do transfer to other roles are the ones of interest.
Reading the study was fascinating and at the same time also a bit worrying. The patterns portrayed came out as follows:
- Separation from parents
- Subjection to dangerous and/or unfulfilling work
- Manipulation or deception by managers or overseers
- Accentuating the positive in the working role
- Being rescued by others in work
The researchers did see a trend away from a vulnerable female character in need of rescue to an active and self-rescuing female lead. In the older movies a lot of older women were villains and perceived as nasty and undesirable, this has made way for more motherly advisers types. Work was perceived as unfavourable in the early days, now strength and taking charge are considered a positive. The one side the researchers felt still had a major impact is the fact that beauty was still core as well as the happy ever after ending in a love situation.
Although it is clear that Disney never set out to create a societal narrative, they just want to make movies that sell and those movies are often based on books already in the market place before then. The fact is that most of us learn through stories, much more than we do through factual evidence, so it is not unusual to consider the impact of stories. In the coming generations both games and digital streamed content from youtube and similar sources will play a big role in socialisation and gender norms.
As we create more and more story related gamification for organisations, it is important to be cognisant about the influence a story holds, beyond the enticing plot and hero or shero journey.