Yeah yeah, Walt Disney was a genius and a trailblazer and a visionary…but he was also a racist and a horrible sexist. The letter informing a woman applying for a job at the studio informing her that “Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school.” has been floating around for years, but recently a newspaper story by Disney biographer Bob Thomas laying out his ideas of women’s capabilities has been unearthed and it’s even worse. “I have found that very, very few women are good cartoonists,” says Mr. Disney. And besides they don’t have a sense of humor AND they have babies and stop working! So…no animation for you. BUT they do like color so let’s keep them in the color department.
Comic scholar Jeet Heer unpacks these statements and how they perhaps relate to the Disney princesses and their stereotypical roles, while pointing out that, mirroring may aspects of society, women were most free in Disney films when they were villainesses. It’s also part of the popularity of Frozen—Elsa gets to be a villain and an empowered character at the same time.
Anyway, when I wrote about the animation letter seven years ago I pointed out that actual sexism isn’t just a construct of the female “victim mentality.” It’s a thing that powerful men used to say aloud and now say privately. And it’s stupid.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.