The Importance of Feminism in Pop Culture, Republican Debate Edition


At the Republican debate on Tuesday, Chris Christie (an actual human being alive in 2015 and actively trying to say things that will appeal to people!) actually said this:

“Think about the mothers who will take those children tomorrow morning to the bus stop wondering whether their children will arrive back on that bus safe and sound. Think about the fathers of Los Angeles, who tomorrow will head off to work and wonder about the safety of their wives and their children.”
Alice nodding sarcastically

Since the statement itself is so blatantly sexist I don't even need to deconstruct it, I'll go beyond that and look at this boneheaded remark in the setting of my analysis of Inside Out's poor choice to regurgitate a very tired stereotype of the "normal" family structure.

Now, I am not suggesting for a moment that if only Disney & Pixar had remembered to give Riley's mom a job, then Chris Christie, or indeed any Republican politician for that matter, would be behaving like a decent human being by now. Not even the Mouse has that kind of power.

Mickey getting trampled by brooms

Shown: the Republican presidential candidates, and their buckets of bigotry.

But, what I will say is that what we see in media has a huge effect not only on how we live our individual lives, but on what we perceive is the "normal," default experince with which everyone is supposed to identify, and that the populace at large is assumed to support. A remark like Christie's takes as its starting assumption that the American voter expects a "normal" family to have a working father and a mother who focuses on the children, and that the roles of these two (heterosexual & married) parents are distinct from each other. The fact that we see this family structure not only in Inside Out, but over and over again in a whole slew of sitcom stay-at-home wifeys, in ads for household products, and so much else, has a cumulative effect in establishing our cultural self-image. When the most prominent media depiction of a family from the biggest and most prestigious studio is a completely uncritical reflection of outdated gender norms, it reassures the more regressive among us that this is still how the world is supposed to operate, and provides tacit support that Christie's comments are how we are supposed to talk about American families.

And let's make no mistake, people NOTICE if a cultural powerhouse like Disney implicitly criticizes their values. It is accutely distressing to those who fancy themselves as the Moral Majority to find out that their views are not, in fact, the majority's opinion or the cultural default. While I generally spend most of my time criticizing Disney from the Left, it's always nice to remind myself that when Disney makes its incomplete-yet-very-important strides toward modernity, the Religious Right goes BATSHIT. In fact, most of the Religious Right has hated Disney since the 1990s, what with their extending partnership benefits to gay employees, promoting paganism and voodooism in The Lion King, and sneaking hidden sexual messages into The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas.

John Smith and Pocahontas making out


Even setting aside their apoplexy over something with a more overt political message like WALL-E, there are even religious conservatives who threw a hissy fit over the fact that friggin' TANGLED is too progressive, what with its protagonist feeling bored by domestic chores and pastimes, or as the hilariously-named website "Ladies Against Feminism" complains

As this new-fashioned fairy tale unfolds, we’re treated to an interesting commentary on homemakers and why these captives to domesticity are setting themselves up for eventual disenchantment [...] it’s a mockery and misrepresentation of homemaking.
Cinderella burdened with laundry

Wait, so let me get this straight: it's okay for a Disney movie to show a heroine who hates housework as long as she's a commoner and a prince makes her a princess, but it is NOT okay for a Disney movie to show a heroine who hates housework if she's a princess and she makes a commoner a prince? Gosh, patriarchy is hard!!

They're even furious that Tangled has such radical notions of independence, individuality, and self-fulfillment, or, to translate into Ladies-Against-Feminism-speak:

We also find out that children’s movies are a great way to ensure a break down of morality in the future. We see this in a number of ways- running away from home with a complete scoundrel, camping out in the woods with said scoundrel, an unbiblical view of love, emotional enticements (e.g. smolder)
Flynn Rider shows us the smolder're not only against my political, social, and economic equality, you're even against THE SMOLDER?!

And, heaven forbid, Tangled even teaches that it's okay to escape from a controlling parent!

But, the fact is that Rapunzel’s actions are carried out in the understanding that this is her mother and it’s really not until the last few minutes of the film that she finds out otherwise. Theirs is the relationship which is modeled throughout the film as mother/daughter. Parents are sinners, just like their children, but one person’s sin doesn’t excuse the sin of another. If we’re prepared to say that Mother Gothel’s sins are inexcusable, we must be prepared to say the same of Rapunzel’s. also helpfully warns Christian parents that you can't get sloppy and let your impressionable Disney-watching children leave the theater thinking it's okay to question the authority of someone who has locked them in a tower for eighteen years:

That’s the one part of the film that I had trouble with. While Mother Gothel was truly a fraud and evil in every way, young Rapunzel didn’t really know that. Instead, Rapunzel deliberately left the safety of the castle against the authority set over her. Once out in the real world she is experiencing a rift of emotions and thoughts that any girl would probably express in the same situation like, “I am a horrible daughter,” followed immediately by, “This is the best day ever!” Why was it the best day ever? Was Flynn right when he tempted her further with, and I’m paraphrasing here, “A little rebellion is normal; it’s part of growing up.” A clarifying conversation may need to take place after the film about all of this with regards to biblical authority in general, as well as the 5th commandment. thinks 'hair in the Bible' is relevant to Tangled

Also, whatever the fuck this is.

But of course nothing, and I mean NOTHING, compares to the Religious Right's deranged fury over Frozen, what with all its embrace of individualism and self-actualized female characters:

Fox News freaks out over Frozen and its portrayal of men Conservative Christian declares Frozen has a gay agendaA mormon blogger flips out about Frozen and the Gay AgendaBotkin says Frozen is Satan's Rebellion AnthemAlice guffawing at being tickled

So, in conclusion, dear Disney: please get it together and remember to embody progressive values in your movies. Not just because it's annoying to see you supporting the kind of thoughtless sexism that still runs rampant in our society, but more than that, it's so much damn fun to see the troglodytes wail when you get it right!

UPDATE 7/17/2016:

Apparently Mike Pence, noted homophobe, misogynist, anti-choice panty-sniffer, and now Vice Presidential candidate had a bit of a freakout about Mulan in the '90s:

The amazing thing about it is that what he actually said is EVEN WORSE than you'd imagine from the headline, and that's saying something!

He even made a point of using Li Shang and Mulan's attraction as a reason it's inappropriate to allow women in the military. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember that Li Shang and Mulan, being ethical people and professionals, never acted on their attraction while they were busy fighting a war, and they never sexually harassed or raped each other. Didn't seem too hard to just wait until they were no longer in a combat unit together before getting romantic, did it?!


  1. Weirdly, I always got the impression that Rapunzel liked housework and was pretty good at it. It just wasn't enough to fill up her day or her life. I mean, that first song is very upbeat.

    1. Yeah, you're right. The thing is, though, the stay-at-home-daughters movement is so absurdly reactionary that they think women should be happy making household chores OUR WHOLE LIFE. If you read their full review at the link (which I don't recommend unless you really like tearing your hair out and throwing things!), they even say that the only reason Rapunzel wasn't fulfilled was that her housework didn't serve a "larger dominion purpose" and wasn't dedicated to God and so on. I'm of the opinion that living in such a tall tower, she was as close to God as anyone in that kingdom was reasonably going to get.

  2. I will never understand the Frozen-lesbian connection. I saw ZERO references to homosexuality in that entire movie. Yet somehow, a movie that praises the family-love between 2 sisters--and specifically has the younger, more outgoing sister get engaged to one man, break it off, then start tentatively dating another man--will make little girls want to date other girls? HOW?!

    (Also, am I the only one who's sick of the aggressive Frozen merchandising? It's been long enough, Disney. Switch to Zootopia or Moana, please, for the love of ALL the gods.)

    1. I think the Religious Right was interpreting Elsa embracing her ice powers as a metaphor for coming out of the closet. Also, being true to oneself and standing up to social expectations is hugely threatening to some people, and if people have positive role models saying repression is a bad thing, then how is the Religious Right supposed to enact all of its gay-bashing?!

      I know, it's ridiculous, but that's where our reactionaries are right now.

    2. If coming out is like embracing one's awesome elemental superpower, then I have apparently been Doing Lesbian Wrong. I feel cheated.

    3. @Whirlwitch

      All this time I thought you guys had awesome ice sculptures at your weddings because of your elemental superpowers!!

      I mean, think about it--have you ever heard of a court case of an ice sculptor refusing their services to an LGBT wedding? There must be a reason why!


About the Author

Satiricalifragilistic grew up during the Disney Renaissance, and The Little Mermaid was the first movie she ever saw in theaters at age 3. Her mother flatly refused to let her leave the theater when Ursula got huge and terrifying, and maybe that explains her troubled psyche.

While she'll admit to being an inveterate nitpicker, she firmly believes in loving a piece of art even while criticizing it, and in the importance of engaging critically with what she loves. She has special contempt for anyone who tries to claim the politics in Disney films don't matter because "they're just movies," because she knows exactly how much the Disney Canon influenced her little gradeschool self—for good and for ill!

She loves art, design, music, dancing, movies from Hollywood's Golden Age, and British comedy...expect a lot of these to turn up in her reviews and mashups!