A trousers matter: are Disney’s female characters clothes of the latest animated and live action films empowering or a weak façade?

  • Giulia Galizia
Keywords: Disney, Princess, Gender Roles, Symbolism, Children’s Media


Princesses wear gowns, beautiful capes, wonderfully handmade dresses. Or do they? In the latest Walt Disney Animated Films, princesses and women have been wearing trousers and pants substituting the “average” and worldwide known princess outfit. From Maleficent to Toy Story 4 to Frozen II, many female characters started wearing more comfortable clothes which allow them to fight and move comfortably wherever they want. Disney is diving into its old filmography and rethinking their old fairy tale classics changing key characteristics to make the stories more “feminist” according to contemporary standards (Koushik, Reed 2018). Although it has been a clear sign of empowerment, are these changes following feminist roots? Are the female characters empowered? Feminism’s reemergence in the mainstream has forced and is still forcing businesses and media organizations to be aware of and even to promote gender issues relevant to the marketing of their products (Schiele, Louie, Chen 2020). Queen Elsa from Frozen, for example, is an insecure character but she does not face her fears as her sister Anna does. However, in Frozen II, Elsa changes her attitude and with it her clothes change too. Is queen Elsa, however, really one of the most powerful Disney characters? On a visual language perspective, are trousers the best way to show how women can be empowered? Is it a clothes matter or is it more a motif matter? Is using stereotypical heritage from fairy tales a wise choice? And are the characters from Encanto a new perspective on the matter?


Berma, Eliza (2016), «How Beauty and the Beast's Screenwriter Shaped Disney's First Feminist Princess», in TIME, from https://time.com/4344654/beauty-and-the-beast-linda-woolverton/.

Bettelheim, Bruno (1975), The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Vintage Books Edition, New York 2010.

Bosak, J., Sczesny, S., & Eagly, A. H. (2008), «Communion and agency judgments of women and men as a function of role information and response format», in European Journal of Social Psychology, n. 38, pp. 1148-1155, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.538.

Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film (2021), It’s a man’s (celluloid) world: On-screen representations of female characters in the top 100 films of 2020, Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, San Diego.

Chita-Tegmark, Meia, Lohani, Monika, & Scheutz, Matthias (2019), «Gender Effects in Perceptions of Robots and Humans with Varying Emotional Intelligence», in 2019 14th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI), pp. 230-238, from https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/8673222.

Coyne, Sarah, Linder, Jennifer, Rasmussen, Eric, Nelson, David, & Birkbeck, Victoria (2016), «Pretty as a princess: Longitudinal effects of engagement with Disney princesses on gender stereotypes, body esteem, and prosocial behavior in children», in Child Development 87, n. 6, p. 1909 e 1925, from https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cdev.12569.

England, Dawn Elizabeth, Descartes, Lara & Collier-Meek, Melissa A. (2011), «Gender Role Portrayal and the Disney Princesses», in Sex Roles, n. 64, pp. 555–567, from https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-9930-7.

Ejzenštejn, Sergej Michajlovič (2002), Metod, ed. by Kleiman, Naum, 2 vols, Muzei kino, Eizenshtein-tsentr, Moskva.

Ejzenštejn, Sergej Michajlovič (2016), Notes for a General History of Cinema, ed. by Kleiman, Naum & Somaini, Antonio, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam.

Green, Willow (2013), «90 Facts You Didn't Know About Disney», in Empire, Retrieved January 20, 2016, from https://www.empireonline.com/movies/features/90-disney-facts/.

Hearn, Jeff, & Hein, Wendy (2015), «Reframing gender and feminist knowledge construction in marketing and consumer research: Missing feminisms and the case of men and masculinities», in Journal of Marketing Management, n. 31, 15/16, pp. 1626-1651, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0267257X.2015.1068835.

Hine, Benjamin, England, Dawn, Lopreore, Katie, Skora Horgan, Elizabeth, Hartwell, Lisa (2018), «The Rise of the Androgynous Princess: Examining Representations of Gender in Prince and Princess Characters of Disney Movies Released 2009–2016», in Social Sciences 7, n. 12, 245, from https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7120245.

Indhumathi, R. (2019), «The influence of sex role perception on career aspirations and self- esteem in children with a preference for Disney movies», in International Journal of Indian Psychology, n. 7, 1, pp. 183-195, from https://ijip.in/articles/the-influence-of-sex-role-perception-on-career-aspirations-and-self-esteem-in-children-with-a-preference-for-disney-movies/.

Julius, Jessica (2019), The art of Frozen II, Chronicle Books, San Francisco 2019.

Kailash, Koushik, and Reed, Abigail, (2018), «Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast, and Disney’s Commodification of Feminism: A Political Economic Analysis», in Social Sciences 7, n. 11, 237, from https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7110237.

Llompart, Auba, Brugué, Lydia, (2020), «The Snow Queer? Female Characterization in Walt Disney’s Frozen», in Adaptation 13, n. 1, pp. 98-112, https://doi.org/10.1093/adaptation/apz019.

Lopez-Zafra, Ester, and Gartzia, Leire (2014), «Perceptions of gender differences in self-report measures of emotional intelligence», in Sex roles 70, n. 11-12, pp. 479-495, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11199-014-0368-6.

Lunceford, Brett (2010) «Clothes Make the Person? Performing Gender Through Fashion», in Communication Teacher, n. 24, 2, pp. 63-68, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17404621003680864.

Lüthi, Max (1947), Das europäische Volksmärchen: Form und Wesen, A. Francke, Bern (The European Folktale: Form and Nature, transl. by J. D. Niles, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN 1982).

Propp, Vladimir Y. (1946), Исторические корни волшебной сказки, Publishing House of Leningrad State University, Leningrad (Le radici storiche dei racconti di fate, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 1972).

Reyes Lancaster-Jones, Juan Pablo (2021), The art of Encanto, Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

Schiele, Kristen, Louie, Lauren, Chen, Steven, (2020) «Marketing feminism in youth media: A study of Disney and Pixar animation», in Business Horizons 63, n. 5, pp. 659-669, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2020.05.001.

Shehatta, Sarah, (2020), «Breaking Stereotypes: A Multimodal Analysis of the Representation of the Female Lead in the Animation Movie Brave», in Textual Turnings: An International Peer-Reviewed Journal in English Studies, n. 2, pp. 170-194, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/348224738_Breaking_Stereotypes_A_Multimodal_Analysis_of_the_Representation_of_the_Female_Lead_in_the_Animation_Movie_Brave.

Solomon, Charles (2010), Tale as old as time – the art and making of Beauty and the Beast, Disney Editions, New York.

Solomon, Charles (2013), The art of Frozen, Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

Solomon, Charles (2017), Tale as old as time – the art and making of Beauty and the Beast, Disney Editions, Glendale (California).

Streiff, Madeline, and Lauren Dundes (2017), «Frozen in Time: How Disney Gender-Stereotypes Its Most Powerful Princess», in Social Sciences 6, n. 2, p. 38, from https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6020038.

Tangcay, Jazz (2017), «Interview: Jacqueline Durran on Finding the Right Yellow for Disney’s Live Action Beauty and the Beast», in Awardsdaily, from https://www.awardsdaily.com/2017/11/18/interview-jacqueline-durran-finding-right-yellow-disneys-live-action-beauty-beast/.

Vygotsky, Lev S. (1925 and 1965), Psikologiia Iskusstva, Art, Moscow (The psychology of art, transl. by Scripta Technica Inc., MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1971) retrieved by: https://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/1925/index.htm.

How to Cite
Galizia , G. (2022) “A trousers matter: are Disney’s female characters clothes of the latest animated and live action films empowering or a weak façade?”, Rivista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio, 16(1). doi: 10.4396/20220602.