Melissa Carter

Melissa Carter: Gender stereotypes in the Magic Kingdom

When you think of Disney, what is the first thing that comes to mind? All the Olafs you have scattered around your living space, despite the fact we're in summer? The private concerts of the top movie tunes you perform in your car? Or those priceless VHS tapes you grabbed from the "Disney vault" just in time, but no longer have anything to play them on?

You probably don't automatically think about discrimination, but one young man in New York did on his first trip to the parks a few months ago.

The third grader named Dexter went to California's Disneyland this spring with his family, and didn't like what he saw when it came to race and gender. After returning home and talking to a classmate, he realized he wasn't the only one who was angry about it.  So the two decided to write this letter to the company:

Dear Disney,

Like most people we love your attractions, but we found some problems with some of them and those problems are stereotypes. Stereotypes are something that some people believe are true but sometimes may not be true. For example say somebody said "girls only like pink," that's a stereotype, some girls might like yellow and not pink. You can never really judge.

We are third graders from New York City at The Cathedral School. We learn about stereotypes  and the impact they have on people's identities. For instance, in the jungle cruise, all the robotic people have dark skin and are throwing spears at you. We think this reinforces some negative associations, we think you should replace them with monkeys throwing rotten fruit.

We noticed that on our trips to Disneyland and Disney World that all the cast members call people Prince, Princess, or Knight, judging by what the child "looks like" and assuming gender. We think some feelings could get hurt, say by accident you called someone a Prince who wasn't a Prince or a Princess, or a Knight, or who was identifying differently than what they were called. We suggest you say "Hello, Your Royalty" instead.

With the Princess Makeovers, we think you are excluding other people who might want a makeover to be something else, including boys and transgender people. When we went to the Princess Castle, the characters only greeted the people they thought were visiting girls, not the visiting boys and again said "Hi Princess."

We hope you know we had an awesome time at Disney and these are suggestions to make it more inclusive and magical for everyone. Please reply and let us know your thoughts.


Sybilla and Dexter
The Cathedral School

I wish I'd had this awareness when I first went to Walt Disney World back in 1977.  All I knew was that I wanted the pirate costume over the princess gown, but didn't yet understand why.

We are often frustrated and dismissive of young people, assuming they are too naive to understand how the world works.  On the contrary, Dexter and Sybilla are great examples of how aware they really are. Now let's see if us old folks, like Disney, can catch up.