Background Information

In 1923 the Disney Company got its start as a small independent studio with a staff of four and it is now one of the richest and most powerful multi-media corporations in the world. In 1937 the Disney Company linked merchandizing to their movie production of Snow White producing toys and clothes (Budd and Kirsch 2005). The end result was amazing; by the end of 1937 the Disney Company had earned $8 million from the Snow White movie and marketed products.

Since then, Disney has created innovative marketing procedures and produced dozens of classic movies that have created the warm, family friendly name we have grown up with. Read more about Disney marketing.

Although many consumers would associate the Disney Company as being “family friendly entertainment,” on the contrary, more and more people are becoming all too familiar with all the ways Disney is not family friendly.  In reality, Disney is not as innocent or squeaky clean as we would like them to be especially when children are their main audience and target group (Budd and Kirsch 2005). Learn more about Disneyfication and read the Gender section below. 

Consumers and viewers need to understand that Disney is a business.  With all businesses the main goal is to make the highest profit with the least pay out.  With this in mind, how do they do this?  Well one very important way they do this is by making most of their products in sweatshops.  Yes, sweatshops, that friendly mouse we have all came to love, is running sweatshops.  These sweatshops have been located all over the world.  To find out more, click this link, Disney's Sweatshops! 

So Disney is using sweatshops, how does this affect Americans?  Well, this has a very negative social cost on everyone.  The following link explains the social cost of the products made by Disney.  Social Cost.

Since Disney uses sweatshops, and they really have not stopped this use, why do people work in them?  Who works in them?  Click the following link to see who works here and why they work here: Laborers.

With a need to generate as much wealth as possible, the use of sweatshops has grown.  People have been oppressed, abused, and neglected in these working environments.  With this, there is someone always on top.  The following link will explain about the elite involved. Profiteers.



Disney Princesses And Gender

Since the 1930’s Disney has implemented heterosexual ideologies, patriarchy, hegemonic masculinity, reinforced our societies gender binaries, heterosexual normativity, and displayed conservative values in their films and company structure (Budd and Kirsch 2005, Byrne and McQuillan 1999).

Almost all animated Disney movies have plots built around a heterosexual love story including the movies that the six Princesses come from; this reinforces Disney’s agenda to show how romance and love are found through a heterosexual relationship and by proper gender conformities (Byrne and McQuillan 1999). 

Disney also illustrates their opinions about femininity, women, and gender through their female characters by using stereotypical portrayals of women to romanticize marital roles and show that a woman’s happiness is found through doing traditional nineteenth century roles (Davis 2006). In their Princess Collection, Snow White, Aurora, and Cinderella are Princesses from the Disney Classic Period and they exhibit the most traditional characteristics of the six Princesses in the Collection. Read more about the six Princesses.

Beginning in the late 1980’s, Disney began to slowly, move away from their stereotypical female images due to changing attitudes towards women and the influx of feminist movements. It was during this time that the remaining three Princesses were created: Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine.  Although they are not as traditional, so to speak, they still display Disney’s stereotypical depictions of a woman and have also become more sexualized.

Overall, Disney is consistent in displaying their perceptions of what it means to be a woman through their female characters; women are supposed to be: beautiful, lively, a medium build, 120 lbs., tender heart for boys and animals, musical, innocent, passive, domesticated, and patient. (Davis 2006).

As you can see Disney’s Princesses are meticulously gendered and whom does it affect? According to Amy Davis, the author of Good Girls and Wicked Witches, Disney’s main audience is young children, particularly young girls (2006). Davis goes on to explain that children are “affected from a very early age by the media images with which they are constantly bombarded” with. The nineteenth century brought with it the “ability to mass produce printed images of women and beauty ideals which led to the sort of standardization of fashion and beauty norms which we still find in fashion/beauty magazines”  (Davis 2006). Disney therefore reinforces the hyper-feminine norms of our society through their female characters especially their two most profitable characters: Snow White and Cinderella.

The depictions of characters in Disney films can cause a misunderstanding and/or confusion in children's perceptions of the real world or even affect their actions and behaviors. Children act out in children’s play what they see, especially in animated films because it is visually appealing, visually stimulating, and stimulates their emotions (Davis 2006). They are therefore more likely to mimic what they see in the animated films without an ability to separate fantasy and fiction from reality (Davis 2006). Unlike adults, children are still learning what is real and make-believe. The world is not a pretty pink place with friendly animals and Prince Charming's but Disney incorporates these feminine and romantic stereotypes into the film's and merchandise they market towards children (Budd and Kirsch 2005). 

See more about Disney and Gender in these two Videos!

 11 Things Every Consumer Should Know

1.  Disney has sold sweatshop-produced garments for more than 20 years!

2.  Disney sweatshop workers get paid varying amounts depending on the factory and country.  Some of the wages are: $2.40/day, $0.12/hour, $0.28/hour, $0.65/day, and $0.06/hour.

3.  Disney sweatshops have low wages and poor working conditions; they are comprised mostly of young women in Haiti, Vietnam, China, Macau, Honduras, Burma, and Bangladesh who make the Pocahontas shirts as well as the Sleeping Beauty and Little Mermaid tiaras and wands that Disney sells at inflated prices.

4.  Michael Eisner was the CEO of Disney till 2005, in 1993 he became the highest-paid executive in the country, receiving more than $203 million in salary and stock options. That breaks down to being paid $98,191 an hour! Which is about 325,000 times the hourly rate for the employees in sweatshops.Compare that to the President who was paid $96 an hour or the minimum wage that was $4.75 at the time.

 5. The current CEO is Robert A. Iger.  He is reported making $20.71 million in 2008.

6.  The following companies are licensees that have used sweated labor in the production of Disney products: Nathan J. Company, Too Cute, L.V. Myles, Classic Apparel, Keyhing Toys, Eden Group Mamiye Brothers/American Character, and Victoria Garment Manufacturing.

7.  Some Disney factories have quotas so high, that workers cannot meet.  This means the workers are not able to make their full pay, which is already below standard.

8.  Disney Sweatshops have fired adult workers to hire children workers.  This is so they can pay less, control them better and they are more docile for work that requires "tiny hands".

9.  More than 200 million people a year watch a Disney film; 395 million watch a Disney TV show every week; 212 million listen or dance to Disney music; more than 50 million people a year from all over the world go to a Disney theme park!

10.  In a study about audience reception, "The Global Disney Project found that more than 85 percent of respondents in eighteen countries who had seen a Disney film shared similar interpretations” to the contents of the film. (Budd and Kirsch 2005)

11.  The media is owned by about 10 major corporations, one being Disney.  Check the Profiteers for more information.


 The Word On The Street

Although Disney is well-known family, friendly name, we decided to conduct an unscientific inquiry through three separate interviews of people who actually purchase Disney products in hopes of gaining insight about how people perceive Disney, their products, and gender. 

The first is Michelle, a 23 year-old single mother of a 25-month-old girl. She has not and does not buy any Disney Princesses products or clothing but has received many items as gifts. Michelle will probably never buy any Disney clothes because they are too expensive. She stated that she was not aware that Disney had sweatshops or used child labor, but said that it did not surprise her at all, going on to say that it seems that every company now uses sweatshops and it is really disappointing. She grew up watching the Disney movies and said that she will let her daughter watch them as well. When asked, Michelle said that she does believe that the Princess collections products are very gendered: the products are produced for only little girls and the Princesses themselves are very feminine. Although she doesn’t consider the gendered characters a problem at all she is really concerned that it may create a ‘Princess Complex.’ That is, little girls act as if they are better than others, they may demand certain things, or grow up spoiled. Instead she wants kids to grow up and appreciate what they have even though, as a parent, you want to buy them anything to make them happy. Michelle went on to say that overall the Disney movies that the Princesses are characters in, the movies have morals that kids can learn from. Snow White teaches kids to accept others and work together; Cinderella teaches kids that even if you com from a poor family or are mistreated, you too can fall in love or marry into a better family; Beauty and the Beast teaches kids that love comes from the inside and it does not matter how others look on the outside. The morals of the stories are more important than the depiction of the characters. Michelle explained that the characters are cartoons and they are overdone abstractions of what is real, yet they are needed to display the moral of the story.

Read more Interviews and find out what people have to say!

Overall, People do not feel Disney is a threat to society.  This is a good presumption... Disney really might not mean any harm by, but they do cause harm!  They have people working in unfit conditions and they have an unrealistic gender identity being forced upon people who don't fit the categories.  When it comes down to it, it is how you view the situation but you must educate yourself, your children, and others around you.  If you don't ask questions, then how far will you really go? 

People also don't realize how sweatshops are being used in our society.  If people knew what was made in a sweatshop, would they buy it?


 What You Can Do

1. First and most importantly we must spread awareness of the poor conditions that these workers have forced upon them and recognize that the system is made to oppress them. These people cannot fight Disney by themselves; they need you to raise awareness and bring pressure through numbers.

2. Boycott sweatshop manufactured products including Disney merchandise by refusing to purchase these items. By purchasing Disney clothing and other Disney products you are supporting the current system both socially and economically. Choose sweat free clothing alternatives.

3. Support fair trade organizations. Fair trade organizations work importing products from economically insecure communities and sell them in prospering communities then send the profits back to improve the quality of life for the producers community.

4. Voice your concerns. Email, phone, fax, or mail your local Disney store or corporate Disney addressing your concerns and voice your opinion that what is being done is wrong and that you as an individual will not support these sort of actions.

5. Organize, join previously established groups or create your own. Through numbers social pressure can be brought against Disney to change their unethical practices. Organizations wield more power than individuals and can bring negative media to Disney.

Additional Links



Bender, Daniel E. 2004. Sweated work, Weak Bodies. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Bender, Daniel E. and Greenwald, Richard A.   2003.  Sweatshop USA: The American Sweatshop in Historical and Global Perspective. New York, NY: Routledge.

Brooks, Ethel C.  2007.  Unraveling the Garment Industry: Transnational Organizing and Women's Work.  Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Additional Sources, Links and Information

Created by: Brad Beck, Dennis Corbin, and Whitney Rodriguez     

Northern Illinois University,  2008