Frozen Mouths: Disney Heroines Get Way Less Talk Time Than Male Characters

Princess Elsa might not sing ‘Let It Go’ over the gender inequality in speaking roles.

(Photo: ‘Mulan’/Facebook)

Jan 30, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

It earned nearly $1.3 billion at the box office and spawned a generation of kids who want every doll or dress related to the flick and can’t stop singing its theme song, “Let It Go.” Nope, there’s no denying that Frozen was a resounding success. The movie has been lauded for depicting its main characters, Princess Elsa and Princess Anna, as independent heroines—even if they’ve been found to have the exact same face as female characters from other animated Disney films.

But it seems the duo couldn’t talk too much while kicking butt and taking names. Two researchers who crunched the minutes of speaking time in the film found that its female characters talk a mere 41 percent of the time.

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That lack of speaking time for female characters is a trend that’s true across the majority of Disney films, according to linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer. They analyzed speaking time according to gender for every animated Disney flick since 1937, when Snow White made its debut.

Earlier Disney films, such as Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, have long faced criticism for their damsel-in-distress-is-rescued-by-Prince-Charming story lines. But both movies have a greater gender balance in talk time than Frozen. Female characters in Sleeping Beauty talk 71 percent of the time, and in Cinderella, they speak 60 percent of the time.

However, the years between 1989 and 1999, when several popular animated movies were released by Disney, male dominance became the norm. Princess Jasmine figures prominently in the story of Aladdin, but she and other female characters only speak 10 percent of the time in the film, while women in Pocahantas only talk 24 percent of the time. In Mulan, women only get to speak for 23 percent of the movie’s running time.

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The two researchers took on the project because they’re intrigued by how gender roles are taught to children, which made studying animated films essential. “We don’t believe that little girls naturally play a certain way or speak a certain way,” Fought, who teaches at Pitzer College in California, explained to The Washington Post. “They’re not born liking a pink dress. At some point, we teach them. So a big question is where girls get their ideas about being girls.”

Fought and Eisenhauer believe part of the problem is that there are so few prominent roles for women in animated movies, and it’s true throughout Hollywood, whether a movie is animated or not. Given that Frozen is the highest-grossing animated film of all time, it certainly seems the audience is open to hear what female characters have to say.