On a sunny, summer Californian day a four year old child with with brown ringlets and a pale pink bow in her hair was about to meet her hero for the first time. As she inched her way closer to the front of the line she could see the signature red polka dot dress that a certain Disney mouse was wearing and knew she was almost there.
Once she made it to the front she was promptly put on the character’s lap and proceed to gawk because her idol was right tin front of her. Something unexpected happened next, the usually silent Disney mascot spoke to the little girl to her surprise. Although the interaction was short the child never forgot her cherished time with her hero. That little girl was me and that heroine was Minnie Mouse.
The first person, or in this case character, that I held in the highest regard when I was a child was undoubtably, Minnie Mouse. Nearly every object that resided in my room as toddler had the bright, smiling face of Disney’s queen Minnie Mouse plastered on it. To this day I still adore Minnie Mouse and always take a picture with her when I go to Disneyland. The characteristics that attracted me to Minnie Mouse as a child was her girlish persona, cute feminine outfits, and her kind demeanor to everyone around her. I idolized my heroine and wanted to be just like her as a child because of how much she was adored on television and in person. Essentially I wanted that same adoration.
Minnie Mouse had a great impact on my life due to the type of toys that were bought that shaped my play style. Minnie’s toy line included activities that were considered appropriate for little girls such as a kitchen set, baby stroller, and a miniature house. In conjunction with the toys I received and the traditional hispanic household I was raised in I was raised to believe that I would grow up to cook and clean like both Minnie Mouse and my grandmother. As I grew up I began to strive for goals other than the appropriately feminine persona that Minnie Mouse is known for. My adoration for her did not diminish but with my new found knowledge it was altered.
The geniuses behind Minnie Mouse and many other notable Disney characters was Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks who are both men. Due to the fact that men have historically controlled the media they have been able to shape the portrayal of women to their liking much like Disney was able to make Minnie appear appropriately feminine. The media is a patriarchal medium because it “serves the needs of patriarchal society by suppressing and distorting woman’s experiences” (Kearney, 2012, pg. 31). To look at Minnie Mouse using patriarchal ideology, new opinions can be formed about the character.
The most notable characteristic of Minnie Mouse is that she is appropriately feminine. The term appropriately feminine is the patriarchal notion of femininity which states that women should not get dirty, should wear feminine clothes such as skirts, and that their domain is the home (Kearney, 2012). This social construct of the female gender is directly projected onto Minnie Mouse. Minnie is always seen in a dress and never been shown in pants as that is not appropriately feminine. Her significant other Micky Mouse also overshadows her which makes her dependent on him.
Another interesting factor that plays into Minnie Mouse is the fact that she is so popular with young girls, including myself at that age. Girls are being taught the status quo through repetition and what they see through the media including Minnie Mouse. Their impressionable mind takes in Minnie’s demeanor and appearance as how they should act and look.
This tendency to fashion oneself after Minnie Mouse as a child can be related to one of the cinematic identification fantasies. The fantasy that touches on one’s desire to become like a specific star like Minnie paints her as a role model to many. Being a role model helps to contribute to the “construction of the ideals of feminine attractiveness circulating in the culture at that time” (Kearney, 2012, pg. 647).
According to Maio (1998), the characters created by Disney are not just cartoons but they are “symbols of the times” (pg. 119). This mean that the company fashions the demeanor of the characters, like Minnie Mouse, based on what the target audience wants to see. If the audience wants to see an appropriately feminine character at the time then Disney will provide that. The wants of the target audience has changed throughout the the many decades that Disney has been producing cartoons. In the beginning with Snow White the heroine was depicted as the damsel in distress. As time has progressed heroines have becomes more independent based on what the audience wants to see. In recent years audiences are encouraging and want female character to hold stronger media roles. For example, in 2004 Minnie was depicted in a seat of power in the children’s movie Micky, Donald, and Goofy: The Three Musketeers as the Queen of France.
In conclusion, this analysis has helped me to look at my childhood hero in a different light. These new concepts that were applied to Minnie Mouse helped to establish that her image was created with the social construct of female gender in mind.
Kearney, M. C. (2012) The gender and media reader. New York: Routledge
Maio, K. (1998, December) Disney’s dolls. New internationalist, 12-14.