How to be Male, According to Disney

I’m a huge Disney fan. Nay, one of those annoying Disney adults. I mean, it’s basically a requirement in the queer community so I’m in good company. But while Disney does some pretty harmful things when it comes to women and girls (AKA princess culture), their imagery for men is pretty spot on.

How to be Male, According to Disney

The thing about Disney is that everything is based in magic. It’s whimsical. Poetic, even. That means that you end up with some pretty broad sweeps in terms of what makes someone a man or a boy.

And none of them include what’s in your pants.

Pinocchio (1940)

I can only imagine how much different things were back when this was written. The story, if for some reason you don’t know it, is that a puppet comes to life and wants to become a real boy. Since he was made of wood by Geppetto, Pinocchio can’t be a real boy because of how he was made…

Except there’s magic out there. Pinocchio is visited by the Blue Fairy who’s willing to grant him his wish.

The Blue Fairy visiting with Pinocchio
The Blue Fairy visiting with Pinocchio

But wait! Being a real boy isn’t so easy. Pinocchio must first prove himself. But without boy parts how is he supposed to do that? Thankfully the Blue Fairy lays it out for him.

“Prove yourself brave, truthful and unselfish, and someday you will be a real boy.”

The Blue Fairy from Pinocchio, Disney (1940)

Seems pretty doable to me. Of course, this isn’t the only Disney movie where someone talks about what it is to be a man or boy.

Mulan (1998)

Mulan was one of my all time favourite movies growing up. Gee, I wonder why. It’s a movie about a woman who disguises herself as a man. She’s successful, courageous, and manages to save the day.

The song Reflection especially hit home with me. Here’s the lyrics:

Look at me
I will never pass for a perfect bride
Or a perfect daughter
Can it be
I’m not meant to play this part?
Now I see
That if I were truly to be myself
I would break my family’s heart
Who is that girl I see
Staring straight back at me?
Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?
Somehow I cannot hide, who I am, though I’ve tried
When will my reflection show who I am inside?
When will my reflection show who I am inside

There really wasn’t anything better at the time for 8 year old me to describe how I felt. I never felt like I belonged or that I was meant to be a girl. And I definitely felt like no one understood.

Mulan cutting off her hair
Mulan cutting off her hair

But what Mulan also does is describe what it takes to be a man. Disguised, Mulan trains with the other sons of China. None of them are all that manly, so everyone is learning to together.

You must be swift as the coursing river
With all the force of a great typhoon
With all the strength of a raging fire
Mysterious as the dark side of the moon”

Lines from “be a man”, mulan (1998)

Once again we have descriptions of manhood that really don’t have anything to do with biology. The man in the camp and Mulan all learn together that there’s more to being a man than just being born one. And more to being a solider than wearing armour and showing up to war.

Mulan’s transformation isn’t quite the same as a trans man because she eventually goes back to being a woman. But when she does, she’s the kind of woman she wants to be – not what everyone else wants from her.

Still, it shows us that being a man comes from inside.

Hercules (1997)

Disney has more than a few “boy to man” stories, but Hercules is by far my favourite. I love the story of this guy who didn’t quite fit in embark on a journey to find out where he belongs.

Like Mulan, it’s another story of someone finding their place. Something that really resonates with queer people. But also while wanting to make your parents proud. It’s funny that this and Mulan came out a year apart, actually, considering the similarities between the themes.

But of course, Hercules is pretty friggen manly.

Hercules giving Zeus a manly high five
Hercules giving Zeus a manly high five

For those of us who think being a man means being tough and strong, though, this movie really offers some more balanced advice. Hercules was born strong, and he was born as a “perfect” man.

“For a true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.”

Zeus, hercules (1997)

It’s important for all guys to remember that there’s more to being a man than being “manly”. Heroism comes in all shapes and sizes and there are many ways to display your strength.

Taking Manly Advice from Gaston (Beauty and the Beast, 1991)

I can’t talk about Disney men and leave Gaston out. Beauty and the Beast was another favourite movie of mine as a kid. It came out when I was really little and watched it a lot as a young child. A book worm myself, I dreamed of a castle and a library too.

This is the part where I share how my dad would ask me if I thought he could beat up Gaston. I said yes, obviously.

Gaston admiring himself because he's so hot can you blame him
Gaston admiring himself because he’s so hot can you blame him

They sing a whole song about how manly this guy is so he must be the real deal. But what does Disney think a real manly man should be like?

Here are some ways they describe Gaston in the song/movie:

  • No one’s slick as Gaston
  • No one’s quick as Gaston
  • No one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Gaston
  • No one’s got a swell cleft in his chin like Gaston
  • No one fights like Gaston
  • Douses lights like Gaston
  • In a wrestling match nobody bites like Gaston!
  • Not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny.
  • And every last inch of me’s covered with hair!
  • No one hits like Gaston
  • Matches wits like Gaston
  • In a spitting match nobody spits like Gaston
  • No one shoots like Gaston
  • Makes those beauts like Gaston
  • Then goes tromping around
  • Wearing boots like Gaston!
  • I use antlers in all of my decorating!

As you can see, once again, no reference to what’s in his pants.

So there you have it. Being a man, at least according to Disney, can be a lot of different things – but what it’s not is being born a certain way.

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Walt Disney


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