One of the songs in High School Musical, “Stick to the Status Quo,” involves a number of students who are inspired by Troy Bolton’s newly-revealed interest in theatre. These students sing about their own secret, unexpected hobbies that apparently go against the grain of the social identities that they have built up at school.
While the song, and the movie as a whole, ultimately suggests that exploring different areas of interest is alright, there are underlying gender issues which remain unexplored. Namely, many Disney channel films seem to perpetuate gender stereotypes in relation to sports.
There seems to be an alarmingly common message among such films that athletics is an inherently masculine realm to be occupied by males, whereas alternate interests, such as cooking and singing, are inherently feminine realms to be occupied by females. While films with a male protagonist suggest that he should stay within the realm of sports, films with female protagonists suggest that she should stay away from this same realm. Here we take a look at some examples that depict gender-based discrimination (whether implicitly or explicitly) and what this means for Disney sports films as a whole.
This film is unique from the others on this list in the sense that it explicitly deals with gender issues in relation to sports. The main conflict throughout the film is that the protagonist, Andrea Carson, loves motorcycle racing in spite of her father’s steadfast disapproval. The reason for his lack of support is that she is a girl and therefore somehow unsuited to the sport.
Andrea is met with criticism from various people throughout the film. The racing company even attempts to disqualify her because she is a girl, despite the fact that there are no rules stating that the competition is only for males.
These conflicts draw attention to the gender discrimination which exists in a lot of sports. Terms like “man’s sport” and “girl things” are used throughout the film, emphasizing the deep-rooted gender-based divisions which have become normalized in society.
Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off (2003)
In this film, the titular character struggles between his desire to please his father by winning a baseball scholarship and his own passion for cooking. Most of his friends, classmates, and family members relentlessly mock Eddie for winning a culinary competition.
His mother is the only one who initially encourages him to enter the cook-off, which is another way in which Disney reinforces this gender stereotype. Within the reality of this movie, which is undoubtedly based on the reality of the world, It seems natural that this female character would understand his passion for something as “feminine” as cooking, while the males in his life would mock him for choosing it over the more “masculine” activity of baseball.
Jump In! (2007)
This film follows Izzy Daniels, a young boy who is a star boxer but has a secret love for double dutch. Along with the fact that Izzy’s father opposes the idea of his son giving up his boxing dreams to pursue a hobby primarily practiced by females, most of his classmates join in to relentlessly tease him as well.
Within the world of the film, boxing is universally acknowledged as a male-dominated sport. Izzy’s fellow boxer Tammy tells him about her own struggle as a girl trying to earn respect in a male-dominated sport.
This discussion, as well as the rest of the movie, draws attention to a broad societal problem in relation to hobbies and gender. Why is it such a natural reaction for all of Izzy’s classmates to tease him and ridicule him for wanting to compete in a double dutch competition, when his female competitors do not face any teasing whatsoever? Why is it so natural for male boxers to lack respect for Tammy in spite of her objective skill as a boxer?
Unfortunately, the film does not address any of these questions; instead, it depicts the teasing as a natural reaction to such changes in interest.
The common theme within these Disney films, as well as a number of others, is that it is unnatural for a girl to be interested in sports and it is also unnatural for a boy to be interested in anything other than sports. The fact that this issue of gender-based bias is usually not explored (with the exception of Motocrossed), makes it all the more alarming.
This pattern suggests that such gendering is a normal part of society and any attempt to break the mold will inevitably garner criticism. It suggests that what one should be interested in and what one is naturally good at is dictated by one’s gender. Furthermore, it suggests that challenging such a gender-status-quo is a long and obstacle-filled process that one goes through with little to no support from one’s peers and family. And frankly, this is a disturbing message to be sending to the easily-impressionable viewers of Disney.