At first glance, the Womyn's Action Coalition's (WAC) annual dinner on March 3 could have been mistaken for a little girl's birthday party.
The song "A Whole New World" accompanied the pink and purple place settings, welcoming the dinner guests into the Union Ballroom.
But closer examination revealed an entirely different set of motives. The event was called "What's in a Princess? Breaking Down Disney," and it was an eye-opening look at the narrow gender roles employed in many classic Disney films.
The evening began with a disclaimer. "We definitely don't want to ruin Disney for you," said junior and WAC President Dana LePage. Instead, LePage explained, the dinner aimed to bring attention to the narrow gender roles so often used in movies such as Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and Cinderella.
After the dinner course, guests digested a clip from CNN about the "sexualization" of young girls. According to Jane D. Brown, author of the book Media, Sex and the Adolescent, equating self-worth to sex appeal is hurting girls both mentally and physically. Girls are exposed to a constant barrage of what she called "sexual super peers"-young celebrities seen partying in miniskirts that fail to exemplify "the three C's of sexual health." Brown says that the media fails to show commitment or love, information about contraceptives, and consequences of celebrities' actions, leading to unrealistic and dangerous lifestyle expectations.
LePage then discussed the dichotomy of female roles in the movies. Women could be flawlessly beautiful, masochistic and in need of rescue. Or, women could be independent, ugly, vain and evil. "The messages that Disney portrays about females in general and the impact that this has on youth, both boys and girls, who have grown up watching these movies, is that perhaps they begin to believe that these are the only two roles females can take on," said LePage.
WAC led the group into a game of Disney trivia. Questions focused largely on the portrayal of female roles in the movies and sexist language. WAC members drew inspiration for the questions by reading through various movie scripts. For example, one question, targeting Snow White, asked which movie exemplified "lips as red as rose, hair as black as ebony, skin as white as snow," as a standard of female beauty.
Toward the end of the dinner, the six recipients of the WAC Gender Equality Awards were announced. Dr. Elaine Cleeton, a sociology professor with a Ph.D in women's studies was nominated for her focus on gender issues in the classroom. Dr. Steve Derne, also a sociology professor, received an award for his emphasis on non-sexist, gender-neutral language, and his substantial attention to gender inequity in his lessons. Dr. Robert Doggett, an English professor was also given an award for his views on the critical role that literature plays in how we view gender roles, and his inspirational teachings on the importance of feminism. Sophomore Julie Nociolo, president of Geneseo's National Organization for Women (NOW) was awarded for her work in last semester's Love Your Body campaign, pushing for a presentation from I Love Female Orgasm, starting the debate over intramural sports scoring policies, and for being an excellent example of a strong leader. Senior Cynthia Stallard, president of the Geneseo Pride Alliance, was nominated for her beliefs that GLBT issues are inherently linked to gender issues, her work on the Transgender Panel, and for helping to create gender neutral restrooms in the Lauderdale Health Center. Finally, senior Ceridwen Troy, vice president of the Geneseo Pride Alliance, was awarded for her work on the Transgender Panel, for raising gender issues in housing policies, and for influencing the installation of two gender neutral bathrooms in Lauderdale Health Center.
The evening ended on a humorous note. A short film called Dysenchanted gave a peek into a group therapy session between characters of popular fairy tales, and showed just how grim life could be for this group of fictional females. At the end of the night, guests were invited to take out their aggression on Disney and its sexism by whacking a frilly pink piñata emblazoned with the well known princesses. "I think that it's very important to challenge all forms of media because they have a tendency to categorize and dichotomize gender roles. If we do this with the larger scheme of things, eventually we can understand that who we are doesn't need to be reduced to stereotypes, or altered to fit specific and often debilitating gender roles," said LePage.
This message hit home for students: the piñata was down in a mere three hits.