In her 2013 article Mean Ladies: Transgendered Villains in Disney Films, Dr. Amanda Putnam explores specific gender roles and qualities as well as the purpose behind their portrayals of certain characters in Disney films. She insists that the “good guys” (princes and princesses) are distinctly heterosexual while the villains are blatantly transgender. Putnam contests that “by creating only wicked characters as transgendered, Disney constructs an implicit evaluation of transgenderism, unequivocally associating it with cruelty, selfishness, brutality, and greed” (149). While I agree with her perception of several negative character traits in Disney’s villains, I cannot possibly jump to the conclusion that they are so obviously transgendered in the first place.
Putnam uses Ursula from The Little Mermaid and Scar from The Lion King as two of her supporting examples. According to Putnam, Ursula’s “voluptuous figure…deep voice… and overtly sexualized body movements” automatically make her a “queer predatory monster”, as do Scar’s sassy sarcasm and “lack of physical prowess” make him homosexual (154, 156).
Why does Ursula have to be transgender? Yes, she’s a big girl with exaggerated movements and unfettered confidence — she loves her own body and shimmies while she sings. But in my mind this doesn’t categorize her as masculine. Is a fabulously tacky overweight woman any less of a woman than one with a smaller, gentler figure? The same goes with Scar. Is a man who is scrawnier and wittier than most automatically gay? I think it’s wrong to peg Ursula as definitely transgender as well as to label Scar as homosexual. In doing so, Putnam herself is perpetuating our system of gender binaries, sticking to strict, traditional definitions of femininity and masculinity.
More over, I disagree with Putnam’s interpretation of Cinderella’s stepsisters as transgender characters as well. Putnam goes so far as to create a clear contrast of genders by describing the scene in which Drizella and Anastasia rip Cinderella’s dress and break her necklace as a “psuedo-rape scene” (153). I think that’s a bit of an overly dramatic stance to take… While Drizella and Anastasia do in fact have boyish faces, flat chests, and no accentuated waists, I don’t believe Disney purposely made them resemble male figures, and they certainly weren’t raping Cinderella. I think the sisters were meant to be viewed as childish in their inability to act sophisticated and control their jealous emotions. I don’t believe Disney contrasted Cinderella and her stepsisters because they were actually men, they were simply much less mature than the princess-to-be.
One thing I do agree with Putnam on is Disney’s repetitively sexualized and stereotypical representation of the female body. Putnam asserts, “In making each heroine’s outfit form-fitting, especially around her breasts, waist, and hips, Disney accentuates the ideal heterosexual female figure to viewers: curvy breasts and hips, an unrealistically small waist — and tight apparel to show it all off.” Although I don’t think the heterosexual component has much to do with the argument, I do believe that Disney’s portrayals of its numerous princesses further emphasize our society’s idealizations of female body proportions that are simply unhealthy and, many times, unattainable. Jasmine and Ariel don’t even wear real shirts — one wears a flow-y bra while the other simply wears shells, and Pocahontas wears a tight, short, one-shouldered dress.
While I think Putnam accurately picks up on physical representations as well as distinct personality qualities, I don’t think she is appropriate in categorizing “girly men” and “manly girls” as strictly transgender or homosexual characters.