The impact of mass media portrayals of class and gender

Read Ken Gillam and Shannon R. Wooden’s “Post-Princes Models of Gender: The New Man in Disney/Pixar” IAW p. 542-554.

*Optional–two other articles from our textbook must be used in Essay #3, though we will work with them in-depth next week. They are bell hooks’s “Seeing and Making Culture: Representing the Poor” p. 486-492 and Jean Kilbourne’s “Two Ways a Woman Can Get Hurt,
p. 556-577.
must have a reference page and all should strictly be done on information the book “inquiry to academic writing” fourth edition

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Gilliam et al (2008) in Post-Princess Models of Gender, introduce us to a form of manhood they refer to as ‘the new male model’ which they say is very different from the traditional ‘alpha male’. The point of reference for this observation is their two-year-old son Oscar with regards to his reaction of Steve McQueen’s allusion in Pixar’s Cars (2006). In the essay, they discuss ideas and thoughts on what it means to be a man in terms of character. Influence from Disney and Pixar on children and how they grow up to perceive themselves and their gender is very real and in Cars (2006), a new definition is created. In the new model from the films, the new man expresses more feminine traits which are a new standard of masculinity. Previously, before Cars, The Incredibles and Toy Story among others, both Pixar and Disney had the strong and traditional male model with a high machismo personality where they isolated themselves in order to confront forces that challenged their power. However, while the new male is more sensitive, more relatable to the female, it is paramount that we understand the reason why the alpha male is vital and should still be introduced to children at a young age. This essay while supporting the emasculation of the ‘alpha male’, argues reasons against complete annihilation of the idea that a man is strong, finds solutions in isolation and at the end saves the day.

The ‘alpha male’ according to Gilliam et al (2008) “evokes ideas of dominance, leadership and power in human social organizations” (p.542) and stands for ideas that are stereotypically patriarchal like, “unquestioned authority, physical power, social dominance, competitiveness, leadership, lack of visible emotion and social isolation”. This kind of male puts the weight of the world on his shoulders trusting his ability to save everyone. As can be observed, they are not all bad qualities that the idea should be exclusively shunned. While the princesses in Pixar and Disney no longer need saving after a feminist revolution, perhaps, the idea should not make the male more female but equip him with skills and characters that will enable him to thrive in a world alongside the empowered female.

Films like Cars and Toy Story are responsible for a multitude of ideas infused in children from a young age. It is described as “one of the most effective teaching tools America offers its children” (p.543). Similarly, Kilbourne (1998) proves how the media is a big influence on how men perceive women (p.556). For these reasons, it becomes important to be very cautious with what is fed to children by the media. Gender and gender roles especially, get fine-tuned in children like Oscar before the age of five. By evening out the gender roles, making none different from the other as the ‘emasculation of the alpha male’ suggests, it leaves a gap in chronological order of things. It is the same way we deal with culture, custom and tradition. Should one be phased out, so does the originality and authenticity of uniqueness. The ‘alpha male’ like Buzz Lightyear was not all bad. He carrying the problems of the galaxy on his shoulders, he isolated and came up with solutions to the most complicated of problems; he was powerful and he was a leader. If these are the ideas fed to young male children then they will grow up believing in their power and their capability to come up with solutions not only for their problems but the communities’ problems as well.

The bone of contention becomes placing the ‘alpha male’ alongside the empowered female as if in comparison. The truth is, the two are very different and unique in ways that should not be dismantled. The empowered female can thrive in the same world that the ‘alpha male’ exists. Sure, the female no longer requires saving as in the traditional films, she saves herself like in Brave (2012) and Tangled (2010). She comes up with solutions that in the previous world were left to the imagination.

However with regards to homosociality, intimacy and emotion, the ‘alpha male’ falls short and needs adjusting. Gillam et al (2008) talk about the new man saying that “with the strength afforded by these homosocial intimacies, the male characters triumph over their respective plots” (p.543). It is true when it comes to the male gender, sharing of emotions and ability to achieve intimacy requires a champion. The ability to admit a shortcoming and seek assistance as Mr Incredible, trapped by the villain realises that without his wife’s abilities, breaking free to go save the children and the city is not possible. The idea is cooperation which the ‘alpha male’ never seemed to have before, the ability to work together with the empowered female and come forth with solutions that individually would not be possible.

In conclusion, the idea of the ‘New Man’ just as Gilliam et al (2008) observes, “is neither insidious nor nefarious” (p.543), however, needs to push the idea that a man can be strong, capable and find solutions as well as be sensitive, work with others and share emotions. Films from Pixar and Disney as has been explained is responsible a great deal on how children like Oscar perceive themselves and others. Complete annihilation of the idea that a man is strong, finds solutions in isolation and at the end saves the day should not be a basis for replacement but modification.


Greene, S. and Lidinsky, A., 2011. From inquiry to academic writing Fourth Edition: A text and reader. Macmillan.

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