Sexism in Disney’s The Jungle Book

Sexism in Disney’s The Jungle Book

I was recently horrified to find some really blatant sexism in Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967).

It is widely accepted that the traditional Disney Princess films are sexist. In most Disney Princess films, not the more recent, a male character saves a female character from distress. In a bid to avoid exposing ragamuffin to such obvious misogyny I turned to an alternative animated Disney film, The Jungle Book (1967).
What I discovered was a more subtle form of sexism than what exists in the traditional princess fairy-tales.

Plot

Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967) is based on Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mowgli Stories’. Set in the jungles of India Mowgli, is raised by a pack of wolves. At the age of 10 he is forced to leave the jungle as Shere Khan, the evil tiger, is sworn to kill him. The film focuses on his journey to the ‘man-village’ and the characters he encounters on his way including coming face to face with the tiger in the film’s climax.

Tiger - Sexism In Disney's The Jungle Book
Mowgli has to leave the jungle as he is being hunted by a tiger.

Female Characters

One of the main forms of sexism in Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967) is the lack of female characters. There are just three in the whole film and only one of them has any dialogue.

Raksha is the Wolf mother who accepts Mowgli as her ‘cub’. When she finds orphaned infant Mowgli she flutters her eyelashes at her husband to persuade him to allow Mowgli to stay. When you consider that she has no lines in the film either, it would seem that women are to be seen and not heard. A female need only flutter her eyelashes to get her way. Yuck!
Even when the wolf council decides that her adopted son must leave the jungle Raksha is silent. Because you know, a woman’s opinion counts for nothing in matters of great importance.

The character I hate most in all of the Disney films I’ve seen is the young girl who Mowgli spies fetching water.
She is also afforded no dialogue but sings about her father hunting while her mother cooks at home. The girl then flutters her eyelashes at Mowgli and drops her urn to entice him to refill and carry it back to the village for her.
Between the awful song and her blatant manipulation of a Mowgli using her ‘feminine wiles’ she is such a cringey character. She serves no purpose other than to coax Mowgli into the man-village after her. Certainly not the kind of character I want my daughter watching.

Elephants

The worst scene for sexism in Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967) is when Mowgli goes missing after Baloo the bear insisted that he should go to the man-village. Bagheera the panther asks Colonel Hathi the elephant and his herd to help search for Mowgli.
Hathi initially refuses, until his wife Winifred (the only female speaking character in the whole film!) intervenes. Winifred threatens to take command of the herd unless he agrees to help with the search.
It is Hathi’s reaction to his wife’s threat that, for me, is most disturbing. He is outraged and describes a female leading his herd as ‘preposterous’. This is despite the fact that wild elephants generally live in herds of females and calves.

Ironically, this is the only scene of the film where a female speaks. Winifred actually comes across very well; she is forceful and appeals to Hathi’s paternal instincts. She asks what if it were their own young son who was missing and it is this that eventually persuades him to help.

Herd of Elephants (Sexism In Disney's The Jungle Book)
In the wild generally elephants live in herds of females.

Sexism in Disney’s The Jungle Book – Conclusion

I wrote this post because I want to make people think about what our children watch. A lot is said about the sexism of the traditional Disney Princesses but people often forget about the non-princess films. There are more subtle forms of sexism in films and tv that we don’t always notice. Often because they are things that we ourselves grew up watching, and we turned out OK didn’t we?

I’m aware that the attitudes towards women were very different in the 1960’s. The Jungle Book (1967) is just a reflection of the times. I’m not saying that we should boycott all films made before a certain date, but that they should be viewed with caution. Our children need to see a balanced view of male and female roles on screen. They need to see that girls can be strong and that boys can be vulnerable too.

You may also enjoy 7 Empowering Feminist Quotes for Young Girls and John Lewis are to Recognize Kids as Individuals – How Dare They?

All images in this post were sourced from Pixabay

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8 thoughts on “Sexism in Disney’s The Jungle Book

  1. Incredibly thought-provoking! I have 2 daughters and you’ve just made me re-evaluate everything they watch. I would’ve been naive enough to think that we would’ve been on to a safe bet with the Jungle Book but everything you’ve said is spot on. I despair at anything or anyone that has the power to make my daughters feel anything less than equal to men. Our house is a female stronghold – girls outnumber the boys 3:2 and my eldest daughter is very strong-willed so it’s usually a female calling the shots on any given day. But I’m so thankful that my son is growing up in that dynamic – every day of his life he’s following the lead of his big sister. That will serve him well in adulthood. Fantastic post and thank you. #DreamTeam

    1. In some respects I wish I hadn’t noticed it because I’m on the lookout for it in everything we watch. Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. Considering that in the animal kingdom, although there are plenty of male dominant species, there are plenty of female leads – the queen bee for example – it makes it even more frustrating that there is blatant sexism in this film (not that I’d spotted it before reading your post!). Very interesting!

    1. That’s where it frustrates me too, had the elephant scene been a reflection of elephants in the wild, I would have found it less offensive.
      Thanks for reading 🙂

  3. Fab post! We definitely need to be vigilant to make sure we’re not sending subliminal messages to young girls that they are somehow inferior to the boys. I cringe when my friend tells me how much her young girl loves Disney princess movies for this reason (although the newer ones aren’t so bad) but I would never have thought The Jungle Book could manage it!
    Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes 🙂
    Debbie

    1. Thankfully Disney’s princess movies are getting better the likes of Frozen and more recently Moana are showing girls that they can do anything they put their minds to.
      Thanks for reading 🙂

  4. I hadn’t even realised! Isn’t that an interesting one, and I am quite taken aback by only having 1 female character with a voice. I do think it’s very important not to allow our little ones to think that this is normal. Thank you for sharing with the #DreamTeam xx

    1. I was quite shocked when I noticed. You think you’re ‘safe’ with a film of mainly animal characters. Thanks for reading 🙂

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