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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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All images in this post were sourced from Pixabay