On a recent visit to Walt Disney World, a five-year-old girl sat down for lunch with her family at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. Her parents recounted the Hidden Mickeys they had seen at the parks during their trip. For the uninitiated, a Hidden Mickey is a subtle representation of Mickey Mouse that can be found on Disney rides or in Disney decor at the parks and resorts. After a moment of silence, the young girl asked a simple yet sophisticated question: “Why are there no Hidden Minnies?”
The girl’s parents did not attempt to answer their inquisitive daughter’s question. Instead, they continued their conversation without addressing the profound topic their little girl had just introduced.
Given that there are thousands of Hidden Mickeys scattered throughout the Disney Parks and Disney’s resort hotels, it is surprising that Mickey is the only character that gets the hidden treatment. A few Hidden Minnies would be welcome additions. Yet the one symbol that distinguishes the female mouse from the male (in its “hidden” form) would be a hair bow.
The Disney Parks shape young girls’ understanding of femininity in subtle yet powerful ways. The multi-billion-dollar Disney Princess enterprise markets shimmering princess gowns with matching tiaras, purses, and high heels to girls of all ages. The Disney Princess line hooks parents early with princess-themed crib sheet sets, sippy cups, and even onesies with tutus.
It seems that a guest at the Disney Parks cannot take more than five steps without spotting a little girl in a princess costume, often with pink, glittery hair and heels (although children typically walk for miles around the theme parks). Every gift shop sells princess merchandise ranging from hair extensions to castle play sets to princess dolls in wedding gowns. In addition, parents can take their children (ages 3 to 12) to special boutiques where they can have their hair, makeup, and nails done.
This service is available to princesses and knights, with one exception: According to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique Web site, boys are limited to hair styling and a “mighty sword and shield” ($14.95), whereas girls can choose from the $49.95 Coach Package, the $54.95 Crown Package, and the Castle Package, which includes a costume and starts at $189.95 (plus tax). By comparison, the Pirates League (which offers a similar service to boys and girls) offers two $29.95 packages (the First Mate or Empress). Apparently, the Disney Parks view girls as a more valuable target market than boys, at least until it becomes acceptable for boys to pay $200 to get their hair, nails, and makeup done.
The hugely profitable Disney Princess line is not the only element of Disney’s hyper-feminine marketing package that bombards girls with the hot pink message that they should aspire to be princesses and brides. Theme park products typically present males as active and females as passive, as the newest resort hotel refillable mug design demonstrates.
These popular refillable mugs, which are ubiquitous at Disney’s resort hotels, entitle guests to free refills at Disney’s resort hotels throughout their stay. The current design features Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck actively playing a game of beach ball or swimming in a swimming pool. The only females in the picture, Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck, are pictured lounging passively outside the pool.
Both Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck are dressed in pink. Daisy’s gaze is focused on Minnie, who peeks over her shades toward the viewer with a sultry come-hither look. To a young, impressionable child, this picture delivers the message that males are active, while females are passive. Moreover, this sexualized portrayal of Minnie Mouse encourages girls to mimic her behavior and appearance, a task that is easily accomplished in Disney Princess heels.
This sensual Minnie Mouse is unique to the Disney Parks. On the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Minnie Mouse wears pink instead of her traditional red, but she is no more sexual than Mickey Mouse (or Elmo, for that matter). In fact, on this Disney Junior show, Minnie and Daisy (who sports a ponytail) interact with the male characters on an equal footing. Although they often wear heels, they also sport soccer cleats and engage in the same problem-solving adventures as the rest of the gang.
It is unrealistic to expect the Walt Disney Company to abandon its highly lucrative Disney Princess line. Nonetheless, the Disney Parks could put as much thought into the products it creates for its youngest guests as the creators of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse have done in their show. The gender roles portrayed on the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse point the way toward a not-so-distant future in which girls and women are valued for their minds, not their bodies.
At the very least, it would not hurt the Disney Parks to add some Hidden Minnies for the girls.