what is Heteronormativity?
Heteronormativity is the idea that man and woman are the only natural genders and heterosexuality is the only acceptable form of of sexual orientation. It promotes the gender binary and figures prominently in American culture. "This is seen in everyday life through the assumption that everyone is heterosexual" (Tauches). Society's constant promotion of this concept creates a stigma for homosexuality and all sexual minorities. In a heteronormative society, sexual identities become a gateway to social privileges (Seidman). So when Disney and other media forms promote this ideal, especially to young audiences, it suggests to them that heterosexuality is the easy, natural and assumed way of life. When heterosexuality is the natural assumption, queer sexualities become further removed from the acceptable or even plausible ways of life.
Disney's reproduction of heteronormativity
Cinderella, Snow White, Bell, Rapunzel; the vast majority of Disney protagonists are looking for one thing to fulfill their life's happiness - heteronormative love. Heteronormativity defines "our ideas of what it means to be a real man or a real woman" (Tauches). This stresses the importance of gender roles; woman must be feminine and men must be masculine. Any deviation from the norm calls one's sexuality in to question. Gender roles are heavily emphasized in most Disney movies by the damsel-in-distress depending on a "macho" prince to save her and always ending "happily ever after" in a hetero-romantic relationship. In addition, while none of these plots have open discrimination toward the queer community, they are completely excluded from all Disney plots. Their lack of representation perpetuates heteronormativity and hinders societies progress toward equality.
Researchers Emily Kazyak and Karin Martin comment on this issue in their publication called, "Hetero-Romantic Love and Heterosexiness in Children's G-Rated Films." They say that despite Disney's overall lack of sexual content, the plots still support a "rich and pervasive heterosexual landscape" (Martin).
These films provide powerful portraits of a multifaceted and pervasive heterosexuality that likely facilitates the reproduction of heteronormativity.
The researchers say Disney depicts hetero-romantic love as powerful, magical, transformative, etc with an emphasis on the sexiness of female characters subjected to the gaze of masculine characters. "Fireflies, butterflies, sunsets, wind and the beauty and power of nature often provide the setting for - and a link to the naturalness of - hetero-romatic love" (Martin). When children are exposed to this kind of heteronormativity at such a young age, it becomes increasingly difficult to break those ideals later in their lives.