Like most Rhode Island Residents I am consistently frustrated by our states’ government. We have leaders who treat us as if we are short sighted simpletons. All governments do this to some extent, but RI is special because they simply look you in the eye and say “too bad mother Fffrs.” You see evidence of this attitude coming out of the State House is apparent everyday if you are paying attention. Sometimes the evidence of their disdain is so egregious and obvious I just want to stand on the State House lawn and start throwing rocks at the building. The road works project is the most recent and frustrating example of this behavior. Continue reading →
9 months ago I wrote a post about the pop culture perception that Walt Disney was anti-Semitic. Since I wrote the original post, the movie Saving Mister Banks (a biopic about Disney) was released. The movie and the promotion brought this topic back into the public eye. On the surface the antisemitic claims sounded convincing. They did not hold up to close scrutiny. Claims made by a former employee lacked supporting evidence. Most of the other evidence is circumstantial and contradictory. There is good evidence showing that Walt Disney wasn’t focally antisemitic. Other ex-employee’s have come out strongly in favor of Disney’s reputation. Disney hired a multitude of Jewish staff and actors. Disney had more Jewish actors on staff than any other studio, including studies owned by Jewish moguls like Warner. Notably he was the first person to cast a well known Jewish actor to play Santa Claus (Ed Wynn in babes in toyland.)
In my Opinion, the Antisemitism claims about Disney are overblown, post-hoc, and lack convergence in the evidence. You can read a more thorough analysis in the original piece. Was Walt Disney an Anti-Semite?
Saving Mr. Banks is a movie about Walt Disney and the creation of the movie Mary Poppins from a female author’s book. As the movie has been promoted the attention has resurfaced. Actress Meryl Streep in a public discussion about the movie put forth a less known but equally dogmatic rumor. Namely that Walt Disney was a Misogynist. Given my experience with the Anti-Semitic charge, I decided to turn a skeptical eye to this rumor and see what the evidence is.
The recent claims by Actress Meryl Streep give a good overview of claims of misogyny by Walt Disney.
“calling the late animator a “hideous anti-Semite” who “formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobby”.
“And he was certainly, on the evidence of his company’s policies, a gender bigot,” she added, before quoting a letter he wrote to an aspiring female animator in 1938.
“Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men,” it read.
She went on to quote Disney’s colleague Walter Kimball, who apparently said that his boss “didn’t trust women or cats” Variety reports.
Streep did, however, throw a little water on the fire by adding: “There is a piece of received wisdom that says that the most creative people are often odd, or irritating, eccentric, damaged, difficult. That along with enormous creativity comes certain deficits in humanity or decency.”
Here is a copy of that letter.
- The Letter
The origin of the letter is unique. It was part of the estate of Mrs Ford. Found by the family and made public after her death. I will take it on face value as genuine. It was not written by Walt personally, as was claimed by Streep.
Secondly Streep claimed that Ward Kimball, one of Disney’s original animators, was quoted as saying Disney didn’t trust women.
I will start with the second claim first. Did Ward Kimball make the statement “didn’t trust women or cats.” Yes he did. Although it took me a lot of searching to find out if it was an actual quote. I had to go to Ward’s biographer Amid Amidi to get the answer.
“As the family-approved biographer of Ward Kimball, I’m tickled to see Ward quoted in a public venue. But it also pains me to see Ward’s words taken out of context to serve someone else’s personal agenda. I’ve read thousands of pages of Ward’s writings, including his personal diaries, and I can say unequivocally that Ward never felt Walt Disney ‘didn’t really like women.’ In the quote, Ward claims that Walt was suspicious of women, but I don’t know the context of that statement. And guess what, Meryl doesn’t know the context either. That’s the entirety of the quote published in Neal Gabler’s biography of Walt Disney, stripped of all its original nuance and meaning. We can only assume that there was something that Kimball said that preceded and followed his soundbite-worthy statement. The fact that Kimball listed both women and cats in the same sentence suggests that he was being playful and facetious, a reflection of his personality. He would have likely cringed to see someone misappropriating his comments to attack a man whom he deeply respected and admired.”
Another Kimball Quote:”We thought we were always going to be 21 years old. We thought we would always be putting goldfish in the bottled drinking water, balancing cups of water on the light fixtures, changing the labels on cans of sauerkraut juice. We were 21 years old, Walt was 30, leading the pack. Working there was more fun than any job I could ever imagine.”
In my opinion the woman and cats quote is probably meaningless as evidence of misogyny. Given the cat reference it was probably tongue in cheek humor. A humorous comment about his boss. Someone that he had a long, productive, and playful relationship with.
The letter is fairly compelling evidence that Walt Disney’s studio had discriminatory practices related to hiring women in the creative department. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the letter. It is inconsequential that the letter came from a woman’s office.
Did Disney studios have misogynistic hiring practices in the 1930’s?
Answer: in my opinion, Yes. Even without the letter I would have said, yes.
Prior to WWII the country was suffering from crushing depression a large percentage of men were out of work. Women only made up about 26% of the workforce at the time. That workforce grew to 50% during WWII and immediately fell when the soldiers returned home. Fairly clear evidence of generalized sexist hiring practices in the US at that time (Misogynistic that it is). Cultural mores in the US placed women out of the workforce. Men were considered the bread winner. The letter is an indictment of Disney Studios. Evidence that Disney studios, like many companies at the time, were sexist. Culturally it fits the problems of the time. What this says about Walt Disney personally is murky. He had the power to treat women with an equal rights/equal pay agenda. It would have made him unbelievably progressive for his time. The fact that the studio sent a misogynistic letter to a female applicant does not say anything about Disney’s personal beliefs. It is emotionally provoking and suggestive, but not really good evidence of Disney’s attitude towards women? I am not ignoring the letter. There is some very good evidence to the contrary.
In 1938 Retta Scott was hired by the Story Department at Disney studios. She was assigned to the Bambi project. When Walt Disney saw her sketches he personally assigned her to animate scenes in the movie. She was the first female animator at the studio. She was the first because Disney personally put here there. That is the same period that the letter arrived at Mrs. Fords house.
Retta Scott wasn’t the only female animator for long. Disney moved her onto other movies and he added another iconic female Disney animator, Mary Blair. Mary became a instrumental artist at Disney studio’s. She toured the world for FDR’s Good Neighbor policy. She traveled on this tour with Walt, his family, as well as several members of Disney’s staff. After that tour she worked several package films, and on two partially animated features — Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart. The early 1950s were a busy time for the Disney studios, with an animated feature released nearly every year. She was art supervisor on several Disney films. Even after she retired from Disney studios he asked her back to do iconic art work at Disney theme parks. Tomorrowland, and it’s a small world where her designs can still be found.
Hardly the actions of a Misogynist with negative attitudes about female artists.
So very much like claims of antisemitism I see a lot of show, but no go. Little or no direct evidence to support claims of Misogyny. Facts that will not stop the misogyny claims from being circulated and certified as Disney dogma.
I always recommend getting your history from historians, not movies, and certainly not from celebrities. If you see something from either of those two sources you have good reason to be skeptical.
The patriot act. Another government power over us that circumvents the constitution and the liberties we enjoy. Employing high tech surveillance of domestic citizens with the hope that we can stop terrorists attacks. Yet it doesn’t work. As evidenced by the Boston Marathon bombing. Terrorists know where we are looking and learn to avoid methods. Electronic surveillance is not helpful enough, given the tremendous amount of data that is available. Historically governments can not be trusted with unlimited power. Yet because of fear over 9/11 people willingly surrendered their privacy in the hope that we would be protected. A flawed concept and the wrong answer.
The patriot act is an excuse to be able to oversee someone’s every move. Ostensibly to “protect us”. We are expected to believe that the government will be able to restrain themselves and not abuse that power. History says impossible. Worse surrendering our privacy is based on a flawed concept. If we give law enforcement and intelligence bureaus unlimited data we will be safer. Wrong, and not supported by historical precedents. Think about this. Prisons in the US are the most monitored restricted section of our society. Yet we can appreciably stop anything from happening there? Humans are inventive destructive creatures. If you tighten the surveillance you naturally select for “the best of the best” they get better at hiding. In my opinion the stated goal of catching terrorist cells in the US is impossible. No matter how much data they have someone will find a way. How well did the US do in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In the 90’s they bombed the world trade center still we had no idea they would attack it again. Ridiculous to think that personal privacy was the major barrier to protection. Russia has oppressive surveillance compared to US. Still Chechen rebels attack all the time. It is a flawed premise that just doesn’t work. Except as a tool of intimidation and information gathering for your own law abiding populace. That has a direct negative effect on freedom. Have I brought unwanted attention just by writing this. Maybe I could end up being an FBI focus. Just by exercising my freedom of speech.
Somehow we are supposed to believe that FBI will be able to pull produce terrorists out of an even bigger pile of data, everyone’s phone records. I call BS on this. Yes, if you want to catch someone and you have a idea who it is and what they want this would be helpful. Why not make them get a warrant instead of fishing. If you assume guilt then the patriot act makes sense. That is the opposite of the US justice system that I was taught.
Ok surrender my freedom, but does it work? I am not an expert but look at the record. How many big cells in the US have been caught? They roll out examples of terrorist idiots with x-ray machines as examples of “50” plots thwarted. Yet two kids detonated two bombs in the middle of Boston. They were caught in 72 hours because of the video from the phones they were monitoring. How helpful is that?
It sounds good to law enforcement and government agencies. It is not worth the loss of privacy. We are but a few steps away from what the founding fathers feared most monolithic government oppression.
I am of the opinion that fear is what drives this. Not reality. We are afraid so we give up freedoms. One little bit at a time. We keep letting people in power get more and more power. All in the name of “Terrorism”, “health” “the children”. For a concept, not an enemy. You will never stop terrorism, just individual terrorists. Each small liberty surrendered is 10 times the effort to regain. Historically can people in power be trusted? NO. Should we stop this march towards Orwellian dystopia? YES.
With each small link the chain is forged, until we wake up in irons. That is the nature of power and people. It must be stopped. People need to wake up. Make your outrage heard. Stop this before we lose the ability to challenge those in power.
Did medieval serfs know that by working for landowner they would eventually end up virtual slaves? Probably not. We should. The federal government becomes more and more monolithic everyday. They dictate healthcare, education, the military, and money. How far are we away from serfdom? Some would say we are there now. You don’t own your home you rent it from the state. They take it away if you don’t pay your taxes. That is not ownership, it is serfdom to the state.
Forced DNA test and checks are now law of the land thanks to the Supreme court. The federal government can essentially track your every move. All in the name our safety. It is an illusion. Surrendering you freedom to feel safer is not a fair trade. Well fed complacency and fear is ending liberty. One little bit at a time so we don’t feel it and don’t complain. All in the name of the common good. Which history teaches us is “their” good and our common toil.
What can you do? Well if enough people; write, email, and call enough of their representatives then this can end. Either that or let your children have to deal with a country that mouths words like “land of the free” with irony rather than pride.