Instructor Spotlight: Naomi Meininger

The ExPress caught up with Naomi Meininger, the Explorations instructor of Bright Young Women: Feminism and Representation in Disney.
Naomi Meininger

What inspired you to teach this course?

Naomi Meininger: I took an ExCollege class freshman year and absolutely loved it. After that experience, I made it a goal of mine to teach a class myself! When I was brainstorming topics, I kept coming back to one of my first loves: Disney. I have always had a love and nostalgia for Disney that has only grown as I’ve gotten older. The Disney film that truly inspired this class was The Little Mermaid. I was fascinated by the juxtaposition of a seemingly sexist film against lyrics such as “Bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand” from “Part of Your World.” I realized gender representation in Disney may be more nuanced than meets the eye and in turn, this course was born.

What has the experience of teaching/designing this course taught you?

NM: Teaching is hard! You have to prepare for every scenario and learn to be flexible. In terms of designing a course, I love having creative liberty over what I want to teach and learn.

What’s your favorite Disney movie? Do you have a favorite Disney Princess?

NM:I think it would have to be between The Little Mermaid, Enchanted, or Newsies. Howard Menken, who is a Disney legend, wrote the music for all three, and I love his style. Additionally, all three deal with slightly more adult themes than other Disney films, and I like the combination of Disney nostalgia with more mature themes.

My favorite Disney princess, although another hard question, would have to be Ariel. We are both ambitious dreamers who don’t let other people tell us how to behave.

There have been a lot of new Disney projects announced since the semester started - what are your thoughts on some of them? Are any exciting for you?

NM: I am super excited for Disenchanted. I think Disenchanted is going to take a really interesting look at fairytale tropes and be comparable in terms of quality to the original.

What’s a reading, movie, book, etc. that you are particularly excited to teach?

NM: I am really excited to teach about queer representation in Disney. Many Disney villains are queer coded, which is very obviously problematic. However, I found an article from a queer writer that defends the queer-coding of villains and talks about how much he loved them as a child. We will be discussing the varying opinions on this topic and the implications of queer-coding Disney villains.

What do you hope students will take away from this class?

NM: I hope they will walk away with an understanding that Disney has a complex legacy. It inspired so many of us to dream big and believe in ourselves as kids, but it also instilled some harmful beliefs about gender and morality. And yet, these movies can be viewed in a light that highlights that they also contain many important life lessons.

Naomi Meininger (she/her) is a junior majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics and minoring in Theater and Performance Studies. On campus, she is a Teaching Assistant for CS11, President of Tufts TAMID, and an active member of Torn Ticket II (Tufts’s only student-run musical theater group). She is currently one of the Hair and Makeup Designers for Into the Woods.