Of Disney Princesses and Feminism

Hello there everyone!

I know it has been quite some time since my last post, but the only thing I can say is that end-of-term work and exams made my life exceedingly busy. This post today is something I’ve thought about writing for a while now, and after reading a recent blog post by a friend of mine, I finally decided to put it to paper (figuratively speaking).

I am sick and tired of people hating on the Disney princesses.

There, I said it. This has been a hot topic issue taken up by feminists lately, with the main point of contention being that the older princesses simply sat around waiting for their Prince Charmings to save them, and this is not a good example for young girls. I agree with that point, but I disagree that waiting is a bad thing. There is a difference between passively waiting and actively waiting.

In life, you are going to have to wait for things. That is just how life works. However, you should not be passively waiting. You shouldn’t expect to get a job just by sitting on the couch all day and watching Netflix. Your personal statements aren’t going to write themselves and fly away to your top grad school choices. When opportunities come knocking, it is because they found you working!

Now that I have made that distinction, I am going to argue that Disney princesses did not passively wait for their man to come or days to get better. Futhermore, I think they can teach us great lessons that are often overlooked because of the bad rap they have been getting. Before I go any further, however, I would like to identify myself as a feminist. I don’t usually do so because I think that oftentimes this term is identified with crazy protesters and has an overall negative connotation, but in the sense that feminists champion women’s rights and the power of the female, I completely back that idea. I will also say that I watched Disney princess movies all the time as a child, I had various Disney princess Barbie dolls, and none of that caused me to have a lack of ambition or sit around waiting for life to happen. I am getting my Masters in England, plan to eventually get my PhD, work in the Smithsonian or Field Museum someday, and take the academic world by storm. Someday if I have a daughter, I will hand down my beloved Ariel Barbie to her, not giving a thought to what sort of impact that will have on her self-esteem or if it will feed her unrealistic expectations, because I will be there encouraging her to be herself and to go after her dreams. In fact, I think the princess movies will supplement this advice of mine.

The three movies that are criticized the most are Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, as they are the oldest. Next are The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. (I decided to address these six because of the image at right.) ImageSo as to not make this post too long, I am going to give a brief synopsis about why I think none of these films show a girl passively waiting, working a little bit out of order.

Ariel: What part of Ariel is passive? She has been fascinated with a different world outside of her own for her whole life, and finally one day takes the change to risk it all and experience that world. Please tell me how having courage and wanderlust are bad things. Yes she makes a deal with Ursula to be with Prince Eric, but he was not the reason she wanted to go to the human world in the first place. He is just the catalyst that made her finally go for it! And let’s not forget that she saved him when his boat caught on fire.

Belle: Belle does a lot of waiting in this movie, but it is because she is captured as a PRISONER. She does not wait for Prince Charming to come, and only grows to love the Beast because she is moved to heal his evident hurt. In fact, she had a chance to marry Gaston and turns it down, talking instead about escaping “this provincial life.” She’s looking for adventure, not for a man!

Jasmine: Seriously, this girl is so sassy. She could have been set up with any prince from all over the world, but she refuses to bend to a law that she believes is unfair. Jasmine wants to marry for love and sees that that is not going to happen if she stays in the palace, so she dons a disguise so she can experience the life of the average person. Aladdin shows her a life unlike anything she has ever known, and it is worth noting that she falls in love with Aladdin the street rat first, and is wary of Prince Ali. The only thing she is waiting for is the law to change, and she is definitely waiting actively as she confronts it every day!

Cinderella: This girl has been bullied her entire life and just has one simple wish; to escape her reality for a day and go to a ball. Not to find a man, but just to go to a ball! You can’t fault her for that. It just so happens that she falls in love there, but still she does not wait for him to sweep her off her feet. She is locked in a room when he comes to visit, and she works with all her friends to escape and be with the man she loves! I personally think that to stand up for yourself when you have been bullied your entire life is an impressive feat.

Snow White: Now I will admit, this one is more difficult to argue. I mean, she is basically in a coma and only a kiss from Prince Charming saves her! But I think it’s important to note here that the circumstances are completely out of her control. Up until she bites the apple, she is content to take care of the dwarves who have become her friends. She is not seeking Prince Charming. It just so happens that that is the only thing that can save her, a specification of the magic spell on the apple.

Aurora (Sleeping Beauty): Again, not her fault that a spell was put on her and a kiss was the countercurse. It is true that before this happens she talks to the forest animals about her dream of meeting a handsome prince, but I don’t think this is a mark against her. Many people dream about such things, just like as a child I wanted a magical horse who could fly and turn invisible. I don’t see her waiting for him, which is the main point. Of course she has to wait while she is under the spell, but this is really out of her control.

There, that is my attempt at briefly describing why I think the Disney princesses are not simply sitting around, waiting for their prince to come sweep them off their feet. In fact, I think that each of these girls teaches important lessons, which I have sort of touched on in some of the above descriptions. For example, I always wanted to be Belle. I have heard people say she is a bad example because she just shows that it’s possible to “fix” a guy, but that’s not what I got from it at all. What I see on Pinterest echoes my thoughts: I want that library, who cares about Prince Charming?! Belle made it cool to read, and I liked her because I was a huge bookworm as well. She also made it clear that you do not have to put up with crap from guys (Gaston)! Ariel wasn’t afraid of adventure and went against societal norms, Jasmine stood up against injustice, Cinderella overcame bullying with the help of friends, and Snow White was content to take care of others. Aurora is the one sticking point here, but I think it is because she spends the majority of the movie asleep. Instead, I will draw attention to Prince Philip; did you know that he saves her with the Shield of Virtue and Sword of Truth?! I think that is pretty awesome and creates some Christian parallels, but that is another discussion for another time.

If nothing else, the one thing that each movie makes a point to emphasize is that each princess is very kind. I’d say that’s something good to see in a role model, don’t you? Yes, the Disney princess movies give girls unrealistic expectations, but I don’t think it’s about love or being apathetic. It’s about those talking animals that help clean and sew clothes! What I’m trying to say in this super long post is that these are animated, fictional movies. They may contribute to unrealistic expectations, but I think the true culprit is society as a whole. If society raised up women, showing them that they have value and encouraging them to dream big, Disney movies would only enforce that. Surround yourself with good, and you can see good everywhere. They are flawed characters, but aren’t we all?

So please, give my girls a break.

Now I should get back to cleaning. Unfortunately, the birds did not do it while I was typing this.



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