**DISCLAIMER** This is not a “feminist rant” nor am I am expert on feminism. It is just an opinion piece.
This blog is written by a 19 year old female in the UK so, like many others, a person who’s childhood consisted of watching countless Walt Disney classics and dreaming of the fairy tale ideals that they create.
For most people, when thinking about Walt Disney films, we think of Princesses and Princes, and heroes saving damsels in distress. Think Prince Charming saving Cinderella from her wicked step-family. Aladdin saving Jasmine from having to marry a prince she didn’t love. Hercules saving Meg from Hades. The list goes on. But it’s argued that very few Disney productions have a female heroes that a “handsome prince” didn’t have to save. Is that really the case?
Growing up many young girls fantasize over having the life of a Princess like Ariel, Belle or Rapunzel, and for a lot of people this has become a problem. Even, the 2013 block buster hit, Frozen has been described as a “lukewarm attempt at feminism”
Following the release of Disney’s latest film, Moana, it has prompted a surge of conversation about female roles within in Disney films and their portrayal.
Moana is based on a Polynesian myth about the daughter of the chief of her tribe. After a curse is put on the island by the Demigod Maui, Moana is called upon by the ocean to go on a voyage to save it. So it’s undeniable, Moana (who is female) is the hero and protagonist of this film.
It’s clear to see that since 1937 when Snow White premiered as the first Disney princess film, female characters have progressed hugely on the big screen. From Aurora singing “Someday my prince will come” to Mulan saving China. So, although some people might argue that female characterization within Disney is not good enough, it has certainly come a long way.
If we start at the beginning; Snow White. Snow White was the “fairest of them all” according to some fancy enchanted mirror that her wicked stepmother owned. And the animated version of the fairy tale wasn’t shy to make sure the audience knew exactly why she was so perfect. “Skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, hair as black as ebony.” Aside from her looks, Snow seemed to be a love-able character who cooked and cleaned for the working men in the house- the seven dwarfs. For the time, this was a pretty accurate representation of what society said a woman should be.
The 1950’s saw the animated versions of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Cinders was also a slave to domestic tasks for her step-family and won her man over by being pretty. If it wasn’t for her meeting the prince, and him falling in love with her, she would have probably stayed slaving for her step-family for the rest of her life with only mice as friends. Arguably, not the best impression for young girls? As for Aurora, well all she did was sleep and look pretty and a prince came and kissed her and saved her and they all lived happily ever after.
Following this, Disney went through what is described as a “renaissance era”. Princesses started to have more personality and ambition. The Little Mermaid was the first motion picture to be released in this era which saw Ariel, a mere-princess who is fascinated by the human world, embark on her journey to explore the unknown above the sea. Admittedly, her interest in exploring the land increased hugely once she had decided that she wanted to marry a man she had never spoken to (but saved the life of).
Belle was an intelligent book worm who was trying to save her father from the Beast. She was completely uninterested with the films villain and village heart-throb, Gaston, and would much rather be reading than lusting over his muscles and “charm” like all of the other girls. The Los Angeles Times even went as far as claiming that Belle was one of the key princesses to “break the bonds of convention”. While saving her father from the Beast she also saved the Beast from the spell that had been put on him, turning him back into a human. Undeniable progression.
In 1992 came Princess Jasmine, a sassy and independent female figure. 1995, Pocahontas. 1998, Mulan. 2009, Tiana. 2010, Rapunzel. 2012, Merida. 2013, Elsa. All of these characters are strong women who knew what they wanted and how to get it, not only that, none of them wanted a man. None of them went out of their way to “fall in love” and have a “happily ever after.” All of their stories are about how they did what they could (on their own) to change the things in their life they wanted changing.
Looking back at the history of Disney princesses and their portrayal it really is a debatable subject. All of these women have traits about them that could make Germaine Greer’s toes curl, but in the same sense they all have some “strong independent woman” about them. But actually, when you really think about it- so do real women.
Every woman is different and just because certain traits shouldn’t be expected of women anymore doesn’t mean they don’t have them. If a woman is traditional like Cinderella, or academic like Belle, or beautiful, or in love, this doesn’t mean they are a bad example to women. So really, should any of these characters be considered bad examples? And remember Prince Charming didn’t even have a name.