I don’t know about you, but I spent a majority of my childhood idolizing Disney princesses. From singing like Ariel in pools to wanting to have fairy godmothers like Aurora (better known as Sleeping Beauty), I just couldn’t wait to grow up and blossom into one of these perfect women. Turns out, it just wasn’t in the cards for me. I sit here now typing this as a plus sized feminist, and although I’m perfectly content with that, most of the women we spent our adolescence worshipping fit neither of those categories. Okay, the former part of that sentence is way more obviously un-Disney, and more noticeable. The Disney culture concept of perfection has nearly always lain in a size two, pale woman. But, that’s not what this blog posting is about. It’s about the fact that these women were purposely created and fitted to the female gender-role stereotypes of the day. Howsoever, one could argue against the latter, saying that beloved Belle or inspirational Mulan were the epitomes of feminists. They went against their societies to prove that women were worth more than just a pretty face. Unfortunately, that isn’t all that goes into feminism, and therefore just isn’t the case.
I’ll start with Belle, who due to her quirky charm, was my favorite princess growing up. I admired the fact that she knew how to read (a skill and pastime abandoned by all other Disney franchise women) and did so actively, despite what her peers thought. From a feminist perspective, seems like we’re off to a great start with an empowered young woman such as this. Moving right along, she is told by local beau Gaston that they are to be married at once. Nope, she says, I don’t think that you’re a good person despite the fact that you’re stunningly gorgeous. Wow, you think, what a good decision by Belle. But, then you examine at her relationship with Beast. He yells at her, physically intimidates her, keeps her as his prisoner, and his overall behavior is simply appalling. By standard definition, she’s trapped in an abusive relationship, on both emotional and physical grounds. No worries though, since Beast apologizes time and time again, he’s forgiven and the whole situation is completely diffused. It isn’t until Beast becomes overwhelmingly jealous and murders Belle’s other love interest that she accepts him as her love. Basically, it’s okay if he’s abusive, as long as he apologizes and is your only option.
In my eyes, the basic principle of feminism has always been that a person’s gender has nothing to do with their mental or physical capabilities, nor does it in any way effect the sort of person they can be. However, in the eyes of the Disney corporation, it is clear that this is not the dictum they follow. They’re more focused upon the instinctual need for a woman to have a man to take care of her and solve all of her problems. Snow White is a perfect example of this. One of her first lines in the movie is that “Someday, my prince will come”. While that’s all well and good, she takes it to the extreme by actually putting it into practice. She is essentially brain dead in a casket, and she has to wait for a man to come and rescue her. As if that weren’t bad enough, many of us forget that they’d never ever had a decent conversation, yet they go galloping off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Or, take Mulan for example. I mean, she starts the movie as an extremely endowed young woman by defying the gender expectations of her culture, supporting her father, and going to war. However, Mulan only accomplishes things when she is dressed as a male soldier. She can only gain respect from her peers, lieutenant, and Emperor when they think she is a man. When they find out that she’s actually a woman, they go ballistic. They cannot cope with the likelihood that a woman could possibly do something beneficial from their society, aside from “bearing sons”. She narrowly escapes execution, and goes on to save the kingdom (yet again, dressed in a “masculine” fashion).
Almost every official Disney franchise princess (Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan) share one common characteristic: they all have at least one very close animal companion. While it isn’t uncommon for people to own pets, it seems that it’s a conjoint motif that these women’s pets are their best (and often, only) friends. They do everything with the princesses; they help clean cottages, they serve as emotional support systems, or even help them fight wars. Again, it isn’t wrong that these women take an interest in animals, but it’s the fact that many of them don’t have other human friends. They have to settle for some overly-anthropomorphized excuse for a chum instead of being allowed to interact with other people. Writers make conscious decisions when they’re drafting up scripts. Why did Ariel’s best friend have to be a flounder, rather than being another mermaid? Or, take Pocahontas for example. Sure, she had an actual human as a confidante, but in actuality, she kept all of her secrets from her, and spilled her guts to a raccoon and a hummingbird. It’s situations like these that show women as being incapable of having meaningful relationships, or even interacting on a deep level with other humans.
The list goes on and on. Every single Disney movie is chock full of examples like these, and next to none of the instances have to be deeply-analyzed to find them. But you know what the biggest problem with Disney movies is? Their audience. They sell these misogynistic stereotypes to children of both genders, causing a never-ending cycle of sexism. Children grow up thinking that princesses have to look and act a certain way, thus causing them to modify their desires and behaviors to fit those expectations. We, as adults, show these movies to our children in the hopes that they too will fall in love with the classically romantic storylines like we did. Instead, we end up mutilating their understandings of gender roles, and we simultaneously endorse these franchises that continue to put out sexist merchandise.