Feminism and Disney: They’re Not As Different As You Might Think
Countless articles across the web claim that Disney is the enemy to all feminism, especially in its earlier years. Studies report that girls growing up with these movies end up having low self-esteem and are forced into gender norms. However, these people are looking at Disney in all the wrong ways. Countless princesses have shown their heroism, courage, and perseverance while still being kind, gentle, and loving; and isn’t that what feminism is really about? Here’s a few examples of disney princesses that are, despite popular belief, the kind of women you can look up to and learn from, even in this modern age.
Isn’t Snow White the absolute worst example of feminism? Isn’t she the very epitome of why people are so mad at Disney’s portrayal of women? Her singing voice is super annoying, not to mention she lives with seven men and just gives herself away to the first person that comes waltzing through the forest and kisses her. Creepy and weird, right? That’s not quite the case.
First of all, Snow White is 14 years old in this film. 14! Her father and mother are dead, leaving her with a stepmother who undoubtedly put her through tons of abuse since she’s so obsessed with the fact that her magic mirror thinks Snow White is more beautiful than she. Despite this, Snow White is happy. She goes through her days singing and enjoying the wishing well, and overall not letting her stepmother’s words get into her head. If that doesn’t take strength, I don’t know what does.
Next, her stepmother tries to have her killed by a huntsman and even asks for her heart as proof that the deed has been done. The huntsman is sane, and of course realizes how messed up it is to kill a 14 year old girl for being too pretty, and lets her go. This is the point in the movie most people laugh and make fun of, Snow White running through the forest, screaming at everything, flailing her arms, and just overall making a fool of herself. However, put yourself in her shoes for a moment. Wouldn’t you be scared out of your mind? Suddenly you find out your stepmother is trying to kill you. You have no family, no friends, no where to turn. You have no idea what you’re going to do or how you’re going to survive. Of course she’s freaked out. Of course she jumps at every animal she sees, who knows if her stepmother is chasing her as she tries to make her escape?
Suddenly, she comes across a cottage. It looks nice and cozy. Maybe she’s a bit too trusting, but she goes inside and takes a little nap. She’s just been through a very traumatic experience, no doubt she’s exhausted. And when the dwarves come home and find her there, they’re stunned. They’re not sure what to do. If most women woke up with seven guys looking over them, they’d freak out. And if someone had just tried to have them killed, they’d be skeptical of everyone. But not Snow White. She understands that there’s still good in the world and decides to trust these strangers. And of course they take care of her, she’s 14! She needs some watching over, and a roof over her head. They’re not horrible people.
So, maybe Snow White was a little innocent, but weren’t we all at 14? If we were in her shoes, what would we have done? Not many people could have kept themselves so composed, let alone trust strangers to help them out, but she did so with a loving attitude, not to mention courage and compassion.
Cinderella is another phenomenal example of feminism. Again, she went through years and years of cruelty from her only family, her stepmother and stepsisters. And yet, she did everything with the utmost compassion and love. She realized that even though her family treated her awfully, they were still her family. Isn’t that what we all strive to be? Compassionate and loving despite what the world throws at us?
She’s a very hard worker. She makes breakfast, serves it to her family, feeds the farm animals, cleans the house, does the laundry, and somehow still has time to take care of herself every day. And she does so with a smile. If you were in her shoes, wouldn’t you be exhausted every day? Wouldn’t you want to give up and stay in bed every morning? Not Cinderella. She’s determined to give everything her all, and do her best every day. Not to mention she can carry a tray of food in both hands and balance one on her head. That takes serious skill.
Cinderella’s only wish is to go to the ball. Not for girlish fancies that we might wish for, dancing and boys and beautiful dresses. No, all she wanted was a night off. A night to be whoever she wanted to be. A night away from the housework and the tyranny of her family. With the help of her fairy-godmother, she’s able to do just that, with a little extra thrown in. And anyone that says it’s not incredibly hard to run down stairs in heels has obviously never tried, and yet Cinderella does so with grace.
Even when she gets back from the ball, Cinderella doesn’t cry over her would-be prince. She accepts reality for what it is. She understands she will never be a princess, and she most certainly doesn’t expect the prince to search the entire kingdom for her. She’s ready to go back to her mundane, normal life. She’s had her fun, and it was everything she could have dreamed it to be, it was time to get back to work.
When the prince does come, she’s pleasantly surprised. Swept off her feet, even. Who wouldn’t be? After all, he did scour the whole kingdom for her, which would be no easy feat. She realizes that he is truly in love with her, to put this much effort into finding her. So she let’s herself get excited. She lets herself acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t mind living in a palace with this man that’s willing to look everywhere for her. She understands what she’s worth, and she realizes that maybe he does too. If the prince really didn’t love her, he would have kicked her out of the palace as soon as he realized she was a servant. But no, he welcomes her with open arms and marries her.
Ariel is curious. She’s not afraid to go explore new things. She fights a shark for pete’s sake! She’s not afraid of the unknown, she embraces it. When her father tries to stifle this love for another world, she doesn’t do as she’s told, instead she dives deeper. She’s willing to make choices she knows are best for her, not anyone else. Most people would never have the courage to leave their whole life, their entire family, everything they’ve ever known behind to jump head first into something they’re passionate about, and yet, Ariel does this without ever looking back.
While in the human world, Ariel’s not afraid to be herself. In this new place where she has to get a guy to kiss her in just three days if she wants to stay, she doesn’t rely on charms or good looks or flirtatiousness to get her what she wants. Instead she decides to enjoy the journey as her unapologetic self. She combs her hair with a dinglehopper and she blows bubbles in the bathtub. She doesn’t try to hide her excitement as Eric takes her out into town and shows her all these wondrous things she’s only dreamed about.
Think about when Eric lets her drive the carriage. She could have easily declined, thought that since she had no idea what she was doing, maybe she should just let Eric handle the horses. But the thought of trying something new was too tempting, and so she grabs the reigns and goes full throttle, almost throwing them out of the carriage. She could have been embarrassed and stopped, but no. She was determined to get this right. And so she carries on, without a care in the world.
And when her whole plan blows up in her face? She stands up to it. She’s willing to right the wrong she knows she’s caused. Facing a giant sea creature that’s pinky is bigger than you would be terrifying. But she does it, because she knows it’s what has to be done.
Belle wants much more than her provincial life, and she’s not afraid to be a little different. Every other girl goes swooning after Gaston, but not Belle. No, she’s got more important things ahead of her. She knows she’s destined for something great, she’s just not sure what that is exactly.
Belle could have easily let the townspeople deter her from who she really was. How easy would it have been for her to give in to social norms and become like every other girl in town? But no. Not Belle. She continued to be unapologetically herself, despite the town always gossiping about how strange she was and what a pity it was that such a beautiful face was going to waste.
She knows exactly what to say to encourage people. When her father is discouraged, she always knows exactly what to say in order to cheer him up and keep him focused on his dream. Without her constant assurances, he would have given up on inventing a long time ago. However, Belle believed in him, and that was all he needed to keep going.
Suddenly, her father gets captured by a hideous beast, and Belle doesn’t even hesitate to give up everything to save him. All of her hopes and dreams for herself, everything that she had been aspiring to be, gone in a matter of seconds. What mental and emotional strength that would have taken. What love she must feel for her father to do such a thing for him. She had no idea what the Beast was going to do to her, honestly, he could have done anything he wanted. He was much bigger and stronger than she, and yet she didn’t let that deter her from her choice. This would have taken more courage and love than most people could muster.
When she tries to run away from the castle and gets attacked by wolves, Belle doesn’t just sit and accept her fate, she fights back. She grabs a tree branch and tries swinging it, deterring the wolves from getting closer. When the Beast saves her, she realizes how wrong she’s been about this man. She could have easily left the Beast to die and went back to her father, but instead she takes him back to the castle and nurses him back to health. At this time, we get a chance to see her determination and stubbornness as they bicker about who’s fault it is that he got hurt (which she wins, by the way).
One of Belle’s strongest characteristics is her ability to see the good in others. She knows there’s good in the Beast, she’s just not quite sure how to get it out. And when she does, he becomes as kindhearted as she. The whole castle had been trying for years and years to make the Beast remember how to be kind and have basic human emotions, but they never succeeded. And suddenly, here comes this random girl that changes him 180 in a matter of months.
First of all, Aladdin is simply adorable. And yes, when he first sees Jasmine, he’s completely stricken by her good looks. But what really makes him fall for her is all of her other remarkable traits. She’s quick-witted with the apple-seller, athletic and talented when it comes to hopping buildings, and easy to talk to. She can keep up with him, which would be no easy feat.
When Aladdin gets to the palace, he realizes even more just how great Jasmine is. She’s independent, stubborn, and knows exactly what she’s worth, all shown in the quote, “How dare you? All of you? Standing around talking about my future? I am not a prize to be won!”
When Jafar takes over and she finds out her beloved Prince Ali is actually the street rat from the marketplace, she’s not angry, only confused. She doesn’t let this revelation deter her from her feelings towards her prince. She knows his true character, and is able to see past everything standing in front of that, trying to block who he really is.
Once Jafar basically takes her in as a slave, she fights as best she can against him. It’s obvious she’s disgusted by him, she makes it clear what her feelings are. She stands up for her father and does her best to do what she can against Jafar despite her circumstance. And then she sees Aladdin, ready to make a rescue. And with this sense of hope, she knows what she has to do. She uses her beauty to her advantage, and isn’t afraid to do what’s right for the overall good of everyone, including kiss an ugly old man. That takes guts.
Rapunzel is arguably the most underrated disney princess of all time. She’s kind, funny, smart, and ready for anything. Sure she’s a little ditsy, a little clumsy, maybe even a little jumpy at times, but aren’t all girls? She’s incredibly strong, lifting things, including herself, with her own hair. She uses her hair to her advantage, even figuring out how to use it like Indiana Jones’s trusty whip. She knows her dream, and she’s willing to do anything to catch it.
Rapunzel has the most courage I’ve ever seen from a disney princess. She jumps from cliff to cliff. She faces off against at least 50 pub thugs. She hits an intruder in the head with a frying pan. And, in the end, she’s willing to stand up to, and even fight against, the one person she’s ever known, the one person she thought loved her. The woman she thought was protecting her.
She literally embodies everything that’s good in the world. She’s the King and Queen’s light, the sun in their sky, without her, they’re lost. They do the best they can, the only thing they can think of, to find her, but ultimately it’s up to Rapunzel to make her way back home.
Throughout the movie, it’s evident that without Rapunzel, Flynn would be lost. He’s not truly happy, it’s all a show. He pretends to be cocky and full of himself to hide the fact that he’s incredibly lonely and insecure. No one would ever have been able to get that out of him except Rapunzel. She has a natural ability to connect with people and make them feel safe and loved. She truly cares about everyone she comes in contact with, wants to learn everything there is to learn about absolutely everything in the world, and that draws people to her. It entices them to tell her their story. And she’s willing to listen with open ears and an open heart, always accepting people for who they truly are.
Princesses are Feminists
Disney is doing it right. They’re showing real girls acting as girls do. Many girls see themselves in these characters and look up to them highly. Let’s not make them feel horrible by saying these strong, compassionate, beautiful women are nothing but wimpy, ‘I’ll let the prince come save me’ little girls. Instead, let’s praise them for their admirable qualities and stop looking for the bad in Disney princesses.
What do you think? Leave a comment.