So I’m probably one of the biggest Disney fans you will ever meet. I have no problem randomly breaking out into Disney songs or quoting a line from a movie or driving the hour and change to go to Disney for a few minutes. I’m obsessed. I love Disney. I do. I really, really do. But as I’ve grown older, I can’t help but think of the despicable role models Disney has created for girls and young women (and older women and subsequently how boys perceive the female gender)! Think about it. I will say they are getting better and as I go through them, you’ll see I run out of reasons to be disgusted, but anyway…
We’ll start with the first Disney Princess, Snow White. She’s the only woman among seven dudes who does the cooking, cleaning, laundry – the “woman’s work”. Tell me that’s encouraging girls to become rocket scientists, let alone leave the house to pursue, I don’t know, a career or something. Then there’s her stepmother, The Queen. Does she even have a legit name? I’ve heard Queen Grimhilde, but it’s not mentioned in the movie or in the original tale told by the Grimm Brothers. Interesting. But an entirely different subject. Anyway, you don’t exactly get the warm fuzzies from this lady. Comforting for those kids whose parents are getting remarried – this is their impression of good, old step-mom. Then Snow White is kissed by The Prince (spoiler alert! But come on people, if you didn’t know that, you seriously should not have been allowed to make it this far in life). Again, do we even know his name?! Florian comes to mind, but I’m still not sold on the fact that this is mentioned anywhere in the movie…
Moving on we have Cinderella. Everyone loves Cinderella. She’s friends with the mice for crying out loud! She’s seen as being the most famous Disney Princess – her castle is the icon for Disney World, if not the entire Disney franchise. Once again, she cooks and cleans and is responsible for all the chores. Charming. At least this time she among other women, although that’s really not any better. Again, the villain is the stepmother, but now she has help from her deranged, obnoxious daughters. Good job with that comfort thing for kids who have parents remarrying! So Prince Charming rescues Cinderella and they live happily ever after. Hold up, though, “Charming” is NOT a name! Charming is a verb. An action word. Not a name! There are arguments that his name is Henry, but I’m pretty sure that came from Ever After, not the original Cinderella (please, correct me if I’m wrong here!!). So it took Disney 48 years to figure out a proper name for this guy? Hmf.
Third, we have Aurora. The hopeless romantic. She’s sheltered and somewhat dimwitted if you ask me, but she was sent off to live in the woods with three fairies, so can we really expect much from her? She was betrothed, so while she at least ends up in a respectable family with a decent guy, she’s got no choice in the matter. Luckily for her, she’d already fallen deeply in love with Prince Phillip – FINALLY! A guy with a name! But they did randomly meet in the forest and the whole love at first sight deal is as good as Disney putting up bulletins reading: WANDER THROUGH THE FOREST AND TRUE LOVE WILL FIND YOU! AND THEN PROTECT YOU FROM DRAGONS! Another interesting note, the villain is once again female.
Next we have Ariel. She’s tired of being trapped in the ocean and wants to be on land. Someone may have forgotten to tell her that she’s got about 40% more space under the sea, but details. details. Probably one of the bravest moves a Disney princess makes to this point, she deals with the, hmmm, FEMALE villain (didn’t see that one coming) so she can go find her man. At least she sort of knows Eric (yes, I guess Disney realized having Prince and Prince Charming would eventually get confusing if they continued with that trend). And by know, I mean she’s stalked his ship with his awesome dog. But again, at least he’s not a completely random stranger. She has a statue of him and everything. And who could forget her classic, “Daddy, I love him” revelation. Encouraging for women at any rate to be independent and resourceful. Oh wait.
Belle. Belle is intelligent, loves the idea of adventure, kind, she’s the real deal this Belle. She even turns down advances from the physically attractive, yet megalomaniac, Gaston. There’s a woman with power! She trades her freedom for her father – finally a princess who defies some convention! She even reads! :O Belle is probably my favorite Disney Princess. She’s easy to relate to (alright, I will admit, I haven’t met a beast who’s attempted to imprison my father, but there have been some guys…) and she wants more than the provincial humans she’s surrounded by. So obviously, I should be happy, right? A successful role model for women. But now I’m getting greedy. Because let’s look at the big picture here. Gaston is clearly the over privileged brat he was brought up to be, thinking women should bow down before him. Just listen to the lyrics of the song, Gaston. Even better, read the lyrics to the less known song “Me” sang by the great and powerful Gaston featured in the musical on Broadway:
You’ve been dreaming, just one dream
Nearly all your life
Hoping, scheming, just one theme:
Will you be a wife? <– ARE THEY SERIOUS?!
Will you be some he-man’s property?
Good news! That he-man’s me! <– That’s definitely an attractive thought…
This equation, girl plus man
Doesn’t help just you
On occasion, women can
Have their uses too <–Isn’t that sweet?
Mainly to extend the fam’ly tree
Pumpkin, extend with me! <– Flattering
That’s just the opening. There’s some dialog in between, but then it goes into this:
I can see that we will share
All that love implies <– Disturbing
We shall be a perfect pair
Rather like my thighs <– Gaston is humble too!
You are face to face with destiny!
All roads lead to…
The best things in life are…
All’s well that ends with me!
Escape me? There’s no way <– Not only creepy, but wow. Just wow.
Finally, he asks Belle this question, which I can’t get over.
Gaston: So Belle, what would it be? Is it “yes”, or is it “oh, yes”?
Belle: I…I just don’t deserve you!
Gaston: Who does? <– Like I said, humble.
Now, I rather happen to like this song. But the message it sends is horrifying. But Belle ends up with Prince Adam (yes, this one is mentioned in the movie too!) so I guess that’s some improvement? And the villain, is, dare I even say it: male! Gasp! What is happening here?
Moving right along, we’re introduced to the rebellious Jasmine. Another independent woman who’s tired of the social conventions mandated by the males in her life. She meets Aladdin and even uses her power as the princess to save his thieving hands. Impressive. But then there’s Jafar and his disturbing, domineering ideas. Granted, Iago is his minion so he does get bonus points, but another topic at any rate. Anyway, Jasmine becomes all infatuated with Aladdin once he takes her on a flying rug – let’s get serious here, who wouldn’t be sold on that?! Once she finds out he’s not really a prince, though, she’s pissed. Can someone say gold digger? But she comes to her senses and decides she loves him. Charming. Not the prince though! Anyway, an upgrade on the role model thing, but still not a fan of the whole Jafar imprisonment deal for Jasmine. It’s saying, ladies, this is your place. Thanks Disney!
Next, there’s Pocahontas, the wise, crazy one who talks to trees and jumps off cliffs. She’s one with nature. And then she meets a guy and it all goes downhill from there. She starts lying to her family, she ditches her friends, it’s no good. Then they came out with that second movie and she’s with an entirely different guy. Ignore the fact that it’s loosely based on history. She could be portrayed better! But not much complaint from here.
Now we’re at Mulan. This is the first Disney Princess movie I remember seeing in theatres. Mulan is awesome. She speaks out, she’s not this dainty, perfect lady – she trips and writes on her arms and, well, you get the point. But once again she becomes besotten over some guy. Shang is definitely a hunk. We’re not contesting this at all. But let’s get real – why is it that all the princesses(and that’s another thing – Shang is a general – where does this translate to princess for Mulan? She’s a general’s wife – that’s NOT a princess! Maybe that’s why I can’t find too much wrong with her. Hmmm) end up hopeless and head over heels for these men? This is not a great message, Disney!
For the first time ever, we get a black princess, Tiana! Whoo! Tiana is awesome and well worth the wait as she shows women you have to work hard to get what you want. Go her! And Disney! Her prince, Naveen, is kind of a tool, but he improves over time. Tiana’s friend, though, the spoiled brat – not a fan: “Daddy, Daddy, I want another…” Awesome thing to show girls. But go Tiana and her hard working-ness!
Rapunzel is the penultimate princess. Stolen by this crazy lady, she’s locked away and yada, yada, yada. We all know the story. Rapunzel is simply sheltered in life. She has no concept of the outside world. So then this guy comes along. Awesome. Again with the rescue story by a man. Flynn’s not a bad guy, but it’s that same story. Kind of irritating. Disney! Can we get over the damsels in distress please?!
Some guy – literally, some random guy (so much for stranger danger) – comes and sweeps these girls (yes, girls, Snow White is 14, Cinderella and Tiana are the oldest, ageing in as old maids at 19) off their feet to make everything better. Pathetic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the romantic happy ending deal. But seriously?
Finally, we have Merida. My favorite Disney Princess! AND THE FIRST PRINCESS WHO IS NOT “RESCUED” BY A GUY! She’s rebellious (OK, telling your mom you hate her is SO not a good example to set, but rebellious nonetheless), she does archery (a sport dominated by males!!), and she defies all convention by challenging her parents and age-old traditions of getting married and all. While she’s come a long way from Snow White, she’s still not the greatest of role models. She’s disrespectful (granted, the situation is frustrating, but it’s still not justified to yell at your parents, regardless of your gender!), she embarrasses her suitors (again, admirable in my book given the circumstances, but they didn’t ask for it either, so slightly unwarranted!!), and she runs away. Not all kids can be that safe when they encounter some random shack in the woods!
Coming soon to the Disney Princess collection is Anna from Frozen. We’ll see what she has in store for us, but hopefully it’ll be in the right direction. Disney’s getting there, but they still have a long way to go.