Feminist Analysis of Disney Princesses

27 Oct

Wait….don’t just stop at reading the image. More interesting by far are the discussions taking place in the comments on the Feministing, Sociological Images, and Feministe blogs. A few samples:

Maybe it’s out of life-long loyalty (and stubbornness) to Beauty and the Beast, but I have to disagree on Belle – it may not be perfect, but next to Mulan (who is, in a word, awesome), she is the most outright feminist of Disney characters. She calls Gaston “primeval” for his attitude toward women and books. She kicks the asshole out of her house when he proposes and starts a song about how “absurd” it would be to be his “little wife.” The whole town notes how weird it is for a pretty girl to be so “odd” and into books, and she just ignores the hell out of all of them. She independently seeks adventure. She leaves the Beast for what’s important to her – her father. But then, they fall in love. I don’t think it’s her sexuality that “saves” the Beast. It’s just  love. And I think even we can enjoy a wildly fantastical love story now and again. 🙂 [from Feministing]

I find it a little funny as well that when we think about all of the men who “saved” these women, Aladdin is the only one and to a certain extent Price Eric, who are good guys in their own right, separate from the women. The Beast was a prick and the others had no redeeming characteristics other than the fact that they there were handsome. Which is really all a girl can ask for in a Disney movie. I find it ironic that Belle DID have the most going for her yet is treated the worst of all the Princesses by her Prince. [from Sociological Images]

I don’t really agree with a lot of the analysis in the pictures, but I think Disney movies are very problematic for all sorts of reasons they’re bringing up…and I think Mulan is actually one of the worst. The entire movie is reinforcing the notion that the only values worth upholding are traditionally ‘manly’ ones – and ‘manliness’ is defined through violence. Mulan even says at one point something about how she wanted to be something, make her life worthwhile… as if the lives of millions of Chinese women aren’t worthwhile! The whole movie is a gigantic romp through hatred of women and women’s cultures in favour of everything to do with men. Not to mention the utter racism – even putting aside the way over-the-top stereotypes of China, the villain in the film has FANGS and YELLOW EYES. Dehumanization, much? [from Feministe]

Agree or disagree, but you gotta go read more. It’ll make you think.

8 Responses to “Feminist Analysis of Disney Princesses”

  1. Jon October 28, 2009 at 1:51 am #

    I think its a fair analysis of what Disney has output. One thing that people need to ask is why people even like these characters.

    In most of the stories, the princess is born into a powerless position. Consider all of their lives in act 1 of the movies. Belle is repressed because she doesn’t fit in. Snow White is forced to clean the steps of the castle, despite being a princess. Jasmine isn’t allowed to interact with the world. Ariel is expected to be an singer for the entertainment of the kingdom. Aurora, due to her curse, is treated as fragile an over-protected. Cinderella…well you get it.

    All of these characters are choosing an alternative life. Most fairy tales have an over-arcing theme of overcoming adolescence. All of these girls are trying to become women, and in that search for self identity, the often see themselves with a husband. Marriage is symbolic of leaving behind the child and embracing adulthood. Although it might seem sexist to assign this symbol today, many of these stories were written when marriage was a rite of passage. Dowries, arranged marriages, cattle and land were all part of the grand business transaction to secure the future of a family. Disney’s approach has always been to overlook those cultural reasons and attempt to make fairy tales into romance stories. In many fairy tales, marriage is simply used as a metaphor for growing up. “Happily ever after” is the implication that because these women are now married (aka grown-up) that they can live the way they see fit…which is happy. They have taken control over their own future. We love the underdog that can overcome. All of these girls were underdogs, despite their wealth/beauty, at the beginning of the story.

    To put it bluntly, you can’t really be politically correct and a true Disney fan. The entire company culture supports the idea that a happy journey is better than a truthful one. How dare we ask if Disney is sending the proper message, when the company’s claim to fame is built on artifice? We watch non-existent characters come to life on paper & computers. We sample other lands and cultures in gated parks. We allow our perception to be altered voluntarily. We accept the archaic and artificial gender roles the company continues to craft to sell consumer products.

    Picking on the princesses is easy. Everyone is going to be critical of a $4 billion dollar franchise. Barbie has face similar criticism for giving a false sense of female empowerment, only to have a new line of wedding dolls come out a few years in a row. I’m more interested as to why this is of interests to feminists. It seems a special interest that is turning a blind eye to other issues. Racism, cultural bias, religious whitewashing are all there in spurts throughout Disney’s media and parks. I suppose people chose their own battles.

    What I don’t understand is why the princesses have to be models for feminine behavior. When I view Miss Piggy, I don’t think “wow, she makes all women look desperate and bossy”. Why are these specific characters being regarded as belittling the feminine perception, while other stories are overlooked? Disney’s push for children to “become” princesses and pirates does leave an empathic imprint on their fans, meaning becoming a Disney princess does carry more baggage than some glitter and a crown.

    What are your thoughts?

  2. Ken in Atlanta October 28, 2009 at 8:09 am #

    If they don’t want their princes, send them my way. I could use the money and handsome men around me.

  3. Jennifer October 28, 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    Jon, wow, “you can’t really be politically correct and a true Disney fan”? I didn’t get that memo….but then again, I haven’t found a reasonably good working definition of “politically correct” since about 1985.

    But also, what does it mean to be a “true Disney fan.” If one is critical, does that mean one isn’t a true fan? I spend much of my time in academia, where the truest praise is to take someone’s work seriously enough to ask difficult questions.

    I don’t worry too much about the princess thing myself. Quite frankly I worry more about parents (and schools, and grandparents, and peers…..) who teach kids that there’s only one right way to be in the world. The people that kids see in their actual lives have a much bigger impact on their development than pretty princesses in a box.

    I’m a big fan of gender actually, as long as everybody’s free to pick and choose whatever elements of gender expression they prefer.

    Ken, I will certainly be re-directing any discarded Princes in your direction. Any chance you’ll be at the December fan meets so I can tell them where to find you?

  4. Jon October 28, 2009 at 7:34 pm #

    >>>Jon, wow, “you can’t really be politically correct and a true Disney fan”? I didn’t get that memo….but then again, I haven’t found a reasonably good working definition of “politically correct” since about 1985.

    By political correctness, I was alluding to Feministing’s comment…”Disney doesn’t discriminate who they create sexist caricatures out of, that is for sure.” They’re basically calling these characters politically incorrect by today’s standards, thus, the image, thus this is “newsworthy”.

    What I meant to say is that you cannot be politically correct to a fault and a true Disney fan. As I mentioned, Disney has other issues you could point out beside sexism. I define true fans as people that enjoy the whole package (flaws and all). If someone believed sexism was really at the heart of the princess franchise, then I think they’d have a tough time enjoying Disney as a whole. Imagine if someone said they liked everything Disney except Donald Duck. Disney is so good at synergy that I think it would be hard to cherry pick specific characters/themes you were morally opposed to while simultaneously consuming their media, parks, etc.

    Also sorry to come on so strong.

  5. Jennifer October 28, 2009 at 8:09 pm #

    Don’t be silly, Jon, you didn’t come on too strong! Remember what I said about challenging questions being a real compliment in my world? I’m honored that you take the time to read my blog and comment on it!

    I need to ponder that cherry picking comment. For example, my political opinions about American slavery and its aftermath influence how I feel about Song of the South, and as a result I’m really not crazy about Splash Mountain (and rarely ride it). But I keep on buying those Dole Whips, just yards away. How do I reconcile this in myself? Clearly at some level either I’m resolving it, or living with the cognitive dissonance. My money’s on the latter, actually.

  6. Ken in Atlanta October 29, 2009 at 10:20 am #

    It doesn’t look like I’ll be down there in Dec. I have a cruise on the Wonder coming up for my birthday (November 15th) and maybe on in Jan (if people back out – I am the alternate standby). Also Dec is busy for my part time job (as the NHL and NBA are in full swing at that time).

    But I would love to meet up with yall and of course any Princes you send my way.

  7. Aiyana September 27, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    My love-hate relationship with Disney Princess movies is always complicated. Although I love it how the movies teach children to be good and have moral values, along with the catchy songs, animation, and the whole “happily ever after” ending, I don’t like the mixed messages it sends particularly to little girls. I don’t like the message on how basically you’re going to marry a prince and that’s the end of your life. You never see any of the other Princesses(other than Tiana, Mulan, Pocahontas, and Belle) get an education, have a career, or do something for their country. Also, almost all of the princesses look as if they’re teenagers or in their early-20s, young beautiful woman. If there was more diversity or other styles(besides being White and girly), they would be appreciated more. We already have an African-American princess, but what about someone who is Puerto Rican, Brazilian, or something else? That’s all I have to say. Btw, I’ve seen that picture before. Really interesting.

  8. bg86 October 26, 2015 at 2:25 am #

    Snow White: Invited herself into a stranger’s home. Instead of expecting them to bow down and serve her every whim, she pulled her weight by completing tasks that were well below her caste. The fact that her tasks were “traditionally female” does not invalidate the fact that she is one of the most responsible and considerate princesses to date.

    Aurora: Isolated and lied to her entire life. When she finally ventures out and meets another human being, she’s told she’ll never see her (literally) only friend in the world again. Huge identity crisis ensues, and the only thing she has to carry her through it is the lucky coincidence that her first and only friend happened to be the man she was betrothed to. Can’t really blame her on this.

    Jasmine: Living in a male-dominated society. Isn’t put to death by her father for running around with a thief, and doesn’t have access to magical prowess necessary to defeat Big Bad. Also, let’s not forget the glaring “Right to choose” message that she ultimately wins on

    Ariel: Putting aside she’s a total spoiled brat cliche, she saved the prince first, deviated from her father’s mindless hatered for the surface world, and wasn’t exactly in a position to steer the ship herself.

    Belle: Sacrificed herself to protect her family. Persevered in her interests regardless of what those around her said (and was in fact encouraged by most of the primary cast to pursue her interests). Refused to be blackmailed into marriage. Was equally guilty of judging others by their appearance. Showed blatant disregard for boundaries.

    Cinderella: Once again, she was bound by the limitations of her locale/era. Marrying was quite literally her only way out of the abuse cycle she was stuck in. She reinforced the message that nobody, not even women, deserves to be abused. She happened upon an opportunity to improve her life and she took it.

    Here’s the thing about feminists: they ALWAYS ignore the many layers of Disney princesses’ characterization and reduce them to sex symbols. Praise women, unless a woman happens to value romantic partnership: in which case burn her like a bag of dog crap, right ladies? The hypocrisy and mindless hatred is disgusting, and precisely why feminism in western culture is a problem.

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