Is Disney Anti-Feminist? -- A History of Disney's Princesses
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Is Disney Anti-Feminist? -- A History of Disney's Princesses

Not all of them were waiting for a prince to rescue her.

Is Disney Anti-Feminist? -- A History of Disney's Princesses

Disney is well-known and highly popular for their Disney Princess movies. However, with the usual romance plotline and happy endings, people have often questioned whether or not the Disney Company does in fact portray their women characters as weak and need men to save them—in other words, anti-feminist.

As a huge Disney fan I would never want to believe this, so I did my research. So I did a close watch on all the Disney Princess movies that has been made. These are my findings:

1. Snow White

‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1939) was Walt Disney’s first production as well as the title character becoming the first Disney Princess. Snow White is defined by her beauty—“the fairest of them all”—and is the reason the Evil Queen wants her dead. Besides being beautiful, Snow White is helpful, kind, and compassionate; she also took her life into her own hands when she runs away to escape the Evil Queen, despite the fact that it was the Huntsman who told her to do so. So, as her primary attribute is often considered a superficial quality as well as being saved from eternal sleep by the Prince, the movie could be seen as anti-feminist. Additionally, the movie was produced during an era where women were still considered second class citizens and Snow White is an example of what women did during the 1930’s/40’s.

2. Cinderella

Often considered the leader of the Disney Princesses, the 1950 movie has just a slightly better view of women than that of Snow White, but still lacks a clear feminist outlook. Cinderella does stand up to her Evil Stepmother and Ugly Stepsisters and goes to the ball without their permission really. However, the only reason she is able to do that is because the Fairy Godmother helps her by giving her a gorgeous dress and fancy shoes. Thus, she attracts Prince Charming with her beauty—and he saves her in the end. Not too feministic if you ask me.

3. Aurora

‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959) follows the same patterns as ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella.’ All the princess does in the film is sing and sleep. Granted Prince Philip was initially entranced by her beautiful singing voice rather than her physical beauty. However, circumstances—being cursed by Maleficent and believing herself to be peasant Briar Rose raised by her three aunts—do not help Aurora with her independence either. Therefore, she can only be defined by her reactions instead of actions.

4. Ariel

It’s been thirty years since a Disney Princess movie when Disney finally releases ‘The Little Mermaid’ in 1989. Disney steps up their feminist game by giving their female lead strong opinions and dreams, but is often controversial because of the character’s reasoning. Ariel, a mermaid, wants to be a part of the human world, and people often think that she only wants to be human because she’s in love with Prince Eric. However, Ariel has a fascination with humans before she knows Prince Eric even exists—she sings “Part of Your World” then she sees the ship that he is on. Additionally, Prince Eric falls in love with Ariel because of her singing voice and drops her for Ursula the Sea Witch disguised as a beautiful human girl with Ariel’s singing voice when he hears it; but this isn’t an accurate view because Ursula does hypnotize Eric with her false singing voice. So this movie begins a more feminist Disney.

5. Belle

Definitely one of Disney’s most feminist characters as well as the first clear feminist princess, Belle in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991) is independent, free-thinking, and does not stop herself from being who she is. She neither benefits from the “falling in love at first sight” nor is particularly focused on men and falling in love. There is no denying that she is beautiful, the film focuses primarily on inner beauty as the beast must learn to be more kind and compassionate. This movie is also a great change of pace as far as Disney Princess movies go in that the princess saves the prince unlike the previous four films.

6. Jasmine

Jasmine, the leading lady in Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ (1992) as well as Disney’s first completely invented princess, is sometimes overlooked since she is not the main character of the movie. Besides that, Jasmine is fierce, bold, confident, and is not afraid to have her voice heard, which makes her a great Disney feminist. Additionally her independent and self-reliant mentality rather than a focus on getting married is a better role model for women and greatly influences how Disney women will think later films.

7. Pocahontas

Based on the Powhatan Native American (c. 1596-1617) and the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, in ‘Pocahontas’ (1995) Disney continues a woman’s right to express her opinion and be independent of men. She willing chooses to stay with her family rather than to have a relationship with a man she loves, which pissed me off as a child, but is nonetheless a great model for children.

8. Mulan

‘Mulan’ (1998) is the most progressive movie. Mulan is clumsy and independent rather than graceful and demure. In the process of challenging gender norms when she leaves home to take her father’s place in the war, she is also trying to find herself as she does not seem to fit in with her Chinese culture. Mulan is trying to make something of herself that does not include a romantic partner something every child struggles with on some level.

9. Tiana

In ‘The Princess and the Frog’ (2009), Disney gives their princess a dream devoid of love. Tiana is a hardworking, ambitious, and beautiful woman who dreams of owning her own restaurant unlike her friend Charlotte, who can be seen as the stereotyped princess that Disney has created in the past. Tiana questions the aspects of being a princess and recognizes that you can achieve your dreams through hard work a great model for girls everywhere.

10. Rapunzel

Rapunzel continues the dream in ‘Tangled’ (2010) as she wishes to go see the floating lanterns that appear on her birthday every year. Like Tiana, Rapunzel is given a love interest named Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert, but that is not the focus of the film. Rapunzel is even given her own weapon—frying pans, who knew, right—and she is the one to save Eugene.

11. Merida

The Disney and Pixar movie ‘Brave’ (2013) is clearly one of the most feminist movies from the company. Merida’s parents want her to marry for the good of the kingdom, and she is extremely vocal about her dislike toward this idea. She wants control of her own life. Like Mulan, she also challenged gender norms in that she is a skilled in archery, sword-fighting, and cross-country horse riding proving that girls can do whatever boys do.

12. Elsa and 13. Anna

Disney’s ‘Frozen’ (2013) becomes even more complex than the previous Disney Princess movies featuring two princesses, Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, with themes such as sisterhood, self-esteem, and self-acceptance rather than simply finding a love interest. Elsa does not clearly present a feminist stance (since she is too concerned concealing her snow powers) the themes are still there as she is independent, clear-headed, and tries to find comfort within herself and her powers. She also keeps her younger sister, Anna, from marry someone “she just met.” Speaking of Anna, she does have some of those stereotypes that have been featured in earlier Disney Princess—just wants her prince. However, as Elsa does shut her out it might not have mattered who paid attention to her and desperately just wanted someone to talk to. Furthermore, she does have her priorities straight when she chooses to find Elsa herself instead of just letting her “prince” do the work as well as when she chooses to save Elsa’s life rather than her own.

Overall, over the years Disney has caught up with the times and presents their princesses as more than just waiting for that someday when her prince comes—especially with the production of ‘The Little Mermaid’ is where you see the most change. Yes, most of them do have a love interest, but the famous Disney Princesses have been given their own dreams, passions, and independence. They are individualized and very different from each other. They women can be independent of men, vocalize their own opinions, and have their own dreams—clearly, not every princess was down to just wait for a man to rescue her from her problems.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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