'Snow White Only Wants A Man' and Other Misconceptions About Feminism In Disney Culture
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'Snow White Only Wants A Man' and Other Misconceptions About Feminism In Disney Culture

What makes a Disney princess a feminist?

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'Snow White Only Wants A Man' and Other Misconceptions About Feminism In Disney Culture

Mulan saved China from the Huns. Tiana started her own business in the face of racism in the Roaring 20s. Similarly, Queen Elsa of Arendelle didn't need a man to save her in the end.

When someone is asked which of the Disney princesses are the most "feminist," these are a few of the examples frequently mentioned. There is no disputing the fact that they are amazing and wonderful examples for young girls targeted by the movie franchise. The majority of the princess lineup is considered feminist. Unattainable beauty standards aside, these girls are given strength and fiery personalities to combat their adversities. Belle is intelligent, Ariel is curious, Merida wants her freedom, and Rapunzel overcomes an abusive situation.

What happens when the tables are turned, and people are asked about the original three princesses, Aurora, Cinderella, and Snow White? The answers are overwhelmingly similar:

"They just needed a man to save them!"

Look, I understand the need for young girls to understand that she has a whole number of options in the course of her life, but this brand of feminism is an underlying problem in the movement itself; the idea that a girl cannot be strong or feminist because she wants to be a wife.

In fact, this thought process has had a hypocritical affect, reducing these three princesses to their love plots and nothing more. Because had these people been paying attention, they would see strength, courage, and admirable qualities in all three of these characters.

Like Cinderella, an orphaned, overworked, and abused girl who suffered at the hands of her wicked stepmother. Yes, in the end, she marries the prince, but was the ball the central focus of the first half of the movie? Not for Cinderella. Her title track is "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes," for crying out loud. She spends a monolog's length talking to birds and mice about how no matter how hard things get, she still has her dreams and the hope that one day, her life will get better. And through her abuse, she keeps her head high and doesn't give up on the hopes that one day, she will be happy.


Before we get into the princess herself, "Sleeping Beauty" was actually pretty progressive for its time. Aurora was raised by three fairy women and no man around. The majority of the movie's protagonists and antagonists are female. If there was a reverse Beschdel test that measured men talking about something besides women, this movie wouldn't pass it. Now, Aurora's validity as a feminist may be harder for someone to see, considering she isn't even the main character and has a grand total of 18 lines. She is a classic beauty, very demure, and fits the "damsel in distress" profile exceptionally well. Any online list will probably place Aurora at the bottom for feminist princesses.

Let's review her story a bit, because parts of her story will be strikingly familiar. A young princess is cursed by magic and forced to go into hiding.

And she doesn't know that she's a princess because of being hidden, particularly because she is at the mercy of an evil villain.


She is also pitted into an arranged marriage, but she doesn't want to marry some random guy. She wants to marry for love.

And while her characterization may not be A+ (which can be pardoned by her not being the main character), Aurora is strong and fair in her convictions and what she wants. It was the 1300s after all, it's not like she had Tumblr to educate her.

Similarly, Snow White seems to be the collective favorite for people to dog on, particularly because of the song associated with her, "Someday my Prince will Come," and the assumption that this makes her a man chaser and nothing more. Right, because the central plot line of this movie had nothing to do with her abusive stepmother who tried to kill her, forcing Snow to find her own way through the woods and taking shelter with the Dwarves, teaching them how to take care of themselves and being an equal in their house. Or the fact that through all this, she bleeds optimism, choosing kindness and focusing on the positives to get through the horrible things she endures, never once becoming hateful, even towards those who wrong her.

While there are indeed problematic elements in other princess movies, Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty seem to be singled out the most. Why is that? Elsa and Anna's sisterly relationship is highly problematic, the latter being dependent on her younger sister to a fault. Belle's relationship with the Beast could be easily characterized by abuse and Stockholm Syndrome. Pocahontas is incredibly problematic with the story behind herself and her hubbies John Smith and John Rolfe being the ultimate example of female objectification. But these examples rarely come up in the conversation.

The whole thing reeks of internalized misogyny and the dissociation from things that are considered "too female" for anyone's liking. The conventions of pretty looking girls whose end result is marriage is a problematic trope that, when employed regularly, is rightfully deemed as sexist.

The Disney princess movies are very much a reflection of the times they were made in, as the strength of the female characters is determined by the qualities considered to make them strong in the time period. In the early-mid 1900s, that was optimism, in the '90s by intelligence and strength, and in the modern age, by independence. But these traits aren't mutually exclusive, nor are they an exhaustive list of what makes a female character strong.

There is more than one way to be a feminist. A woman whose goal in life is to get married and have kids is a perfectly valid way, so long as it's a choice she makes. The diversity in the princess lineup is a good thing, and it's good to see the characters getting more dynamic as time passes. But reducing a princess -- or any person for that matter -- to their desire to get married or their beauty is, say it with me: sexist. There is nothing wrong with a woman wanting to get married. Feminism is about choice, and as long as the domestic route is her own ambitions, then who's to say that isn't a perfectly valid way of being a strong woman?

Are these characters perfect? No. Are any of them perfect? Of course not. But optimism and happily ever after are not faults. They're wonderful traits for any young person to pick up. Independence shouldn't come at the expense of happiness nor should a happy ending be contingent on fitting some random blogger's idea of "strong." Each princess has character traits we could all take heed of, because going through life optimistic and hopeful never really hurt anyone.


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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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