Tag Archives: Disney

Princesses Aren’t the Problem

(If I could have gotten the embed to work, this would have been the image I would have used for this post. Click to see it in full awesomeness and pretend.)

A private all-girls’ school was kicking up a hoopla lately with what is being termed a “girl power campaign.” It features minimalist posters depicting references to fairy tale characters, with lines like “You’re not a princess” and “Don’t wait for a prince to save you.”

Considering it’s an ad campaign designed to draw attention (and donor money) to the school, I’d say they did a good job.

But these posters are also being lauded in general for their “down with princess” terminology. And I have a problem with that.

Judging from some pundits, being a huge fan of Disney movies and fairy tales in general should have made me into a simpering, sparkly, pink-wearing fanatic who doesn’t know how to change a tire or earn an income and spends her whole day writing “Mrs. Prince Eric Charming” over and over on my TrapperKeeper.

And yet… I am not that. I’m a feminist, socially conscious, job-and-a-half having, multicolor-wearing woman — and I’ve never even owned a TrapperKeeper, nor have I figured out whether to take my fiance’s last name or not. (And yes, I do happen to like sparkles. Tasteful sparkles, anyway. Moderation!)

*GASP* How can this be?

Because, frankly, the characterization as “princess = weak and disempowered” is a complete misattribution of these characters.

A quick sample:

  • Snow White: importance of kindness; friendship; value of hard work; internal beauty to match external beauty (she’s the most “princessy” of all the princesses, but the movie came out in 1937…so history is at play here)
  • Belle: intelligence/book smarts; value of reading; kindness; family loyalty; facing your fears; standing up for what you believe in; opposing bullies
  • Jasmine: not a prize to be won; clever; ability to look beyond monetary value; fights back against a giant magical snake; protects her father
  • Ariel: goes against outdated “separate but equal” policies (segregation between merfolk and humans); plays up her talents; exploration/discovery; doesn’t value her looks (unlike her sisters); not afraid to show her enthusiasm; refuses to give up; saves a man from drowning
  • Mulan: values her family over her own life and her culture’s strong dictates against her decisions; refuses to give up in the face of a challenge; smart and adaptive; creative; unlike the men, values her romantic partner for more than what he can do for her (also: not a princess, actually)
  • Tiana: businesswoman/entrepreneur; overcoming racism; friendship despite differences; courage; belief in following her dreams

It IS a problem that a girl in a Disney movie can’t make it through without finding a forever beau (Merida escaped the trend, though, so there is hope!). It IS a problem that toys are separated into “girl toys” and “boy toys,” when, in practical situations, kids will happily play with both. It IS a problem that for a company to sell to girls, they think they have to make things pink (especially when pink was the “boy” color until the 1950s!). It IS a problem that dress-up choices for girls can fall almost exclusively on the “princess” spectrum.

But just because a girl admires a princess does not mean that she is a wussified, pathetic, glittering freak.


Filed under Feminism

Critical Consumption: Dealing with Problem Media

This will be a hit during Fashion Week.

This will be a hit during Fashion Week.

I love Disney movies. To the point that it’s a little ridiculous, actually. In fact, the only person I know who definitely knows more Disney trivia than me works in one of the parks. I like the princesses, the music, the beauty of hand-drawn art, the themes that fill you with emotion.

But all that love doesn’t mean I don’t know about the problems those movies have. On the contrary, in a college psychology class I aced a project  dissecting all the ways Disney negatively portrays women. (There are quite a few).

Sometimes it seems weird that I would be so devoted to something that I find a lot of problems with–but that is hardly restrained to Disney. As a video game fan, it’s pretty common for me to be really enjoying a game that doesn’t line up with my personal views, or even how I’d like to fit into the world. And I’ll read books that do a poor job treating women as full characters.

There’s been a lot of news lately about Orson Scott Card and people protesting his books/soon-to-be movie because of his personal views. And some of my favorite Neil Gaiman stories feature content that is highly disturbing and very challenging to watch.

So what are we to do?

Growing up, I knew some religious parents who wouldn’t let their kids watch any movies containing magical elements of any kind…there really aren’t a lot of G-rated movies that don’t include magic in some way.

I don’t think censorship (even self-censorship) like that is the answer. I think it’s important that we take time to analyze the broader messages of the media we consume: both the messages we’re meant to be getting (as in The Little Mermaid: that love has no boundaries and can overcome all obstacles) and the messages that we’re getting even if the producer didn’t really intend to send them (that Ariel’s physical body is all that is important to her “catching” Eric; her personality is completely unnecessary and probably it’s better if she just focus on body language anyway).

This lets us consume the media we enjoy, and take out the best parts, while acknowledging the problems with the rest. We say “yeah, that’s true, that’s there, but here are all the reasons I like the rest of it.”

As long as you’ve got both parts, I think there’s something we can learn from just about anything.

What do you enjoy that sometimes also makes you cringe? What have you learned from it?


Filed under Uncategorized