Feminist Disney Princesses… Or Not

This is no recent hot off the press news that for many years, Disney has been heckled for putting very antifeminist messages into their movies. Since the Disney Renaissance, it seems the Disney film makers have been doing cartwheels to try and create a Disney Princess that aren’t, well, to say it truly, subservient and misogynist. It seems that with every new movie Disney creates with a Princess, it is celebrated as the first feminist Disney princess, and finally a whistle blower scholar says, “Wait, they did it again. This princess isn’t feminist at all.” In this post, I will go over each Disney princess beginning with Ariel from The Little Mermaid at the height of the Disney Renaissance to show how these princess movies are somewhat feminist, but not quite enough. More to the point, why Disney has still not created a true feminist Disney princess.

 

Ariel

The Little Mermaid (1989)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

Ariel was the first deceptive attempt of the feminist Disney princess, and for a first try, Disney got closer than most people could reasonably expect. Here is why Ariel at first glance can be seen as somewhat feminist. Compared to the Disney Princesses before her (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella) Ariel is very assertive. She defiantly challenges the will of her father. She shows multiple acts of courage, going up against a shark, and being close to humans when in her upbringing she was taught they were dangerous. She goes against normal court life.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

So, yeah, Ariel has some good spunk. But when you come down to it, she is still pretty anti-feminist. This is mainly because of the myth of a mermaid entirely. According to the myth, a mermaid can only become human if she is kissed by a male, has sex with a male, or if a male tells her he loves her. In all these variations, it is pretty much saying that a woman cannot be considered a valuable member of society unless she is accepted by a man. More than this, we also must consider that Ariel feels the need to change herself for a man. And to do so she is willing to give up her voice, the main source of her assertive power. You could even say that by the end of a movie, Ariel is given back her voice by a man.

 

Belle

Beauty and the Beast (1991).

 

Why The Movie Seems Feminist

 

Belle is Disney’s first intellectual Princess. She is an opinionated, avid reader, who also desires to expand her horizons and encounter adventure. She also rejects a proposal of marriage.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

While Belle has a lot of strength, she still, in the end, is an anti-feminist princess. Because in the end, she still has to be saved by a prince, albeit, a very hairy one. And she still has one of those iconic scenes in almost every Disney princess movie when she throws herself on the bed and starts sobbing uncontrollably. Also, it is a bit strange that Belle desires adventure, has a little of it, and then gets married. By normal standards of the 1800’s, other than childbirth, her adventures are over.

 

Jasmine

Aladdin (1992)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

Very similar to Ariel, Jasmine has a lot of spunk and disobeys her father’s will. She almost violently opposes marrying someone she does not love. She is also very adventurous and opinionated.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

Two words: the outfit. How can she be seen as anything but an object in those skimpy clothes? But, more than that, just like Belle, Jasmine also, in the end, needs to be saved by a man.

 

Pocahontas

Pocahontas (1995)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

Pocahontas is probably the closest to a true feminist princess thus far. Mainly because rather than John Smith saving her, she saves him. It only took Disney six years to get that right.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

Yes, Pocahontas saves John Smith, but the film is still very dependent on a romance. In the context of the film, Pocahontas is not being strong and independent just to stop bloodshed, but for her love of john Smith. A true feminist story would be her doing this without love in the picture.

 

Esmeralda

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

Esmeralda stands up for her oppressed Gypsy kin against the vicious Lord Frollo. You go girl!

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

Please tell me you know this one, because these are getting very repetitive. Because like all the other movies, there needs to be a romantic subplot, and she needs to be saved by a man in the end.

 

Meg

Hercules (1997)

 

Why The Movie Seems Feminist

 

Meg is the first sassy Disney princess. She’s even quite overtly sexual. In fact, I’m not quite sure this movie was made with kids in mind. She is intelligently witty and fights to stand up for herself even while she is owned by Hades.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

Surprise surprise, she gets saved by a man.

 

Mulan

Mulan (1998)

Why She Seems Feminist

 

Mulan is very close to the real deal. Like Pocahontas, rather than being saved, she saves herself. More importantly, she dresses as a man, works as a soldier, and becomes the type of hero that the prince figure usually is in Disney movies.

 

Why She Really Isn’t

 

They were so close! But of course, in the end, Mulan is a love story, as if Disney is saying, no matter how strong you are, every woman must have love in her life with a strong man you can rely on.

 

Tiana

Princess and the Frog (2009)

 

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

Tiana is close to a modern aspiring business woman who wants to better herself.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

But of course, she just has to find love. It is impossible for her to be happy without it.

 

Rapunzel

Tangled (2010)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

As a girl who has been locked up and cloistered all her life, Rapunzel dreams of freedom and independence. God, who he hell wouldn’t?

 

Why It Really Isn’t

Despite Rapunzel’s spirit of independence, she is willing to give that up for a man.

 

Elsa and Anna

Frozen (2013)

Why the Movie Seems Feminist

 

When Frozen was released there was huge hype in the media of it being the real first feminist Disney movie. First off, Elsa is queen in her own right, and has magical powers. She is very easily the most powerful Disney princess to date. Even more so, Frozen sets up the true-love’s-kiss trope to save Anna, but makes an unexpected twist. Anna is saved by her sister’s love rather than the love interest.

 

Why It Really Isn’t

 

Okay, I will admit that with Frozen Disney really tried their best to make a more feminist film. And the twist on the true-love’s-kiss was definitely a step in the right direction. However, there are other issues. The song Fixer Upper almost explicitly sends the message that everyone’s problems are perfected with love. Go on girls! Lower your inhibitions! Get married right now despite any reservations so you can procrate! And, once again, despite everything, in the end, this movie still has a love interest.

 

What it all Means

 

I’m sure my readers have noticed that these summaries became very repetitive. The fact that all Disney princess movies have a romantic subplot sends the message that women cannot be happy without love. Disney is perfectly capable of making movies around male protagonists without a romantic subplot (Brother Bear, a good portion of the Pixar films),  and yet they have never done this with women protagonists or princesses. At least not in their animated films. It really begs the question, is Disney convinced that romance sells movie tickets, or are the writers just plain misogynists?

 

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