Annaliese’s recent essay on Rom Coms definitely inspired me to write this piece, particularly her line: “As a child I only owned one Disney movie on VHS, The Jungle Book. The strong female characters I found in my rom-coms were the only princesses in my life.” I love me some Rom-Coms, but I most definitely grew up watching Disney movies.
Today, at the ripe age of 23, I am a Disney Addict. Literally… I am in a Facebook group called “You Might Be a Disney Addict…” I make pilgrimage to Disney World, I know every word to every song, I dress as them for Halloween! My Disney passion grows with age. I know they aren’t perfect, but the Disney princesses (even more so the stories they belong to) work for me.
Here’s the catch: I consider myself a feminist. There are a lot of people out there, thoughtful and smart writers and thinkers of the day, who will say that I cannot be a feminist while truly believing in the messages of Disney princess movies. They will tell me that Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) presents a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome, or that Jasmine (Aladdin) thinks the only way to save her and her guy is to seduce Jafar. The bottom line with dissenters is that Disney princesses perpetuate ideas of sexism: women only function to look beautiful and skinny, sing songs, and follow blindly wherever a handsome man leads. I totally understand how they got to that point, but that is not what I see.
I understand that all the Disney movies are flawed, but I am going to plant my point and plant it firmly: I can like Disney princesses and remain a feminist. I see more and more articles online that try to attack Disney movies, generalizing them as sexist traps sure to taint a child’s mind. I just cannot agree, as I am a child who grew up loving those movies (even more so as an adult) and I do not think I am deluded. I took it upon myself to re-watch all the movies I hadn’t in a long time to see if I was missing something.
Recently, I clicked a link posted on a Facebook page I really like for the documentary Miss Representation. The link was for the “Honest Trailer” for The Little Mermaid, and the trailer was very hard on the 25-year old Disney princess classic. It sums up the plot of the movie by saying that it is about a 15-year-old rebellious mermaid who gives up her voice to woo a human man. That is easy, and people will agree with it, I get it. But it is also important to keep these assumptions in perspective. Before she gawks over a dude with nice hair, she sings an entire song about how she wants to be a human to do all sorts of human things. Then, she goes on to see a cute guy and says, ya know what, I am ready to finally do this! Yes, the premise of the deal is to get the cute guy to kiss her, but the real catalyst is her lifelong wish to be human. My only problem is that she wanted to join our world when she was already a pretty awesome mermaid in a royal mermaid palace, but hey, to each their own.
What about the princesses who don’t get any slack – Merida (Brave, who literally doesn’t care about marriage or guys), Mulan (Mulan, who’s sole plan is to save her father), Tiana (Princess and the Frog, who is ridiculously ambitious and focuses on her dream of owning a restaurant), Rapunzel (Tangled, who just wants to escape her tower and see the lanterns) or Elsa (who doesn’t really actually talk with anyone…)? You knew a Frozen reference was coming, I’m sure.
There is a definite generalization problem going on here among critics. We constantly hear about the princesses critics find fault with, like Ariel, but we hear less about the aforementioned that do not rely on finding a man. The aforementioned, presumably less flawed, princesses are some of the most recent to enter the pantheon. This shows me that Disney, whether they like it or not, has been becoming much more feminist and critic-friendly. They have to be, and it is paying off. Frozen is the biggest Disney princess hit ever, and its moral was that true love isn’t exclusively romantic. Whether you like the movie or not, that is awesome.
In my opinion, all Disney movies, whether they are about a princess or not, value love, integrity, and happiness above all else. Oh, and by love I mean love of any kind (family, friends, pets, and yes, significant others), just as Frozen will teach you… besides every word to an Idina Menzel song.
So, although I am not blind to issues that pop up in these stories from time to time, I am also very aware of the true lessons I have learned from these animated women. I grew up wanting to read and be myself like Belle, dreaming and exploring like Ariel, being optimistic and kind like Snow White, and standing up for myself like Jasmine. Those sound a lot like feminist beliefs to me. I remain connected to these characters both through nostalgia and honest belief in their moral lessons. Of course, Disney’s job is certainly not done. While I may gush about my love for their movies, I know they have more to do to create the best role models for our children. Still, some of the meaningful takeaways are already there.
I grew up on these movies and learned to love them even more with age – but I am not disillusioned. I believe in equality of the sexes. I believe that hard work and love of all kinds bring you happiness. I believe that Disney makes damn good princess movies, too.