Should Disney Princess be celebrated as Feminist Icons?

Should Disney Princess be celebrated as Feminist Icons?

With the buzz surrounding the release of new Pixar animation Wreck It Ralph 2 : Ralph Breaks The Internet we can’t help but notice the Disney Princesses uniting together and sharing a same screen.

The interaction between Vanellope, the deuteragonist of Wreck It Ralph, who is not only the lead character of the video game Sugar Rush but also the in-game world’s princess, and the other famous and familiar faces of the Disney world is an unusual and extraordinary sight to look at.

An eventual feminist bonding scene is shared among the characters which humorously address the subject of stereotypes surrounding a so called “princess”.

“Do people assume all your problems got solved because a big, strong man showed up?” asks Rapunzel.

“Yes! What is up with that?” Venellope replies.

With the third wave feminism taking over the century, let’s take a look at the Disney Princesses and examine whether they should be celebrated as a Feminist Icon, or not?

 

  • Snow White

 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was both a critical and commercial success. When Snow White is poisoned by her evil stepmother through an enchanted apple, she is put to a state of half-death and can only be saved by the magic of true love’s kiss.

 

However, the third wave feminists argue that Snow White is far away from being a role model to young girls. Trying to escape from being assassinated, she tumbles upon a house in the woods that belongs to seven dwarfs. Nothing wrong with entering a space to protect oneself, right? Well get this, the first thing she does after realizing she escaped successfully, SHE STARTS CLEANING THE HOUSE! Now that’s more than invasion of privacy to most, but then again, who wouldn’t want to come home which has been magically cleaned itself?

 

The film puts Snow White into situations like cooking, cleaning and doing all the house course work. Sounds stereotyping to us…

 

The thing with Snow White’s character is that she is a simple and bland female with no goals or ambition in life. Singing being her favorite hobby, we don’t see this talent going somewhere. The entire plot ends up depending upon a Prince Charming, whom she met just briefly before, to set her free and be rescued by a consent-less kiss, which many would argue is what the essence of “rape culture” is. Yikes!

 

Though, many would also argue because the film was set in 1937, the wave of feminism was still unfamiliar to many, where women were still fighting for equal voting rights. And that being the only argument that stands in favor of Snow White, it’s pretty clear there were no instances where except for her physical beauty being her only asset do we see any “empowerment” as such.

 

Verdict : Snow White is NOT a feminist Icon.

 

 

  • Cinderella

 

Cinderella’s story is still considered to be the ultimate romance which revolves around an ordinary girl that is forced to live a hard life as she’s treated like a slave by her Stepmother, finds her fairy godmother and gets glammed up for the royal ball, then finds a Prince that falls in love with her at the first sight, loses a shoe trying to escape from him before midnight because seeing the real version of her would make him “fall out of love”, right….anyway, so the story continues with the Prince keeping the shoe and later on a search of finding out the true owner of them, which fits no one except Cinderella, literally NO ONE!? I’m sure two people with same shoe size exist in a God damn kingdom? No? Okay.

 

So besides the countless plot holes in the movie, which can be ignored because it is after all a fairy tale, the characteristics of the protagonist i.e. Cinderella are far-off being overlooked.

The protagonist is portrayed as a helpless damsel in distress who is rescued by a charming prince. There are no attempts to make her more “empowered”. Reliance upon another man is what feminist agenda opposes. The feeling of being independent and strength is missing from the character. Tolerance is correlated with kindness, which is many times seen as weakness to others.

An immense importance to “looks” and “beauty” are highlighted throughout the movie.

 

Verdict : Cinderella is yet another bland character with not much to offer to what is feminism.

 

 

  • Ariel

 

This Disney princess is a mermaid that lives undersea and finds herself luring towards the human world. She falls in love with a human prince and ends up trading legs for her voice to Ursala, the sea witch, who is also attracted to the prince. The final battle shows them fighting for Eric, whom they don’t even know that much, and ends up in a murder. But Ariel and Eric live happily ever after, right? Actually, no. The original version of the tale features Eric marrying another girl and now Ariel is left alone and shall dissolve into sea foam. And that is what she ends up being as to revive the curse she had to kill the prince which she could not.

 

So the parameters of judgment are completely different when it comes the classic tale or the Disney version.

 

However, this movie does feature the aspect of ambition. Ariel is truly fascinated by the human world and would do anything to get there, even if it opposing the authorities or taking fatal measures such as giving up your beautiful voice. Although, she is made to believe that her “outer beauty” is enough to win the prince, she does in the end saves the prince instead of it being the other way around.

 

The feminist agenda is that we all, especially women, step forward together. And let no distraction, *coughs* men *coughs*, divert her from her own goals, independence and equality.

 

Verdict : Ariel is truly a subjective character to look at, it is upto the readers and viewers whether to consider her a feminist icon or not.

 

 

  • Rapunzel

 

In 2010 a new princess was introduced named “Rapunzel”. Seeing the lanterns from the tower she’s locked in, Rapunzel dreams of getting out to the outer world one day. Which she does, but with the help of another man, Flynn. Which, thankfully, she does not fall in love with instantly. Rather, she tries to fight the imposter with a great weapon, i.e. her pan. How adorable.

She spends her time outside the tower, being saved and trying to save Flynn. Which can be considered a step forward as feminism is after all about moving forward together.

Although, she is a bit naïve and easily manipulated in the beginning, but those traits can be understood as she has spent her life trapped in a tower with interaction only from her mother and a chameleon. She has the courage and charisma to fight for what she wants, and that sometimes you have to question the ones closest to you in order to break free. Rapunzel also teaches us that staying faithful to your dreams requires a lot of strength and things here and there about trust in a relationship.

 

Verdict : an optimist princess which at points need a helping hand, which I’m sure everyone does at some point in their life, Rapunzel feels like a breath of fresh air and CAN BE a good role model to young girls.

 

 

  • Merida

 

Probably the best addition to the franchise, Merida from Brave is truly a brave character indeed. With her being the protagonist of the story, there is no Prince charming in her story. Now that is the kind of representation that we needed!

 

She fulfilled so much of what the other princesses were lacking. Her personality is more realistic and relatable as she is not afraid to step outside the boundaries that are set for women and finds her passion in arrow shooting. Although, she is seen to be a bit rude and disrespectful in some instances of the movie, but that is something every teenager goes through. She does everything in her power to save her mother from the situation she mistakenly put her in.

 

Girl power and respecting our parents are the messages that scream throughout the screenplay. Challenging gender specific roles and portraying a more “realistic” appearance of the princess did a lot to make Brave an impactful movie that it became.

 

Verdict : Merida is a good role model and should be celebrated as a feminist icon.

 

 

  • Belle

 

Okay so here’s a controversial character that may or may not be seen as a feminist icon. Belle. The new live action version does offer a lot to the character development of Belle, but a critical analysis of the original version shall also be given.

 

Belle is a girl who is dissatisfied with a life in a small town. She offers herself to be imprisoned in place of her father whom the arrogant king had captured seeing him trespassing the castle. The beast is a terrifying creature who is rude, insulting and is an uncivilized being who sees Belle as an uneasy and stubborn women. Belle is kind and gentle but is not impressed by the attitude of the beast. No signs of affection are shown until the beast saves Belle from wolves that attack her when she escapes. Again, the hero saving the heroine drama. After this incidence, she is able to see past the Beast’s rough and intimidating exterior.

Her kindness, gentleness and self-sacrifice inspires the Beast to act more humanly and become the human he is inside the shell of a beast.

 

So, Belle does change and eventually save her Prince in the end. A smart, intelligent and strong minded women is worth the praise from the feminist community. Instead of the traditional charming prince and the beautiful princess, the story of Belle teaches us that there’s more than what meets the eye. Appearances can and are deceptive. And a strong independent women who takes no shit from a man or a beast is what we call empowering.

 

Verdict : Belle is a feminist icon.

While there is are a lot of problematic things when it comes to Disney princesses, there isn’t a thing or topic which is entirely perfect. Sure, there are a lot of stereotypes, gender specific roles, patriarchal outlooks to various situations and misogynistic mindset of prominent characters but there is a tremendous change in these properties.

A new era has begun where the princess does not need a prince to be saved and she can be her own warrior, where beauty standards are set aside and realism perishes, where pushing boundaries to do more than what has been shown and changing one trait at a time is what brings feminism closer to the franchise and the leads being an icon to the generations to come.

(Article by – Swati Singh)

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Swati Singh
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