In recent years, gender equality has come into the limelight especially prominently for young children. As women continue to fight for equal pay, bodily autonomy, and more, blowback has hit some unsuspecting targets. Disney in particular has come under fire for the stereotypes some claim their princesses push. Others believe that the massive franchise does the opposite, arguing the Disney princesses are strong, appropriate role models for all children, even (and especially) girls.
Here is a quick explanation of the positive roles many Disney princesses play in the classic movies.
- Context is Key
Viewed in the ultimately much more progressive modern day, some Disney movies appear on their face to depict women who fill very antiquated gender roles. Snow White and Cinderella, two of the oldest princesses, spend the majority of their time completing domestic chores; Snow White even chooses to immediately clean a mysterious, seemingly abandoned abode shortly after fleeing for her life. This isn’t exactly typical behavior one would envision someone opting for after a near-death experience.
What’s important to remember about these two movies is the time period in which they were presented. For the 1930’s and 1950’s, Snow White and Cinderella respectively were very forward-thinking manifestations of current-day women. Though both ultimately sought marriage as their prize, they each showed remarkable drive and self-starting attitudes.
Rather than passively allow events to happen to them, they sought out ways to achieve their goals. In the early 1900’s when conservative views of women as homemakers lacking in authority and autonomy reigned supreme, these two motivated and capable women would have been marvels for their time.
- New Princesses, New Values
For parents who find the older Disney offerings a bit too problematic or who want to wait until their children are mature enough to understand the context, recent Disney movies have made great strides to adopt progressive societal values and present them in the form of strong female characters.
Modern Disney movies break from the typically male-centered plot resolutions, building up independent personas who act out of love for family or to achieve personal growth. One film in particular, Brave, chronicles the adventures of a girl who, disgusted by the thought of being a man’s prize, asks for her own hand in marriage, readily poised to face the consequences of bucking tradition in favor of carving her own path.
Frozen, one of the latest additions to the Disney empire, earned critical and individual acclaim for prodding fun at older Disney staples like love at first sight. The ultimate moral of sisterly love and sacrifice tugged at the heartstrings of many Disney critics, especially so when its ending featured a queen ruling singly, no man necessary. In a similar vein of leaving men behind and letting female characters blossom in their own right, Princess Moana, of the upcoming title Moana, will have no love interest.
- Past Strong Female Characters
While newer movies tend to be more forward thinking, that’s not to say that all Disney princesses up until recent times have been misguided caricatures of women. Mulan, though never a legitimate princess, embodies the ideals of choosing one’s destiny, bucking gender roles, and never giving up.
Though she does have a love interest, their relationship is built on mutual admiration for each other’s deeds, emphasizing the importance of more than a pretty face. In fact, viewed in a certain light, each princess embodies a particular positive trait, though you might have to look past a few stereotypical gender roles.
- Variety, the Spice of Princess Life
As with most things, shunning of the Disney princess culture is a complex issue. Children should be allowed to explore as many materials and experiences as possible in order to form a complete, well-rounded view of the world they inhabit. Prohibiting all things Disney princess won’t stop a girl from liking pink or surrounding herself with glittery, sparkling things, and exposure to it won’t guarantee she develops princess-like traits or preferences.
Consider, instead, approaching the Disney princess franchise together and using it as a learning tool. With matching princess costumes, dress-up can be a magical time where children are taught how to personify independent, self-possessed individuals who choose their own paths and revel in their own autonomy, all while gowned in a magnificent princess dress.
A blanket generalization writing off all Disney princesses as bad for children is a bit of an exaggeration. Taken in the right ways and viewed thoughtfully, Disney princesses exhibit numerous positive traits that can inspire children to achieve great personal growth. All it takes is faith and trust; and a little bit of pixie dust.
Anica is a professional content and copywriter who graduated from the University of San Francisco. She loves dogs, the ocean, and anything outdoor-related. She was raised in a big family, so she’s used to putting things to a vote. Also, cartwheels are her specialty. You can connect with Anica here.
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