I’m Gonna Go on a Quick Rant on Feminism/Femininity and Disney Here
There is no one type of feminist character
It just riles me up when people seem to get the idea that femininity means a lack of feminism, like when people take a look at the girl in the pants and the girl in the ballgown and says the one in pants is more feminist and empowering than the one in the dress. The whole point of one of the many aspects of feminism is that as women, we have the right to choose to be and wear whatever we want. A woman in a dress is just as feminist as a woman in a burqa, and they’re both just as feminist as a woman in a suit or a woman in a bikini. And beyond clothing, a woman who’s married and in love is just as feminist as a woman who’s single. Here’s where Disney comes in: No one princess is a better more feminist role model than another. It’s important to have more than one type of role model yes, but just because one girl likes to fight and another girl likes to sew, it doesn’t mean that one is a better role model. All the princesses and other Disney ladies have good values to teach us and our kids in different ways, and I’m gonna go through them with you. Oh, and just for good measure, I always include trans women in my feminism, so terfs, this post isn’t for you.
For one thing, this girl is 14. She is a child and her outlook on the world and her dreams in life shouldn’t be measured up to an adult’s. She’s kind, caring, and yes, she does dream of true love’s kiss. But she’s 14. When I was 14, I was dreaming of the same damn thing. But what we can learn from her is that when you care for everyone, even strangers, you’ll see that kindness returned. When she’s lost in the woods and scared for her life, she still finds the strength to be kind to the animals. In return, they show her to the Dwarves’ cottage. She’s sweet and decides to clean up the place and take care of the dwarves out of the kindness of her heart, and they return the kindness by giving her a home when she had none. At the end she’s, rewarded with the true love’s kiss she wanted. We can even learn from the Evil Queen that vanity is a terrible thing.
The main thing to remember about Aurora is that for one thing, she met Phillip when she was a baby. The other thing is that while the good fairies did love her and take care of her, she grew up isolated and alone. She’s always had these dreams of meeting someone (anyone) else to break that isolation. But in that isolation, she’s still strong, kind, and trusting. She loves her adoptive aunts, and for a side character (might make a post about that later), I would still count her as a good role model because of that kindness.
Her, I’m definitely going to expand on in another post. But, she’s one of my favorite princess. Ironically, not one of my favorite movies, but she’s an amazing character and I love her. She’s a survivor of child abuse. That’s the very first thing that you need to understand about her. She doesn’t stay happy and content with a grin and bare it attitude, she got mad. She was snarky, and she only found happiness in the little free time she had and in her pets/friends. All she wanted that night was to go to the ball. All she wanted was one night to have fun and get out of the house. She wanted one night where she wouldn’t be berated and yelled at and ordered around. And when she met the prince, she didn’t even know who he was. She didn’t even mind that she would probably never see him again. And at the end, she more or less saved herself. She didn’t wait around and sing a song from her tower to get rescued, she asked her friends to get the key and help her out. She was smart enough to pull out the other slipper. There’s nothing wrong with getting help from those around you, and there’s no shame in asking for it. There’s nothing un-feminist about getting help, especially when you’re an abuse survivor. And that’s what Cinderella is about: her fairy godmother coming to help her. Women helping women.
The one big thing that made the Disney renaissance so great is they decided to follow the rules of Broadway musicals. One of the trademarks of this is the “I want” song. That’s the motivation for the main character and it’s the driving force for the plot.
Ariel wants to live in the human world. That’s her dream. She desperately wants to be a human. Eric was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ariel is strong-willed and curious. She’s the undersea equivalent of an anthropologist. She’s 16, so of course she’s going to make stupid mistakes, but she gets to live out her dream in the end and become a human. The main point and what makes her a wonderful feminist role model is that she uses that drive and curiosity to pursue her passion.
I’m not sure I have to go into too much detail about her, although I will mention, she is not a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. And to be honest, how would being an abuse victim make her any less feminist? Anyway, of course she’s smart and loves reading. She loves adventure books, and that’s what her “I want” song is about. She wants adventure and she wants someone who understands her and doesn’t think she’s weird for her interests. She’s a good role model not only for her love of reading, but also of course for her kindness and seeing the good in people despite their appearance.
She. Is. Not. A. Prize. To. Be. Won. Moving on.
Kidding. But anyway she’s great because what she values is freedom and love. I feel like a lot of people forget is the line, “When I marry, I want it to be for love.” She wants to make her own choices in all aspects of her life and she decides to leave her life of privilege to pursue that freedom. You can hear and see it sprinkled in all around the movie (and the stage show). She sees herself as a bird in a cage, and she’s happiest when she’s free and literally flying. And at the end she chooses Aladdin. It’s all about her choice.
So unintentional racism, stereotypes, white savior tropes, erasing history, and pairing her with the horrible monster aside for a moment...
Let’s talk about 18-year-old Disney Pocahontas as her own fictional character. The main thing that comes to mind when I think of her is strength and bravery. She knows herself and she knows what she loves, and she’ll do anything to protect it. She also cares about the earth and environment. All of those are wonderful traits to have as a role model.
Again, I don’t think I have to go into much detail about why she’s a great feminist role model. She’s usually who everyone thinks of when it comes to great feminist characters.
But what I will say is one thing not a lot of people mention in her great feminist role model-ness is that she doesn’t mind being feminine. She knows the ”perfect porcelain doll” isn’t her, but she doesn’t mind dressing up when she can make it her own. Another thing that I’m surprised gets as ignored as it does, especially since it’s scattered through the whole movie including her very first scene, is that she’s smart. She’s not a fighter, she’s a strategist. She makes her chores easier for herself. She wins the game of Go on her way to meet the matchmaker. She figures out how she can protect her dad. She uses the weights to her advantage. She does trigonometry in her head on the fly. She comes up with the distraction and using the fireworks. And the epitome of it all, she uses the symbol of femininity in the movie, her fan, to outsmart Shan Yu and take his sword.
Can you believe I’ve heard people say Tiana isn’t feminist enough? Most people know how hardworking and practical she is, but she also learns a very important lesson that you’ll never be truly happy if you don’t let loose and have fun in reasonable amounts. She’s an amazing role model, just as wonderful as everyone else in the lineup, and her morale is one of my favorites to try and live by. “Fairytales can come true, but you’ve gotta make them happen. It all depends on you.”
Rapunzel, Merida, Anna, Elsa, and Moana
Honestly I feel like I don’t have to do much defending for these four. Everyone on this site has already pointed out what great feminist role models they are, and many people regard them plus Tiana and Mulan as the “best,” most feminist princesses. I love them all too, and of course they’re all great feminist role models, I just don’t think there’s much I could add.
Anyways, I think a lot of other Disney ladies are also wonderful feminist role models, but this was supposed to be just the princess lineup, and I might make separate posts for them. But if you’ll notice I didn’t take relationship status, style choices, hobby choices, sexuality headcannons, or appearance into account when talking about what great role models they are because you shouldn’t. Of course women and girls deserve more than just one type of girl to look up to, but one type of girl isn’t any better or worse than another. You can be hyper feminine like Cinderella, Not feminine at all like Merida, or a little bit of both like Mulan. You can be smart like Belle, or naive yet kind like Snow White. All of them are wonderful.