Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wasted Wednesday:Art: Why Disney Princesses Are Good Role Models [Partial Repost]

So during April there is a week named National Princess week.  I had planned to write a whole blog about why the Disney Princess's were good role models but then got caught up in schoolwork!  But now I'm coming back to the topic and it may not be National Princess week but that is okay because I've had time to flesh out my ideas and even read up on other people's opinions on the matter!  So here we go!  I am deleting the original post and restating my ideas in this one.
To start off, I guess I should properly state my stance on the matter of the Princesses/heroines being good role models or not, specifically toward young girls.  I don't think that Disney creates poor role models out of these girls/women.  Rather, I believe, they are an outstanding portrayal of role models for young girls and older women as well.  I'm not coming at this as a feminist or an anti-feminist, but as a human being.  We're all humans here – it is our differences that bring us together while also dividing us.  One thing I've noticed about today's generation is that people are constantly referring to each other as this color or that; this social group or not; this nationality or that.  Can't we all come to a conclusion that we are all human?  We all have different experiences or opinions no matter where we come from and how we are brought up.  Whether you are from China or England; whether you are black or white; whether you are a boy or a girl – it shouldn't matter!  We are all human.  Of course I identify myself as a girl, there is no denying that; however, I also define myself as a brunette and Caucasian.  If you want to take things deeper, I identify myself as a writer and an artist.  I identify myself as funny at times, can be a bit bossy, and a student with little money.  Does being a brunette mean I'm smarter than most blondes?  Does being a student mean I love to party every Thursday night?  Does being a girl mean I love to shop?  When were we sorted into these stereotypes and why do they have to matter when it comes to judging art?
Before diving into what traits make Disney Princesses great role models, I want to discuss the role feminism plays in this argument.  For years feminists have told parents that their children should not be watching Disney movies because the Princesses are all passive and need a man in their lives to be happy.  I disagree with the second point and while I somewhat I agree with the passivity point, I fail to see why a woman being passive makes her less of a feminist.  The fact that a woman is seeking love is seen as weak in the eyes of a feminist these days.  Men are the enemy.  All men are pigs!  Disney Princesses are easy and get men by their looks alone.  Women should not cook for them because they are servants!  Okay...point taken, but what about the guys?  Wouldn't they be servants for cooking for women?  It doesn't make sense.  Now please don't think I am speaking for the entire population of feminists because I know quite a few who don't agree with these statements; however the large portion of feminists do think this way - just go to a liberal arts college class and discuss women in literature!  In a Tumblr blog post, blogger Jessica writes about modern day feminism, "I feel like feminism these days isn't about men and women being equal.  It seems as though lately, feminism has been about women somehow being superior to men.  Men are being made the enemy, and they are not.  If you're fighting for equality, stop trying to make women more important than men, because they're not....Men are not bad.  Fathers are not bad.  Gentlemen are not bad....Yes, there are some bad men in the world, but there are also bad women in the world.  Being a bad person isn't a gender thing, it is a human thing."  The last few lines of Jessica's quotes is so important to understand when we are looking at the Disney Princesses. It is important to see that men are not the enemy.  They are not what defines a Disney Princess no matter how much the media insists.  These heroines have their own personalities that make them unique while also uniting them.  Every Disney character has his/her own personality that makes them unique and that is what makes Disney so special!  In another tumblr post, Rose writes a response to an article titled "Ranked: Disney Princesses from least to most feminist".  Rose states, "I'm so sick and tired of everyone thinking that to be a "feminist", girls have to be like Mulan.  Because no, that's not what feminism is can be a feminist without being strong or bold.  You can be a feminist without wielding a sword and beating up a bunch of guys.  Feminism isn't about telling little girls to get out of the kitchen and shoot guns.  But feminism isn't about telling girls they can't shoot guns either.  Some girls like to cook, some girls want to get married on their own will, and some girls don't want to do either....It is anti-feminism to try to fit these girls into a Mulan mold....People need to understand that girls shouldn't have any designated 'role'....Girls (and boys) should be able to aspire to be anything they want without criticism, whether it be in the kitchen, in a cubicle, in the Oval Office, or in the military."  This is another example at how feminism has been very much not headed toward equality but rather a certain standard that women must live up to...even fictional women.  Walt Disney once said, "We have created characters and animated them in the dimension of depth, revealing through them to our perturbed world that the things we have in common far outnumber and outweigh those that divide us."  In essence, it is what makes us unique that brings us together.  We all have little things in common and that is why it is important to remember that men aren't apart of these women's personalities, nor do these women need to have a certain type of personality to be considered a role model for young girls.
Now that we have looked at the feminist aspects to this argument, let's go ahead and talk about why these Princesses are great role models for the young and the old.  Back in April when I was preparing to write this blog during National Princess week, I stumbled upon an article on SparkNotes titled "Why Disney Princesses Are The Worst Role Models EVER."  Being a huge defender of the Princesses, I quickly clicked the link to read the author's points and then challenge them.  Here I am going to post every snippet in the article that stood out to me and will thereafter make my argument as to why the author's statements are not proof of the Princesses being "the worst" role models.  The author states, "Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White are the same person in different bodies.  They have no personality whatsoever.  Ariel, on the other hand, does have a personality - one that allows her to abandon her family, give up her greatest talent (perhaps permanently!), and radically change her body for a man she's never spoken to.  Jasmine teaches little girls that it's okay if your boyfriend lies to you about his entire life, and Belle thinks that even if a man is horrible to you, stick it out!  You can change him!...There is no a princess out there that learns, grows, changes, or progresses over the course of the story line....The only reason that any of the princesses get a happy ending is because they're gorgeous....Princess stories repeatedly advertise love at first sight....All of these girls [could have escaped] their undesirable situations without being saved by a man.  But none of them do."
The first set of sentences must be discussed in chunks.  Let's start off with the Cinderella, Aurora, and Snow White line.  These characters are not all the same.  Each has different talents and faults (God forbid women or Disney Princesses have faults like other human beings and characters!) and while yes their LOVE stories are similar in the sense that they all fall in love at first sight, that doesn't mean they are the same.  They all have completely different situations.  On the famous Disney Confessions blog, one confession states, "I don't understand why people hate Snow White so much. I think she is beautiful, kind, and wonderful....her Stepmother [forced her] to clean...I think it's amazing that she stilled learned to be kind and compassionate when she received no love until her teenage years." Indeed this is something that is often overlooked - passivity.  The idea that Snow White did nothing about her situation but endured it with a kind heart.  To feminists, this is wrong.  Of course no one should have to suffer like that but it is all how a person handles themselves that makes them who they are.  It isn't about being physically strong all of the time but being emotionally strong.  I will go more into their personalities further down in this blog post but for organization sake, let's continue to the next chunk of this sentence.  The sentence talks about Ariel giving up what she loved.  First of all, this theme of giving up things we love exists in all movies!  Why accuse Disney of this when all films are to blame?  It's obvious Ariel is a rebellious character and in this day most adults think it is healthy for kids to rebel like Ariel did.  It is a societal norm that people just accept and say, "well, all teens do these kinds of things."  To accuse Ariel of doing what most teens have been doing and have been doing in the written works is ludicrous!  To pick at another part of the sentence I have another quote from a Disney Confession stating, "I don't like how Ariel sometimes is believed to have given up everything for a guy.  She obviously longed to live out of the sea before she saw Eric.  It was just that, when she saw him it made her want to be there that much more."  This confession puts the Ariel debate into perspective.  The movie starts out with Ariel hunting for human artifacts under the sea!  She always had a dream to be human and Eric made her dream seem much more possible.  She didn't give it all up for a man but rather she gave it up for a dream.  She made a rational decision just like a lot of teens do in popular films today and in real life!
Now let's skip to the Jasmine sentence.  Throughout the film it is obvious that Aladdin lied to Jasmine and it was clear that Jasmine didn't want to be lied to.  Yet she accepts Aladdin at the end.  Why is that?  Jasmine says to Aladdin after he apologizes for lying, "I know why you did."  Okay, so basically what the author is saying is that because Jasmine understands and forgives Aladdin, she is a bad role model?  Now to Belle.  Belle is my favorite Disney Princess and this sentence is completely out of line!  For starters, Belle didn't stick it out to change a really mean beast and make him gentle and nice!  Belle was nice!  It was her kindness and integrity that kept her at the castle.  She did the right thing even when it cost her.  She gave up everything she loved and her freedom in exchange for her father's safety!  That's not stupidity, that's bravery!  She didn't stick things out to make the beast a nicer guy because she didn't know that she played apart in breaking a spell!  She only knew that the beast had been cursed because of his selfishness to a poor older woman.
Okay, so we've got the first paragraph out of the way.  The last sentences focus on these three things: character growth, love by beauty/love at first sight, and passivity. Before I go into the Princesses individually, let's talk about the theme of love by beauty/love at first sight and passivity.  Let's tackle passivity first.  The sparknotes article states that none of the Princesses escape their situations without a man, which isn't true.  For starters, Belle breaks the spell in Beauty and the Beast!  She saved Prince Adam from remaining a beast forever!  She was the hero of her own story!  Snow White runs away from her stepmother.  Ariel rebels and does what she wants despite her family's wishes.  Jasmine takes charge of who she wants to marry.  Pocahontas jumps in front of John Smith and brings peace to the village.  Mulan freaking saves China!  Tiana works hard and stays optimistic even when it seems like she has nothing.  Rapunzel takes charge of her life to live her dream.  Aurora doesn't play a huge role in her own movie and it is hard to focus on what she did because the movie focused more on what the fairies did and what Prince Philip did but I will come back to her further down.  And Cinderella goes to the ball!  Walt Disney once said, "[Cinderella] believed in dreams, all right, but she also believed in doing something about them. When Prince Charming didn't come along, she went over to the palace and got him.”  Moving onto the love at first sight/love by beauty, I wanted to quote another tumblr post that I found last week about a movie I haven't mentioned yet - The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  While it isn't a Princess movie, there is a very relevant topic in there that connects to this - love by beauty or how come Quasimodo didn't get the girl?  Why does the handsome guy get the girl?  In a tumblr blog post, author Anna states, "The audience wants Quasimodo to get the girl because he's nice...and he deserves to catch a break for once in his life.  And all those things are true.  However.  That line of thought essentially equates Esmeralda to his prize, to an object rather than a person."  You may think this proves my point wrong but here is what I am getting at.  Quasimodo didn't get the girl not because he was ugly, but because of his attitude.  It wasn't a bad attitude but it wasn't healthy.  Attitude is essential when forming relationships, romantic or non-romantic.  All of the Princes and Princesses have good attitudes.  It isn't love at first sight but rather a genuine mutual attraction between the sexes.  Admit it, this happens all of the time in films!  Disney, again, is not the only film franchise at "fault" for this idea and it certainly doesn't make a person a bad role model or a good one.  In fact, it has virtually nothing to do with it.  It has to do with the Princesses personalities and the time period in which their films were made, not their virtues.
Last but not least, let's talk about character growth.  Each Princess DOES grow as a character in all of the films.  I know this doesn't help my point (but no one is perfect) but Aurora doesn't grow much.  It doesn't mean she isn't a good role model in a small way but it's hard to talk about her when she only has 18 minutes of screen time.  Also, how does not escaping an undesirable situation make a Princess a bad role model?  If anything it makes the Princesses seem strong for keeping faith in such a bad situation.  In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, don't we see Professor McGonagall in a undesirable situation in having to listen to Umbrige even though she knows the truth about Voldemort returning?  Or what about in the famous film Titanic, don't we see a mother tucking her kids into bed even though she knows the boat is going to sink and they will die? Being strong isn't about escaping the bad situation but rather how a person handles it.
Now I am going to focus on each Disney Princess and talk about their virtues.  Finally!  I feel like I've been typing this forever...which I have.  It's been a few hours.  Anyway, Snow White is awarded the kindness virtue.  I know it's a bit cheesy but throughout the film we see Snow White show kindness to the animals and the dwarfs even when she didn't have to.  Now on to Cinderella.  Cinderella is very humble.  She has grown up for most of her life being poor and not having much and yet she still carries herself with grace and overcomes her oppression for the better.  Aurora is respectful.  She respects nature and the adults who raised her.  Ariel's virtue is her determination.  She knows what she wants and goes for it knowing that there may be mistakes but she goes for it anyway.  She always brings out the best of those around her.  Now to Belle!  Belle's virtue is to not be afraid of being different.  Belle is intelligent and reads and the town people think she is strange.  She always wants to learn about the world and see things!  She also holds the virtue of integrity.  When the beast saves her from the pack of wolves, she could have easily left him there to die but instead she turned around and took him back to the castle, even though she could have gone home to her father.  Jasmine's virtue is that she is a leader.  She leads her own destiny.  She runs away from home when she doesn't want to marry and she tells her father that she will not have men coming to claim her as if she is a prize to be won.  She teaches girls that you must respect yourself first before you respect others (which in a sense, all of the Disney girls teach us).  Pocahontas is a very spiritual Princess and teaches us to be one with nature.  She teaches us about equality and that we are no better than our neighbors or the people across the sea.  Mulan teaches us that you don't need a man to fight.  Now, as I stated above, women don't have to play the part of men to be feminist.  That being said, it also isn't wrong for a woman to do such a thing.  Mulan shows girls that while some may choose to not take the tradition route (depending on cultural norms of course), girls can also be involved in athletics and even fight for their country.  Tiana's virtue is optimism.  There are many times when she could have easily given up in her story and yet she always remembers her dad and what he taught her, to love.  She also shares Ariel's virtue of determination but in the end it is her optimism that keeps her going.  Finally, Rapunzel's virtue is independence.  She teaches girls how to follow their dreams and how to go about life once their lives once they find a new dream.  I believe all of these women share virtues too.  They are all determined and they all know who they are.  They all have dreams and know what they want.  The variety of Princesses shows girls that they can be anything they want.  They can work hard like Tiana or read like Belle or break away like Rapunzel. 
One last virtue each of these Princesses holds is one that is unique to my faith.  As a Christian, I believe that falling in love should not involve sex before marriage.  I don't believe this just because the bible says so but rather God, my creator, created it for a purpose and I don't want to abuse it but enjoy it when my time comes.  I won't go into this idea in any more detail for want of not getting off topic but back to the Disney Princesses.  There is a saying I saw somewhere, "the Disney Princesses didn't have to take off their dress or lose anything they couldn't get back the next day in order to get their Prince Charming."  I know that the topic of sex is left out of Disney films because they are family films and because sex is such a "dirty" topic but I enjoy the idea of looking at sex from this point of view.  Each Princess meets a man and genuinely falls in love without taking her clothes off.  This, to me, is another virtue that the Princesses share.  A lot of the virtues of the Princesses also enforce a lot of Christian virtues and I believe the Princesses are good role models for those who want to strengthen their faith from an art perspective like myself while still focusing on the bible.
To conclude, the Disney Princesses are good role models for young girls (and old) because they all hold moral virtues that will help us grow as people.  While "feminists" claim that passivity and finding a man is not a good role model, they fail to see that feminism isn't about the physical strength of a woman or her lack of a man but rather gender equality and knowing that girls can be whatever they want when they grow up.  It is the attitude of a person and not their situation that shows their virtues.  As Dumbledore says, "It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."  Girls learn that they can cook like Snow White, go to a ball like Cinderella, or join the military like Mulan.  Each Disney Princess (and Disney characters in general) teaches kids that they have separate personalities from their love life and that they can be anything they want if they are honest.  It is not right to see these women as stereotypical women but rather human beings who can be whatever they choose and not be judged because of it.


  1. very well said, except following your dreams is (I know people will hate me for this) often pretty selfish. As the lady from this blog points out quite rightly, the Bible actually contradicts this highly popular idea. Also, I have to add that independance is overrated. We ALL need help, from men, from our moms, from our doctors, from ourselves. it is prideful to say you dont (I know you didnt, but everyone who blindly praises independance or so called independant women does). I would LOVE to see more humble heroines like the first 3 (or Jane from Tarzan, also prim and classy) who weren't horrified to accept help.

    Your post was great but I wish more people would give the older princesses more credit, particular Aurora, who, unlike 3 of the most rebellious and selfish heroines Ariel, Jasmine, and Merida, was selfless and strong enough to put aside her own desires for her duty. You know what makes her story even better? She had only just found out about her true heritage that SAME day. she couldn't enjoy her birthday, and it hurt her to not be with the man she loved, but she immediately knew the right thing to do was go along and put duty above the man she loved. It was sad but worked out well for her. She is such a strong, classy role model!

    But seriously, you're right, and feminists as well as rabid disney fanatics truly do ruin disney for me, something I'm as passionate about as anyone. I really dislike many of the newer princesses (including- especially- Belle, sorry! I can appreciate her in theory but she is not the golden goddess her fans make her out to be. while praising her actually nonexistant "strangeness", Belle is actually pretty ordinary, as her millions of girlfans claiming to "relate" to her booklove and being a brunette [wow, what a deep connection] prove, not to mention she is self absorbed, judgmental, and for all she whines about having no one to talk to she refuses to talk about anything but her own interests. I also dislike that she is made out to be some genius when really, she just liked cheap romances and didn't seem to read much else. Sorry, that's just how I see her.)

    Ah, I really must do my own blog post about this too =)

    1. I really appreciate your feedback and your comments. For the first paragraph, I have to agree with your point about following your dreams and that idea is something I overlooked while writing this post and have since wished I had talked about it more in the context you suggest. We do all need a little help in life.
      As for what you said about Aurora, you say it much better than I ever could and I really appreciate your opinion on the matter.
      And of course I have to appreciate your opinion on Belle, considering you are partially right - a lot of girlfans like Belle for "silly" reasons. I actually look at Belle, in biblical terminology, as a Christ figure and on another note I often love how she relates her life to her books since I do the same thing. I also think Disney included her love for a romance novel so that her own life would reflect that of the book she loves and she is now living in a story. Yes she can be judgmental and self absorbed at times but she is also very kind and understanding and gives up a lot of her time for others. I think it just makes her more human. To comment on her only focusing on her own interests - I think it is more that people refuse to accept her interests as normal and she feels rejected and isolated because of this... and this trait can also be seen in a famous character such as Harry Potter who is seen with his peers in the books who make up lies about him and make fun of him for being "the chosen one" and he feels isolated and can't relate to them.
      I would highly recommend you write a blog post! It is always really interesting to talk about the Princesses! If you do end up writing it, I look forward to reading it!

  2. Hi there! I just wanted to say that I absolutely adored this post. It was beautifully written and captured just about every important point possible.

    I happened upon this article as I was rummaging through a bunch of anti-princess arguments to use as fodder for debate in a sociology class project, and I must say, you have given me quite the inspiration for giving the best presentation I possibly can. Your views on feminism sum up what I have been attempting to explain to my friends and classmates for years - its not about being a man, it's about being you. I can only hope that I would be able to word them as eloquently as yourself!

    Personally, my role model is Princess Aurora. Her grace, wonder, and sense of responsibility are things I hope to radiate in my life. It's funny - people like to pick arguments with me about the princesses and always start with Aurora. Little do they know, there's so much more depth to her than just sleeping!

    It always makes me sad when people discount the princesses, like in the SparkLife article you mentioned. It always looks like they either haven't seen the movies, or are only able to look at the princesses in a skin-deep manner. And that's something that the princesses teach: that there's more to people than meets the eye. It's just very sad that they are completely overlooking that lesson.

    Honestly, I think the princesses are beginning to fall to the false view of feminism that you mentioned as well. Merida, while she is. . . Brave. . . . she is completely self-centered and has no sense of responsibility or duty. I mean, its great that she fights for what she wants in her life, but she acts like a brat for the entirety of the movie and shows no character growth at all.

    In terms of the Christian values portrayed through the princesses: A+ for you. As a college student, those values, namely the physical ones, aren't much considered here. In fact, people who do not take part in that are often laughed at and considered to be anti-feminists. I know that I have had my fair share of ridicule myself. In that sense, I think that is a key example of something people can learn from these wonderful characters. Love comes from the heart and who you are, not from what you can do for them.

    Thank you so much for sharing your love of the princesses' lessons and complexity with the internet. I had a wonderful time reading it! Perhaps one day everyone will be able to accept their inner princess and rule their land as they were meant to. (:

    1. Hi! Thank you so much for the kind words! It really means a lot to me!
      To touch on a few things you said, you are now another person who has responded to this and said they love Aurora. I feel like I didn't give her enough credit in this piece! Of course, I love her too. She is a classic princess but you are right, there is more to her than just sleeping!
      Also, I agree 100% on your Merida/Brave paragraph. I saw Brave in theaters because A. it is Disney/Pixar and B. I had to see a film in theaters for my film class and Brave was the only one I wanted to see. The film was okay...but it was all over the place. One minute it seemed to be one film and the next it was completely the opposite. Very inconsistent and, in my opinion, one of the worst Pixar films (I haven't seen Cars or Cars 2 so I'm trying to reserve judgement entirely). I liked the short film that played in the theater, La Luna, 100% better! I agree with your point that Merida is very self-centered and has no sense of responsibility...that is our culture today unfortunately. It is all about me me me! Quite frankly, I firmly believe that Brave was made for the sake that Disney was getting a bad rap for their so called lofty princesses who people claim are bad role models and so Disney/Pixar decided to make the film for the sake of having a princess that fits the standards that will comply with today's world - and it is no wonder so many people call the film the best one Pixar has ever made and claim Merida as their favorite Princess. I'm very glad there are people out there who realize Brave is overrated and so I thank you for your say on that!
      Again, thank you so much for your kind feedback! You really made my night ten times better! Good luck on your Sociology project! I'm sure you will do great!