The Evolution of Disney Princesses (And Why It’s Important)

The image of a princess in movies was once an image of a girl, sitting and weeping, waiting for her gallant prince to come save her from her misery, unable to do it herself. Which was nice, it was romantic and it gave us the image of true love….but that’s not how life happens.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the dying art of chivalry. A man opening a door for a woman, holding out her chair at a restaurant, that kind of thing. I don’t think it’s sexist for a man to take care of a woman and show that she’s loved and respected.

But the older Disney films portray women as helpless without the help of a man and yes that was how life was seen back then, the pretty housewife who has the dinner waiting on the table for the returning husband but time has moved on and so have the princesses of these movies and it’s great to see!

Snow White, the original Disney princess, waited around her little cottage for her prince to come save her. She didn’t really do much for herself.

Cinderella, again yes she took the risk of going to the ball and she stood up for herself in that regard, showing a little bit of rebellion and power but it was only a spark.

Films like Sleeping Beauty followed this pattern of damsel in distress, but as the years went by, our princesses became bolder, stronger women and this was an important shift. Little girls were about to see how these princesses that they looked up to were taking matters into their own hands.

In 1989 (yeah I can’t believe it was that long ago either) Ariel decided she wanted to swim against the grain (get it?) and follow her dreams of living her life as a human, so she could be with Prince Eric. She fought for what she wanted and showed children everywhere to follow their dreams, not giving in and not backing down to anyone or anything in order to achieve what she wanted.

In 1991 Belle did pretty much the same thing, she said no to the handsome brute she was supposed to find attractive and fought against the idea that she was supposed to become somebody’s little wife. She knew she wanted more, and she went out and found it! This was a new idea that a princess was falling out of the idea that she’s supposed to marry the most handsome man in town and become his little child bearing wife, her face literally curled up in disgust when Gaston painted the picture for her. This was so different from princesses of the past.

Other stand out princesses include Pocahontas who fought against the rules, refused to marry the man chosen for her and stood up to her father and her people to fight for what she thought was right, Jasmine made her father change the law on arranged marriage so she could marry who SHE wanted to marry and Mulan, who risked her life to save her father and broke tradition of a woman being seen and not heard in order to save her country. A job that was seen as something only a man could do. And she did it single handedly.

These were all little inklings, inspiring ones that proved to little girls all over the world that they don’t have to sit back and be told what to do and what not to do. They can take matters into their own hands.

Fastforward to 2009 where Tiana literally broke all of the rules of the Disney Princesses, and focused on her career, saying there was no time for dating or men, she was determined to own her own restaurant. Yes she ended up falling in love with the Prince, but her main message throughout the film was you have to work for your dreams, wishing on a star won’t bring you what you want. And that’s really important.

More recent princesses like Elsa (technically she’s a queen) even say lines like ‘you can’t marry a man you’ve just met’, something Snow White would be utterly dumbfounded by and Merida from Brave who breaks the arranged marriage rules and takes parts in the games to fight for her own hand in marriage. A bold statement that says to little girls that they should be in a relationship they are happy to be in, and they should not be a prize to be won. She doesn’t even fall in love with a prince at the end, and there was a huge buzz around this idea when the film hit the cinema. It was a great feeling to know that Disney were actually taking into account that marrying a prince within a matter of days was not a reality.

There are countries where women are still viewed as these prizes, objects to own and although these may seem like harmless cartoons, it is important that the young girls of these places see these movies and know that they are worth more and they can be their own person, not what somebody else tells them to be.

And although over here, these problems are not as prominent, there are still women who are treated this way, little girls who are growing up learning that their self worth stretches only so far as their figure and how beautiful they are.
This does not apply to everyone, but that isn’t the point. It shouldn’t apply to anyone.

When I have daughters, they’ll be watching these films because they’re something that I love and adore, and they’re something that I want to pass on. But they’ll also be watching them for their lessons. To teach them to stand up and fight for themselves. To show their self worth and prove to the world that they’re more than a pretty face.

I love it when my boyfriend turns up with a bouquet of flowers, or treats me to a meal, all of those things are romantic, not sexist or patronising. But what is sexist is when female actors are asked questions about their diet while their male colleagues are asked how they managed to play such a complicated character.
It is sexist how women are paid less than men, how we are taxed 10%  on items such as sanitary pads and tampons because they’re classed as a luxury item.

These are not views I want to force on anyone, or be preachy in saying THIS IS HOW YOU SHOULD BE, but it is what I believe and that isn’t something I’ll apologise for or shy away from. I do believe the word feminist is abused by people who claim they’re feminists but contradict themselves in what they believe, and by those who mock people who call themselves feminists, but I am a feminist, I am not a man hater.

There are stories in magazines every day about how more and more women are standing up to these barriers, demanding equality and we are getting results. But we can only do it by continuing to stand up and fight for our rights to be equals. And if we can start our girls early by watching these movies where they can learn how to better themselves, it’s the least we can do.



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