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Feminism in Disney's Princesses

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Palo, Jeliza Marie C. ǀ 2015-13510

Ms. Louise Jashil Sonido ǀ ENG 10 THV6

Second Documented Essay: Final

14 December 2015

Feminism in Disney’s Princesses

        Disney channel (Disney) is popularly known for its cartoon shows, kiddie programs and most especially, for its line of princess movies. Before their rise, most of Disney’s programs are about different cartoons and the most famous character is Mickey Mouse. In the nineteenth century, they limited the form and structure of the fairy tales so that improper thoughts and ideas would not cloud the minds of children. Princess movies rose after cartoons. They released the first princess movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, on 1937 and up until now they continue to create different movies with princesses to add up their collection. Almost everyone on earth knows at least one princess movie, watched them several times until they get tired of it and, maybe, watched its sequel. We see princesses as ‘the perfect girl’ who has a wonderful voice and destiny. This may be the reason why girls, who watch princess movies aspire to become and look like a princess, have a love story as romantic as these movies and live happily ever after. Also boys, who watch these kinds of movies dream to become a prince or a knight-in-shining-armor, save a beautiful princess in their lives and to love and care for them forever. For adults, they watch these movies because they would feel young once again. These princess movies target everyone in the world that is why they became famous. As of now, Disney has created thirteen princesses: eight originals namely Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas and Mulan and five additionals namely Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Ana and Elsa. As we head on to the future, Disney might release more movies which can also become famous starting with Moana, a movie which will they release in 2016.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first ever princess movie released by Disney. It became the first definitive animated fairy tale film. It took three years to complete and before this Disney princess movie, Disney released The Three Little Pigs (1933), The Big Bad Wolf (1934) and The Three Little Wolves (1936) which was shown to the masses at the time of the Depression.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was to bring together all the strands of Disney’s own story with the destinies of desperate Americans who sought hope and solidarity in their fight for survival during the Depression of the 1930s (Zipes, 1999)

This movie was a German tale taken from the Grimm brothers and Disney made it an American version. The character of Snow White is very feminine. She was innocent and the movie was very dull at first and it only became colorful when the dwarfs entered the scene. She is innocent and has a mother-like characteristic which a female should have as well as Cinderella and Aurora, from the movie Cinderella which was released in 1950 and Sleeping Beauty which was 1959 respectively. These three princesses show that they need a man in their lives, however, the princes’ role here are very light. The princes often show up or they would show up to save the princess and give them a true love’s kiss in order for them to wake up, specifically in Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

The first wave of feminism started in the 19th century. At this time, women are given the right to vote, but they are, still, expected to be inside their home cleaning and taking care of children,  which are portrayed in Disney’s first three princess movies, except the voting.

“The first three Disney Princess movies, produced in the 1930s and 50s, depicted in general more gendered attributes for both the princesses and the princes, and employed more traditional gender roles than did the five films produced in and after the 1980s, including the most current film in 2009” (Collier-Meek, Descartes and England,  2011)

Cinderella might have shown a slight feministic side. Cinderella was known as a slave of her stepmother and sisters. Despite of her hardships, she is still optimistic about her life by dreaming. She was singing “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” in the movie.

The next batch of original Disney princesses is described as adventurous and escapist in their stories starting off with Ariel on The Little Mermaid. Ariel is like an adolescent child. She makes decisions for herself like disobeying her own father and sacrificing her own voice in exchange for human legs to explore the human world and find Eric. To Ariel’s deal with Ursula, Eric has to kiss her, a true love’s kiss, and if she doesn’t comply the whole kingdom will be given to Ursula. So if Ariel and Eric did kiss, she would have saved the whole kingdom which may have shown some feminine power. Also, Ariel’s travel to the human world showed independence.

The second wave of feminism was from 1960s to late 1980s. This time, women are starting to fight for equality, though it wasn’t seen in any princess movie on Disney. Women's oppression and sexism were known by this time. The third wave of feminism started in the 90s up until the present. So, starting from the movie The Little Mermaid to Frozen, all of these movies is included in the third wave. This wave is portrayed in the media when it deals with independence, multiculturalism, gender stereotypes and patriarchal oppression.

Belle, from The Beauty and the Beast, dreams to escape a provincial life, even though she is known as the most beautiful girl in town. She’s tired of living the same way and wanted to experience new things. Living alone with her father, all the motherly duties are left for her to accomplish. Her independence showed when her father left her in the house. She, mostly, stood up for her desire to learn against Gaston. In a dialogue, Gaston said “It's not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ‘ideas’ and ‘thinking’", he is clearly stating what not a woman should do and even though it’s wrong, Belle still reads. She proves that a woman can read and even think. Another one is when Belle turned down Gaston’s sudden wedding proposal. While Gaston was convincing Belle, he mentioned that a wife massages her husband’s feet and Belle reject saying that she doesn’t deserve him. The last one is when Belle defended Beast against the mob lead by Gaston but sadly she was ignored. Belle also showed a heroic deed when she sacrificed and replaced her father in the Beast’s dungeon even though it would be scary for her to live with a Beast. She also defied the Beast’s instructions instead of following him. She doesn’t listen to what other people might say and she believes in her own principles and fights for it.

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