What’s The Princess Problem?

As a child I was pretty much obsessed with Disney Princesses. Ariel was and still is my favourite. I watched that film so many times that one of my aunts still recoils at the mere mention of mermaids! I’ve always looked forward to sharing my love of Disney with my child – especially my love of Disney Princesses.

So, imagine my surprise when, whilst mooching around Facebook groups, I come across the following post. (Paraphrased to protect identities)

“Dear group. Please help! My little girl is three and likes Disney Princesses! It’s all she will watch. I wanted to raise her as a feminist, not all of this out dated crap. How can I stop her watching these things?”

200 (30)The Disney Princess in me was floored. What do they mean, they want their little girl to stop watching Disney Princesses? How could that be? EVERY girl can be a princess if they want to, right? I delved into the replies, which ranged everything from “Don’t worry about it.” Right through to “My child had that phase. I took away her princesses and gave her dinosaurs to play with” and ending nicely with “Oh yeah. She liked Tangled, so I read her the original Rapunzel story where the prince falls out of the tower and goes blind… Soon changed her mind!” 

It seems there is a corner of the world where Disney Princesses are considered the absolute enemy to feminism. They represent everything that is wrong with the world and some folks just will not allow their daughters to watch it – no matter how much they like it. I get that many of them are outdated, but are they really the enemy to feminism that people claim they are, or is it all up to how we look at each princess and her story?

A lot of the older princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora etc etc) are very much products of their time. People complain that they show women as weak characters who are waiting around to be saved by a man, but they forget that some of these films were produced even before women had the right to vote! Feminism wasn’t even really a “thing” then, let alone something that Hollywood would know about. That aside, though, it’s worth noting that even the older princesses have qualities that any little girl should be proud to possess.

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Snow White from Snow White(1937) – Snow White is kind, a friend to the animals and rather than just mope in her sadness, she spends her days at the dwarves’ house making it lovely in return for them letting her stay.

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Cinderella, from Cinderella (1950) – Cinderella is awesome! She puts up with all the crap from her step sisters and step mother. She makes sure to make herself known as a person in the house when the Duke arrives, the glass slipper fits and she gets her happy ever after.

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Aurora/Briar Rose, from Sleeping Beauty (1959) – Ok, yeah, so she spends the majority of the film asleep, but in the start of the film she provides for her “aunts” by harvesting berries and fruits in the woods in order to make a cake. Like most of the princesses, Aurora is also a friend to the animals.

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Ariel, from The Little Mermaid (1989) – I love Ariel! She’s a feminist for sure. People like to go on about how it’s bad that she risked everything “for a man but the reality is she risked everything for someone SHE loved. I mean, she saves his life in the beginning!  Apart from anything, Ariel was the first Disney Princess to have red hair, teaching red-haired little girls that they were beautiful too.

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Belle, from Beauty and the Beast (1991) –  ok, so we all know that there’s some pretty unhealthy themes and ideas in this movie, but let’s talk positives about Belle herself. Belle is super smart. She’s a book-worm and is a tough cookie – tough enough to decline the advances of Gaston. She swaps her freedom for that of her father and instead of just locking herself away, she teaches the Beast how to be human. Above everything, she sees beyond the beast being… Well… A beast!

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Jasmine, from Aladdin (1992) – Again, she’s a friend to the animals, her very best friend being a tiger. She’s a sassy rebel who won’t conform to cultural norms and what is expected of her. She sneaks out of the palace, refuses to marry Jafar against the wishes of her father and stands up for the one she loves. Jasmine was also the first “ethnic” princess and although her culture wasn’t portrayed realistically,she again showed girls that you don’t have to have pure white skin to be a princess.

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Pocahontas, from Pocahontas (1995) – I love Pocahontas. Stepping back from the fact that the story is essentially a bastardised version of a much sadder tale, I think as a princess she is fantastic. She is strong, independent, in touch with nature and isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in. This film taught young girls to “listen with your heart”, which is important.

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Mulan, from Mulan (1998) – Do I have to tell you what is great about Mulan? Mulan disguises herself as a man to take her elderly father’s place in the army and then just, oh, casually saves everyone. She throws aside tradition and risks everything for her family. Mulan is a total badass – strong, resilient, loving and beautiful as well.

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Tiana, from The Princess and The Frog (2009) – There’s a great line in the Princess and the Frog uttered by its heroine – “It serves me right for wishing on stars. The ONLY way to get what you want in this world is through hard work.” If that’s not a positive message, I don’t know what is. Tiana gets her wish in the end – her restaurant – and finds love too, even if she does spend most of the movie a bit on the green, froggy side.

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Rapunzel, from Tangled (2010) – runs off from the “mother” who is holding her captive? Finds her family? Chops off her magic hair for love? Yup, that’s Rapunzel! She’s also sweet, funny, has magic hair AND paints beautiful pictures all over her tower.

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Merida, from Brave (2012) – this arrow wielding princess is all about the family. She’s strong, independent and refuses to conform. She taught little girls that you don’t have to be girly to be a princess.

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Elsa and Anna from Frozen (2013) – Anna is often your stereotypical Disney princess in that she is looking for love, but aside from that she’s not your traditional princess. She’s dorky, clumsy, and a bit annoying if I’m honest – especially when she’s chasing “the one”. Elsa, on the other hand, is graceful, powerful and beautiful and really doesn’t need a man. I love that the “act of true love” in this movie is between them as sisters.

So, there’s your princess round-up. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not about looking at the negatives. If your child likes princesses, talk about the positives with them. Many of these princesses were strong women in their times. Each one of them has positives and lessons to be learned. It’s about opening up a conversation about the films, rather than taking them on face value. “Isn’t Belle smart how she reads books? Which book would you like to read tonight?” “Wasn’t Snow White silly taking the apple from the Evil Queen. Should we take food from strangers?”  “Do you think Jasmine should have snuck out of the palace?” There’s so many conversations that can be had and some of these films are a great starting point, so don’t dismiss them as “anti-feminist nonsense” because I truly believe that each and every Disney princess is a feminist in their own way. It’s not just about “aren’t they pretty?”, you can turn the princess conversation into anything you want.

As was mentioned in a conversation with a friend earlier tonight, I don’t know when we stopped just letting kids be kids. For much of my childhood I wanted to be a mermaid, then a ballerina, then a teacher. I haven’t ended up being any of those things, but I have come out as a well-rounded, feminist individual who is certainly not sitting around waiting to be rescued, but does occasionally wish upon a star.

 

Proudly linked up with…

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22 Responses to What’s The Princess Problem?

  1. Nicole says:

    A very different, refreshing and well articulated post. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it! And I agree with your outlook. A lovely read.
    #FartGlitter

  2. I am one of those mums who doesn’t like the whole Princess thing, or any of these gendered stereotype role models. My daughter is only 2 so I feel she is too young to be influenced by them.
    However I really enjoyed your perspective and pointing out the strengths of some of the characters 🙂

    • I think it’s perfectly ok not to like them – after all we all have our preferences. I just find it odd (personally) when parents actively discourage liking them. Princesses aren’t necessarily gendered and like I said they all have a lot of strengths and weaknesses. You’re doing an awesome job x

  3. I found this really interesting as a staunch feminist myself who adored Disney princesses as a child (and still do in some ways!). I agree with you that as long as you encourage conversations around them that isn’t simply ‘yes, she found love and lived happily ever after’ then there’s no harm in Disney films – providing little girls are shown other role models and paths. For me, that’s the major issue – too often all things aimed for girls are princess themed or similar where the goals are to be pretty or to find love. Little girls should be encouraged to do whatever they enjoy or watch whichever films appeal to them – not solely things about princesses and fairies. Also, some of the films are better than others! I know there’s the dubious Stockholm syndrome of beauty & the beast but Belle actually uses her brain and also she falls in love with his personality! I love Ariel’s attitude at rebelling against her father but she never actually speaks to Eric before deciding she loves him and her voice is taken away… Jasmine is great and she falls for Aladdin’s personality too, but Snow White & Aurora aren’t so good on that front! All in all, I think Disney films have improved in recent years and that as long as there is balance and open discussion they won’t do any harm to children of either sex. #BloggerClubUK

    • Totally agree and that’s most of my point. I think as with any film or TV show, you shouldn’t just leave your kids to watch it and make their own decisions. Everything for me is an opportunity to open up communication and have a conversation, maybe even have some fun around it too and play some games.
      A lot of people say Snow White and Aurora let the side down and I do agree, but that’s because they are very much products of their time. Disney is making huuuuuge strides now. My favourite at the moment is “Sofia the First” because she’s just wonderful. It’s all about friendship, integrity and being the best you can be, rather than being beautiful enough to attract a prince 🙂
      Thanks for dropping in x

  4. twotinyhands says:

    I do think we should let kids be kids. If they want to be princesses let them be princesses! I’m a bit behind in the kids films stakes I really didn’t know there were more than the old school ones. Had never heard of Tangled! Can you tell I am a new mum!?

  5. Brilliant post, well written and I couldn’t agree more. We should let our kids be kids and celebrate the good in the films. I think sometimes people spend far too much unnecessary time pointing out the negatives and forget about the fun #PasstheSauce

  6. I love pretending to be a Disney princess! My mummy actually encourages the role playing and nurtures my imagination. Totally agree with your post! Love the little gifs too! #BloggerClubUK

  7. OMG I love this post! I grew up on Disney and absolutely loved Belle. She’s my favorite princess but I also love Merida too! Both of these princesses I totally identify with because of their strengths. When I was little and was first introduced to Snow White in the 80’s I loved her relationship with the animals. I am an animal lover so I understood it. I have two sons and my youngest son has heard things at school about how bad Disney is but I told him that while Disney may have a bad reputation in certain circles, I loved Disney and as I feminist my self, I still love the princesses. I couldn’t have written a better post about from this perspective. I absolutely love this! Thanks so much for writing it! Popping over from #bloggerclubuk

  8. I absolutely, 100%, could not agree more!! I really don’t understand why people would deliberately pull their children away from princesses, or any other typically ‘girly’ thing that they may be interested in! Like you, I grew up with, and devoured Disney princesses, and all its given me is fabulous memories of losing myself in a beautiful story as a child, not a staunch notion that I had to be beautiful, or that I had to sit in a tower waiting for a man to save me! A friend of mine deliberately won’t dress her new daughter in pink, and posted a list on social media of ‘things I never want you to speak to my daughter about.’ The list included not asking her about her clothes, appearance, dolls… The list went on, and all I could think was that she possibly needed to lighten up a bit! I’ve got 2 boys, and let them watch and play with what they’re drawn to, I would love a daughter to share a love of princesses with! I have no problem with girls identifying with these things, and making it a thing is ridiculous to me!! You can still have a strong, independent daughter, in spite of what they watch as a child.
    Thanks for sharing with #bigpinklink!

    • I jusat think as long as it’s PART of what they watch and not all of it, what’s the harm? Same as I can tell a little girl that her dress is pretty so long as I compliment her on how smart she is too. It’s all about balance.

  9. I absolutely agree with you. I think that the Disney Princesses have evolved enormously over the years, and what’s not to love about life with a little bit of Disney sparkle? My little girl is not really a girly girl in that she would rather go and dig for worms than dress like a princess, but I’m happy for her to go with whatever she enjoys and if she develops a princess phase then good on her – I’ll buy her a tiara to wear with her wellies! Great post and thanks for sharing with #Fartglitter. x

    • Thanks for dropping in.
      Thing is I absolutely agree that it’s wrong to force little girls to like princesses – they like what they like. But I really disagree with folk who try to steer their kids away from something that in the grand scheme of things is totally harmless.
      I like princesses. I like dinosaurs too. I am neither a princess, nor a dinosaur! Lol

  10. I really enjoyed this! I agree that all of the princesses have something to offer. When I started watching the classics again with my daughter, the focus they all had on falling in love really surprised me. I don’t remember thinking that as a child, but it is obvious as an adult. I can tell that my three year old is perplexed by this but I suppose she will need to learn about relationships eventually! I just want to keep her young as long as possible 🙂
    I loved that the sisters love broke the spell in Frozen as well! Very refreshing change.
    #passthesauce
    Tori
    http://www.themamanurse.com

  11. Wow it had never occurred to me that having your little girl like disney princesses is a bad thing? I would be encouraging it, although I am going to be a mother to 2 boys, one already and one on the way so the chances are princesses won’t feature, but if they do, they do and thats cool. After all as you said let kids be kids right?! Thank you for joining us at #BloggerClubUK hope to see you again this week.

  12. This is actually a great topic because yes at first I though ‘ugh all Disney does is teach girls they need saving by a man’ but in fact you’ve shown some of the tough characters here. I do love Princess and the Frog; the script is hilarious but I digress and yes Jasmine is definitely a rebel. But the best bit about this post? Your aunt recoiling at the mention of mermaids!! Laughed so hard. Thanks for linking to #passthesauce

  13. You know, i love this! Our daughter LOVES princesses, and the conversations that you are talking about are the conversations that we have once these movies are done. Can you believe that someone said that I shouldn’t ley my boys watch “girly princess movies” because “you never know”. What in the actual eff!!! I can’t wait to see my boys singing along to The Little Mermaid (my favorite as well!). How awesome is it gonna be to see them sing “Part of Your World”?

    • See that’s what amazes me. “You never know what exactly?!” Is that the old “princesses will make them gay” thing? As a two mum family, do people really think you’ll give a flying monkeys ass if any of your kids are gay?!

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