Hero or Villain, Princess or Victim?
I should know better than to have this conversation, but I’m gonna jump in here. You may have seen an image floating around that attempts to take the Disney Princesses to task for being overly obsessed with beauty or other “shallow” values otherwise associated with the feminine.
Here's the thing: This graphic presents almost exclusively what outside forces view these women; it does not even attempt to express how these women feel about themselves. This graphic specifically relates to the women pictured only as sexual objects, and in fact, fails to account virtues that the princesses do possess, including kindness, bravery, passion, love of nature, and a strong sense of self.
If you find yourself cheering the sentiment behind this image, consider this: the reason you probably identify so strongly with this image is because deep down inside, you feel the same way toward them. And that’s an ugly part of yourself. So lets talk.
It’s only the shallowest interpretation of the Disney Princesses stories that ascribes them only the virtues of sexuality. Every one of the Disney Princesses exhibits amazing courage. Not only in the light of their grand and epic adventures, but also in the face of defying the cultures in which they live. Snow White, left alone in the woods, knowing that she spared being unjustly murdered, sets off to live on her own, alone in the woods. Briar Rose, Jazmine and Ariel both defy their father’s wishes and undergo drastic personal changes to make themselves into something they wish to be. Out of her great love for him, Belle gives up her own life in exchange for her father’s freedom. Cinderella retains a belief in the power of goodness and spirt in spite of almost overwhelming evidence that goodness and spirit do not exist in her world.
These brave things are not only embraced by the princesses, but they are things that each princess must actively fight for in order to remain true to themselves. And they don’t do it by sitting around making wishes. They fight, ague, take stands, make questionable choices, work hard, learn much, and understand more in the course of their respective journeys. Are there no greater virtues we could wish to instill in our daughters than an understanding of themselves and their place in the world and the courage to make sure they remain true to that sense?
The sense that somehow a talent for something deemed “feminine,” (such as cleaning, sewing, caring for nature’s creatures, or yes, even, possessing an overt feminine sexuality) somehow diminishes the bravery shown by the heroes of the Disney Princess stories is a sense that comes lazily from perspective of the dominant culture, and not from a critical look at the characters of the stories themselves.
Its only right, with the unusual exception of Briar Rose’s case*, to declare the Disney Princesses true heroes of their respective stories, but society doesn’t, because it’s too easy to ascribe a heroic nature to the masculine lead of any given story, thus relegating the princesses to the hapless victims. This is clearly not the case to anyone with any familiarity of the story, so why, as a culture, are we so quick to describe it otherwise?
Heroics and villainy are no more easily defined than masculine and feminine. Ask yourself which are you, the hero or the villain, the masculine or the feminine? Are these exclusionary constructs? Are the princesses your heroes or your villains? Can you be only one, or can you be both? Why or why not?
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