Hero or Villain, Princess or Victim?

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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.

Princesses, Man.

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?

*The role of hero in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty story, cannot by any reasonable interpretation be ascribed to Briar Rose; she was whisked away from her home as an infant, returning only on the day of her pre-arranged marriage, and falling into the clutches of the story’s villain because of her caretaker’s misguided belief that ignorance of her situation would protect her. The heroes of Sleeping Beauty are even more unusual. They are three elderly ladies, Flora, Fauna and Merriweather, who locked away their magical fairy powers in order to protect Briar Rose and her kingdom. They show bravery when, in the face of a total loss of their charge, they empower the prince to come to not only the princesses rescue, but in fact the entire kingdom’s.)
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Comments

You make a lot of good

You make a lot of good points. My issue with the way Disney represents women is this:
1.Women are used for their beauty
2.Women are property to be transferred between men
3.Women need saving by men
4.A woman's dream should be to find a man that will make everything right in her world
5.Women should be dependent on men

I think those are really damaging images. In my opinion, it projects the same gender stereotypes on female children that getting them things like toy vacuum cleaners and other domestic-only related gifts. It's an issue of keeping women in the same place.

Boys are taught that they have to be the aggressive rescuer, and girls are taught that they are in need of rescuing.

Unusual sleeping beauty

Great post.... your right Briar Rose (Sleeping beauty) is the unusual one of the bunch, That's because it isn't about a woman at all. It's about a "sleeping" people.... and a Disney story... it's not.
~Chris

Where has this article been all my life?

Honestly, everything you said is right on the money. And I never realized before that when it comes down to it, the Good Fairies are the real heroes of Sleeping Beauty. Great point.

Well put.

Don't be so harsh with your judgement

What you're saying might be true and I understand your frustration. Let's not forget that little boy's toys are also usually car/robot/fighting action figure-related and this also already establishes a base for their understanding of their role in life: being tough, scary and strong and having interests in cars, mechanics etc.

I want to express my view that the stereotype for women portrayed through Disney movies might be nothing more than a reflection on what were already established societal norms and beliefs about life and the roles of being male/female. Men were not always necessarily in a better position with more freedom or so on. There has always been a lot expected by them as well. They were expected to be strong indeed, both physically and mentally, to show little emotions, to be able to always protect a woman, to be able to support a family on their own etc etc. I am a girl but I can only imagine how much strain many growing boys and young men are feeling as they come to age, and hell- perhaps even as they are already fully-grown men.

And let's not forget that these gender stereotypes were indeed based on a lifestyle and a perception of the world shared by entire societies for many generations. You can't blame them.

Let me just point out that my

Let me just point out that my comment was meant as a reply to Ashe's comment "You make a lot of good...". I just didn't post it properly so as to make this clear.

No problem. Sorry for the

No problem.

Sorry for the lag on comment updates, but I've got spam problems.