What's the Deal With the Disney Princesses?

I saw this online some time ago, and I just had to post it on the blog.  Sorry, I couldn't help myself.  But I honestly don't see the point to these Disney fairy tale princesses.  Doesn't it strike you as a bit parochial and, well...a bit creepy?  These were thinly disguised male sexual fantasies from the Flintstones era.  Weird.


JC said...

Someone enterprising should create a contrasting version with Miyazaki heroines.

greenest mermaid said...

Just for clarification purposes, you're saying you don't understand the point of having Disney Princesses? Or the point of having the image you posted?

Personally, I always found it fascinating that the Princesses were the ones who are crucified for their personalities - but the people who created their Disney personalities were for the most part men. It just always feels like there's too much harping on the females and too much focus on the negative stuff, but not on the fact that parents aren't actually having conversations with their kids about gender and stereotypes. And yet there's hardly any mention on the fact that some of the more recent Disney Princesses have more depth to them than Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora (who were all mainly pretty and in unfortunate situations).

Also, I find it interesting that everyone complains about the Disney Princess movies, and then they hardly talk about any of the male-centered stories that don't really feature Princesses (Treasure Planet, Jungle Book, Atlantis, etc.).

Sorry for my rant. :)
I've seen that image before, and it bothers me that it reduces the female characters to these simple negative statements.

Anonymous said...

I personally have no problem with Disney's characters or stories. I find that they are mostly kid friendly. Now it's true they don't engage children in realism, or introduce what adults will recognize as adult experiences/relationships.

But Disney is apart of America's pop culture and history, so despite that America's pop culture may always derive from such weirdness as stated in your article, it still is at the heart of American kids every where from a few generations.

It's just Studio Ghibli is such an amazing exception as it's intent and stories come with deeper philosophical themes and life lessons which include much diversity and unique mythology/mythologies. So I think any other animated work would look bad in comparison, especially to older audiences.

greentea said...

Yeah, this kind of thing just looks like typical whining from snobby feminists. Sure they may not be perfect role models for girls today, but they're *characters*, some of them from movies made over fifty years ago. You could make similar points about Miyazaki heroines if you wanted to. I find the bias way they interpret qualities of these characters creepier than their roles. Um, beauty and kisses are not the same as sexuality...

Katie said...

As a kid I always hated Disney princess movies. I would always choose to watch the ones with male main characters. I though the princesses were useless baggage because they rarely did anything. I know that most of my friends felt the same way. Boys in movies get to do cool stuff, like go on adventures, fight bad guys, and stand up for what you believe in. Princesses and girls get to look pretty. Just because a story is 'kid friendly' does mean it doesn't sent the wrong message to kids. A lot of disney movies, especially the princess ones, teach girls that they are only valuable when they are beautiful and that only a man can make you happy.

For an example of a girl character disney got right, I always think of Lilo from Lilo and Stitch. She wasn't pretty, and she was alienated by her piers, but she stood up for what she loved. Lilo and Stitches sends the message that you shouldn't be afraid to be different, even though people will try to make you conform.
Mulan is another good example of a disney heroine. She chooses a hard and dangerous path in order to protect the ones she loves.
Disney princesses never seem like heroines, they just seem like victims.

greentea, regarding your comment that you could make the same negative points about Miyazaki's heroines, I have to say i disagree. Nausicaa is a princess, but when hardship comes, she takes responsibility and works to protect her people and brings about peace. Nothing about her is sexualized. She isn't there to be saved by a charming and handsome prince. Neither is Sheeta, Kiki, Fio, or San. Miyazaki knows how to make movies about girls that send the message that they are in control of their own fates, and can stand up to injustices just like boys can.

Lindsey said...

First off, let me say that I love your blog :] When I read this entry I immediately thought of a post I saw on tumblr:

It does give the princesses a little more depth than most people give them credit for lol.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog and this image did make me think a lot about the different heroines I admired as a kid.

I do kid Disney relied on some good 'ol girly stereotypes but I've thought this image (I've seen if before) takes it waaaay to seriously. Belle was portrayed as a smart gal that loved reading (I did too and identified a lot with her) and I admired Jasmine for specifically calling out she's not a prize to be won.

Lately things have gotten a lot better in my opinion. Mulan started it all in my opinion, and the last "princesses": Tiana (the frog princess) and Rapunzel (Tangled) have shown waaaay more personality and smarts than ever before.

Still, they have a lot to learn from Ghibli girls. :-) Always smart, courageous and honest.

Anonymous said...

This picture is so wrong about Belle. Did the person who made this even watch Beauty and the Beast?

greentea said...

@Katie: Well, you're looking at the Miyazaki heroines in a positive, bias light. Which is fine, you like something, you say good things about it. My point was, if I wanted to, I could twist their roles and personalities and make them look bad like those comments about the Disney princesses.

San- cold, savage warrior who becomes soft when she meets a man, and needs his help to save the day.

Sheeta- depends on a boy for help throughout the movie and is saved from the villain, a man.

Ponyo- gives up her home and family and makes the whole world go out of balance because she likes a boy. But she's cute, so that's fine.

Chihiro- risks her life because she likes a boy, a thief who snubs her.

Nausicaa- displays weak, stereotypical 'feminine' qualities by preaching about love and war and pollution. Men follow her because she's beautiful. Or because of her 'sexuality', however you want to put it.

Do you see my point? There's no mention of Jasmine's will to make her own destiny, or Ariel's courage in saving the prince's life, or Belle's in saving her father. Nothing about them being kind, compassionate, active, or intelligent. It's not like I'm a big Disney Princess fan, but people are so used to complaining about this stuff, and it's a 'glass half empty' way to look at it, in my opinion.

Gnickerson said...

As a Male in his early 20's, I really liked the Disney Princess movies growing up and still do. In fact, "Beauty and the Beast" is still my favorite Disney film. My reasons have to do with my love of musicals and often the the Princess films provided great songs.

While I do love my Ghibli and films with more depth, sometimes I like to watch a movie and escape into a reality where people are overly happy and things end up unrealistically perfect. I would actually draw a comparison to many of the American musicals from the 40's and 50's.

Or I can watch "Pleasantville" and get the best of both worlds.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

This has really been a terrific discussion! If I knew everyone would have such strong opinions, I would have brought up this subject a long time ago.

I literally scraped this post together in five minutes. That photo caption had been sitting in my hard drive for months, and I decided to finally use it while trying to clear space for more movies. It's funny how these quick decisions get the most attention.

Anyway, great jorb, everbody! Keep up the debate! I'm eager to hear all your opinions, pro and con.

Hanna said...

"These were thinly disguised male sexual fantasies from the Flintstones era." Seems a bit like reverse stereotype.
When I was a little girl growing up mulan and pocahontas were my favorite disney girls. They were just the easiest to identify with. I don't really know what it was like for other girls. Anyways, I don't know were I'm going with this so I'll sop.

[[adam_roth]] said...

I'm struck by the fact that no one has mentioned that the Disney aspect is burying the lead. Disney didn't create these characters, they borrowed them from traditional folklore. The gender issues commented upon in the image are not a Disney creation.

Especially in the case of Belle, and very much so with Rapunzel, a lot of dynamism and empowerment was added to the original characters making the heroines more engaged in their own fate and giving them true agency. Any criticism of these tales seem to be misplaced at Disney, though perhaps they share some blame in the retransmission of these gendered stories.

The real criticism should be fairly aimed at the original source material-- material that Miyazaki himself admits to drawing upon for Ponyo. However, here he does a great post-modern twist and reclaims some of the power from the "sea king" character to enact the transformation and places it in the "little mermaid" character of Ponyo herself.

Everything is a remix, and each time the storyteller gets to choose what to emphasize and to what ends. Miyazaki always surprises and delights me with his choices.

Ambi Valent said...

I think most studios have the problem that they have a basic belief how a movie should be, and very rarely change this belief - worse, they are more likely to make a movie against their belief if they think that's what the audience wants. They might land a hit this way, won't understand why, and when they try to make a sequel or a new movie following the supposed recipe, it fails - and then they decide it was the successful movie that was an accident and the failed sequel the typical outcome.

And part of Disney's problem is that their belief, going back to Walt himself, contained feminine purity along with some other conservative values. And I think they're much more willing to accept, even promote, that girls can grow up to be doctors, scientists or presidents than to honestly change their belief of how an ideal girl would behave.

MikanMikan said...

Interesting theory, but I think the problem is that all these princesses are medieval. You look for instance at a modern day princess like Tiana, you see she does have skills. I think all those princesses do have skills as well like sewing, cooking and cleaning, which is what was expected of a medieval woman, you just don't recognize them as skills.

Anonymous said...

While I agree about Snow White, Aurora and Cinderella, Jasmine is very adamant saying that she's not just a prize to be won and Ariel, while she does sacrifice a lot for Eric, is an active, curious, adventure-hungry heroine that's always been an inspiration for me.

Now, let's get to Belle. BELLE. Holy shit, that girl has always been my role model! She's an outsider in her village for being a book-devouring, intelligent single woman living with her father and not drooling after the village macho. She tells Gaston off fearlessly and knows what she wants, she's clever and unafraid to speak her mind. What's more, she doesn't take shit from Beast. She's not on a mission to turn him into a dreamy prince with the power of her love - she outright ignores him and tells him off as long as he's being an ass in the beginning. She only starts softening towards him once he has shown that he has a nice side, too (by saying her life after she left him because he was acting like an ass). Saving her father has little to do with sacrificing herself for a man; it's sacrificing herself for the only relative she has, who brought her up and is the only human who seems to ever have loved her for who she is. That's the kind of thing that doesn't have anything to do with gender.

So, say what you want about pretty much any other Disney princess, but back off Belle. If anything, Disney needs more girls like her.

Tony said...

Very interesting. UK's Guardian newspaper made some very perceptive comments on comparing Ghibli to western animations.

What I find so impressive about Ghibli heroes and heroines is that they are not individualistic and me-centered (eg Disney princesses are all about getting the prince, fame and fortune for themselves), but that their actions are primarily about bringing redemptive resolution to others.

ieatcannibals said...

The reason for marriage so often being central to Disney Classics is that at some point in the story the intense bond developed between two characters allows them to overcome severe obstacles, because love is such a positive, innocent, and powerful emotion. And many people seem to think hard work and independence gives them character, when in reality work would be meaningless in a world without compassion. Toiling to live for what, and for whom? Disney does offer realistic morals, and people who presume they are can't even recognize them.

Anonymous said...

If the Disney princesses represent "male sexual fantasies", then it's wrong for male characters to try to save them for any reason. Just leave them in the hands of their enemies! Or perhaps - it is possible for love to happen without impurity, which is much more honourable.

Francesca said...

Has anyone considered the promotion of domestic violence by Beauty and the Beast? Seriously. A lot of people don't take these things seriously because they're just characters - but they're characters that children obsess over, and they should be good role models. Who knows what's getting into children's subconsciousness by watching that crap.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@Francesca - totally awesome. I hadn't thought about that angle. Of course, these fairy tales were always much darker and more violent than the sanitized Disney versions. Didn't Little Red Riding Hood end with an axe murder? Heh hehe.

jFan said...

Ah, another Princess debate. As for the "domestic abuse" angle with Beauty and the Beast, I find it rather insulting. In the film, belle doesn't show any affection towards the beast until he stops behaving violently towards her. And even after he begins to regain his humanity and show her affection, she does leave when given the opportunity. Anyways, others have pointed out the flaws with the more virulent Princess critics' arguments.
Love the blog!

A Mature Teen said...

i grew up on disney movies and to be quite honest it gives girls an unrealistic view on life. Girls expect to be swept off there feet by Prince charming and when they dont they settle for less. Ive recently been watching some of these videos and i realized that even in the ones where male characters are main characters there are still underlying subliminal messages found within in them for example with Peter Pan, that it is ok to not grow up. and
tarzan just increases the whole gender inequality problem. The movies you show your childer WILL INFLUENCE THEM WHEN THEY GET OLDER!! believe me ive seen it.

zuziako said...

This is very simplified and not exactly true.

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