Large groups of people seem to think that Frozen and then Maleficent were the first Disney princess movies to challenge gender roles and gendered expectations. I think they may have forgotten some of the earlier princesses. While I have somewhat covered this in talks on bias, I feel like a media Wednesday is a good time to get into it a little better. Here are some clips that I’d like to remind people of when they think of Disney princesses sticking to their gender roles, expectations and being a damsel in distress:
Even before she decides to do something about it, Mulan’s gender role bothers her. She wants to transcend expectations and be herself.
Once she comes to terms with all of that and some other impending circumstances, she ends up saving China and is congratulated by the Emperor, celebrated by the whole country and offered a job in the government. Of course, it is still followed up with her preferring to go back home and getting the guy, but there was noticable progress here.
Merida fights for her independence and against the cultural expectations of her time and place. People talk about Disney princesses waiting around for princes but this movie didn’t even have a prince that wasn’t her brother. And Mulan above doesn’t have an actual prince either, but it’s presented as she gets the guy and not that he gets the girl in the last scene. He doesn’t even ask her out. She asks him out.
Some do have princes that rescue them, but as far back as The Little Mermaid, the princess has a share in the rescuing or had some other quality that denounced the conventions of their setting.
Yes, it’s in Spanish. This was the video with the least extra stuff. The point is that Ariel saved him first.
Jasmine doesn’t want to get married yet either, especially not just because people are telling her that she needs to.
And check out Pocahontas stopping war and rescuing her love interest.
Let’s not forget Tiana’s independence, goal setting, and work ethic.
I admit that not all of their movies are incredibly progressive, but Frozen and Maleficent weren’t more progressive than any of these. Sure, I don’t have anything like this on Rapunzel. She was consistently a good partner with Flynn, but she was kind of a damsel in distress whenever there was distress and even her last minute attempt to save him resulted in a beautiful act of self-sacrifice on the part of the male. I get that. And yes, she did end up saving him anyway, but on a technicality. I did love Tangled, but no one scene stacks up to these.
Just remember that there is a history of great princesses to go along with princess culture. The newest tv addition is Sofia the First, which is adorable and about a mixed royal family. If you love princess culture or are simply mired in it, remember that these princesses are there when you are searching for role models or examples within it.
Note: the other princesses are wonderful, just as women are diverse and varied beings, so have been the Disney princesses. My point here has simply been to point this variation and how some of the women of Disney can still be good role models for the modern girl.
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