Sexism in the cult of Disney? Fictitious heroines one limited template? I don’t think so!

When I started writing this blog, I intended it to document our life as a new home educating family and to share some tips and activities about things which have worked for us.  My last post though was a tad – shall we say forthright?  I was passionate about the subject but after having said my bit, I was planning to go back to sharing some of the fun things Jasper and I have been up to.

But then I read an article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, entitled ‘I’d happily blow the brains out of a Disney Princess’ written by Beverley Turner.  There are a lot of really valid points in the article; you can read it here but if you haven’t, the gist of the bit that drove me mad is essentially this:

The author fumes that ‘the cult of Disney’ brainwashes children into believing that women should do no more than wait around, doe-eyed and pathetic, for a charming Prince to come along and rescue them from whatever perilous circumstances they happen to find themselves in.  She argues that we should have more true-to-life characters because most women “prefer to do more than wait to marry a Prince, in a size 8 dress with hair down to their waist” and that the Disney princess image is damaging to young girls as it teaches them that they need to be aesthetically perfect and can’t do anything without a man.

Oh come on.

Firstly, I’m not at all convinced that Disney Princesses are the distressed damsels Beverley Turner seems to think.  Yes, they do seem to be motivated (at least in part) by the desire to marry a handsome Prince, but very few seem to sit around waiting for this to happen or indeed to be rescued.  I said very few, not none before you shoot me down.  They know what they want and they go after it, navigating treacherous paths and any number of obstacles on their way.

Let’s take Princess Jasmine.  As the daughter of a Sultan she is expected, under obligation in fact, to marry a Prince.  Yet all the ones she meets are arrogant fools who treat her as nothing more than a “prize to be won.” Refusing to buy into that idea, Jasmine defies the system and decides she’s going to marry for love.  Fragile maiden I think not.

Then there’s Ariel.  Again, yes I know she’s after a bloke, but he’s not exactly attainable.  Does this put her off?  Of course it doesn’t.  She’s prepared to leave her home, literally travel across the ocean and change her whole world to get what she wants.  Now the usual argument here is that yet again, a woman is made to change who she is for a man, but I really don’t see it like that.  I think you’ve got to have a hell of a lot about you to be prepared to give up all you’ve ever known and venture into unknown territories without even a guarantee that the one you want will love you back.

Belle refuses to marry Gaston despite all the girls in the town thinking he’s a catch because she wants something more and she’s prepared to give up her liberty to protect her father.

Now, I don’t have daughters.  But if I did, I’d be quite happy for them to look up to these girls as heroines.

Secondly, let’s look at the skinny thing.  I think there’s confusion about the effect generally size 0 women, and the way they are portrayed in the media, have on young girls.  To me, the problem is this.  It isn’t that there are skinny women in magazines and as celebrities.  If that’s a problem, that says more about our parenting – if our girls can’t see someone with an apparently near perfect body without suffering a huge knock to their confidence, we need to helping them develop their self esteem more.  If we get into the realm of banning and dictating to publications because we don’t like what they put on their covers, we’re in dangerous territory.  The problem arise when these women pretend that they don’t have to work hard to maintain their figures; when we show zoomed in pictures of their invisible rolls of fat when they bend over on the beach or claim that they have “ballooned to a size 10” and wonder whether this will affect the quality of their work.  The most worrying though is when we airbrush women so that they are flawless without making it clear to young readers that this has happened.  Magazines need to sell copies.  Fact.  So yes, they want something on the cover that looks good.  The damage comes when we make women look almost 2d and then let them claim that they “eat what they want” and can still be slim.  That’s damaging.  A confident, articulate Disney Princess who happens to be slim, isn’t.

I happened to see Kimberley Walsh on Lorraine this morning and she summed it up perfectly for me.  Talking about her style and body confidence, she said this:  “I do think women have to work hard to keep a good body shape.  I do work out a bit but I like food and like to eat what I want.”  She admitted that despite her enviable figure, she has days when she doesn’t feel confident.  Just like the rest of us.  It’s all about, she states, being confident in yourself and knowing what suits you and your body shape.

Beverley Turner mentions the fit, athletic women who inspired young girls as part of the Olympic games.  She talks about achievement.  Isn’t defying the system to marry for love an achievement?  Or being prepared to risk death to save your family?

Of course there are subtle messages in Disney films.  Disney is a huge corporation and we need to be careful about the messages such a powerful company is able to send out to our children.  Sometimes though, I think we should just let things be what they are.  And the films in which our Disney Princesses appear are just this: Fun-filled fairy tale adventures enjoyed by children for generations.

And Beverley?  Blowing the brains out of characters you don’t happen to like?  Great message to our daughters.

7 thoughts on “Sexism in the cult of Disney? Fictitious heroines one limited template? I don’t think so!

  1. I’ve always been annoyed at the reductionist view of Disney princesses. I’m a feminist, doing a PhD, ambitious, with short hair, and I grew up adoring the Disney movies. I still do. I never saw them as being about ‘finding a man’ but finding love, and isn’t that something we all want?

    And please, don’t get me started on the reductionist argument against Ariel I cold write a whole paper about how wrong they are (maybe I’ll blog about it). It seems people never watched the movie. She wanted to be human BEFORE she met Eric. She sings Part of Your World, BEFORE she meets Eric! She only decides to become human after her father destroys everything she loves, in a completely understandable act of teenage rebellion and also tenacity.

    Ariel has always been my favourite, and I hate it when people say she ‘mutilated herself for a man’. Erm… No she didn’t. Watch the movie people. Eric may have been a catalyst, together with her day’s rage, but she always wanted to be human.

  2. Pingback: Disney Princesses, Feminism and Reductionism | Humans and Aliens

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