What does it mean to be "a Princess"?

4:43:00 PM

I grew up during the advent of the "Disney Renaissance", the period beginning with The Little Mermaid and ending with Tarzan. As a result, I spent a good portion of my childhood admiring Disney Princesses.  I had Disney Princess toys, I watched Disney animated films religiously, and found myself wishing to be part of their world.  As I've become older I've learned to recognize both the good and the bad associated with classic Disney animation.  My senior year of college I took an anthropology class called "Decoding Disney".  It was entirely about understanding portrayals of gender identity, gender roles, race, and spirituality.  The class looked at Disney's commentary on society at large through their animated features.  We also spent a good portion of class time actually watching Disney movies which my inner 8 year old absolutely loved.

One of the biggest critiques of Disney films is their portrayal of gender roles. Although Disney tries to create powerful female characters their attempts often backfire.  For example: Ariel is portrayed as feisty, rebellious, and free spirited character.  However, she spends most of the movie without a voice because she wants to be with a man she's only seen once.  Jasmine is portrayed with similar character traits but has to be saved by Aladdin and succumbs to the ideal that she has to be married in order to rule her kingdom.  Belle too falls into the category of being described an "empowered female" but in actuality her relationship with The Beast closely resembles that of an abusive relationship.  She is held captive by him, is knocked over by him, and subjected to violent behavior but eventually falls in love with him.  It reinforces the notion that women in abusive relationships can change their man, that there must be something good deep inside of him that she is capable of bringing out.  Don't even get me started on Cinderella, Aurora, or Snow White who although pre-renaissance, portray weak women who must rely on their Prince to save the day.  Granted, those three films came out during a period of time where a woman's role was solely directed on marriage and family: Snow White in 1937, Cinderella in 1950, and Sleeping Beauty in 1959. Most of the Disney princesses fall into this category of being identified as a strong female role model but really subverting to less than ideal gender roles (except for in Mulan which brings up other interesting issues concerning gender identity).  That being said, Disney put out this interesting ad about what it means to be a princess:

Interesting right? I'm glad Disney is moving in a direction that embraces young women of different backgrounds and with different dreams.  This ad promotes inner-beauty, strength, bravery, compassion, and trust.  I really hope that Disney moves past some of their previous shortcomings concerning the portrayal of gender and continue to move in this direction.  What are your thoughts? How do you feel about Disney films?  Would you show your children Disney movies?

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