I think that Disney tends to get a lot of flack over the phenomenon of “Disney Princess culture.” And I think that this video is a subtle, yet direct, response to that.
I grew up with 3 sisters and 0 brothers and, therefore, undeniably experienced a very gendered childhood. I was raised on the colour pink, barbie dolls, and, yes, Disney and their princesses. I loved every minute of it. And I still managed to grow up into an educated, free-thinking, independent woman. Sure, I’m a hopeless romantic and I won’t say no to Prince Charming if he ever comes along, but I’m also not going to measure my self-worth based on his appearance in my life, or lack there of (most days, anyway). My Prince Charming will be one of life’s many fringe benefits, not the end goal. Mama may have raised me on Disney movies, but that doesn’t mean Mama raised me a fool.
Just because the 1930s and ’50s gave us some princesses who are problematic by today’s standards (Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora/Sleeping Beauty), that doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that more recently they have given us some pretty kick-ass princesses demonstrating the progress we’ve made as a society (Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Anna, Elsa). I will gladly admit that there are some legitimate issues to be raised over those early princesses (namely, naivety and submissiveness), but I’ll also be sure to tell you that those princesses cannot help being anything but a product of their time. That doesn’t make the problematic traits right, but, to a certain extent, it makes them unavoidable.
Representation of women in media has come a long way from where it was when Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) and Disney’s Cinderella (1950) were released. Our contemporary princesses are a testament to the progress society has made in regards to representation of women. The most recent princesses, Tiana (The Princess and the Frog 2009), Rapunzel (Tangled 2010), Merida (Brave 2012), and Anna and Elsa (Frozen 2013) are all girls that I should think any parent would approve of their daughter looking up to. Truth be told, no matter how many times I watched those “problematic” princess movies as a child (and trust me, that was a lot, Cinderella is my girl) not once did their problematic qualities somehow become indoctrinated in me. And that seems to be the main issue people have here, that young girls will want to emulate these “less than ideal” role models. But, I was also watching movies featuring the princesses telling me that I can be kick-ass and get the guy in the end, if that’s what I want.
I haven’t stopped watching Disney movies, and I doubt I ever will, so even though this is not an example contemporary to my own formative childhood years, I think its important to note that when Disney’s Brave gave us Princess Merida in 2012 they gave us a young girl who firmly resists her parents attempt at arranging a marriage for her, and then spends the whole film salvaging her relationship with her mother. Also, there is no prince charming at the end. Merida saves herself. If you ask me, that is a far cry from the Snow White of 1937 and it is exactly the reason we should be applauding Disney. Disney’s Frozen is another film with strong and independent princesses, Anna and Elsa. Since this film is still in theatres I won’t give anything away, but trust me when I say Disney has continued moving forward in their representations of women.
I also happen to be someone who believes that you can be both feminine and a feminist. The two are not somehow inherently mutually exclusive. In fact, I regularly wear a shirt that reads “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people” and an over-sized bow in my hair at the same time. Simply to make the statement that my femininity does not somehow diminish my belief in feminist ideologies. Now I don’t want to scare anyone away with the “f-word” that is feminism, I’m not trying to get political here and I won’t be dwelling on this for long, but I think that feminist issues cannot be ignored when dealing with the complaints around Disney princesses. It seems to me that society is concerned that Disney Princesses do not promote the “proper” values we should be teaching our young girls. But, if we go back to the video, we see that Disney has given us quite a diverse cast of girls – from age, to ethnicity, to hobbies and interests. So, to me, this video sets out to tell us that the label “princess” doesn’t have to mean any one thing. You can be feminine and a “girly girl,” or you can be a tomboy and a badass, or you can be a girly girl and a bad ass, etc. The possibilities are endless. And not one of those possibilities excludes the factor that, if you so choose, you can be a princess too.
So while the cynics may see this video as merely a ploy to shed some positive light on the whole idea of Disney Princess culture, I see it as an attempt to fight back against the nay-sayers. Because the nay-sayers have a tendency to take bits and pieces of information and rip them from their context to make a point. But then there’s me, and I say that context is everything. So from Snow White to Anna and Elsa, and all the princesses in between, Disney Princess culture is just another example of progress. These ladies show us that princesses, like everything else, are fully capable of changing with the times. And I think that’s pretty awesome.