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Disney Princesses Are My (Imperfect) Feminist Role Models

As I grew up in the 1970s, I recognized that the Disney princesses I’d enjoyed at the movies were not good role models for my own future daughters. But by the time I had daughters, there was a whole new generation of princesses, and they were each progressively a bit more relevant to real life. Of course, each was criticized, but then the protagonist was usually improved upon in the next princess movie. Caroline Siede looks at the different ways the princesses are role models for young girls.   

Belle is defined by her intelligence and love of reading. Princess Jasmine—the only supporting character in the entire princess line—openly declares she’s not a prize to be won. Mulan disguises herself as a man and saves China from invasion. Tiana goes from waitress to business owner thanks to her own determination. Merida and Rapunzel reject the limiting lifestyles their parents try to force on them. Like Snow White, these female-driven films found massive success at the box office, and like Frozen they actively subvert expectations of Disney princess storytelling.

And while Moana deserves ample praise for centering on a woman of color, Disney has actually done a fairly good—if delayed—job diversifying its princess line. So far the company has turned a Middle Eastern princess, a Native American chief’s daughter, a Chinese warrior, and a black business-owner into four of the most recognizable characters in pop culture with remarkably little fanfare. Meanwhile, we’ve yet to have a single superhero movie centered on a character of color.

Even looking back at the three classic era princess movies: Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, they were breakthrough films when considered in the social context of their time. As the progressive arc from Snow White through Frozen continues, we are looking forward to Disney’s next princess movie, Moana, in 2016. Read Siede’s full article at Boing Boing.


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