This article was first published on the Fanny Pack Blog. Read the original post here and follow Fanny Pack to read updates on this series before they are published here.
Disney’s iconic Princess catalogue of fairy-tale inspired films began right from the company’s cinematic debut in 1939 with Snow White – the first ever animated feature-length film, and it’s first critical and commercial success.
74 years later, the runaway success of Disney’s latest addition to its signature genre – Frozen – has proven that the allure of being a Princess hasn’t lost its shimmer for the latest generation of Disney-weaned audiences. Despite being a very specific brand, Disney Princess’ official website summarizes its intentions quite broadly:
Nothing in this mission statement is purposefully negative or harmful, just as none of Disney’s films are. And yet, as open and expansive as it encourages young girls to be, there is also an inhibiting factor straight from the offset – this is a gender specific genre according to Disney, and as such, limiting to both genders. Little boys have apparently nothing to learn from watching them and are almost always stereotyped as the strong, courageous, adventurous men. Whilst little girls must seek guidance and inspiration from them in the form of ‘happily ever after,’ dreaming of a handsome prince, perfect wedding days or coming to the realization that almost every princess is white, with long blonde hair and blue eyes.
Laura Bates from the ‘Everyday Sexism’ book, talks about one of the “earliest manifestations of childhood sexism is in the almost surreal segregation of children’s toys” and this also transpires into the films. Laura acknowledges the “attempts to subvert the stereotypes in recent years with Tangled and Brave, showcasing strong female heroines rather than the typical ‘damsel in distress’… however they remain stubbornly problematic.”
Looking at theses films and toys in isolation, it may seem a little over the top. So what if girls like fashion, makeup and boys? But, as Laura Bates says, “the sheer saturation of tween culture with these characters and images creates a powerfully dictatorial consensus about who girls should be, what they should be interested in and how they should look.” The question is how is this influencing the way our daughters, sisters etc. see themselves, and how does it impact their future choices?
This being the case, just what do little girls learn about their gender from 74-years worth of Disney Princess films? And, is that lesson a positive, negative, or neutral one?
Over this series of blogs, I hope to discover the answers to these questions by watching each film in the Princess genre in chronological order of release and analyzing each one using my own criteria:
At the end of each article, I will give the film a ‘Gender Representation Classification’ stamp – Positive, Negative, or Neutral – in a similar way that films are rated for age. It is important to add that my criteria has nothing to do with whether each film is cinematically ‘good’ – these questions are specific to whether each film has good gender politics; although I suspect there might be a point of correlation between the two. I should also add that I – like most – am a HUGE Disney fan, but I will be trying my absolute best to forget any preconceived opinions about each film before watching it so as it be as unbiased as possible.
The final note is the list itself. Now, there is an official Disney Princess roster that I will be using, but I have also made my own additions. This includes any animated or partly-animated Disney Studios film (including Disney/Pixar) that prominently features a female character (human or non-human) that is either a Princess; becomes a Princess; or of Princess status equivalence – i.e. Pocahontas is included as she is the daughter of the Chief of her tribe; Nala is included as she is part of the Pride’s royal family and [SPOILERS] becomes Simba’s wife.
Here is the list I will be writing about in the next few months. (in chronological order of release):
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Princess: Snow White
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Robin Hood (1973)
Princess: Maid Marian
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The Lion King (1994)
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Princess’: Elsa & Ana
Coming up next in the ‘Wicked Wiles’ series: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.