When you think of Disney princesses, feminism probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But why not? Sure, the princesses aren’t real and it’s hard to see cartoon characters as icons for gender equality. But if you look a little closer, you’ll find that several of the Disney princesses were total feminists.
Being a damsel in distress doesn’t exactly scream feminism, does it? At first glance, you might think not. But Disney knows better. Although the princesses of the early days might not lead the feminist parade, Disney has come a long way with its portrayal of princesses. Gone are the days of a sleeping princess waiting for a hunky-looking prince to come along, kiss hiss her, and save her from that eternal nap (and I guess the dragon.) Now, Disney provides us with an array of hard-working, diverse princesses. Nowadays, you see princesses who save themselves as well as their prince. Princesses who have no prince at all. Princesses who have dreams bigger than finding their prince. Let’s take a look at the feminist moments in Disney princess history, and continue to hold society to a higher standard of feminist role models.
1. When Mulan Challenged Gender Stereotypes
Perhaps the most dramatic shift in Disney princess history, was Mulan. Studying the art of femininity, Mulan feels like an outsider as the story opens. Then, in an unexpected twist, she's given the chance to save her father from certain death. She challenges gender stereotypes to save her father's life, and winds up saving her nation. Mulan is portrayed as being able to take care of herself, and has more important priorities than male companionship. She broke the mold, and paved the way for Disney's ever-growing perception of what it means to be a princess.
2. When Tiana Followed Her Dreams
In The Princess And The Frog, Tiana's feminist story takes the lead. It starts the moment the story begins, when young Tiana expresses her distaste with a fairy tale ending of kissing a frog to find a prince. Portrayed as a hardworking character with goals of her own, Tiana shines even when she's turned into a frog. Continuously saving Prince Naveen from his own antics, Tiana keeps her eye on the prize and opens her dream restaurant in the end.
3. When Merida Took Matters Into Her Own Hands
Preferring archery and horseback riding to fancy dresses, Merida of Brave doesn't fit the typical princess mold. Though Disney princesses of the past have rejected the idea of arranged marriages, Merida takes things a step further. The film continues to follow Merida on her adventure towards independence, and showcases the importance of a relationship between mother and daughter, rather than the importance of marrying someone. She's also one of the only princesses to live happily ever after, on her own.
4. When Pocahontas Saved John Smith's Life
Savvy and sassy, Pocahontas stood up to her elders, befriended raccoons, and sang with all the colors of the wind. She also challenged the ideas of everyone around her, and wound up saving John Smith's life, instead of the other way around. I love a good gender challenging role reversal, don't you?
5. When Rapunzel Secured Her Own Happiness
In Tangled, Rapunzel's adventure doesn't revolve around true love, or finding a man. In fact, the only reason she lets the "Prince" (not a prince at all, as it turns out) on her journey with her, is because he serves as a GPS of sorts, leading her to the lights she's so desperate to find. Not letting anything get in the way of her goals, Rapunzel secures her happiness on her own, leading the way and outwitting everyone around her. She's a Disney princess to be proud of.
6. When Anna And Elsa Saved Each Other
The best part of Frozen isn't the singing snowman (although he's pretty great), but the love story between sisters. Disney shook up their typical formula, and instead of letting Anna marry the first guy she set eyes on and swooned over, they put not one, but two princesses on screen — and showed young women everywhere that sisterhood is a bond that saves lives.
7. When Belle Looked Deeper
From the get-go, Belle is portrayed as a well-educated young woman with a mind of her own. She's not interested in the most sought-after pig-headed bachelor in town, and she's always got a book in her hand. Belle introduced a new era of Disney princess to the world, and showed young girls everywhere that treating everyone as an equal, regardless of what they look like, could reap some wonderful rewards.
8. When Jasmine Refused To Be Objectified
Jasmine's dad is uber eager to marry her off to one of her many suitors, because that's just the way things are done. Jasmine has other plans. She refuses to be objectified by her father, her numerous suitors, or Aladdin. "I am not a prize to be won," is one of my favorite Disney princess empowerment moments of all time.