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Disney Presenting Pro-Feminist Females: What Do People Think of This Shift in Pop Culture?

Harriet Norcross, Staff Writer

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Disney’s princesses are not usually known for their strength of character. In the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty, title character Princess Aurora has only 18 lines of dialogue, and otherearly princesses spent the majority of their films doing housework, singing for the entertainment of passing suitors, and marrying whatever man had the inclination to rescue them from ill-meaning older women.

Over the past few years, however, Disney has begun a new trend: the company has been incorporating more and more contemporary values into their so-called “princess movies.”

“I think that it’s admirable of the Disney company to be revisiting their former ideas of how women should act and how women should think,” said long-time Disney fan Abigail Chambers.

Since the first Disney princess movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered in 1939, the princesses have slowly evolved from secondary characters and damsels in distress to heroines of increasing autonomy. In 2009, Princess Tiana of The Princess and the Frog held several jobs, was determined to work to achieve her goals, and refused to be walked over. She took charge of her own salvation and dragged the prince along behind her. Although she was still rescued by a kiss, Tiana proved a first step from Disney into feminism in teaching little girls that hard work would get them what they wanted, rather than waiting around for a man.

Soon enough, princesses weren’t even coupling off: Merida of Brave (2012) refused to get married and relinquish her freedom, saying she would decide her own fate, thank you very much. Rapunzel of Tangled (2010) went so far as to incapacitate and tie up her would-be rescuer using her own hair in a do-it-herself MacGyver fashion, ironically wielding a frying pan—a tool of the stereotypical women’s realm—for a makeshift weapon.

The most feminist—and most recent—princess is actually a duo: Queen Elsa and Princess Anna of Frozen (2013). Queen Elsa is not just a princess but a queen, ruling a major kingdom alone without the assistance of a consort or king. Princess Anna, although originally scammed by a gold-digger prince from a far-off land, learns over the course of the movie the importance of independence and standing up for herself.

The climax of the film revolves around the common “act of true love” trope, but, in a surprisingly untraditional twist, turns out to be not a kiss but an act of selfless sisterly love, which saves the kingdom and teaches little girls all over the world that women can do the  heavy lifting, too. Familial love, instead of romantic love, takes the spotlight. This is a notable breakthrough because Disney’s past emphasis on romantic love tended to set girls up for unrealistic expectations, disappointment, and heartache later in life. The theme of Frozen is more feminist than any other Disney film—one of the essentiality of being assertive and one’s own capability, that women have the power to create their ‘own happily ever after’s.

Kelli Bennion, who grew up with the stereotypical Disney princesses of past decades, said of the impact this new trend has had so far on the younger generations, “I think one positive is that these new characters are teaching girls that you need to follow your own dreams, and take care of yourself before you worry about what anyone else (including handsome princes) thinks about you.”

Parents applaud Disney for taking these steps to discontinue the passive examples they’d been presenting to the younger female audience. “They are…avoiding the princess stereotype of being weak and promoting a realistic view of women and the things they accomplish every day,” said mother of four Liz Norcross. “I like it. I want to see women in these movies who are more like the girls and women I know and love.”

Parents and children alike await the next princess movie impatiently, excited to see what progressive values Disney will incorporate next.

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Disney Presenting Pro-Feminist Females: What Do People Think of This Shift in Pop Culture?