The Disney Princess Feminist Fail.


Via Feministe, via Sociological Images. As this commenter notes, where are Mulan, Pocahantas, Giselle and Lauren notes the absence of Tiana, first African American princess who were all also constructed as racist and sexist stereotypes. Disney doesn’t discriminate who they create sexist caricatures out of, that is for sure.

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134 Comments

  1. Justine
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I think this poster is over simplifying things. First of all, none of these Princesses are original characters–each of their stories are adaptations of cultural folk tales that weren’t necessarily meant to empower women in the first place.
    Also, while I agree that Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella all fit the bill for passive beauties waiting for their prince to rescue them, their stories include other interesting female characters. Much of the action in Sleeping Beauty is orchestrated by Maleficent, Flora, Fauna, and Merrywether, who are all intelligent and proactive; Maleficent is cunning to say the least, and without the aid of the “Good Fairies,” the Prince would’ve been unable to defeat her. Both Snow White and Cinderella feature female villains, who while are intended to embody evil itself, show that women can be both passive damsel and formidable adversary.
    As for Ariel, Jasmine, and Belle, each relies on more than just good looks and a fondness for animals. Belle is portrayed as a highly intelligent woman who is impervious to others’ criticism of her “bookish” ways. She doesn’t save the Beast with her sexuality (which is not her only asset), but with her ability to feel empathy and compassion towards others; she and the Beast are initially hostile, but come to build a relationship based on mutual trust and admiration. Plus Belle is stubborn and not afraid to speak her mind. Ariel actually saves Prince Eric’s life, and she doesn’t change her physical appearance because he won’t accept her as a mermaid, but because being a mermaid who must live in the ocean is an impediment to her being able to get physically closer to him. Also, as has been mentioned in another comment, Eric does love her and would’ve kissed her had it not been for Ursual’s interference. Jasmine may have had Aladdin’s help in being saved from Jafar, but she participates in her own rescue by helping Aladdin. And hey, she gives her father no end of trouble because she is unwilling to accept the limited options convention provides for her.
    These characters aren’t feminist icons or obvious examples of female-empowerment, but some of them (and some of the other characters in their stories) shouldn’t be dismissed as nothing but sexist caricatures–that actually sends the message that if a girl is beautiful and gets rescued by a Prince (or other male-figure), then she must be passive and weak, even if she participates in her rescue or has actually reciprocated it sometime earlier in the story.

  2. Brittany
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I really hate how Tiana – the black princess in the new movie – is a waitress instead of a chambermaid because people said it was racist.
    Um, Cinderella? Oh ok guess it’s not racist because she’s white.
    I loved the Little Mermaid, though, because Ariel was intelligent and inquisitive, but I can see the sexism now that I think about it.

  3. ladybeethoven
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I think there is bias in this in that they do leave out Pocahontas and Mulan, perhaps the two most strong-willed of the Disney Princess line (and know Mulan isn’t a princess, but she’s included in the “Disney Princesses” marketing). I wonder if it’s because they somewhat contradict the creator’s thesis?
    Also, while I take issue with Belle being characterized as only pretty – it seems in the movie like her bookishness is her primary trait – I don’t think Beauty and the Beast is exactly a feminist tale. The Beast treats Belle like shit until the curse is broken, and yet she stays with him anyway. That’s why the movie ended up on Cracked.com’s list of Disney movies that teach bad lessons.

  4. baddesignhurts
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    concur.
    besides, the film shows a doofy little montage in which belle and beast are shown playing and enjoying time together, and *that’s* when they fall in love.
    jasmine doesn’t make me want to hurl, either.
    though mulan, pocahontas, and the one from “the hunchback of notre dame” have them all beat.
    having said all that, the fact that my daughter chose to be hermione granger for halloween thrills me beyond belief.

  5. Launchpad
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I loved Belle too, being a fellow bookworm. (However, the quality of her reading material is kinda iffy– how intellectual would you consider someone who reads nothing but romance novels and fairy tales?)
    I hate the whole ‘Disney Princess’ marketing scheme, because it seems to be a push to sell fashion dolls, costumes, makeup, bed sheets, and other assorted junk. Whatever positive attributes these princesses had is left by the wayside because they’re basically vapid product models.

  6. nikki#2
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Two words. Stockholm syndrome.

  7. Posted October 27, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Aurora, Cinderella and Snowhite are laughable.
    But I do not agree with the attitude towards Belle, Mulan, Ariel and Jasmine.
    Yes there is much place for critics about the way they are portrayed.
    BUT… they are more real then the previous princesses.
    They have choices, they are active, funny, stubborn, smart and witty.
    And then the GUY comes…
    Well are we trying to say that women and men never change for a good or bad because of someone else?
    Or the issue is that they are always male and female? Are we saying that it would it be OK if they were both male/female?
    Yes, Ariel and Eric kissed because????
    But I liked the spirit of the mermaid.
    She liked Eric not that much because of him but mainly because he was a human with legs, a thing from a different culture and world.
    And I think it counts. (Well… this actually is a point against Ariel but still)
    Yes, I would be more happy if they didn’t married at the end but became to know each other and stayed in a relationship with more possibilities than marriage.
    This is the same Jasmine and Belle.
    I think this is the main issue with all the princesses. They all marry at the end.
    And about Tiana…
    The movie is still not out so I suppose this is the reason why she is not included in this little poster of shame ;)
    Mulan is one of my favorite characters but I see another issue.
    She and mmm… whatever the name of the guy was fall in love because… well he was the only good looking male who wasn’t made laughable in the movie.
    And because she wanted to prove herself in-front of him.
    Witch is something that usually people do not discuss.
    Anyway… we will see the future what will happen with next princesses and heroines. I suppose they will change in one way or anther.

  8. nikki#2
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Who wore a kimono? I hope your not refering to Mulan because she is Chinese and kimono is a Japanses garment.

  9. kay.bax
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    It also drives me crazy the messages these princesses send once they are marketed. This summer I saw a Disney princess book entitled “Polite as a Princess.” To give you an idea, this is how Random House describes the book: “Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Jasmine, and Ariel aren’t just pretty and sweet—they’re also polite!”
    While I think it’s good for *people* to be polite and kind, I searched everywhere for a companion book called “Polite as a Prince”. SHOCKER. It does not exist.

  10. nikki#2
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Why is Kira from Atlantis always omited from the Disney Princesses?

  11. SwanSong
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I disagree. Belle was never blindly loyal to the Beast – even when he asked her if she was happy, she said yes, but she wanted to see her father again. In addition, when the Beast let Belle go, she wasn’t going to go back until Gaston and the others went to kill him. She intended to stay with and care for her father until that point; he always came before the Beast in her heart. I don’t think she fits the classic model of Stockholm Syndrome, and given the other redemptive qualities of her character, I would consider her a smart, brave heroine who thinks for herself.

  12. dcardona
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Like it or not, a princess is the daughter of a King or Queen. While some American Indian tribes – most notably those in Hawaii – operated under monarchy, Pocahontas’ tribe did not. She also did not enjoy the status of a princess within her own society. She was one of many children (described as a favorite) of the Chief, whose mothers were sent back to be “commoners” after bearing one child. The English were the ones who likened her to a princess because they couldn’t wrap their heads around the “exotic” and strange way of life/government. Would you describe Sasha and Malia Obama as princesses? No; they are the daughters of our leader but, just as in Pocahontas’ case, not princesses.

  13. dcardona
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    You are so right!

  14. http://openid.aol.com/percat6
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    She doesn’t have to get married to him to save him– in fact, it never says straight out that they got married. It shows the two of them dancing at the end, but for all we know, it could be a commitment ceremony, or just dancing for fun! :)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kH2LJVbV72Y
    The big objection I’d have with Beauty & the Beast is their abusive relationship. And as a secondary thing, the relationship between Lumiere and Babette.

  15. http://openid.aol.com/percat6
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I noticed that with The Emperor’s New Groove, too. Latino main character? Let’s turn him into a llama for most of the movie (The Emperor’s New Groove is a great movie, though. I love Kronk’s character– not a clear-cut villain, and while he was a bit on the dumb side, he was also a really kind person… and showed that you can be a total tough guy and still have a sense of morals)!

  16. Athenia
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    I hear what you’re saying.
    But Pocahontas and the Obama girls have power too.
    Probably even more than the other princesses…..I mean, if Disney is only going to market certain characters that derive from a European definition of being a princess…well, that just seems rather limiting.
    I mean, should Disney have a “We’re not technically princesses, but we’re awesome too” group?
    I think this is just the basic problem of the “Disney Princesses”—they’re awesome not cuz they’re awesome, they’re awesome cuz who their dad is or who they married.

  17. Athenia
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Oooo! You have a point there! Never really thought of that! LOL

  18. sparky17
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    i disagree about ariel, belle, and jasmine, but especially ariel. ariels always been my favorite disney princess, mostly because i love mermaids. I think a lot of the movie is getting over-looked. If you watch the movie (like i have 483949310 times), even when she doesnt have a voice shes is a really awesome person for the few days she gets to spend with eric. He laughs with her, is impressed with her curiosity and her spunk, and generally seems to find her fun. Which she is. I always thought that it meant she was so awesome she didnt need to seduce eric with her voice, like she did when she saved him from the ship wreck. She just had to be her fun self.
    She is also only supposed to be a 16 year old girl, not a grown women like the other princesses, which could explain her more “immature” behavior.

  19. alixana
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Um, what?
    This comment makes no sense at all.
    Of COURSE Cinderella being in a subservient position is not racist because she is white. White people do not have a problematic history of being in a subservient position.
    Only a white person with unchecked privilege could wonder why portraying Disney’s first black princess as a chambermaid would be a bad thing.

  20. Athenia
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Sorry I couldn’t think of the Chinese term. That’s why I put kimono in quotes.

  21. Athenia
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Because Atlantis doesn’t exist? :)

  22. Shy Mox
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I always thought Esmeralda kicked ass, although the original story is holy hell depressing, everyone trying to seduce/rape her, and the ending was more depressing :( The Disney film was dark but obviously wanted to avoid the death of the two main characters, so they showed her as an independent woman who is saved not by her love interest but by her friend. It would be awesome if she could save herself but its more of a story of friendship (and she saved him previously too and is what got her in trouble in the first place.) But yeah, she wasn’t a princess technically.
    I liked Belle too, and while you could look at the Beast as abusive she didn’t take it, he had to change to win her heart. And she rejects the conventionally handsome Gaston, even though he looks and acts like a typical Disney prince and is probably the most interesting Disney villain because of that. He doesn’t look evil and really he’s not, but he is controlling, patriarchal, jealous and obsessive.
    Have you ever watched Nostalgia Chick? I like her comment about The Little Mermaid during her Disney villains video, “I sold my soul for a vagina, and a man I don’t know.”

  23. Brittany
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    The point is that people have been crying racism over this movie with no real reason to.
    The name of the movie was originally “The Frog Princess,” but nope, that’s obviously racist, so now the movie is called “The Princess and the Frog.” Come on people, the original story is called “The Frog Prince,” get a grip.
    The princess’s name was originally Maddy, short for the French name Madeline, but nope, that’s a “low-class, common” name, and obviously racist. Right. Now the princess is named Tiana. And now these nit-picky people have made all the girls named Maddy feel bad for having a supposedly low-class name.
    On TOP of that, despite previous princesses being chambermaids, because Tiana is black, IT’S RACIST.
    Not to mention people freaking out that the prince is a few shades lighter than she is, because only people of the same color should be in love.
    If people want racial equality and for people to be colorblind, they need to stop screaming racism over things like this that were obviously not intended to be racist in my opinion.

  24. http://openid.aol.com/percat6
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Was Atlantis a musical?

  25. Brittany
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    “Of COURSE Cinderella being in a subservient position is not racist because she is white. White people do not have a problematic history of being in a subservient position.”
    Also, what. You’re quite wrong here, white people have a history of being slaves.
    Up to one-half of all the arrivals in the American colonies were white slaves and they were America’s first slaves. These whites were slaves for life, long before blacks ever were. This slavery was even hereditary. White children born to White slaves were enslaved too.
    So Cinderella being a chambermaid offends me because white people have been slaves before. I call for the movie to be remade because it’s obviously blatantly against caucasians.

  26. dcardona
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Now I see what you’re getting at. I was just saying why I thought those characters weren’t in the picture, but you have a great point about how limiting the “Disney Princess” campaign is to begin with. Thanks for elaborating.

  27. Eneya
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Aurora, Cinderella and Snowhite are laughable.
    But I do not agree with the attitude towards Belle, Mulan, Ariel and Jasmine.
    Yes there is much place for critics about the way they are portrayed.
    BUT… they are more real then the previous princesses.
    They have choices, they are active, funny, stubborn, smart and witty.
    And then the GUY comes…
    Well are we trying to say that women and men never change for a good or bad because of someone else?
    Or the issue is that they are always male and female? Are we saying that it would it be OK if they were both male/female?
    Yes, Ariel and Eric kissed because????
    But I liked the spirit of the mermaid.
    She liked Eric not that much because of him but mainly because he was a human with legs, a thing from a different culture and world.
    And I think it counts. (Well… this actually is a point against Ariel but still)
    Yes, I would be more happy if they didn’t married at the end but became to know each other and stayed in a relationship with more possibilities than marriage.
    This is the same Jasmine and Belle.
    I think this is the main issue with all the princesses. They all marry at the end.
    And about Tiana…
    The movie is still not out so I suppose this is the reason why she is not included in this little poster of shame ;)
    Mulan is one of my favorite characters but I see another issue.
    She and mmm… whatever the name of the guy was fall in love because… well he was the only good looking male who wasn’t made laughable in the movie.
    And because she wanted to prove herself in-front of him.
    Witch is something that usually people do not discuss.
    I have a personal issue with the Sleeping beauty. In the original story she fights the mother of the prince who accuses her that she has eaten her own children. Which is lost in the Disney’s idea. (All of these princesses are not Disney’s creation and the original stories in most cases are far worse. Especially in the details. Do you know that the Sleeping beauty wasn’t awaken with a kiss, but in more… direct way? )
    I also recommend you to check Grimm Fairy Tales. It a series of comics re-telling popular stories like Sleeping beauty, Jack and Jill, The Beauty and the Beast, Snowhite and so on.
    Despite the absurd physical features of the heroines (long legs, unrealistic boobs, high heels and so on) the tales are pretty scary and well written.

  28. crshark
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Uh-huh. And the beast was quite literally a “beast” throughout most of that flick. But the captioners referred to him as a prince, while referring to the brown-skinned Aladdin as a type of animal. Brown-skinned = animal pretty much, right?

  29. alixana
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Oh for fuck’s sake. You know who wants people to be colorblind? White people. The only people who don’t see color are people who are not of color! It’s called white privilege! You’re embarrassing yourself here.

  30. dcardona
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Your figures are somewhat debatable, but white slavery (as it sometimes existed) had nothing to do with the ethnicity of the slave. For black slaves and the ensuing racism and prejudice all black people in America suffered, it had EVERYTHING to do with race. That’s why it can be seen as offensive and racist – and that’s 101 stuff.
    P.S. Thanks for the plagiarism of Michael Hoffman, Holocaust denier, antisemite, conspiracy theorist, and believer that Jews started anti-black racism with the story of Noah and his son. Awesome.

  31. alixana
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    http://www.racialicious.com/2009/05/13/the-princess-and-the-frog-and-the-critical-gaze-essay/
    Do yourself a favor and STFU and try to learn a bit why the name “Maddy” might be problematic and why criticizing the racial criticism of the movie and its changes just demonstrates your privilege.

  32. Brittany
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    “Oh for fuck’s sake. You know who wants people to be colorblind? White people.”
    I don’t think that -I’m- the racist one here.

  33. Brittany
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Her point was that white people were never subserviant. I was pointing out otherwise, that white people have been slaves.
    Also, I don’t think that the person saying the facts matters, whether it’s Hoffman or not. I can find the same facts elsewhere.

  34. alixana
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    I said white people do not have a problematic history of being in a subservient position. When have white people been oppressed as a group by a dominant group solely because of their race?

  35. katemoore
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I mean any part having anything to do with Gaston.

  36. ikkin
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    I dislike fairytales for alot of reasons, but my biggest beef is that they tell us that love is the greatest achievement and best deus ex machina of all and that’s a really great way to never have to actually do something worthwhile yourself — to wait around for Prince Charming to make you feel great instead of actually being great.

  37. Eneya
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Nostalgia Chick usually speaks lots of stupid things. Her analysis of Pocahontas was extremely stupid. It wasn’t trying to understand the idea of the movie but only criticized it.
    Both of them (The Nostalgia Critic and she) sometimes forget the original audience of the movies they are talking about).
    But yes… this particular line was pretty good.

  38. masily
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    You mean Kida(gakash). Good question, though.

  39. Sass
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    I know I’m taking a disney movie waaay too seriously but I’ve always hated how people take it as unfeminist that ariel can’t speak to the prince or whoever he is, and they fall in love anyway.
    I mean she is *cursed* to be that way- we all know she was a sassy mermaid before, and have no way of telling that she won’t go back to being her old self (personality wise) when her voice is restored.
    Anyway my point is, I think the argument can be problematic- my parents couldn’t speak to each other for weeks and months when they first met due to a language difference yet they still fell in love and got married. This happens all over the world- not just in disney movies.

  40. alixana
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    That’s precisely why I specified that they were only together for a few days and hadn’t really made any progress towards getting to know each other non-verbally.
    WE know she’s a sassy mermaid. The prince doesn’t. He just knows she’s this mysterious girl who appeared out of nowhere the day before yesterday and combed her hair with a fork.

  41. Brittany
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Yes? All I see is her admitting that the whole “Maddy” bullshit is her probably just being paranoid.
    And stop throwing around the fact that I’m “privileged” like the racist person you’re showing yourself to be.
    I’m going to stop replying to you until you get a reality check.

  42. electrictoaster
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Gaston might’ve been a pushy, egotistical douchebag, but I don’t think he ever tried to cut off Belle from her father, kill her father, verbally abuse her, control every minute aspect of her life (comings/goings, what she wears, when she eats), or throw heavy shit at her head, which IIRC are all things Beast did or tried to do. But he had lots of books and a nice castle, so whee! Happily ever after.

  43. alixana
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    A white person calling out white privilege isn’t racism.

  44. Doug S.
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    He kisses her because Sebastian’s singing told him to. ;)

  45. electrictoaster
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Technically, Belle and Cinderella aren’t princesses, either. Belle is an inventor’s daughter; Cinderella is a merchant’s daughter. Marrying a prince doesn’t make one a princess. IIRC, at one point, they were planning on making Tinkerbell a princess (but decided to give her a separate franchise after all). “Princess” is used very loosely in the Disney world.

  46. electrictoaster
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    That’s why, out of the Disney princesses, my favorite two are Mulan and Pocahontas (in that order). I know they’re problematic racially, but I think out of the two, they’re the only ones who actually did something useful besides land a man.

  47. Doug S.
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Well, Gaston did accuse Belle’s father of being insane, had him locked up, and told Belle she’d never see him again unless she married him. He went from merely annoying to outright evil pretty quickly.

  48. electrictoaster
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Mulan is a Disney Princess; she’s not a princess but that doesn’t matter much to Disney. :)

  49. electrictoaster
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t seen it since I was four, so I’ll take your word for it. :) Still, Beast is scarily abusive, so I’d hardly say Belle is good at avoiding creeps.

  50. electrictoaster
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Kida is a princess, but she’s not a Disney Princess. There are several other princesses in Disney movies who aren’t Disney Princesses. Maid Marian, the princesses in the second Mulan movie, Ariel’s daughter, and that little blonde girl in the Black Cauldron.

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