Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In Defense of Disney Princesses

Last night, Ann Aguirre was tweeting about an inspirational YA she was reading. The heroine had to be perfectly pure, perfectly obedient, and anything bad that happened to her, she heartily deserved for the times that she disobeyed.


Even now, in the 21st century, there's a certain implicit (or sometimes explicitly stated) notion that good girls do what they're told. They aren't assertive. They wait for permission. They don't rock the boat. In Brave Pixar shows us a girl who is assertive as hell, cares nothing for permission, and turns the boat upside down. As you might imagine, I approve of that entirely. Oddly enough, though, I keep seeing reviews for Brave that contrast Merida against other Disney princesses to their detriment. Really? Which of those princesses was ever not a rule breaker?  

As much as people slang the Disney princess marketing juggernaut, not a single one of those princesses is a meek milquetoast. Little girls could do a hell of a lot worse than emulating Ariel, Jasmine, and Belle. Merida may be the most recent and overtly headstrong princess, but she's in pretty fine company among those three. Heck, even Snow White didn't just meekly stand by and be killed - she had the stones to run away into the forest, if not to fight back. That was in 1937!

Ariel defied her father's orders to stay away from the land. She had the burning desire to know how others lived. Ariel was driven by curiosity, a thirst for knowledge, a deep, abiding desire to understand what it's like to be someone else. Despite the fact that she was the king's daughter and would have lived the most privileged of lives, she was not content to be just flippin' her fins. When she was told, sorry, no, you can't, she said, yes, I can!  And jumped right in - or out as the case may be.  She was bold, decisive, and clever about executing her plan. It was scary but she was brave, and didn't let her limitations stop her.

Jasmine is another pampered little girl who wants more than to be just a lovely accessory in her father's palace. She's smart, funny, precocious, and not too snooty to befriend a street rat in the bazaar. When the mysterious and fabulously rich Prince Ali appears to romance her, she turns up her nose because he's so obviously tied up in his wealth and prestige. Finding someone who is good to you, who shares your interests, and wealth be damned are truly revolutionary ideas in a princess - and I personally know a lot of women who can take a lesson from that, too. (Self, I'm looking at you.)

Belle is my unabashed favorite. She is one of the few princesses who rebels against her situation without rebelling against her family. She resents being pigeon-holed as a beautiful potential babymaker. She wants adventure in the great white somewhere, not to just darn socks and raise chickens and chase babies. Her father raised her to be bright, imaginative, and curious. He wants the best for her, and while he might not understand what she wants for herself, he supports her entirely. When he is taken prisoner by The Beast, she gives her freedom in exchange for her father's. And yet she never gives up her pride, even in the face of a snarling, raging Beast. When he roars at her, she roars back. She insists that he treat her with respect regardless of their situation. She may be a prisoner, but she isn't going to be broken by him. When The Beast dictates that she must never enter the West Wing, she gets up in there the first chance she gets.

Somewhere along the way, we got caught up in the dresses and the tiaras and yards and yards of pink. We seem to have forgotten that these princesses are bright, curious young women who disregard arbitrary rules, have no time for the propriety that their traditionally rigid lives demand, and insist on making their own choices come hell or high water. They accept the consequences of their actions, and they vigorously chase their happily ever after. Those are some great ideas for little girls to absorb along with the dresses and the frills. Even sweet and obedient Cinderella went out and got her prince when he didn't come along in a timely manner. Get it, girl.
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  1. Assuming that dresses and long, lovely locks make you less a strong and independent woman is as much of a mistake as assuming that being meek is all there is. There is no one true way of being a woman, and being able to be anything or all things is what makes it awesome.

  2. well done. I've been trying to articulate the same thing to many of my peers, now I will just send them here. Thanks