Why the Disney Princesses Need Moana

“Moana you’re so amazing” – Maui

Moana soared onto our screens on Friday and has gained her place as one of Disney’s best female characters. Long rumoured to be the next ‘Disney Princess Film’, Moana has been highly anticipated this year, with merchandise and character meet and greets beginning before the film is even released. However, in the film Moana herself denies being a princess and she is constantly referred to by Disney as a ‘heroine’ during press releases and interviews.

But, Moana needs to be crowned as a Disney Princess.

It seems that in recent years, Disney is moving away from adding characters into the Princess Franchise. Frozen was released in 2013, and neither Anna or Elsa (who despite her queen status could kind of still be counted) have been added into the franchise. Disney seems to be happy with what the Frozen brand is producing on its own rather than adding to an already established franchise.

Therefore, with the introduction of Moana I worry that she will be excluded as a Disney Princess, with Disney preferring to market her as a stand-alone brand. And this seems to have been confirmed by an unnamed Disney spokesperson. This does suggest that Moana doesn’t need the Disney Princesses, however, the Disney Princesses need Moana.

The Princess Franchise has always been a powerful part of the brand, however few of the princesses can be considered role models for young girls. The Franchise is also not particularly diverse, with seven of the eleven princesses being Caucasian and only four being Princesses of Colour. This is not representative, and often the Princess of Colour films were racially inaccurate and not reflective of their culture. The lack of positive gender roles and Princesses of Colour is the Disney Princess Franchise’s biggest issue. Bringing Moana into the brand will not solve it, but she will help the brand take a progressive step towards diversity.

The first thing that sets Moana apart from the other Princesses (even Merida) is that there is absolutely no love interest. Although the original story line contained a love interest, which was the reason for Moana’s journey, this story was changed. This meant that the entire film focused on Moana and her own path of self-discovery, rather than featuring her desire for love or a relationship unlike so many other princesses. I found that this was one of the most refreshing things about Moana, as I could focus my attention solely on Moana’s journey to saving her island.

The second is that Moana mainly consists of female characters, although Maui and Moana’s father play a large role, it is Moana, her mother, her grandmother and Te Fiti that are at the centre of the story. The representation of positive relationships between women is something rarely seen in a Princess film to this extent. Although a kind man, Moana’s father reminded me a little of Ariel’s controlling and patriarchal father who eventually sees the error of his ways. However, it is Moana’s mother and grandmother who help and support Moana when she begins her journey to find Maui. Once Moana finds the demi-god, he is initially brash and rude to her (based on her age rather than her gender), but eventually supports and empowers her by teaching her how to sail and navigate properly like her ancestors once did. This results in Moana being completely independent when she journey’s to face Te Kā the lava demon.

Third, the ‘villain’ of the film is a woman. In Disney films, female villains often become evil due to their fixation on beauty and youth such as the Evil Queen and Mother Gothel. Although there are some female villains (notably Maleficent, Cruella de Vil and Ursula) who are evil for reasons other than beauty and youth. And carrying on from this, Te Kā (who is actually Te Fiti without her ‘heart’ that Moana is trying to restore) has become evil because her ‘heart’ that has the gift of life has been removed by Maui many years earlier. Despite what her grandmother once thought, it is Moana who restores Te Fiti’s heart, and rather than destroying the villain, Moana helps Te Kā realise who she truly is – another empowering moment for women in the film. This also shows that women supporting one another can have a truly positive impact – the act transforms Te Kā back into Te Fiti, and restores all the decaying islands, including Moana’s home.

I could list many more reasons as to why Moana is so different to her princess predecessors (and I probably will in the future), but after watching the film for the first time on Friday, these are the three reasons that really stand out. It is because of these three points and more that Moana needs to be crowned as a Disney Princess. Moana is a strong, independent, autonomous agent within the Disney Franchise, and is a progressive step to a more diverse Disney universe.

At the moment, it seems that Moana will remain a heroine, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The way that the film has been marketed in recent months show that Disney wants the film to be a success, and I am sure that it will be. Moana doesn’t really need the Disney Princesses, but the Princesses could really benefit from having such a strong role model for children introduced into the franchise.

Thank you for reading this blog post! If there are any questions, feedback, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email me or post in the comment box below! Please note that any comments made on my blog posts may be used in my research, if you are not comfortable with this you may retract your post at any time by emailing me, or you can maintain your anonymity by posting as a guest.

Disneypol

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What the World can learn from Disney Princesses

The world of Disney and education combined last week when a lesson plan teaching children about sexism and racism within Disney films – specifically those of the Disney Princesses – emerged on a teaching website. The lesson plan mainly focuses on the gender issues that the Disney Princesses present, but also discusses racism within the films as well. And according to Tory MP Phil Davies, teaching children about sexism and racism represented in the media is “politically correct claptrap” rather than a valuable life lesson.

If we were to take the Online Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of ‘politically correct’, then it would be a person who “believes that language and actions that could be offensive to others, especially those relating to sex and race, should be avoided”. This seems like a reasonable belief, which should be passed on to children. Therefore, teaching children about gender issues in Disney Princess films is not ‘claptrap’, its teaching children the way gender is represented through a popular media outlet, and how that can affect the way women and men are represented in society. Lessons like these can teach children respect for others and how to value and promote a diverse society.

That’s not to say there are issues with the lesson plan’s PowerPoint. It makes various misguided comments about the Disney Princesses throughout, which is the main thing that should be focused on rather than there being an issue with it being taught to children.

Taking Snow White as the first example, the presentation states “She doesn’t mind housework because she is sure that a rich young man will soon come and take her away”. This isn’t really the case. Snow White is by no means a role model to young girls, the film has very stereotyped characters: the young domestic princess, the seven men who go to work every day and come home to a cooked meal, the prince who ultimately saves the princess from her sleeping curse, and don’t forget the vain and evil stepmother. To give credit to Snow White, although she is what I would call the archetype of the ‘domesticated’ female, she is not “sure that a rich young man will soon come and take her away” as the lesson plan would suggest. Yes, she dreams about love – which is very clearly displayed in two songs “I’m Wishing [for the one I love]” and “Some Day my Prince Will Come” – but this is not evidence for Snow White not ‘minding’ housework. Snow White was brought up as a maid by her evil stepmother; the majority of her life has revolved around housework, therefore it is doubtful that Snow White is ‘putting up’ with housework until a prince whisks her away. It is more likely that housework comes as second nature to her than anything else. However, what the lesson plan fails to discuss is that the lack of positive female relationships and the gendered stereotypes are the problem with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Teaching children that some films do have negative qualities that affect the way women and men are represented in the media is valuable, not brainwashing them as MP Phil Davies has stated.

The second issue with this lesson plan is that it does not take into account the progress that has been made with the princesses, regardless of how small. The lesson plan then moves on to discuss Ariel of The Little Mermaid, stating, “Ariel is the same as the earlier Disney heroines”. Although Disney took a positive step forward by portraying Ariel as much more rebellious than her predecessors, it is true that The Little Mermaid was not as progressive as it could have been, partially due to the lack of positive female relationships. Also, the lesson plan does not discuss the main problem within the film to a deep enough extent. The main issue with The Little Mermaid is that Ariel has to choose between – as Laura Sells puts it in From Mouse to Mermaid – having her voice and having access to the human world. This is not a positive message for a children’s film to display, therefore children should learn to think about these messages critically. The Telegraph reported that Chris McGovern, Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education stated, “These lesson plans represent an ignorant, insidious and covert attack on family values and on the ancient wisdom of fairytales”. Teaching children about ways to interpret messages that films send is not an “attack on family values”, it not only provides children with critical thinking skills, but also offers children a chance to reflect on how gender is reflected in the media, and what that can mean within culture.

The final example that the lesson plan uses in detail is Belle in Beauty and the Beast: “The movie says, if a young woman is pretty and sweet-natured, she can change an abusive man into a kind and gentle man. In other words, it is a woman’s fault if her man abuses her”. There have been a number of arguments on both sides as to whether Beauty and the Beast has elements of Stockholm syndrome and abuse, and the majority are still undecided. One thing that we can be sure of, is that the minute Belle steps into the castle she is objectified as the girl who has come to “break the spell” by Lumiere the Candelabra. However, teaching children about the concept of objectification that is presented within Disney films is not a bad thing at all. Surely it is important that children learn from a young age that objectification is unacceptable, and by creating a safe environment to discuss this we minimise the risk of objectification in the future?

With the amount of exposure that different media platforms have within society, we should be teaching children that there are various films that promote certain gender and racial stereotypes. The use of film in education is just teachers providing children with a different platform to think about the promotion of negative gender and racial stereotypes. It doesn’t mean children can’t watch and enjoy Disney films. This isn’t brainwashing, and it certainly isn’t politically correct claptrap. We should be teaching children not to intentionally offend or disadvantage groups in society in order to prevent discrimination in today’s world.

Thank you for reading this blog post! If there are any questions, feedback, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email me or post in the comment box below! Please note that any comments made on my blog posts may be used in my research, if you are not comfortable with this you may retract your post at any time by emailing me, or you can maintain your anonymity by posting as a guest.

Disneypol

Return of the Feminist Role Model

The last time we saw Leia was with Luke Skywalker after Lando and Chewbacca went off in search of Han Solo. This could be interpreted as leaving the damsel to avoid the distress, or Leia could have stayed to make sure Luke was okay. Regardless, Leia was left instead of going to try and rescue the love of her life. But still, Leia returns as our feminist role model.

Return of the Jedi begins in a different way… We see a lot of Jabba’s palace, including the women he has dancing for him and tied up in chains. One of the main problems I have with Star Wars from a feminist perspective is how few women are properly featured within the films. Yes, we have a Leia and they are some women dotted around as extras here and there. However, Jabba’s women are shoved into the spotlight during the scenes at his palace and are essentially objectified. The only purpose they serve is for the male gaze – or Jabba’s gaze in this case – which is hardly encouraging for any women of any age watching this film.

After this disappointing beginning we see that an unidentified bounty hunter has brought in Chewbacca – however it is revealed that night that it is in fact Leia who has come to rescue Han Solo. She frees Han and soothes him when he panics after becoming conscious – explaining to him “I gotta get you out of here”. This is a nice role reversal for women in film. Rather than use the damsel in distress trope, it is Leia who conducts the rescue mission rather than any of the men in the film – and her actions are not questioned. However, this is short-lived when Jabba catches them, imprisons Leia and sentences Han and Luke to death.

The next time we see Leia we can see she is also a subject of the male gaze and objectification, forced to lie by Jabba in a revealing outfit. As the execution is taking place, Leia is seen to be loosening her chains despite Jabba keeping a tight grasp around her. He tells her, “Soon you will learn to appreciate me”. Leia seems to be completely trapped and when you watch this for the first time, you may fear the damsel in distress trope has returned. Of course, Leia never fails to disappoint and as soon as Luke, Han and Chewie are escaping from their fate Leia turns the power off and strangles Jabba to death with the chains he bound her in. Leia then frees herself from her chains using R2D2 and is rescued by Luke to get on board their escape ship. I think Leia killing Jabba is an important moment. Using the chains her freedom was bound by, Leia created a situation to free herself with those same chains. This is an important message for women and girls: don’t let something chain your freedom, and if it does – use what binds you to free yourself.

Once they are all safe Han thanks Luke for coming back for him, despite it being Leia that truly rescued him. However the audience are reminded of Leia’s integral importance through Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi. It is here that Leia’s force sensitivity is suggested properly for the first time, that there is another Skywalker. Although this is the last real emphasis that is placed on Leia being force sensitive. It is a shame as it would have been progressive to have a female Jedi featured in the original trilogy. However, Leia’s skills also lie in diplomacy, which is an important role for a woman to have in this seemingly male dominated universe.

When there is a plan to infiltrate the new battle station on Endor, Leia is one of the first to volunteer to help Han, a role that she completely dedicates herself to. Not only do we see her return to action in Stormtrooper chases, but also we see her befriend and help the Ewoks, which provides them with an ally to defeat the Stormtroopers on Endor. This rapport between Leia and the Ewoks is also emphasised when a Stormtrooper captures her. Leia defeats the Stormtrooper thanks to the help of Wicket the Ewok. It is made clear she is very important to the Ewoks when Wicket takes her to meet the rest of the group.

Leia’s importance is also recognised by Luke Skywalker when he informs her they are siblings: “If I don’t make it back you’re the only hope for the alliance”. Although this is slightly big headed of Luke, I can see the sentiment is there. Obviously it is Luke that will ultimately need to bring balance to the force, but Leia’s contributions are invaluable to the cause and should not be held as ‘second place’. He follows on to say that Leia has always been strong, so it is clear that Luke only has kind and honourable intentions. However, Han also notices this moment and seems to interpret it in a different way – thinking that Luke and Leia are in love. Once again this reminds the audience of the love triangle that has been created between the three heroes. If you have read my previous posts you will know how I feel about this unnecessary love triangle. However, this is followed by a moment between Leia and Han where she asks him to hold her after he apologises for his behaviour. There is often a dichotomy between men and women in society, with the former being described as logical and the latter as emotional. I think this scene is an important move away from this stereotypical dichotomy. We can see both Han and Leia can portray both these traits – a progressive step for breaking traditional gender roles.

When the Battle of Endor commences, Leia covers for Han using a blaster whilst he tries to hotwire the bunker, however she is shot and they are caught. Leia uses her good arm to shoot both Stormtroopers so they can escape and gain control of the bunker. This is a pivotal moment in the film as it allows them to disarm the deflector shields in order to enable the rebels to attack the Death Star.

Meanwhile, Luke has been battling with his father Vader, who has eventually seen the light side and sacrifices himself for his son. In Vader’s death scene, Leia is barely mentioned and it seems to be a truly father and son moment. Although in a sense I can appreciate this, Vader has met Leia but not when he was aware of her parentage. Luke is the only child he has ever known, however on the other hand excluding Leia from this moment is unfair on her character. This moment is again emphasised at the end of the film when Vader returns in the form of Anakin’s spirit with Obi-Wan and Yoda – it is only Luke that can see them. This firmly plants the message that despite everything, Leia does not receive the hero’s ending. Unfortunately, the ending that Leia receives is the knowledge that she assisted in defeating the Empire and her reward, which seems to be the love of Han Solo.

These achievements should not be belittled. Leia played a key part in the defeat of the Empire, however I feel her role has not been emphasised enough. The final time we see Leia she is with Han Solo, rather than being able to see her father and the man she asked for help for in the first place, Obi-Wan. Leia is a strong female character and a role model for all, however the ending of the Return of the Jedi did not necessarily do her the justice she deserved.

 

Thank you for reading this blog post! If there are any questions, feedback, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email me or post in the comment box below! Please note that any comments made on my blog posts may be used in my research, if you are not comfortable with this you may retract your post at any time by emailing me, or you can maintain your anonymity by posting as a guest.

Disneypol

Leia Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back finds Princess Leia at the forefront of the Rebel Alliance once more at their newly found base on Hoth. Although we can see that Leia is still an important leadership figure within the Rebel Alliance, we are also reminded that she is still the love interest of Han Solo. When she makes no reaction to his leaving, Han storms off in his typical Han way. Leia will not pander to his needs, however is not afraid to tell him that the Rebel Alliance needs him at this time of crisis – especially with Vader still searching for the new Rebel base. Leia is clearly a woman dedicated to her cause, not allowing any personal feelings she may have get in the way of her end goal. This type of character in a film franchise raises the question “can women have it all?” or, will Leia have to choose between a relationship/family life or her leadership role within the Rebel Alliance like so many women still have to in our society today. I think this is a key theme within the character of Leia, something that is explored in future films as well as Episode V.

Whatever feelings Leia does have for Han, she once again puts them aside to ensure she gets Luke Skywalker home, as he has not been seen for the majority of the day. After asking Han to go and search for him, both men have been missing for a considerable amount of time. She does not want to close down the base for the night knowing they are still out there, however Leia knows that she must in order to keep the rest of the base safe. This scene contradicts the traditional stereotype of women being emotional and unable to make rational decisions. Here, we can see that although Leia listens to her emotions, she is perfectly able to make rational decisions instead of being portrayed as a woman who is constantly reliant upon men. This is a very important part of her leadership style. Throughout the film we regularly see Leia in the control room, giving talks to the rebel pilots and taking advice from other members of the Alliance. This is an important message that Leia is sending to girls and women – a woman is strong and can be in a leadership role without questioning. This is not seen enough within films.

However, after this powerful scene Han once again reminds us that he must of course be the object of Leia’s affections and this is why she will not allow him to leave (despite the weather outside). Leia questions where he gets his delusions from and to reinforce her lack of feelings towards Han, kisses Luke. This action reminds us that Leia is perhaps unknowingly caught in a love triangle between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, which this scene has reignited. Once Leia leaves, Luke smugly looks over at Han – which Han does not seem to appreciate. In terms of whether this undermines Leia, I am not convinced. Would I rather that Leia is not being subtly battled over by two men? Yes – I am not entirely sure what it brings to the story or any of the characters. However, I do not believe anyone could think any less of Leia for what is happening, if anything it is Luke and Han who perhaps need to think about their actions.

Despite Han’s questionable actions at times, we can see that beyond his arrogant exterior he does genuinely care for Leia. When the Rebel Base comes under attack by Darth Vader, Han helps Leia escape on the Millennium Falcon, and Leia returns the favour by helping Han and Chewbacca fix the Millennium Falcon when it experiences some technical difficulties. At one point she is seen to be struggling with a certain piece, where in which Han tries to intervene. Leia throws him off, determined to finish the job herself. This also shows the multi dimensional character that Leia is, although she is standoffish with Han (which one could argue is slightly uncalled for), it is most probably because she wants to do things herself. Once they reach a more common ground, Han kisses Leia and we once again see chemistry between the two characters before it comes to an end with the interruption from C-3PO. This kiss could also suggest that Leia can ‘have it all’ as she continues in her leadership role regardless of any potential relationship with Han Solo. However, this remains to be seen.

Han suggests that they visit his friend Lando once they have evaded the Imperial Fleet. Upon meeting Leia, Lando greets her with “Hello, what have we here?” followed by a kiss on the hand. This is the first time in the film where a male character has made subtle comments and actions about her physical appearance and gender to her face. Although Leia does not look too impressed with this, she does not make any comments. Instead, Leia tells Han about her suspicions of Lando, which fall on deaf ears. Instead, when they next meet Lando, he once again comments on Leia’s looks: “You look absolutely beautiful”. Once again, Leia does not respond to this, preferring to ignore Lando. I am unsure why Leia says nothing in response to these comments – perhaps because she feels unsafe in her environment she does not want to make matters worse, or perhaps she does not feel as though these comments warrant a reply. What Lando says could be regarded as a throw away comment – however I feel it is an important one as this is the first time Leia has essentially been objectified to her face. In a perfect world it would have perhaps been better for Leia to give one of her usual witty responses or at least a scornful look.

It seems that Leia’s suspicions were correct when we see that Darth Vader and the Empire have arrived in order to capture the rebels in order to create a trap for Luke Skywalker – who has been training to become a Jedi with Yoda. Vader agrees that Han is to be taken to Jabba the Hutt after being carbon-freezed, and Chewbacca and Leia are to remain with Lando. Understandably, Chewbacca becomes very distressed upon hearing this and is violent towards his captors. However it is Han who calms his friend down, telling him: “The princess – you have to take care of her”. On the one hand, this is a sweet gesture and implies that Han does have genuine feelings for Leia. On the other, this reinforces the protector/protected dichotomy that place women as the weaker gender. We have seen from Episode IV that Leia is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Although it would be better if Leia stayed with Chewbacca, not for her own safety, but more for companionship (especially if they were to plan an escape), perhaps Han’s request could have been reworded. Despite this, Leia tells Han that she loves him, and holds onto Chewbacca as Han meets his fate.

Luke has arrived too late to save Han Solo, however Leia tries to inform Luke of the trap set for him by resisting restraint in order to protect her friend when she sees him. Once she and the other rebels can escape, we see Leia reunited with a blaster and we are reminded of Leia’s combat skills. It is also at this point in the film where we can see that Leia is force sensitive. When Luke has lost his hand and is clinging for his life at the bottom of the floating city, he makes a desperate attempt to speak to Leia through telepathy. She senses this and forces Lando to return for Luke, saving his life.

Once Luke is on board, Leia tends to his wounds, which on one hand shows Leia’s tendency as a care giver (which has perhaps been reinforced by the other women she has known in her life), but on the other shows she cares for her friend. However, when the Millennium Falcon comes under attack, Leia leaves Luke in order to assist Chewbacca and Lando. At some point it appears that she is co-piloting the ship, which shows that she can take initiative and is confident in herself to try new (perhaps) things. Once they manage to get away from the Imperial Fleet again, Lando and Chewbacca leave Luke and Leia upon the Rebel medical frigate, presumably to go and rescue Han Solo.

In light of this, Leia is still an incredibly strong character since A New Hope. Her leadership skills, confidence and assertive nature all serve her as three of her greatest assets. Princess Leia remains a fantastic role model to audiences. This time we can see a few flaws within her character, especially her reluctance to challenge Lando on his comments about her appearance. However, maybe no reaction is better than her gushing all over him… Leia has a lot more in store for us in the coming weeks, I wonder what Return of the Jedi will bring!

 

Thank you for reading this blog post! If there are any questions, feedback, or requests for future posts, please feel free to email me or post in the comment box below! Please note that any comments made on my blog posts may be used in my research, if you are not comfortable with this you may retract your post at any time by emailing me, or you can maintain your anonymity by posting as a guest.

Disneypol

Why #YesAllWomen Is Totally Okay

Today, to celebrate my first ever blog post, I want to talk about something that has been going crazy on the internet.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, it’s #YesAllWomen.

This started over the last month or so, with women from all over the world explaining how, in one way or another, sexism affected their everyday lives. You can take a look at them here: https://twitter.com/hashtag/YesAllWomen?src=hash

I also tweeted my experiences of sexism, and created my own hashtag: #RelyingOnPatriarchyToGetOutOfPatriarchy after I realised that when trying to reject male advances, an example of a woman’s ‘go to’ response, whether single or not, is “Sorry, I have a boyfriend”. There are at least two things wrong with this response. Firstly, why are we apologising for saying no? You wouldn’t apologise for saying no to a packet of crisps would you? Secondly, why are we relying on a made up male, (or our own boyfriend for that matter) to reject another man’s advances? Why should we have to have an excuse to just say ‘no’?

Then this really got me thinking, how often do women end up using patriarchy as a way of getting out of patriarchy because of social construct? From previous personal experience? A hell of a lot. This is not only something that is probably experienced by most women, but it is also produced within the media. This leads me to thinking about how, as a child, I could see female characters being portrayed in Disney films as relying on patriarchy to get out of patriarchy. Am I saying Disney could be the sole reason why this happens? Of course not! Disney have produced many inspiring female protagonists, especially in their later years of production. Nonetheless, I can see that within some of the second generation princesses, i.e. Ariel (The Little Mermaid) and Jasmine (Aladdin), these characters are portrayed as being reliant on men, to escape from the patriarchy in their lives.

 

The Little Mermaid (1989)

In my opinion, Ariel is one of the least feminist Disney Princesses’, aside from the first generation princesses, i.e. Snow White (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves), Cinderella (Cinderella), and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). At first you can see Ariel’s clear defiance of practically everyone in the ocean, she dreams of being a human, and undoubtedly makes it happen for herself, defies the evil sea witch Ursula and lives happily ever after with her man. What’s not to love? When I first began planning my dissertation, I was under the impression that Ariel was fairly feisty because of her rebellious nature. However when one looks deeper into her role within the film, we can see something completely different.

Although King Triton loves his daughter, we can see that his constant protection over Ariel makes her feel pretty suffocated. Unlike her sisters, Ariel has a quirky and curious nature, preferring to spend her time exploring ship wrecks as opposed to singing in a concert (that’s dedicated to her) in front of her father. The constant overpowering, controlling and almost patriarchal ways of Triton, cause Ariel to attempt to rebel more, especially when she sees the man she claims she has fallen in love with after only twenty seconds and risks the exposure of her species and her life by saving him from a storm. That kids, is love at first sight. So, after Ariel has decided she now definitely wants to be a human because of her ‘love’ for Eric, and Triton finds the statue she salvaged from the ship wreck, Triton goes bananas. To escape the controlling ways of her father, she is led to the evil sea witch Ursula who offers her a solution. To become a human permanently, Ariel must give up her voice as payment, and be kissed by her ‘true love’ Eric by the end of three days. Basically, in order for Ariel to escape the patriarchy of her father, she has to give up one of the only thing that defines her – her voice – with the hope, that another man will save her. Worst of all, even though we give feminist points to Ariel for querying how she will communicate with him, and worrying she would never see her father or family again, Ursula makes a simple reply of, “You’ll have your man”, and:

“You’ll have your looks, your pretty face.
And don’t underestimate the importance of body language, ha!

The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber
They think a girl who gossips is a bore!”

Now I know this is a song, but lets think about this: what kind of message does this send to children? The first thing that is socially constructed for gender roles is ‘don’t worry about the fact you are abandoning your family for your ‘love’ you will have him and as long as you have a man, everything is fine. Secondly, a woman should not be concerned about having a voice in society, because her real purpose is her looks and how she presents herself. A woman must communicate with others through her looks, because thirdly, men do not want a woman that talks too much. In five lines Ursula has presented to young children something that all feminists fear, a stereotypical gender for women that ultimately forces women back into the private sphere instead of the public sphere.

 

Aladdin (1992)

Princess Jasmine, although feisty, does unfortunately reduce herself to using patriarchy to escape patriarchy. At fifteen years old, she is being forced to marry another man by her father. Although she rejects this idea, claiming that she is not a “prize to be won”, and that she wishes to marry for true love, she does end up betrothed to Aladdin at the end of the film, using Aladdin as a tool to escape the patriarchy of her father and Jafar. Jasmine’s father does mean well, he does not force her to marry a specific man, he just keeps inviting suitors to stay and discusses the political implications of the marriage. You would think the first time a woman said ‘no’, it probably meant ‘no’, however, what does a woman know about her own life decisions right?

Before we even arrive at the idea of Jasmine using patriarchy to get out of patriarchy, it is vital to address the evil Jafar’s role in the film. As Jasmine’s father’s chief advisor, he is an aspiring Sultan himself. Once he realises that by marrying Jasmine, his powers will escalate, he does everything in his power to achieve his goal. Throughout the film he refers to Jasmine as a “shrew”, and often belittles her:

“You’re speechless I see, a fine quality in a wife.”

Only as one grows older do we see the sexism portrayed by certain characters in Disney films, and Jafar is certainly one of them. Even the male protagonist, Aladdin objectifies Jasmine, claiming he will “win” her to be his wife. Although he does see the errors of his ways and wins Jasmine back around with the wonderful magic carpet ride, once can’t help but think whether Aladdin would still see Jasmine as his “prize” for all his hard work, the man who she is supposedly in love with, and he her.

Worser still, before Jasmine can be reunited with Aladdin-in-disguise-Prince-Ali, in order to escape from the evil Jafar, she has to use her sexuality to attempt to save herself by kissing Jafar. This reduction presents women as having a specific set of tools, which are namely their looks and their body language, as the good sea witch Ursula previously pointed out. However, when Jasmine’s plan fails, Aladdin ultimately swoops in and saves the day, and Jasmine – the damsel in distress. After this ordeal ends, Jasmine’s father blesses the marriage between Jasmine and Aladdin, suggesting that although Jasmine has got what she wants – a marriage for love – she has still had to use another man to escape patriarchy.

“But this is a children’s film!” I hear you cry. EXACTLY. If children watch this what kind of thoughts are they going to develop of their own role within society, both girls and boys? For girls, they have to look nice and presentable in order to fall in love with a man they have just met and live happily ever after. For boys, they save the woman and therefore the day, and are the hero of a story that is not even about them, especially in Prince Eric’s case. Of course a six year old is not going to be thinking any of this whilst watching the film, but subconsciously they will adapt their position in society to be more like one of their favourite Disney Princesses. Of course I still love both of these films, however I do think that in order for Disney to maintain their positive impact on children’s lives, they must think about the gender roles they portray within their films. Given, more recent films such as Frozen and Maleficent do provide a more stable and powerful female protagonist, however Disney still have a long way to come before they themselves can demolish the gender gap.

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