Saturday, July 7, 2012

To be a Princess

Disney Princesses have been taking a lot of flack lately. Between dialogues at Ladies Against Feminism and the Botkin girls often throwing out a random jab to my college professors declaring that Disney Princesses are anti-feminist and the cause of all female identity problems… they’re under a lot of heat. I’ll go out on a limb and admit that I like the princesses and Disney movies and I love going to Walt Disney World. So I’m biased. :-D However, each time I hear someone picking on the Disney princesses, I want to ask them, “Have you ever even seen the movies?” I’ll grant that there’s been a lot of marketing in the last ten years with more merchandise and special trippy sing-along dvd’s then I can count but that’s only a tiny part of the story. In the Botkin’s latest article they insist that their mother, “walked down the Walmart Pink Isle [sic], past all the Disney-heroine Barbies, Disney-movie-inspired vanity playsets, sequined polyester fish-tail skirts with seashells, and itchy yellow off-shoulder Belle dresses, and decided, ‘Not for my daughters.’” Actually, that’s an anachronism. In reality, Disney Princess merchandise was extremely hard to find in the late 1980’s through the mid-1990’s; even costumes were hard to find, expensive, and usually only available from Disney store. Even so, the Disney store was (and still is) only to be found in larger cities and the costumes were only available around Halloween. Plus, the “Disney Princess” franchise/brand really didn’t exist at the time—it was created in 1999. Take it from someone who loved Princess Aurora as little girl but couldn’t find any Sleeping Beauty stuff in the Disney store. Yes, it was that bad. So if Mrs. Botkin was in a pink aisle at Walmart, it probably was a Barbie aisle with no connection to Disney.

All of these discussions aside, who actually takes an animated character and thinks of them as a role model? Even though I loved Princess Aurora as a child, I never thought of her as a role model. When it came down to it, I wanted to be like my mom or another real-life figure when I grew up. Honestly, it’s just not very common to make a cartoon character into a role model. Usually, young people turn to real figures for inspiration―honestly, the Botkins should be arguing against Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place instead of the animated Disney princesses.

Still, if we do consider the Disney princesses worth as examples for young people, what qualities do they exemplify? In this, the real Disney films are what count and I often feel like no one is actually watching them. (By the way, "Brave" is a Pixar film and thus, Merida is not a Disney princess.) So, let’s take a look at each princess, in order of introduction:

Show White (1939): She ran away from a murderous stepmother and was given shelter for a time by a group of kind, older men. She became their housekeeper in return for food and shelter and worked really hard for them. It’s sad that LAF, a Christian group, has tried to make this seem perverted. True... Snow White does sing about her prince coming but hey, don’t most girls occasionally daydream about their future husband?

Cinderella (1950): She was left with her emotionally and physically abusive stepmother and stepsisters when her father died. Yet, Cinderella never let that get her down. She cooked and cleaned and worked and finally, she met someone and left. Yes, he happened to a prince but they married because they loved one another. You’ve got to be a pretty strong person to put up with all the things Cinderella endured.

Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) (1959): She was sent to live with three good fairies because of a death threat and met her prince in the woods. She and Phillip actually liked one another before they found out they were betrothed. In fact, Prince Phillip defied his father and set off to find her when he thought she was a “nobody.” Check out this conversation Phillip has with his father, King Hubert.

Prince Phillip: I said I met the girl I was going to marry. I don't know who she was, a peasant girl I suppose.

Hubert: A peasant g-g-girl? You're going to marry a ... Why Phillip, you're joking! You can't do this to me! Give up the throne, the kingdom, for some, some nobody?

Phillip nods.

Hubert: By Harry, I won't have it. You're a prince, and you're going to marry a princess!

Phillip: Now father, you're living in the past. This is the fourteenth century. Nowadays ...

Hubert: Nowadays I'm still the king, and I command you to come to your senses.

Phillip: ... and marry the girl I love. Goodbye father!

How can you pick on that? Unless you’re a stay at home daughter and then I suppose the “rebellion” would disturb you immensely. Plus, Aurora is obedient to her guardians and goes to the castle even though she wanted to stay and meet Philip. To make it even more painful, she thinks she is betrothed to someone else—and still she goes. That takes a lot of strength.

Ariel (1989): Is in fact the only princess I don’t like because she isn’t a good example at all. She disobeys her father and trades her voice for a guy who isn’t smart enough to recognize her. Plus, there’s that plot hole of why didn’t she just grab Prince Eric and kiss him? He would have kissed her back ;-) and then voila! She’s human! Still, by the end of the film, she does come to appreciate her father and Eric shows that he is worth something after all.

Belle (1991): Belle is wonderful…she has brains, spunk, books, and sacrificial love. The whole film is about sacrifice; I mean, Belle sacrifices herself for her sweet, ill father and then the Beast lets Belle go back to her father, thinking she’ll never return. And then, she comes back to the Beast because she’s his friend and has grown to love him in his ugliness. She ignores the (supposedly) handsome guy back home and sees underneath the Beast’s grotesque exterior.

Jasmine (1992): Another spunky heroine... she actually tries to run away from her privileged life and a future arranged marriage to a prince. Then she falls in love with a boy from the market and she doesn’t like him when he later tries to be something he’s not. Jasmine is strong, determined, and funny; she won’t settle for less than and waits until the right man comes into her life―even if he isn’t of royal blood.

Pocahontas (1995): I’m not a huge fan of the Disney version of Pocahontas because of it’s historical inaccuracies. Still, in the film, Pocahontas is a strong, capable young woman who stands up for her beliefs and saves the life of the man she loves. In the end, she lets go of her wishes and lets him go back to London for medical treatment.

Mulan (1998): Oh, Mulan. To quote the Emperor, “I've heard a great deal about you, Fa Mulan. You stole your father's armor, ran away from home. Impersonated a soldier. Deceived your commanding officer! Dishonored the Chinese army! Destroyed my palace! And!... You have saved us all.” Mulan saves her father’s life, saves her country, and is brave and intelligent in doing so. She’s one of my favorite heroines.

Tiana (2009): Though times are tough, she’s smart and resourceful and even when she’s changed into a frog, Tiana works hard to reach her dream of opening a restaurant. She loves her family, stays devoted to her father’s memory, and never gives up. Yes, she gets married at the end but she didn’t need a guy to be happy.

Rapunzel (2010): The subject of much discussion in stay at home daughter circles. Rapunzel is talented, sweet, gentle, and tough. She saves Flynn Rider’s life after he rescues her (in effect, saving her life) from the evil witch holding her captive. She goes on to rule over her Kingdom with grace and wisdom.

As I go through this list and think about each princess, one key word comes to mind for all of them: strong. Even though I like some of the princesses better than others, I see that all of them are strong, capable young women.  They have dreams of marriage and family... but what girl doesn’t? Yet, none of them go out looking for their prince and continue making the best of their situations. What's more, they're all pretty spunky and I wouldn't classify them as damsels in distress--they're all capable of taking care of themselves. Yes, they’re all pretty and thin but some people are nice-looking and slender. None of the characters are look anorexic either, just healthy. What’s more, the princesses are beautiful on the inside and exemplify qualities worth emulating such as kindness, faithfulness, sacrifice, honor, hope, courage, and love. My friends and I grew up watching Disney movies and we never got the idea that we had to look just like them or sit around and wait for a prince to rescue us—we’re not damaged. Plus, we know that cartoon characters aren't role models―they just make life sweeter and brighter. So, I’m glad my mom wasn’t overly analytic and let me watch Disney films as a child. And I’m glad my parents took me to Walt Disney World and bought me a few special Sleeping Beauty items. Sure we could cut out all dreams, ideals, and romance from our lives and refuse to let our children experience these things... but to what end? Truthfully, I think many people, both liberals and fundamentalists alike, are over thinking the Disney Princess thing. Maybe the recent upsurges in marketing gets on their nerves but promotions don’t change the reality of the films or the characters. I honestly don’t know where people are coming from―I can only conclude that they’re not watching the films at all.