Disney Princesses and Gender Politics: When will it end?

beauty and the beast, film, musical, disney, princess

Jessica Clot
BURSTOUT Contributor

Jessica is a student at Queen Mary, University of London. She has a passion for theatre and drama, and often writes for CUB magazine, the university's official arts and culture magazine.

In the last few years, there has been an increasing criticism on Disney’s portrayal of the Disney Princesses. Whether it is a feminist perspective stating that women should not wait for a ‘prince’ to alleviate their suffering or a Marxist reading, claiming Cinderella’s oppression was only ended through marriage, she joins the bourgeoisie leaving her proletariat identity behind, these criticisms are damaging the essence of Disney. Remember, they are just films designed for our entertainment.

Disney films offer a form of escapism from reality, a make believe world where dreams are encouraged. Disney offers people a chance to be happy, it is not necessarily damaging to have hope and dreams. Without aspirations, the belief that a person’s place and social position in the community is fixed might permeate throughout society, preventing individuals from striving for a better life.

Secondly, the Disney Princesses are fictional characters based on human characteristics. In most cases, the main protagonists are three dimensional characters equipped with a large emotional tool box. If finding ‘true love’ was that simple, it would make it less special. By following the Princesses personal journey, women pine over wanting a pure love. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel and Eric’s difficulties in being together and consistent loyalty to one another might encourage women’s desire to be treated properly within a relationship. Surely this is a positive outcome? A friend of mine said to me that the emphasis on the characters being ‘Princesses’ is too strong, they are just people, not a true representation of the past Royal Monarchy and if they were, then all the girls would have arranged marriages made for political advantages. Instead, these characters embody what it is like to be a young teenage girl, to have hope, fears and the need to love and be loved.

Every Disney Princess film ends with a perfect ‘happy ending’ between a man and woman. The claim that Disney focuses too heavily on unrealistic heterosexual romantic love does not take into consideration that other social issues are addressed also. In The Little Mermaid film, the final scene shows Ariel waving goodbye to her family, crying on her wedding day. The acknowledgement of family ties, loss and separation, further increases the essence of humans feeling a mix of emotions at once. In recent films, Disney’s themes have branched out, focusing on family love in both Frozen and Brave. No, there are no lesbian Disney Princess storylines yet to address LGBT issues but certainly the perception that Disney assures all dreams come true when marrying a ‘prince’ is a grand sweeping generalisation.

In current society, so much emphasis is placed on providing true representations of life. Yes, Disney Princess films portray an idealistic, peaceful world but at the end of a long working day which one cheers you up: watching the news or watching a Disney film. A little escapism can surely do no harm.

We are not forced to live by the code of Disney Princesses, so enjoy your favourite old time classic and ignore the negativity surrounding the gender politics.

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