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You Can Be Feminist and Love Older Disney Cartoons

feminist

In recent years, older Disney cartoons have gotten a bit of a bad rep, for being un-feminist and a little date-rapey. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were both kissed without consent, Beauty and the Beast is really a story about Stockholm syndrome, and Ariel gave up her voice for a guy. These are some of the reasons why Kiera Knightley, as mentioned on an interview with Ellen (published 16th Oct 2018), won’t let her daughter near the likes of Cinderella and The Little Mermaid. I am surprised that she would say that about Disney movies, since she was there on the show to promote the recent Disney offering of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, but hey, I guess censorship is a thing of the past if you are an A-list actress.

I am sure she has good intentions, she just wants her daughter to be the best she can be, but I wonder when it became a feminist trait to not need men? Needing someone or something isn’t a weakness, rather, it just makes sense for a best lived life. Feminism asserts the need for equality between men and women, not the ignoring of men and the vacuous yelling of “Down with the Patriarchy!”

Cinderella Just Wanted One Night of Fun

Image result for cinderella

Image via Disney Wiki

If we break down the essence of Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, there are wonderful traits that define both Cinderella and Ariel. Cinderella, despite the losses she faced as a child, never loses her optimism and spirit. She is a hard-worker, kind to animals — it’s no wonder she gets a fairy godmother later on. Moreover, her desire to go to the ball is not because she wanted to woo the Prince, she just wanted one night of fun. They ended up having a connection, and yes it was fast, but if you think about it from the Prince’s perspective, Cinderella was probably the only non-opportunist at the ball. Also, we flash forward to the ending, which doesn’t mean there wasn’t more time in between for them to get to know each other.

The Little Mermaid is More Nuanced than We Think

Image result for the little mermaid

Image via Time

As for Ariel, our little mermaid has always wanted to be part of our landed world, she had a whole room of crappy trinkets for crying out loud (clearly she is a hoarder but that is a conversation for another day). Eric merely catalyzed that longing into action. From that brief glimpse she got of him before she rescued him, he definitely had a lot going for him. He could dance, play an instrument and he has a DOG. Enough said, am I right? Yes yes, the first thing she noticed is how handsome he is, but the girl’s only human — or half, since, you know, mermaid (don’t quote me on that).

The other thing that consistently gets nit-picked is her trading her voice for time on land to get him to fall in love with her. Technically, she didn’t give up her voice for him, since she wholeheartedly believed she would be able to satisfy the conditions of the contract. She bravely went after what she desired, and she would have succeeded if not for Ursula’s sabotage. It is not only Ariel who demonstrates such bravery, Eric courageously fights the sea witch for a girl he just met, and her father sacrifices everything for his daughter. The love that King Triton has for his daughter, and how much he is willing to do for her, despite her disobedience, is one of my favorite things about the movie. Those who view it as just a romantic love story are missing the bigger picture — that of enduring parental love and even that of friendship.

Lastly …

Image result for frozen

Image via The Independent

Are these worlds we want to spare from our daughters? I don’t think so. It is easy to see the negative aspects, mainly due to the speed of these romantic relationships, which Frozen made fun of through Anna and Han’s disastrous relationship. My response is, does quickness negate love? I believe many of us would have heard stories of whirlwind romances that people scoffed at, only for those whirlwinds to last. So instead of hiding these movies from our children, they should be a platform for communication — about love, values and identity. That, I think, is the most feminist thing to do.


Thanks for reading!  What is your opinion on these Disney movies?  Comment down below!

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Natasha Alvar

Natasha is an English Literature teacher. She believes that stories are the essence of being human, and loves sharing this world with her students. One day, she hopes to break into the literary world with an offering of her own, but for now, she finds enjoyment in writing plays for her students as well as penning content for Moviebabble. You can follow her @litmysoul on Instagram, if you want.

22 Responses

  1. Veronica Clarke says:

    The danger I see is that children can get all sorts of messages from media that adults might not realise. Girls especially see women objectified on film and tv, and grow up thinking that their physical appearance is all there is to them. I think that any adult interacting with children must always be prepared to make sure they understand the difference between what is on the tv and the real world. Be the role model you want children to have. And hey, I find Disney films to be fun. There are much worse out there.

    • Yes absolutely! Conversation is important. I do think there is a distinct difference between objectification and attraction. I find Disney princesses beautiful, never really for their animated looks. They are just so personable and real you know?

      To each his/her own parenting style 🙂

  2. Very good article!

  3. I’m a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast. It was nominated for an Oscar before they had animation Oscars for best picture! I believe Belle is very independent and I don’t agree with the Stockholm Syndrome thing because the Beast did not capture her. He captured her father. And she decided to take the place of her father since her dad was so sick. To me, that is brave. It’s not being kidnapped, it’s more like bargaining. A life for a life, she says. Plus, Belle kind of wanted adventure and to leave her world behind. Is that not what she did? She never intended to love the Beast. The Beast never really felt he would fall for her. In the beginning, they hate each other so much that when he yells at her, she runs away. It’s only then that he discovers he likes her and goes after her to save her from the wolves. When he saves her and is hurt, she finds she loves him back. But, he still sets her free to go take care of her father when needed. She cares enough for him that she comes back of her own free will.

    • I completely agree with you! Haha, if you scroll down to my last comment, I talked about the stockholm syndrome thing and how I don’t believe in it. I didn’t elaborate on it in this post since Knightley mainly talked about banning her daughter from seeing Cinderella and The Little Mermaid.

      What did you think of the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast?

  4. UpOnTheShelf says:

    Yes! THANK you! As a lifelong Disney fan and someone who believes in feminist ideals, yours is the argument I’ve been trying to make for the longest time. I especially despise it when people accuse Belle of Stockholm Syndrome and find myself saying almost verbatim what you said in the previous comment.

    One great review I read of The Little Mermaid pointed out the similarities between it and Aladdin, and did an amazing job calling out the hypocrisy of those who accuse Ariel of “selling her soul for a man” when Al does nearly the same thing to achieve his dream.

    I grew up on classic Disney movies, and if I ever have kids, I’ll show them Cinderella and Little Mermaid and the rest, though I’ll be sure to talk to them about the nuances of these classic films if they have questions instead of banning them entirely.

  5. I love this post! Yeah, the older Disney films may show women in damsel-in-distress sort of roles but there is a complexity to these stories as you have pointed out that move beyond just the classic tale of romance that the films seem to promote. Great post! 🙂

    • Hi Annlyel! Thanks so much for the comment 🙂 I think they were just working within the times to be honest. I mean, Austen’s novels were also about love and marriage, but that certainly doesn’t take away from the other stuff, like the commentary on class and gender roles.

      Always great to hear from you!

  6. As you know, I don’t identify with feminism, or at least 3rd-wave feminism, and I have for almost all my life been defending the Disney Princesses from all criticisms laid against them, so I thank you for writing this article and agree with most of what you’ve said here.

    I’ve always found the Disney Princesses to be amazing role models, not just for girls, but for guys too. And like you said, wanting a man, or someone to be married to, is not a goal to be ashamed of or makes you weak or whatever.

    Regarding Snow White and Aurora, the message isn’t to kiss girls without their consent. It’s made clear in the film that they’ve fallen into a coma and are unable to be revived if not for a kiss. I think they also would have been incredibly grateful to have been “brought back to life” rather than lay in a comatose state forever. And I don’t know a single kid who watched these films and thought that the lesson was to kiss girls without their consent and they were gonna practice that from now on. Also, Aurora gets so much flack for “sleeping” in the film, but the film IS called “Sleeping Beauty” and she doesn’t fall asleep on her own accord; she falls victim to it by accidentally pricking her finger. People like to “victim blame” her and I don’t know why.

    I have issues with the whole concept of “Stockholm Syndrome” in psychology first of all, but I also don’t believe Belle is a victim of this. Every decision she makes in the film she has the upper hand and knows full well what she wants. To say that her love with the Beast wasn’t true love, I think, is in fact, not true itself.

    Cinderella gets so much flack, but I mean what do people want her to do? Murder her step-mother and step-sisters? The lesson, like you’ve mentioned, is how to live in this world with kindness and optimism and I myself try to live by these lessons. I think the other lesson in this film is that we need to become “Fairy Godparents” to people we see in our lives that are less fortunate than ourselves.

    Like you mentioned, Ariel wanted to explore human life before she even met Eric, so it wasn’t just for meeting Eric that she transformed into a human. And yeah, you can argue that trading her voice for it was a stupid decision, but she was 16 and fueled by emotions and not reasons, so I wasn’t really expecting her to make a logical decision. And in no way in the film do they promote that as the “right” thing to do. It’s just here’s what she did and look what happened because of it.

    Jasmine gets flack for only running away once which I think is a stupid thing to get mad at her for. And even the other Princesses get flack simply for falling in love and/or getting married which also is a stupid thing to get mad about as I’ve mentioned before.

    Funny enough, many feminists don’t even like Merida who’s supposed to be the hugely feminist one for now getting married, because she’s just super bratty, annoying, and just not a good character.

    Phew, sorry for the long rant, but I felt I should leave my opinion in case anyone else in the comments wanted to know, lol!

    • Wow! Thanks so much for this. So much agree on everything you have said. I didn’t elaborate on Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Beauty and the Beast, since Knightley mainly cited issues with Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, but you are absolutely right about people looking for negativity in all these portrayals. I will literally fight anyone who said that Belle had stockholm syndrome with the beast, because that is clearly not the case. She doesn’t romanticize him and I don’t think she was a prisoner for that long to develop this. What I think cemented their relationship is their shared love for books. People found Belle strange and weird for liking books so much, but the Beast understands this and encourages her love. He himself is well-read and it is easy to see why she would be smitten.

      Thanks for taking the time to pen your comment! Really enjoyed reading it 🙂

    • I liked Merida because she is independent and strong and she, like every seventeen year old, has arguments with her parents. She’s different, and that is okay and I like that she doesn’t just settle for what her parents or anyone else want her to be. She is brave for saving her mom, but also brave for owning up to her mistakes.

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