Happily Ever After? A Feminist Reading of Disney’s Princesses

by Sholeh Hajmiragha

When you think of Disney princesses, feminism isn’t the first thing to come to mind.   Disney princesses are not strong representations of feminism – most have to be rescued by their male love interest, and the films generally end with marriages or engagements of the female character.

However, Nerve.com decided to take a second look at Disney’s princesses, but this time through a feminist lens and ranked the princesses from least to most feminist:

10.  Aurora, Sleeping Beauty – Aurora is by far the least feminist princess.  Demure, beautiful, and kind, Aurora doesn’t really have any further defining traits.  In addition, it is because of her naiveté that she falls into Maleficent’s trap, asleep for the rest of the film until she is awakened and saved by her man.

9.  Snow White, Snow White – Though Snow White is a stronger female character than Sleeping Beauty, that’s not saying much.  She doesn’t demonstrate real personal autonomy or courage, and instead conforms to stereotypical feminine traits.

8.  Cinderella, Cinderella – Cinderella is incredibly oppressed and throughout the film she attempts to make her horrible life better.  However, she’s not able to do any of it on her own and is completely dependent on being rescued by outside forces to achieve her happiness.

7. Ariel, The Little Mermaid – Ariel is stubborn, brave, and passionate, but she is willing to throw everything away for a man.  In addition, Ariel literally traders her voice for a man. 

6. Belle, Beauty and the Beast – Belle isn’t the most progressive female character, voluntarily imprisoning herself in order to save her father.  However, Belle is one of the princesses who’s intelligence and intellectual curiosity is highlighted as a good thing.  And, alongside this, she resists her town’s expectations of her life and is the first Disney princess to be skeptical of married life.

5.  Jasmine, Aladdin – Jasmine is a progressive female character in that she challenges her ascribed life as a princess, is skeptical of marriage, and, by falling in love with poor Aladdin, upsets the class system.  However, Jasmine is also very sexualized.  While female sexuality is something to be proud and in control of, it maybe isn’t the best message for young girls.

4.  Rapunzel, Tangled – Rapunzel’s story of being locked away in a tower for ages does cause her naiveté to conflict with a feminist reading of her character.  However, she does represent a willful and resourceful female character who recognizes the unfairness of her situation and outwits her kidnapper, bravely entering into the world.

3.  Tiana, The Princess and the Frog – Despite the fact that Tiana is a frog for the majority of this film, as a woman she has strong dreams and is working toward running her own restaurant.  She is, in fact, the only princess who actually starts a business.  In addition, she also falls in love with a man who is penniless, challenging the whole Prince Charming girls need to be saved trope.  However, though Tiana does eventually open up her own business, she still sacrifices her own desires for the man she loves.

2.  Pocahontas, Pocahontas – Though this film is incredibly controversial in its portrayal of history, Pocahontas’ character isn’t the typical princess.  She rescues John Smith, the man she loves, and thwarts her father’s authority by not marrying the man he wants her to.  In addition, Pocahontas is the only Disney princess who doesn’t end up with the man she loves. 

1.  Mulan, Mulan – Mulan completely challenges the gender norms of her society and ultimately saves all of China.  Mulan proves that women can do everything that men can do.  As a woman, she is still “as swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon.


Source: Nerve.com

Images via: Nerve.com, Hitfix.com

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