10 October 2013

Why it is Ok to be a Princess

Over the years, I have observed one of the biggest trends in "feminism" (used loosely) is the idea that the only Disney* Princesses who are strong, independent, and worth emulating are Mulan and Pocahontas (more recently, Merida) because they are "rebellious," do their own thing, and aren't a "typical princess" (whatever that means - I've never actually heard the supporting facts). Otherwise parents who allow their daughters to indulge in Princess fantasies are perpetuating a standard that girls are nothing but objects, idly standing around, waiting for their Prince to come rescue them. First, the people who say this are convinced they are totally individualistic and snubbing the mainstream but instead are actually their own mass stereotype. Second, this conclusion simply isn't true.

Have you seen the movies?

Cinderella grew up in an abusive home. She was treated cruelly after suffering the deaths of both her parents. When the time came for the local ball, she thought for herself and made the decision to go to the ball even after being forbidden to do so. While there, she fell in love with a man, unknowing, at the time, he was a Prince. Then, against all odds, she fought for her right to try on the glass slipper and prove she was the mysterious maiden the Prince was seeking. Even after the way her stepmother abused her, Cinderella refused to seek revenge and, instead, followed her heart as she fulfilled her dream. (Are women allowed to have dreams?)

Belle, one of my favorites, was smart when it wasn't cool to be smart. Amidst the teasing, ridiculing, and bullying, Belle continued to read her books and love her somewhat kooky, largely misunderstood father. Gaston and his minions were the original "mean girls" don't you think? She selflessly saved her father from near certain death by agreeing to live with a Beast: yet another outsider, taunted for the way he looked. When the townsmen decided to execute mob mentality justice, Belle single handedly went against the grain in an effort to save the Beast, never stopping to think how it would look or what it would do to her image to be seen showing kindness to an untouchable.

Ariel, ever adventurous, spent much of her time dreaming of experiencing different cultures. When her father refused her request, she rebelled against him (aka made up her own mind) and went to meet with a sea witch. ON HER OWN. Then, after finally meeting her Prince, she continued to SAVE HIM from said sea witch, while risking her life. They eventually worked as a team to bring her to her demise. Then, even though marrying Eric would require her giving up her safe, secure home, and everything she knew to be true, she took a risk and joined him on a new adventure, in a new land. (Admittedly, Disney did themselves no favors by keeping her age to be 16 as was in the original tale. Hey, I can acknowledge imperfections.)

Snow White did nothing wrong other than be perceived as beautiful. Her step mother's jealousy caused her to run Snow White out of her home. Instead of falling down in front of the huntsman and accepting her fate, Snow White remained kind and classy, causing the huntsman to allow her to escape. Snow White eventually supported herself by working as a house keeper. Sure, she took care of seven men, but before you cast your stone, think about the millions of men and women who work in food service and hotel maintenance. They have dreams and are working hard for their living. Snow White's work ethic and personal conservation is hardly a negative influence. Not to mention, by slandering the concept of a Princess, one would be committing the same hate discrimination as the envious step mother. Women are not allowed to be pretty? Sounds like reverse discrimination to me. After all, aren't all women beautiful in their own way?

Jasmine has a tiger. 'Nuff said. But she also breaks the law (albeit in unfair, classist law) by choosing to marry a commoner and admits, out loud, that she is not some prize.

Not to mention - they all show kindness to animals.

Disney Princesses hold high values such as politeness, kindness, maturity, equality, diversity, passion and education. They defend the little guy. They refuse to bow to social pressures. They walk tall, speak softly while weighing their words, admit (and apologize) when they make a mistake, and treat others (even those different from them) with respect. I can think of worse role models for my daughter. When she slaps her sister, she remembers that Cinderella doesn't slap. The mean girls slap. When she uses mean words, she remembers that Gaston made fun of Belle, not the other way around.

How did the Princesses become the villains in today's culture? By clumping Disney Princesses with such disasters as drunken pop stars and meek bimbos, one is punishing the very traits with which they desire to be treated. That person is sustaining the idea that in order to get ahead in life a woman must be ruthless, classless, uncaring and manipulative. Am I to raise my daughter to hold those ill morals so high? We, as women, are to drag each other down in an effort to raise up the individual? Screw manners. Manners are for losers.

I would also like to add (a major pet peeve of mine), that Pocahontas (in the Disney version, not real life - I can't speak for her as I didn't know her in real life) actually didn't follow her heart, or her dreams. Nor did she take a risk and venture to a new land with John Smith. She stayed behind, where it was safe and where she felt she was supposed to stay. Not that I don't love her. But, still.

To reference another argument that women don't need a man to be happy, I completely agree. I never thought I would be married. However, I never begrudged my friends who did dream of happily ever after. The very thought of ridiculing someone for their desire (or lack of) for marriage is so preposterous I refuse to give it any more merit than these few sentences. If you think true feminism is anti-marriage, I challenge you to revisit the philosophy that has fought for maternity leave rights and against discrimination of women (of any kind).

So before you decide being a Disney Princess is the ultimate sin and call CPS on your neighbor whose daughter is dancing around in an Ariel Gown, or (my personal favorite as it has happened to my three year old with the huge heart), before you laugh at and mock a toddler who asks you your favorite princess, try examining these stories through a more open mind. Truly embrace the idea of "live and let live" and focus on nurturing confidence, joy, and a tender heart, all Princess traits, because your words are stronger than you realize. And no amount of Disney Junior will match the encouragement from an adult who that toddler admires.

*For purposes of this article, I have stuck to the strict Disney transcripts. While I have also read summaries (and, in some cases, entireties) of original tales, I have only seen Disney specifics criticized in the context I have rebutted here. You will see this mostly in my references to the endings of the stories as well as the classifications of the Princesses personalities. Because, let's not lie, Snow White forcing her step mother to dance until the burning in her feet killed her is probably not a good "moral of the story..."