Over the past couple of semesters, I have noticed that again and again and again, my students find a way to write about how Disney Princesses are basically the worst, ever. They hurl threats of patriarchy and misogyny, they claim girls are unable to see themselves in Disney princesses and they call for more varied, or just less Princess-y, girl role models, toys, films, and the like.
When I first started noticing this phenomena, I was like THIS IS AMAZING- THEY'RE ALL FEMINISTS AND THIS NEVER HAPPENED IN MY COURSES AT THE BIG, PUBLIC UNIVERSITY. Then I read ten Disney Princess papers. And then ten more. And then ten more.... And as I sit down to read this stack of papers, there are more.
My students tend to focus on Ariel, Belle, and Snow White. Some make the arguments better than others, but basically: Ariel is too obsessed with men and girls learn only men matter (can you believe she gave up her voice?!?!); Beauty and the Beast is a narrative template for an abusive relationship (if you just keep loving him enough, even though he is horrible and hurts you, he'll eventually become a prince!); Snow White had to hide away from the world and found utter happiness singing and cleaning for seven old men. The thing is, I agree. I am totally on board. We need some new narratives.
It is, though, a bit exhausting. If I have to read for another ten pages about Cinderella and her shoe and how they measured her foot instead of her brain, I might have a meltdown. On the one hand, I'm so glad they've finally got a space to be pissed off about princess culture and girls' well being. On the other hand, can we please talk about the new princesses- like Merida- and the post feminist climate?!?! Please?
You see, Disney has already responded to the critique of their man-serving girl princesses. And my goodness has it been written about, talked about, debated and protested. What has been less talked about is this moment we find ourselves in now: a time when Disney princesses are brave and tough and have long, wild, curly hair and a pack of arrows on their back. What does this newer narrative mean for girls today? Is the "glass ceiling" really shattered? How can we think about the emergence of the strong girl, and what does she mean for feminism? And what of postfeminism, which Angela McRobbie discusses as the climate in which the strong girl emerges- a climate that is made up of the backlash of earlier feminisms that centralizes the belief that we not longer need feminism because girls and women are now equal, participating, democratic citizens.
But oh, these college freshman. Finally, for the first time they find themselves in a place where a professor welcomes essays on misogyny as it presents in Aladdin. They come into my office hours and tell me how angry they are that girls are so encouraged to play with pink princess dresses, and their eyes gleam when I nod. They're not quite ready to move on to the postfeminist climate yet, or even an analysis of Merida (god I love her long, tangled, curly hair). They have just discovered this trove of treasures called feminist theory, this land replete with ways to theorize girlhood beyond and outside of the Disney Princess. I'm starting to think its a prerequisite, to go back in time and to carefully remember, to learn to flex those feminist muscles with the Princess films these young people watched as girls. And so I will continue nodding. These freshman writers are learning to write, learning to examine, think through, and analyze with a feminist lens. And when they are ready, after they have dusted off the old critiques and practiced lobbing a pointed argument about Ariel's lost voice- then, they will become the next generation of feminist writers. And they're going to do way more than analyze Merida and discuss post-feminism: I know because they are so vibrant, and so curious, and so excited.
But ripping Disney a new one must be a prerequisite. And so I'll keep collecting them, keep commenting on them, and keep nodding during my office hours.