Disney Princesses (and why being a feminist does not change my opinion of them)

I am a feminist. If you know me, you’ve probably figured that out by now. Even if you don’t know me, you can probably infer that from many of my blog posts.

I am also an obsessive Disney fan.

And I would like to take a minute to explain why, in my opinion, it’s okay to be a feminist and be a Disney fan.

Recently, Disney issued the Princess Redesigns.

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I was initially disappointed. Why did they make the princesses so skinny? And sparkly? But I ultimately understood that, from a merchandising standpoint, this (the sparkles, not the skinny) was more likely to catch the eyes of little girls (and maybe even little boys) — the target market for the princess franchise.

And then Merida’s redesign came out, around the time of the announcement of her coronation:

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and the world went crazy. As you can see, there’s a pretty major difference between the Merida on the left and the Meridas on the right.

I have read many, many posts/articles/rants about Merida’s redesign. My own personal opinion, though I know very little about animation, is that the 3D version of Merida (left) and the 2D version (right) would obviously be different. They had to make Merida 2D in order to fit in with the other designs for the merch.

(Disclaimer: I don’t actually know if it’s 2D/3D — I’m just going based off what I read. What I’m getting at is, the animation style in the movie is different than the animation style of the princesses on the merch, and Merida is now an official princess, so she’s included on the group merch. Okay.)

I can understand the arguments against the Merida (and even other princess’) redesign. However, what I am not okay with is the slut shaming. I have seen countless bloggers/Tumblrs/Facebookers refer to Merida’s new look as “slutty.”

I’m sorry; since when did being thin and sparkly make someone a slut? (I actually hate that word so much that I don’t want to type it, but for the purpose of this post, I’ll suck it up.)

I have seen so many women claim to be feminists, but then go around calling other women sluts and whores. No. That is not how that works. I have made the vow in my own personal life to never, ever use those words against another woman. As a feminist, I realize the importance of women sticking up for each other. I always refer back to this quote from “Mean Girls”:

Ms. Norbury: Okay, so we’re all here ’cause of this book, right? Well, I don’t know who wrote this book, but you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.

Right. So. By calling each other those names, it makes it okay for everyone else to do so. And that’s really, really not okay.

When slut-shaming the princess redesigns, people are literally going by looks alone. Just because they got a new look, does not mean the content of their character has changed. Merida is still brave, strong, and feisty, regardless of what her dress or hair look like. I’m guessing that she still doesn’t want to get married, and she still wants to “stay single and let [her] hair flow in the wind as [she] ride[s] through the glen firing arrows into the sunset.” (Side note: Merida’s dad is pretty much the best character. Okay.)

Merida’s decision to stay single (similar to Jasmine’s; she doesn’t want to be thrown into an arranged marriage either) is just as okay as, say, Aurora’s decision to find and marry the man of her dreams (literally). And Aurora’s decision is just as okay as, say, Pocahontas’ decision to marry someone outside of her tribe. (I could go on and on with this, but I won’t.)

I have heard over and over again that Disney is a huge proponent against feminism. In my opinion, the modern princesses like Merida and Rapunzel (and possibly Tiana, though I haven’t seen “The Princess and the Frog” yet so I can’t say for sure) are responses to the anti-feminist accusations. You have to look at the big picture. When Disney was creating characters such as Snow White, Aurora, and Cinderella, it was a completely different time. The princesses are a reflection of the times in which they are created.

I have also heard so many people say that they are not going to let their daughters watch Disney movies because the princesses are anti-feminism. I am in no way trying to tell anyone how to parent their children, but when I have kids some day, you’d better believe they’ll grow up with Disney movies. They’ll also grow up open-minded. They’ll know that sitting around waiting for their prince is no longer realistic, and they’ll have Merida as an example. The Disney movies, while outdated in many cases, hold extremely relevent morals and messages. (I grew up absolutely obsessed with the princess movies, and here I am at 23, still obsessed and very much a feminist.)

What I’m getting at, here, is that it’s okay to be a feminist and like Disney. I will never let anyone tell me otherwise. So what if I like movies that show “anti-feminist” ideas? I am level-headed enough to know the difference between a cartoon — a fairy tale, no less — created in the 1940s and the reality in which I live in 2013. You will never hear me refer to the princesses as anything negative.

I may not love everything about the redesigns (no one is going to be 100% happy with everything a company does), but I like some of what has come out of the redesigns; specifically the dresses for the face characters in Disney parks (photos courtesy of Blake Taylor):

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I understand that some of the redesigns can be problematic (Mulan and Pocahontas are also receiving backlash). But I think we need to, again, look at the big picture, here: Disney is Disney. It’s going to be a prominent company for a very long time. They’re going to do things the public loves, and they’re going to do things the public hates. I have been a Disney fan my whole life, and I don’t think there’s anything that can change that. I’m not saying everyone needs to agree with me, but I just wanted to put my thoughts out there.

Okay, this post has gone on for way longer than I thought it would… Thanks, as always, for reading. 🙂

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