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Princesses in Tiaras

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Moana from the new Disney princess film Moana

Moana from the new Disney princess film Moana

Google Images/Public Domain

Google Images/Public Domain

Moana from the new Disney princess film Moana

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For many girls, princesses are seen as figures to emulate. A princess’s strengths and weaknesses shine through, imprinting these specific characteristics, such as grace, kindness, honesty and self-determination, on growing young girls. This molds their ideas about the roles of women in society, their ability to overcome adversity and their ability to be empowered to have a voice. The feminist qualities ingrained in characters such as Mulan, Belle, Merida and Moana have a significant impact on society’s view of women. Disney princesses, however, have not always embodied feminist ideals.

At first, Disney movies such as Snow White and Cinderella heavily emphasized the domestic duties women were meant to uphold. These movies, as perceived with the modern standards of women which embody concepts of female empowerment, are degrading and not remotely feminist let alone empowering. Since these movies came out, Disney has taken minute steps towards feminism.

Princess Jasmine fought for her right to choose her marriage. Mulan pretended to be a man to fight a war in place of her father. Merida battled, bow and arrow in hand, for the right to live her own life.   

Some, however, do not see many Disney princess movies as empowering. Before the release of Moana in theaters, the feminism displayed among these princesses was inappropriate.

“The feminism in the newer Disney princess movies is primitive and blatant; the only attempt at intersectional feminism is in the Princess and the Frog,” Phoebe Anderson (12) said. “Even in the movies with attempted feminist plots, there is still a prince and a happy ending…It is feminism doused in pop-culture and stylized not to push traditional boundaries too much.”

Recently, Disney has made considerable attempts at better integrating this feminist ideology into its princess movies with the movie Moana being a prime example. In the film, Moana travels across the seas in search of the demigod Maui in order to retrieve a stolen heart and save her home. Throughout her journey, she never mentions romance or marriage as something to aspire for; she is an independent woman who fights for her people and proves that she is a strong leader. Additionally, with staunch advocates of feminism portraying Disney princesses in live-action renditions of the movies, the role of the princess as a figure of empowerment becomes more direct. Emma Watson playing the role of Belle in the recent adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is a prime example of this; her advocacy and dedication towards women’s rights legitimizes the feminism in these films. These women and the ideas portrayed in Moana is the most feminism that has ever been portrayed in a Disney film. There are still topics, however, that Disney has shied away from, same sex marriage being one. Ultimately, the integration of feminism can be entirely improved.

“Overall, Disney’s attempts at feminism are admirable but not yet complete,” Anderson said. “Hopefully in the future movies, Disney will continue to progress and embrace all aspects of feminism.”

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Princesses in Tiaras