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Tuesday, 3 October 2017

A Closer Look at the Classic Disney Princesses

The Classic Trio of the Disney ladies – Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella – are often criticised by feminists for being passive ‘damsels in distress’ and doing fuck all. While I prefer more modern Disney just because I prefer modern movies in general, I do adore all Disney films, and Cinderella is one of my favourites. Let’s take a look at the girls and their movies.

Snow White

Snow White is the story of a brave young girl who after being saved by a huntsman, runs away and begins a new life for herself with seven little men. The main hero in this film is the huntsman who was ordered to kill Snow White by the Evil Queen. If it wasn’t for him, the poor lady would be dead.

This film was made in 1937, so has to be looked at for its context. Furthermore, it’s protagonists (besides the dwarves) are royalty. It is set in a time where men of that class would ‘court’ ladies and ladies would wait to be swept off their feet. Nowadays a woman still can be 'swept off her feet' (Esmeralda, Princess Tiana, Mulan), she just plays a more active role. (Plus none of those women are upper class).

The character of Snow White, like all the Disney ladies, is kind, courageous, brave and spirited. She is demure and passive, but as mentioned that is how women of that class and time period would have been expected to behave. Doesn’t make it bad or good, it’s just logic. A peasant girl like Esmeralda is not going to behave like that because she’d have spent most of her life fending for herself on the streets, not living in the comfort of a castle. (Counteracting this: Snow White is made to do all of the chores by the Evil Queen).

When she stays with the dwarves she is not a ‘walk over’; she looks after them as a mother would, by cooking for them, cleaning for them and ‘keeping house’ as she states. I don’t see the problem with this; they give her a place to stay, in exchange she takes care of them. Sounds simply altruistic to me.

Most of the movie is not centred around romance, it’s centred around Snow White looking after herself with the help of kind people. But after all she goes through, doesn’t she deserve to marry a nice prince at the end?

Sleeping Beauty

Princess Aurora again is a demure, sweet character, and her role in this movie is very passive. But that’s because this movie is really about Maleficent and the three fairies. The true heroes of this movie are Flora, Fauna and Merryweather; three brave and kind women. Without the help of the fairies, Prince Phillip never would have been able to escape from Maleficent and kiss Aurora in order to wake her up.

The fairies look after Aurora, and use their powers of good to triumph against evil Maleficent. Maleficent has a sense of humour which I like in villains (and explains why I have a soft spot for Hades). She’s nasty, but in my opinion the Evil Queen and Lady Tremaine are far worse. Nevertheless, she is defeated, as Disney films are mainly about good vs evil, a heavy trope used in ‘hero’s journey’ films.

So yes, the princess of the movie is not strident and courageous, but the heroes of this film are women. How is that anything but empowering?


Again, you think Cinderella and think ‘eurgh, this film is about some girl that goes to the ball and kisses a guy, damsel in distress, eurgh so regressive.’ But not really. This film is about how a young woman strives for freedom from her horrid stepmother and bitchy stepsisters. She doesn’t plan on falling in love, she just wants to experience a night of freedom by going to the ball and having some fun. She does meet a guy in the process and yes, it is stupid that they meet for a few hours and suddenly its love and I’m glad Disney has moved away from doing that. But these are old films, and have less ‘depth’ to them then modern films, and also they’re aimed at children so aren’t supposed to be realistic.

Cinderella is kind, sweet, and does her best to look after all the animals who help her escape from her awful life. She was content with experiencing a happy night of dancing, and as a bonus got to meet a man. Perhaps if this film was made now, she would find her own way of escaping, but again this has to be looked at for its time. It’s a simple movie with a simple storyline, as opposed to a complex one with more sub-plots like modern Disney or modern films in general. And once again, it is a woman who is the hero of this story: Cindy’s fairy godmother. It is her who helps Cinderella look beautiful and go to the ball. She gives Cindy the glass slippers and Cindy is able to then present the ‘other’ slipper to the Duke, meaning she wins in the end. Hooray for her and for all of them!

Here’s what feminism says about Disney ladies:

Personally think this is stupid; all of the Disney women are great, they don’t need to be ‘feminist’

This one’s a bit more interesting:

This one also argues that Disney princesses support feminism

Feminist or not, the Disney women definitely hold their own as protagonists, giving women storylines, and show bravery, determination and courage. 

Also see my post on my favourite Disney women:


  1. i adore these disney princesses and their movies and the story behind snow white is amazing (the making of it) and sure they may be kind of bland by todays standards but these were made during a much different time

    1. Exactly, it's all about looking at things within their proper context.


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