I wrote this back in May on my personal blog. I thought it would be fun to revisit now that I’m getting closer to releasing my retelling of Sleeping Beauty.
Honestly, girls like me who like Disney princesses tend to get a lot of flak, especially if they happen to be English majors. Most feminist professors are not really fans. Even among the average, every-day “Mom of Girls” there tends to spring up anti-Disney Princess viewpoints. The problem most of these women have with how Disney portrayed these princesses is that in their view the women are weak, unable to do anything for themselves, relying on a man to save them, yadda, yadda, yadda.
There is even a poster floating around that has each princess labeled with the “bad” message she is supposedly indoctrinating our daughters with. I’d show it here, but it would just cheese me off, I’d have to dispute it point by point, and this post would get even longer than it already is destined to be. I’ll save that for another day.
This poster even shows up sometimes where it surprises me, and I feel suddenly judged for liking the princess movies, and worse, exposing my impressionable young daughter to them (gasp). I suppose it doesn’t matter that her favorite movie is Superman, or that her mom’s favorite female heroines are scrappy, tough-talking, kick-butt kinda girls like Mara Jade from Zahn’s extended Star Wars universe. I’ve let her watch a princess dancing about in a dress and singing and therefore my poor, sweet girl is destined to play second fiddle to men for the rest of her life.
Here is the main problem with this school of thought: If you are being honest, it’s not the women in these Disney stories who are getting short-changed.
It’s the men.
Snow White: Say what you will about Disney’s first heroine, she’s obviously not the strongest of the princesses (likely a result of being the first, we often forget the point of Snow White was that it was the first movie of its kind, no one had ever attempted a full length animation before, so everyone who excuses the weak story line of Avatar because it’s revolutionary needs to pay attention here), but she at least has several good qualities. She makes friends easily, she cares for nature, she has a name. Not so the big, strong, man who “saves her” with a kiss. First name Prince, last name Charming. So glad a really fleshed out character was important here. Obviously Disney was conspiring to destroy the confidence of a generation of young men, oh wait, I mean women. Yes, that is what I mean.
Cinderella: She needs a man to save her! The poor thing can’t do anything for herself (except, you know, like persevere in adverse circumstances, while not letting them poison her attitude or change her character) and needs a man to come and save her. Except not. Pretty sure it’s another woman that performs the getting out of dodge magic (Cinderella’s goal was never to leave her step-mother’s house for good, just for the night.) And again here we have Prince Charming. Dear writers, please lay off the steam rollers. I believe this character is flat enough. Oh wait, he doesn’t want to get married just to please his father. Look, there’s a slight bump, we need to iron it out some more.
These men exist only to serve the princess and her story line. Without the princess they are just nameless, faceless heirs to a throne no one really sees or knows about. Even with the princess they are still pretty much nameless, although they have faces. Very smooth, expressionless faces. Poor schmucks.
Which brings me to Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty. The first really fleshed out prince character in Disney animated movies. Mothers of boys everywhere rejoice. Importantly, we notice he has a name! This is a pretty big deal to me, because, in my opinion, naming connotes personhood. Prince Phillip is more than just the prince, the heir to the throne, the one promised to marry the Princess Aurora, he’s also Phillip. And it’s as Phillip that he meets the lovely peasant girl in the woods, and falls in love with her, and it’s because he’s Phillip that he fights an evil fairy in the form of a dragon. I doubt his responsibility to the throne is what’s really on his mind as he battles to save his true love.
Another really important aspect of the Phillip character is he is loved by Briar Rose/Aurora not because he is a prince, and not because he can save her. Briar Rose has no idea she needs saving at all. She doesn’t realize that she is royalty (although as such she will be elevated to equal footing with Prince Phillip without having to marry him), nor does she’s realize that he is royalty, and she also has no idea she is in danger. She doesn’t see him as a savior, she sees him just as a young man that she is in love with, a young man that she has dreamed about.
Phillip has some pretty modern views about who young royals (male or female) should be allowed to marry. He is all for marrying for true love, and not overly concerned about defying his father on this matter. “After all, this is the fourteenth century” he tells his father as he rushes off to meet Briar Rose. Even though his views on marriage are modern, he also exemplifies the sort of chivalrous qualities that I hope my daughter looks for in a man, and that I hope my son learns as part of his character. Phillip is brave and courageous, he would lay his life down to save his love.
I don’t know any mother who doesn’t want that for her daughter. Do I want my daughter to be strong and courageous as well? Of course. I want her to be brave, to be thoughtful, to care about others, to be able to meet life’s challenges while never losing sight of who she is. I want her to have all of the qualities that make a truly fleshed out, complete person. And I want her to expect that from any man that comes into her life.
She should demand a Prince Phillip and nothing less.