My problem with Disney princesses

little-girl-dressed-up-as-princessIt’s not what you think. Everybody knows that the beloved Disney princess genre has its problems. I can dissect the problematic gender role constructions, unrealistic body types, white-washing, and cultural appropriation with the best of them. The problem I’m navigating right now is trying to explain to the friends and family who don’t see the world through this lens why I’m not bursting at the seams to share the genre with my little girl.

You see, part of the problem is that I actually do enjoy watching these films. I grew up on them and loved them and played pretend games about them.  My sister scrolls through the channels on a Saturday night and I’m more than content to stop and watch the Little Mermaid. The music is catchy. The dialogue is witty. It makes me laugh and feel anxiety and hope for the best for the main characters. It’s good entertainment.

So when they see that I’m enjoying it and then ask me to explain again why I’m not all about re-decorating my daughter’s room in princess theme, I feel a little stuck. I spend the next ten minutes explaining each problematic idea and element as eyes roll. Ultimately though, we keep watching it.

So how do I maintain my feminist, critical media literate approach to life and parenting without falling into a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do cliché? Well, some people seem to think that the up and coming princess movies have taken a turn for the right direction. They exclaim that movies like Brave and Frozen have arrived and we feminists can pack up, go home, and pop some popcorn.

I wouldn’t say that’s entirely true. They’re a bit better, but far from perfect. The thing that does give me hope is that smart, creative people are taking Disney to task in new ways. I love the creative gender-swapped representations of classic Disney characters by an animation student. It shows pretty clearly that gender is nowhere near as rigid as corporate media producers would have us believe. There’s also the petition started by a high school junior demanding a smart, funny, memorable plus-size female lead in an upcoming Disney movie.

I hope that demands and representations like these will help to inform future family-friendly entertainment. It definitely reminds me of the importance of talking back to your media. I look forward to the day when I can make popcorn and settle in for movie night with my little feminist with no reservations.


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Submitted by erich on

This reminded me of a great article from the Social Justice League on How to be a Fan of Problematic Things    (It takes a moment to load)


Submitted by on

Thanks so much for this blog! As a feminist, preventionist, and mom who just got back from Disney World with two daughters, I've been doing a lot of thinking about this! I've taken the approach of rounding out the stories (Cinderella goes to college, gets a great job, has a wonderful circle of friends, and is a community leader, etc.); teaching my daughters to identify the strengths in very princess character (there are always strengths, like Ariel is an awesome swimmer, is independent and brave, and saves Eric, etc.); and thinking critically about the messages (the evil step mother does not really exist, women are kind and strong). I wish I could control all of the media they consume, but that is not realistic. And I am very cautious about sending them negative messages about other women (the princesses) because I do not want to reinforce misogyny in any way. It's a journey, right? Thanks for this blog, Ali!

Submitted by amperrotto on

I love your approach and the idea of rounding out the stories a bit. It seems that in order to operate in the real world, we have to continue to rewrite our own narratives and the media we're exposed to.