The UConn Daily Campus

Disney princesses are not the role models they appear to be

By Cassie Schmidt

Staff Columnist

Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013

There are arguably six classic Disney princesses. Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle and Jasmine comprise the heroines of the animated films considered favorites by little girls everywhere. But what are these female leads teaching the children that gather around the TV to watch? Sexism and an inaccurate portrayal of the nature love are the strongest messages Disney has broadcast thus far.

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was the first animated movie released by Disney. As the first heroine on the scene, Snow White sends the strongest message about gender roles. After being thrown out of her kingdom, she stumbles upon a dirty cottage with seven little men living in it. Without being asked, the young woman cleans the whole house from top to bottom and begins to take on the motherly role the dwarfs expect of her by cooking meals and continuing to clean up after the men. In 1937, when the movie was released, this domestic image of women was commonplace and accepted. But now, more than 80 years later, little girls continue to watch Snow White and assume her submissive role with a smile.

Cinderella was the next Disney princess to hit the silver screen. Again, the female heroine is reduced to cooking and cleaning for others with little other activity in her life. Cinderella, however, embodies another stereotype common among these animated films: love at first sight. Prince Charming, whose mere name evokes images of being swept off one's feet, meets Cinderella and after spending just a few hours together is suddenly head-over-heels in love. Finding a person who knows someone who has fallen in love at first sight is a difficult task, but here Disney is saying that finding your soul mate is as easy as putting on a ball gown and dancing. Children learn by example, and Cinderella teaches that finding love is easy – which is far from the truth.

Princess Aurora, of Sleeping Beauty, is one of the most overlooked princesses. But this does not mean she goes unnoticed by young kids. On the contrary, many young women in high school and college claim their favorite princess is Aurora. "Sleeping Beauty is definitely my favorite. People forget about her sometimes, but she has the best story," said Emily Roderick, a 6th-semester molecular cell biology major. And Aurora's story is one that shows the meekness of women. While Aurora does fall in love at first sight like many of her fellow heroines, the true message lies in her waiting for a prince. In order to come out of her sleeping state, she must receive true love's kiss. Prince Philip, who she has only met once, saves her from the curse that overcame her. In the eyes of the little girls who watch "Sleeping Beauty" until the film of their VHS breaks, all they ever have to do to fix their life's problems is wait for their prince to save them.

Ariel and Belle are the beginnings of the more modern Disney princesses. Both characters are strong willed and have minds of their own. But still, they both share messages with their audiences of female compliance and obedience.  Ariel gives up her entire life to be with a man. She lets Ursula take her voice in exchange for legs and later leaves her home under the ocean to remain on land with her prince. There is no compromise; her husband gives up nothing while she sacrifices everything. Belle, too, lets go of her former life to be with the Beast. But more importantly, Belle teaches how a kind, sweet woman can change a man with a temper and poor demeanor into a gentleman. In reality, Belle could have ended up a battered wife, unable to change her husband's inappropriate behavior.

Jasmine of "Aladdin" joins the others as a modern princess. She refuses to obey her father's order to marry a man she does not love and instead goes on an adventure with Aladdin. But it is important to note that she is the only female character in the entire movie. While Disney improved the message they sent to their viewers, Jasmine was still portrayed as a lonely girl whose only option was to marry in order to not be alone anymore. She had no friends or confidants to help her.

I love Disney just as much as the next girl. I grew up watching the movies and reenacting them with my sister for hours after. But now, in a more modern and enlightened time period, some of the messages Disney has incorporated into their films have become outdated. That doesn't mean children should stop watching the classic films. The old-fashioned morals can help little girls learn about ideals. But somewhere along the line, their dreams of Prince Charming will come crashing down. And this, I suppose, is all part of growing up.


Kate Julian
Fri Oct 12 2012 09:28
As a Disney cast member, I've asked the little girls why they've chosen a certain princess as their "favorite". They don't say "because she cleans the house" or "because I want to have her prince" they say "because I like reading like Belle" or "I want to shoot arrows like Merida" or simply "because she wears the best dress". Interacting with the princesses at the Walt Disney World Resort, these young girls give them hugs and they talk about following dreams, reading, and being kind to others/animals. The girls are seeing the adventures more than any idea of males controlling females.

Regarding the ideas of Snow White, Aurora, and the earlier princesses, these movies were made at a time where these ideals were normal. Not saying that women should be forced to clean and cook, but at this time period it was a normal thing. Also, Snow White was forced to be a slave to her step-mother, of course the young teenager felt cleaning the dwarves' home was the correct way to please them. Especially since she wanted to stay there so the stepmother wouldn't kill her.

I appreciate the fact you've written this article and expressed your opinion, but I think you should look at it like if you were young again. They're meant to teach lessons about choices made and finding happiness. Have a magical day! :)

Mon Sep 20 2010 10:00
Sounds to me like you are just upset that your "prince" never came...... Just saying. Some people read alittle TOO much into things and if you are going to go into something trying to find the bad, you are going to find it, even you or a small group of people seem to be the only people who find it to be rational.
Mon Aug 9 2010 10:46
Personally, I believe that the modern princesses begin to tell a more positive story.

Belle was a woman who enjoyed reading and free thought, a notion that was against the concept of her village. When she realized she was not accepted by her community, Belle took the chance to find the adventure she always wanted.

Although she was considered the most beautiful woman in her village, she chose to wear a plain blue dress, white apron, and plain blue shoes. This choice proves from the beginning that she is not as concerned about her outward image as she is about her mental growth.

Although I am annoyed by Ariel, she did choose her own path. She chose to explore the world outside her home, and decided to stay there. Saying she "later leaves her home under the ocean to remain on land with her prince" holds no merit in an argument with me, because I also watched Hercules as a child. At the end of Hercules, he elects to stay on Earth as a mortal with Meg rather than staying with the gods away from her. Ariel is another free spirit that chooses her own path in the world.

Tue Jan 26 2010 09:59
Even though there is no Prince Charming, it is nice to let girls dream (I'm still dreaming). As long as girls are raised by strong mothers (and fathers) who discuss the world around them they will not be disillusioned about women's roles by simply watching Disney princesses. The real Prince Charming(s) in my life (and I have lived many years now) have shown up as the strong female characters in it (my mother, my sisters, aunts, etc.).
Sun Jan 24 2010 19:09
The characterization of Belle here is completely inaccurate. In the film, it's made very clear that she only moves into the castle to save her father's life, and she doesn't see the Beast as some kind of personal project. She has no inclinations to try to "fix" him or any delusions about changing who he is, and she's not afraid to stand up for herself when he mistreats her. She only starts being kind to and eventually falling for him when HE changes his ways for HER.
True, the Disney princesses aren't all perfect, and I'm not completely happy with Disney's treatment of women over the years. But their films are considered classics, and the princesses themselves are far from harmful role models for young, grounded girls. Personally, I think many modern films and their portrayal of women are doing women and girls far more disservice than these movies and characters ever have or will.
Sat Jan 23 2010 23:33
Part of growing up?? Then why don't you do so and get over yourself. Disney tells classic fairytales and they have amazing messages in each. Instead of trying to "go with modern times" and gripe about how they are down playing the roles of women why don't you take a deeper look and see all the women who have become better role models because of stories that inspire them. These stories give hope, courage, and dreams to little girls that believe anything is possible and set out to do everything to have an amazing life. So why don't you just get over yourself and let the stories continue to inspire girls everywhere!
Fri Jan 22 2010 15:03
I agree with everyone else's statements, this argument is played out. Ariel CHOOSES to live outside of the sea. It is no different than moving to a different city or state. It is never said nor implied that Ariel does not go and visit her old home. Her father is King Triton, ruler of the oceans, I'm sure his trident has enough magic in it to give Ariel and Eric a tail for a day. Times have changed since the thirties, while girls may have grown up watching princesses does not mean that they act the way they do. It is parents that have the control here, not "Sleeping Beauty."
Your name
Fri Jan 22 2010 13:00
You watched them and you're adjusted just fine. This is an old argument. If you don't those movies for what they are write your own. Or watch The Princess Diaries - it's values blend with yours (I'm guessing, more or less).
Fri Jan 22 2010 12:49
Why disregard the other three Disney Princesses: Mulan, Pocahontas, and Tiana? You might find that the more modern ones are in fact more accurately portrayed and heroic.
jack ryder
Fri Jan 22 2010 05:44
Shouldn't this be in focus not commentary? Is the DC taking up a position against Disney princesses? Nothing against having something light in opinions pages, but you're the one space in your paper specifically meant for social commentary to criticize cartoon characters from the past 40 to 50 years.
Luis Garza
Fri Jan 22 2010 05:23
I think you are a little overboard here. These animated ffilms are part of a cultural legacy of high European folklore.Many of the stories come from the Brothers Grim, why would Disney update classic tales to appease a few super sensitve people. Besides there is nothing wrong with a woman cleaning a house that she stumbles upon. She is expecting to live with the dwarves right? So why should she not earn her keep? Is the princess supposed to become a dirty miner or something? There is a reason that Snow White and the others are classic films, becasue they are inspired by great source materail and are not trying to appease small pop ideals of the times. These stories and films trancend time, in a tales as old as time.
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