If there’s one thing I want to be when I grow up, it’s a Disney princess. . . Between the glamorous dresses and the dashing person that comes and sweeps you off your feet, what’s not to love. . .? Until that dream comes true, at least we can rewatch our favorite Disney princess movies.

Jelani Addams Rosa, Noelle Devoe, and Danielle Fox. “Which Disney Princess Are You?Seventeen, April 24 2019

We have looked at classic and contemporary fairy tales in order to understand the ways that they tell stories about socially acceptable womanhood and socially acceptable manhood. Examining the representations of masculinity and femininity in these stories contributes to our understanding of the ways that gender is both produced and reproduced through storytelling. In the earliest days of Disney, viewers were presented with “perfect girls” whose lives were oriented toward heterosexual romance and love. Contemporary Disney fairy tales have responded to the cultural demand for different kinds of role models for the children who enjoy these stories. The most recent Disney films feature headstrong and enthusiastic characters like Tiana (Princess and the Frog), Merida (Brave), and Moana (Moana).

Scholars in WGS examine the shifting representations of girlhood and womanhood in Disney, but our focus is broader than simply assessing whether or not a character like Merida or Aurora or Moana are “good role models.” Disney stories are also stories about familial relationships, beauty, decision making, friendship, and love. Our exploration of Disney has focused on the ways that it produces stories that highlight heterosexual love and normative romance. More importantly, our exploration of Disney has emphasized the ways that stories of heterosexual love and romance are not simply stories – they are cultural narratives that function “in obedience to larger social structures.” As we have learned throughout this course, it is these larger social structures – structures of power and domination that include patriarchy, capitalism, settler colonialism, and white supremacy – that are the object of feminist critique.

Test Yourself

Fairy Tales

CHALLENGE ONE: One way that many viewers of Disney films re-live their favorite films is through music. Select a well known song from a major Disney princess film. Listen to it a few times. Find the lyrics online. What assumptions does the song make about love? Dig a little deeper to consider the underlying assumptions that the song makes about “the good life.”

Fairy Tales

CHALLENGE TWO: For this challenge, visit the Disney Princess website. There, you’ll find all sorts of videos, crafts, activities, and (of course) items to purchase. Explore the site, but pay special attention to the ways that each princess is presented on the site. For instance, if you click on the picture of Moana, you’ll find an image of Moana on a boat looking towards but not quite at the viewer, a tag line (“Journey Beyond), and a description of the kind of girl that she is. Look closely at the language used in these descriptions, pay attention to the way that the body is represented. What stories about race, class, gender, and age are being told here?

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