Disney vs Feminism: when I grow up I want to be a princess

I have a secret to share with you, my lovely readers. I’ve written before about how I’ve never really grown up, how I still love children’s books and dressing up and regressing into Disney films and musicals on a Sunday afternoon. But that’s not the worst of my regressions. My big secret is that, somewhere deep inside, hidden away from all judgement and ridicule, a very big part of my heart will always want to be a princess.

Yes, yes, you read that right. I want to be a princess. I want to fall for a stranger in a forest glen surrounded by my animal friends, to dance around a ballroom with a beast before dropping my slipper on the palace steps, to ride in a pony and trap with Prince Eric, and see the world on a magic carpet with a street rat who looks suspiciously like Tom Cruise but with all the extremeties of his features ironed out and NONE of the crazy.Β  (And breathe!) I want to run around the village in floating peasant dresses and attend balls in enormous pouffy gowns, be presented with a library (can you imagine? I’m sorry, Marilyn/Lorelei, I see what you’re getting at, but I’d rather have books than diamonds any day!), to be tuneful and graceful and beautiful…

…gold of sunshine in her hair
lips that shame the red, red rose

…you get the picture.

My favourite childhood Disney princess was Aurora, and I distinctly remember my friend Lottie and I bonding early on in our acquaintance, dancing around the kitchen with a broom and a mop, singing Once Upon a Dream. I never associated with her physical features and I MUCH prefered Cinderella’s dress, but I wanted to be like Aurora, to be gentle and kind, graceful and musical, to dance through forest glens and sing the birds to my side… I can’t say I much cared for Prince Phillip, but I did like Samson, his horse.

Later I fell for Ariel with her trove of collected treasures (possibly the start of my red hair obsession!) and Belle with her books… I associated with these dreamers, lost in past objects and fairy stories much as I felt to be, clinging to something or somewhere else. Very slightly stubborn, but again gentle-natured, kind and graceful. In these latter princesses there was an emphasis on their intelligence, their unwillingness to settle for a life in Daddy’s palace, for the local sleazeball (oh how I loved Gaston though!) or for any of the pompous, arrogant suitors neighbouring kingdoms sent for the Sultan’s approval.

And I thought this was feminism. I thought it was about shaking off the shackles of what was expected of you as “female” and seeking your own adventure, following your own path, choosing your own man. I believed feminism was about choice.

Turns out I was wrong. Feminism, it seems, is about refusing little girls the escapism of pink and pretty and dresses and wanting to be a princess – because this alone preconditions them to a life beneath the glass ceiling.

Feminism is about confiscating dolls, because they force a nurturing stereotype, and because even if you give children warrior dolls, it seems, they would rather marry them off to the next-door neighbour’s Action Men.

Feminism is about forcing little girls down non-traditional routes – even if they want to cook, clean and raise the kids – because to play mother is to go against the cause.

And if all this is feminism, I want out.

As a woman, I want the choice as to whether or not to be a wife, a mother, a career woman – or all of these things. I do not want my femininity to be called into question if I don’t have maternal instincts, but neither do I want to be labeled anti-feminist for cooing over a baby in a pretty pink outfit or giving my neice an old bridesmaid dress to play princesses in. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I want it all. “It all” includes the family, the home, and the “happy ever after”.

If feminism means no more dressing up in my Laura Ashley frocks to watch period dramas, no more dancing around the living room while Deborah Kerr teaches Yul Brynner to polka, no more catching myself singing out loud in public places, then I’m through with it. I don’t want to overcome the oppression of men only to find myself limited by oppressive women. I want equality, not seniority, independence, not sovereignty.

I want choice.

(If you’re wondering what inspired this post read this article from the TimesOnline)


15 thoughts on “Disney vs Feminism: when I grow up I want to be a princess

  1. I’d just like to say (to the author of that Times article) that doesn’t mean neglecting the feminine side to our nature that likes to nurture or liking to dress up makes us lesser people. To my mind, being a true feminist is to know and appreciate those special things that make us feminine and to use them to create the life we want.

    If a three year old girl wants to be a Disney princess because they’re pretty and sweet and kind, then why not. Childhood is about more than just Disney films. If a young girl leads a balanced childhood where they can experience the Disney pricesses with running about outside and reading the Famous Five (where the girls were definitely not wimps!) then they will grow up to be balanced young women; and that is all we can ask.

    • I agree completely that we should learn to know and use our femininity to create the life we choose. My argument is that I would like to be able to choose to be traditionally feminine without it being seen as comprising my modern right to equality. πŸ˜€

      I definitely had balance as a child – long before my brothers came along I had a box of Matchbox cars which I loved to play with. But my favourite – out of dozens – was the pink one. I’m certain there was no outside influence over that decision.

      My brother also used to repeatedly steal my doll. One birthday my Mum bought him a doll of his very own. As it turned out, he didn’t want A doll – he wanted MY doll. Beacuse, y’know, it was MINE! What he really wanted for his birthday was a thundercats figurine!

      I grew up wanting to be Sarah in A Little Princess AND George in the Famous Five books (she was so much better than Anne!) wishing I was Ariel in The Little Mermaid while reading Swallows and Amazons and just wishing I lived near a lake with an island and had a boat. My friend I I used to walk over to Cannock Chase and build dens – then play house in them! The point is, just because a child has one does not mean she will disregard the alternative.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more. Feminism for me is about redressing the balance, fairness, and yes, choice. It is not about killing dreams or replacing one set of so-called out-dated values with similarly restrictive ‘feminist’ ideals.

  3. I know exactly how you feel…

    I am not all that bothered about having a career. I would love, one day, to have a job that I loved, doing some sort of design related thing. But to me, that comes after & will be structured around my desire to have a family & be a mother. I sometimes feel (in certain company) that admitting that I don’t want to go out and get a high paying job, and that we want to try for kids sometime, is somehow shameful – because it’s not what a modern women should want. And I hate the fact that I want to be a stay at home mum should be, and is, dismissed as inpractical and unfair and a betrayal of feminism!!

    Yet all through my childhood I mixed Disney with playing outside in the mud. I dressed up my barbies, but I also played scaletrix and so on – I think as long as our children are well balanced (as ElementalGrace says above), then we shouldn’t worry about the labels too much, or try to prove that we are a certain thing.

    To me, feminism is about the ability to choose, not about somehow emasculating ourselves. To be able to decide whether to be a mother or to follow a career path – and if we want a career then it’s the right to an equal chance at one. I want to be able to vote for who I want to, and to decide what I want to do with my life – and not have my husband decide for me. That is feminism. I think a lot of people take the concept too far, to the point where it is ridiculous.

    Does that make sense?

    (And I still love to curl up on the sofa and watch Disney films, singing along at the top of my voice!)

  4. I don’t know what it is like for you, but in the States, the Disney princesses empire has become ridiculous. Girls don’t seem to have a choice. Almost any product that is not exclusively for girls is turned into the Disney princesses version so that girls know it’s for them. It’s being shoved down their throats. I think that is a huge problem. I agree choice and balance are great but marketers are doing a great job of forcing the message to young girls that this is their only option. I realize parents have a responsibility to help bring the balance to young girls’ lives but right now as I look forward to the next few years of my daughters life, I’m overwhelmed with how huge that task will be given the proliferation of Disney princesses.

    I also don’t always like the messages of femininity and masculinity that Disney teaches: http://www.feministing.com/archives/010140.html. There seems to be only one type of feminine character and one type of masculine character that is appropriate in theses movies and anything else is villianized or ridiculed. I don’t see choice being presented in these movies.

    • Hi Fia,

      I don’t think the Disney princesses have quite such a hold over here. They’re readily available, but our Cbeebies and CBBC TV shows have a lot of market share – In The Night Garden, though completely beyond the understanding of anyone older than 5, is huge with the teenies. From about 5 there’s a lot of pink and a lot of princess, but a surprising number of 8+ girls are into things like Dr Who. Like I say, it’s readily available, but not shoved down our throats to the same extent.

      Found the film reel very interesting – so much so I’m going to write a blog post about it to follow on from this one! So thank you for the inspiration! πŸ™‚ Do you mind if I quote the latter part of your comment as a lead in. and write my post as an answer?

  5. It’s not feminism we want, its equality – To be,say and do what is right for us as women and individuals. However this is a tough thing to achieve when we are up against feminists and chauvanists.

    • I think “as individuals” is the key here. We tend to lump ourselves into male and female subsets and forget that we’re each a different person who wants different elements of each from life. If we can get that sorted the rest might just follow!

  6. Great post Cie. I have to say that I wouldn’t give my child any more princess items than I would toy race cars. I would give them both. And through doing that they would have the choice and I agree – that it what it all come down to. The right to choose. If a prson has to be one specific thing… well, why bother. I am a princess who loves to climb trees. Deal with it. he deal with it, by the way, is aimed at the Times study, not you!)

  7. I just read this and thought I’d input quickly – I was listening to The Little Mermaid soundtrack on my walk to work today (yep, really!) and in the poor unfortunate souls song about Arial leaving the sea to find Eric, the line that got me thinking was when Arial says ‘but I’ll never see my father and sisters again’ and evil Ursula answers ‘but you’ll have your man’ …!! What type of message does that send out? But seriously, did we as little girls ever notice these types of messages? No, as we loved our Disney films! I’m not sure if it has a sumbliminal effect… Okay, Disney isn’t feminist friendly, especially the golden oldies, but it’s great feelgood stuff!! Great post Princess Cie!! xx

  8. U know m xactly like u…. m a teen and an adolescent….. I have fantasies like urs …lil different though…I don wanna b princess here, just luv magic stuff n happy ever afters n characters like gummy bears n disney musicals…n I sleep with loads of soft toys around me…also I luv collecting happy meal toys from Mc.Donalds….well thats my fantasy …m kinna unable to xcept the fact that I have steped in adulthood. n have to say my happy innocent childhood day goodbye forever …I just cant stop luvin all the things I always luved as a kid….. ppl around find it weird…. n keep advisin me to stop behavin like that…. even my frnds don find it cool….. overall I wanna tell u how happy I M to know that ppl like me xsist n m not an xceptional case here…lolzz….

    n Oh… ignore the typos… m kinna too in short cuts

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