Opinion | In Defense of the Princess

16 Jul

Today I saw the preview for Disney’s new animation The Princess and the Frog, a movie that is already all the buzz in cyberspace. Some writers and bloggers are discussing Disney’s first black Princess, either applauding a new role-model or critiquing Disney’s representation of race, ethnicity, and culture–not at all a new criticism of Disney films.

Others, however, are complaining about Princesses in general, arguing that Princesses, particularly Disney’s, promote a negative stereotype for young girls to look up to. It is this view of Princesses that I aim to address. While I understand such views, I feel the writers are overlooking something of utmost importance–Disney films are based on fairy-tales, a most ancient form of story-telling, and one which embodies universal archetypes and symbols.

The point of a fairy-tale is to provide a narrative by which to understand the world and what it means to be human. These narratives resonate with innate themes–the quest, transformation, conflict–and the characters serve as symbols of values held in high esteem–honor, justice, virtue. Passed down through generations, our fairy-tales share commonalities across cultures, languages, and time. Disney, then, has only adapted universal stories, themes, and archetypes.

A few of the articles I’ve read argue that Princesses within Disney movies promote negative qualities such as reliance upon a prince. True, in some films, particularly earlier ones, the Princess does await her Prince, but this is a classical script to illustrate a theme, such as the quest. All of the characters, not only the women, are flat and undeveloped because they are archetypes and symbols. In later films–Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid–characters, both male and female, are more developed, undergo transformations, and represent desirable or undesirable traits and values.

Regarding desirable values, Disney’s Princesses are not lacking. Jasmine is strong-willed, wanting only sincerity and humility over money and grandeur; Ariel is independent, taking control of what she wants; Belle is a kind, caring, and empathetic bookworm, not afraid of standing out from the crowd.

To suggest that Princesses are negative representations of women is to overlook these positive values. One writer worried because her young daughter wants to be a Princess when she grows up as opposed to a doctor or president. Another contemplated removing Disney films from his home to ensure his daughter grows up independent and successful. True, the characters within fairy-tales are not career women, but children have little concept of “careers” and to make a character a doctor or president would be to strip the fairy-tale of the imaginative qualities through which a young child can make sense of the world around her.

I do not have children nor do I know many. But I do know women who used to be children, all of whom watched Disney movies and read fairy-tales as young girls. These women did not grow up yearning for men to save them but rather became successful and independent lawyers, journalists, vice-presidents, teachers, and mothers with strong values and virtue. And their success continues regardless if they have found their “prince” or are still looking.

Rather than worry about a young girl wanting to be a Princess waiting for her prince, one might fare better aiming to raise a confident, balanced, and intelligent girl who can distinguish, for herself, the difference between myth and reality. In the meantime, leave the Princesses and fairy-tales alone and a child to her childhood.


6 Responses to “Opinion | In Defense of the Princess”

  1. Anonymous July 17, 2009 at 5:45 PM #

    I also read an article complaining about princesses in fairy tales and disney movies recently and I agree. I grew up watching disney movies and still grew up normal and ambitious.

  2. Princess Jasmine July 18, 2009 at 8:44 PM #

    Thank you for the kind words about my want for humility and sincerity!! I love when people notice nice things about my personality. Well, Aladdin and I are doing fine – so in love! The Genie is doing well, also. He is actually about to be the star one of those "celeb-reality" shows. If he can dance off that extra 75 pounds he has put on, he wins quite a large sum of money!! Lets keep our fingers crossed. Take care, Anika. 😉

  3. Anonymous July 21, 2009 at 6:47 PM #

    I am a princess and I love being a princess. I also have a masters degree, support myself and do not rely on a prince to take care of me…Yes, sometimes it is nice to have a prince around-I mean who doesn't like to be taken care of from every once in awhile-but that doesn't make me a less ambitious person with a skewed perception of reality.

  4. Anonymous July 27, 2009 at 3:01 PM #

    I think the key is that being a princess means having things done for you. In theory, it seems the easier choice in life to depend upon "prince charming" (who has no flaws) to fix your life. As a princess, you don't have to work, you have servants to cater to your every whim, money to buy whatever you desire, and you get to dress up daily. Not to mention the fact that everybody loves a princess. Men want her and women want to be her. And you get to have parties all the time.

    Being a princess has an irresistable pull.

    Being independent and educated is wonderful (and I cherish every second of my life as one of those independent women) but it's difficult. It takes strength and determination. You have to work, oftentimes, hard. You can't dress up all the time because you just don't have the time. You will be broke at some points, wealthy at others. It's unstable but it's real and unlike being a princess, nobody can take it away from you just by leaving.

    So, when it comes to kids, let them want to be princesses but just remind them that life as a non-princess is also incredibly wonderful.

  5. Pia July 27, 2009 at 6:54 PM #

    Thank you, Anaka, for this article! Beautifully written. Another one to watch: Princess Protection Program on Nickelodeon. Cute movie.

    Princess Pia

  6. Princess Katie & Racer Steve August 5, 2009 at 3:26 PM #

    Hi. Someone sent me your link and I have to say, thank you for addressing this issue which I always found very strange.

    I'm the lead singer/songwriter in a rock band for kids called Princess Katie & Racer Steve (I'm the princess) and am always surprised when parents tell me about this whole "anti-princess culture."

    I don't think they're giving our girls enough credit here…why aren't we worried about our boys wearing capes to their corporate jobs when they get older or fearing that they'll want to jump off of tall buildings when they grow up?

    Something to think about. Thank you for the wonderful post and I hope you'll make it to a show sometime!

    Rock royally!



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