"Ranked: Disney Princesses From Least to Most Feminist", even though it was originally posted on nerve.com back in July 2012. I hadn't seen the post first time round, but when it appeared on several lists of "most interesting web posts of 2012" my spouse browsed during his end of year week off from work, he kindly forwarded the link.
After watching the latest addition to the animated princess annals, 2012's Brave (distributed by Disney, but created under the auspices of Pixar), Saraiya got to musing about the relative feminism displayed by Disney princess heroines. With the caveat that few could do much justice to the label, Saraiya proceeds to rank, from 10 to 1, the Disney princesses, from least to most feminist. Here are her results:
10. Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)
9. Snow White
7. Ariel (The Little Mermaid)
6. Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
5. Jasmine (Aladdin)
4. Rapunzel (Tangled)
3. Tiana (The Princess and the Frog)
|Four white princesses, front and center; four princesses of color, safely contained|
My first reaction to the list was "Well, yes, of course." For with one early exception, and some minor shuffling amongst the most recent, the films listed appear in largely chronological order:
Snow White (1937)
Sleeping Beauty (1959) 7 here; 10 above
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Pocahontas (1995) 4 here; 2 above
Mulan (1998) 3 here; 1 above
The Princess and the Frog (2009) 2 here; 3 above
Tangled (2010) 1 here; 4 above
Second-wave feminism emerged during Disney's dormant period (the gap between 1959's Sleeping Beauty and 1989's The Little Mermaid); given Mr. Disney's personal views, it hardly seems surprising to find that the earlier works, ones made under his own supervision, reflect far more regressive gender politics than ones made during and after the Disney Renaissance. Though it took Disney a few years to catch up to the times, its more recent films acknowledge feminist principles, at least those that have moved from radical assertion to taken for granted.
The more I looked at the pictures that accompanied Saraiya's rankings, though, the more I began to wonder about what role race played in the construction of feminism in the Disney oeuvre. Four of the top five "most feminist" Disney princesses are girls of color: the Arabian Jasmine; the Native American Pocahontas; the Chinese Mulan; and the African-American Tiana. The one white chick in the bunch, Tangled's Rapunzel, earns a lower feminist ranking than three of these four, despite being the heroine of the most recent Disney release.
That Disney has taken strides to become more racially inclusive (even if often misguidedly so) is surely something for feminists to applaud. Yet I wonder what ideas about women and race will gradually be instilled in young viewers who watch these films over and over, as do so many American families with VCRs or DVDs, and young children. Being a strong woman is good (or perhaps even required?) if one is a person of color, but white girls need not bother? Young girls born into white privilege, but not into class privilege, may find themselves quite disillusioned when they find it takes a little more effort for all their dreams to come true than they were led to expect...
Disney Pictures logo: Logoblog.org
Disney Princesses, group and individual: The Disney Wiki
Next time on RNFF
Men in love in the Age of Sail: Alex Beecroft's Blessed Isle