After my last post on guys holding doors open, I had several people send me messages asking about my opinion on feminism/gender roles. So I started drafting a post on the topic.
It was super boring. And also really, really long.
So I thought, Hey, Amy, you know a lot of intelligent, gracious Christian women. Why not ask some of them to take over your blog and write about issues related to faith and feminism? So I did.
Some of these women would describe themselves as feminists, some would not. Some are married, some are single. Some are egalitarian, some are complementarian, some are please-don’t-give-me-either-of-those-labels. All are my friends, and I am so excited to share their thoughts with you over the next few weeks.
Welcome to the Feminism February series!
Here’s the first question I asked: Do you think Disney princesses are helpful or hurtful in teaching young girls what it means to be a woman?
Some people have concerns about Disney princesses creating unrealistic beauty standards and looking to men for fulfillment (which are definitely worth talking about), but I don’t think they deserve the entire conversation. Most of them demonstrate character traits that are great for young girls to see. It’s hard to choose one favorite, so here are three: I love that Rapunzel is selfless but still knows how to fight for herself and the truth; Jasmine refuses to be objectified by her father and other men in power; and Cinderella shows kindness and graciousness in long-suffering.
The only princess I take real issue with? Ariel. This 16-year-old breaks the only rule her dad has (which is actually pretty reasonable) and sells her soul to an obviously evil witch to woo a man she’s never met (only with the help of her appearances). Though she runs into brief trouble, there are hardly any consequences in the end. But she’s a pretty singer and feels like an outsider sometimes, so I guess it’s okay?
– Taylor B.
For more from Taylor, visit her blog, Crowd vs. Critic.
Disney princesses portray characteristics that everyone—not only women—should have. Belle (my personal favourite) ignores an entire town’s derision, stands up for her father, says “no” to a man everyone else thinks she should marry, reads books, sacrifices herself for someone she loves…those are things every young girl should be taught to value. Be yourself. Follow your dreams. Keep your word. Be strong, be honest, love learning.
The problem lies not in what Disney says a woman should be, but in why. Most Disney princesses’ sole purpose for being strong, independent, clever, etc. is to catch a prince. The message is not “you are a valuable human being” but rather “if you’re all these things, a more valuable human being will fall in love with you and fix your life.” Be good enough, and you’ll get a prince. Life doesn’t work that way—life shouldn’t work that way. A woman shouldn’t make herself into something a prince wants; she should make herself into whatever she wants to be. I think Disney is helpful in teaching girls what a woman should be, but hurtful by turning healthy striving for valuable characteristics into pressure to become “worthy” of a prince.
– Elizabeth S.
For more from Elizabeth, visit her blog, Everyday Terrors.
Let me just start off by saying that I love Disney princesses. I’m a sucker for a good Disney movie, and I probably know all the lyrics to every Disney song. Belle was always my favorite princess growing up, and as a bookish, imaginative child it encouraged me that even the bookworms can be heroes.
I don’t think they have to be harmful. The Disney princess has done a decent job of evolving (Ariel took us a few steps back). Like cultural blogger Colin Stokes (whose TEDtalks and blog posts I cannot recommend enough), I think a lot of the problems attributed to Disney princesses are more closely related to Disney marketing.
Take Cinderella. Essentially, it’s about a young woman who responds to jealousy and mean-spiritedness with kindness and optimism. Her kindness gains her devoted friends who help her when she’s in trouble.
However, you can’t sell kindness: just glittery costumes. Disney makes money telling girls that Cinderella is about a beautiful princess in an overpriced tiara, not a kind girl in rags. As a result, the virtues celebrated in Cinderella—like gentleness and compassion—are labelled “for girls only.” That’s sad news for girls and boys.
That being said, it’s worth considering when girls should watch the earlier princess movies. Why not start off with more proactive Disney heroines and introduce Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty later? As they mature, girls may be better able distinguish between cultural values and timeless virtues—a skill they will always need, no matter what movie they’re watching.
– Paula W.
For more from Paula, visit the blog she contributes to, The PWR Lounge.
I could argue that certain princesses do better than others as role models for young impressionable children. But since I take it be fairly obvious that Belle is objectively superior to Ariel, I’ll focus on the effect of the princess trope on feminine development.
Most princess stories problematically establish romance as the telos (purpose, end) for women. Now, there’s nothing wrong with romance itself. But when our stories tend to place exclusive and supreme value on the girl ending up with the guy, I get concerned.
Romantic love is nice, great even. But there are other kinds of love that are equally important and other relationships that matter.* We can’t lose sight of the beauty of family and richness of friendship. You can live a life full of love in the absence of romance. Recent films like Brave and Frozen get this right. Girls should learn that romance is only one dimension in the world of love, and our princess stories ought to reflect that.
*Stuffy theological footnote: In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis explores four different varieties of love from a theological perspective: affection, friendship, romantic love, and charity.
– Suzanne N.
For more from Suzanne, convince her to start a blog, because the world would be a better place if she did.
Your turn: are Disney princesses good role models? Do you have a favorite?