I started this entry when Disney announced the pretty pretty makeover of Princess Merida from Brave. Feminist websites (which I obviously frequent) were pretty pretty perturbed by the girlification of the badass princess unconcerned with appearances. In fact, going against feminine social conventions was kind of the point of her film… that and bear hijinks.
But now, Merida’s redesign has been sent to pretty pretty purgatory.
So where does that leave me, huh? I put a lot of research into this entry, dammit! I now have the search history of an 8-year-old girl and her femi-Nazi mother, and for what? For Disney to respond positively to a fan petition? Why did those crooks have to do that now? I exclaim my question to the unforgiving skies: “WHY?”
“You know what, I’m a man!” I thought. “I do what I want, dammit! If I want to write a blog about animated princesses, break out the pink frills and glitter ’cause I’m gettin’ this thing done!”
So instead of defending one princess redesign, I’ll just have to defend all of them. And since I’ve been called “more of a feminist than any girl I know,” (by a female mind you), I’m looking forward to this on multiple levels… haha…
I’m a man, I’m a man, I’m a man.
I don’t like being angry. So when I began my research this week, I was happy to find that the Disney Princess website is great fun. They have screenshots, backstories, videos telling girls how special they are. Games, dolls, dressing rooms for the most popular girls… you know, everything I could ever want. So obviously, I played around in the popular girls’ dressing rooms.
Why yes, ladies, I am single. Why do you ask?
But while giggling uncontrollably, I became disappointed. I only had five princess options (Rapunzel and Ariel were the others, for the curious). Where is my Mulan? I want to invade the dressing room of the princess who pretended to be a man. Is that so wrong?
But then I clicked on Mulan’s pretty pretty homepage. What I found wasn’t Mulan.
Really, these representations are not fair to most of these characters. Sure you can warp the image of Snow White because she’s dumb as socks. Aurora spent most of her time slumbering and pining for men, so she’s not great either. And yeah, Ariel made a deal with the devil in order to get a man (at the price of her voice… a little on the nose there, Disney).
But what about Cinderella? She was downtrodden, right? Until the universe granted all her dreams, foremost of which was a man… oh. Wait, Belle! She’s inquisitive and booksmart, and people sing about how weird she is! Until she develops Stockholm syndrome… and stays in an abusive relationship… because she believes she can change the Beast… and does. Dammit. Pocahontas yeah not even gonna try.
Let’s get a little more modern:
Mulan. Warrior (who, in the first scene of her film, is shown to be uncomfortable in the fancy garb OF A PRINCESS).
Tiana. Realized her dream of becoming a successful business owner. Not a princess.
Merida. Simply doesn’t give a shit.
My point? Disney has been trying to rectify the stereotype of their female leads. The inspirational videos on their pretty pretty website expressly state that any girl can be a princess. They show girls shooting arrows, racing go-karts, practicing judo… you know, not just drinking tea and pining for boys. They have that too, because some girls arethat way, to be real.
So why do all of their princesses end up looking the same? Does Disney believe all girls should end up in some cookie-cutter mold, probably while making cookies? Are they unaware of their adhesion to traditionalist values?
Maybe. But maybe it has less to do with societal impressionism and more to do with what really makes Disney churn out their shiny products: Money.
Outside of society questions or femininity discussions, could this simply be a business decision?
Let me pose a question. How much does doll manufacturing cost? Wouldn’t it be faster if you could have the same essential doll, paint it differently, drape it in different clothes and send it to be snatched off store shelves? And if you could do that, wouldn’t you?
See, I think the redesigned Merida was less a sign of messaging and more one of greed and product cohesion. They set the standard decades ago, and their new characters have to conform to the mold. Like literally, there’s a plastic mold in their factories.
It screams at the same pitch as messaging flaws, but what if it’s more complicated?
I’m not saying Merida’s pretty pretty redesign was a good thing. Frankly, the fact that public outcry changed Disney’s approach is pretty neat. There are enough people in the world who care that little girls get fed some pretty awful pop culture crap. It’s a good sign that things could change.
However, we should give Disney credit too. It’s a company, and will only do things when they get money out of it. If we don’t buy into their stereotypes, we can demand anything we want. The feminist movement (anyone can be anything) and the business world (cut out any differences we can) don’t merge well. Let’s give Disney credit for walking a pretty awkward tightrope. They’re doing their best, and they’re willing to change if we ask for it loud enough.
So let’s get some awesome new princesses. I for one want a mutant princess. Or a half dinosaur princess. Or maybe, like, a space cyborg princess who goes on adventures with nerdy bloggers. You know, something crazy.
And now let’s talk about the body image Disney imposes on young males…