Last week, Keira Knightley revealed that her three-year-old daughter is not allowed to watch Cinderella or The Little Mermaid, because Cinderella “waits around for a rich guy to rescue her” and Ariel gives up her voice for a man. This sparked a debate in the media about the portrayal of women in these films, and whether we should be banning them.
Like most young girls, I was obsessed with Disney’s fantasy world of magical lands and beautiful princesses. I remember regularly prancing around the living room in my Rapunzel dress wishing I could be a princess too. The majority of us have been fed these fairy tale stories from a very young age, and it is true that a lot of my childhood was spent watching Aurora waiting for a man to wake her up from her slumber, Cinderella being saved from a life of poverty by a man, and Ariel giving up her voice to be with Eric. I can’t say that I gave this much thought as a child, but now I can see that these representations of women are outdated and even sexist. However, I don’t think that watching Disney films has had any lasting impact on my expectations of women nor my conceptions of gender roles- in fact, now as an adult, I strongly identify as a feminist.
I don’t think my love of Disney films was necessarily because of the romantic storylines, I think I was just enchanted by Disney’s magical charm (and the beautiful dresses). But this is problematic in itself, as some people argue that Disney Princesses place strict ideas of gender roles and beauty standards on women. This is one thing I do worry about, as in a society driven by social media and pressures to maintain a perfect public persona, I would say that women are urged to look and behave a certain way. But do I believe that Disney films contribute to this? Truthfully, I’m not sure.
One good thing is that Disney has been rebranding its image in recent years by moving away from the traditional plots of Princesses and Prince Charmings. For example, neither Frozen, Moana nor Brave use romance as the main storylines, and they all promote strong female protagonists. In fact, Frozen replaces romantic love with sisterly love, as Elsa’s ‘true love’ for Anna, her sister, has the power to bring her back to life. This definitely did not hinder the success of the film, as it ranks as the highest grossing animated film of all time, and it earned $1.276 billion in worldwide box office revenue- for about a year it was impossible to escape from this franchise. Moana and Brave also both received critical acclaim and significant commercial success at the box office. Therefore, the rising success of these films makes me think that the idea of weak women waiting to be saved by their Prince Charmings, is now a thing of the past.
So, going back to Keira Knightley; I do understand where she is coming from, and yes, I do agree that traditional fairy tales can be old-fashioned and sexist. But is banning them going too far? I think it is likely that they will decline in popularity anyway, especially because Frozen 2 is set for release in 2019, and I’m confident that the franchise will once again take over our lives in one way or another.