Episode 17: Feminist Kryptonite: Disney

Join Lindsay and Malia as they discuss Lindsay’s biggest “Feminist Kryptonite,” Disney and the Disney Princess franchise and its potentially harmful gender stereotypes.

Artemis’ Tinkerbell Post mentioned in the podcast.

If you love this topic, make sure to follow the Feminist Disney Tumblr.


12 thoughts on “Episode 17: Feminist Kryptonite: Disney

  1. The orginal story of The Little Mermaid does sound deppressing–she doesn’t get her prince and turns into sea foam. I took a children’s lit class in college, and my professor gave a great analysis.

    That the little mermaid was special by belonging to the sea and sea people. However, the mermaid was foolish and traded it to be human. She realizes her idea doesn’t go as planed, i.e. the prince goes with another girl. The mermaid’s sisters made a deal with the witch and let her to become sea foam and be back apart of the sea. I think this was a cautionary tale Hans Christian Andersen tells to realize who you are is special enough and that it’s unwise to trade who you are or who you want to be for something else.

    I need to go back to my college notes from the class, which I still have somewhere, but this same professor also had a theory, a pretty good one if I remember, of the story of Snow White, was a story of Esther that turned into folklore.

  2. It occurred to me while I listened to this podcast, that the church is a lot like disney. Getting better in some areas, not perfect yet, and much of the unfortunate stuff is a product of the times, but there’s still lots to love. :)

  3. Agree with Ashley- the Little Mermaid story (in the original) is fascinating and complex – you could argue that it’s a social commentary about the inviolability of class worlds, or as Ashley points about about knowing yourself and the cost of betraying that.

    The mermaid goes through torment for her transformation – drinking the potion is excruciating, walking to her feels as though she were walking on sharp swords. The prince isn’t a passive creature of desire but a character who has real emotions and who chooses not some evil siren but a fully human woman who actually was involved in his rescue. In the end the mermaid is given the option of becoming herself again – IF she kills the prince and lets his blood drip on her human legs. She chooses to throw herself into the sea instead and becomes an elemental spirit.

    Key to the story is that the mermaid is not only chasing love, she wants to have a human soul which she can only acquire if the prince loves her and thus shares his with her.

    It’s not a children’s story at all but it is a really, really cool bit of writing.

    [also – don’t be too hard on Hans! The really creepy awful tales are often not his at all but are Brothers Grimm. Hans had some wonderful stuff, with the magic and glitter and prettiness there, but often some interesting depth as well]

  4. I was really disappointed in the comment about princesses, specifically Jasmine, not physically fighting. I hardly see how physically fighting it out should be a feminist quality; in fact it is usually considered a masculine quality. Disney has started adding more and more violent battles in their movies with both male and female characters participating, but I don’t think that makes the movies any more pro-feminism.

    The feminist movement should NEVER advocate for violence, even in works of fiction, as it is counter to everything that the feminist movement is trying to achieve.

    1. Sarah, I didn’t see them advocating for violence. I took their comments to mean that the princesses were passive. They couldn’t defend themselves. They couldn’t “fight back.” It’s not they they were advocating for Jasmine to go start killing people. They wanted her to control her own fate. To watch her own back. To take care of herself. At least that’s how I heard it.

      1. From a feminist perspective my biggest problem with Disney is that everything is filtered through a masculine lens. Even when they have updated their stories they make men and women equal by giving them equal abilities to physically fight, like Brave. It seems on par with the celebration of violence throughout American cinema. For example in Prince Caspian half the movie is battles, when it’s only two pages in the original book. I was disappointed that this increased violence wasn’t even mentioned, because that should definitely be anti-feminism.

        For Jasmine specifically, I would say if any princess achieves at feminism it’s her; asserting her rights, stating her opinions, acting upon them, overthrowing patriarchal traditions. If her only fault was to not be able to wrestle the staff away from Jafar because she didn’t physically have the strength that doesn’t mean she’s not a great feminist.

  5. Wow, Ladies what about the Strong Women in Disney’s films that are Villians becasue they don’t submitted to men, Cruella De Ville or Maleficent. These women are evil because they are Stong Women who order men around.

    Also not mention how LGBT poeple are portraied as villians, such as Ursula who is based on the Drag Queen Divine.

  6. Feminist kryptonite episodes are my favorite. I’ve never been in to Disney too much but my sister is and we always argue about how great she thinks it is. This will give me some ammo at our next Xmas party. Teehee. :)

  7. During the 90’s I was 6-15. My mom was very selective about what I watched, and Disney movies was something I could watch. I LOVED all of the movies that came out during that time period. However the marketing was not like it is today. I think the most problematic thing I see is how girls are automatically associated with Disney princess.

  8. I’m coming to this a little late, but I just have to say that I completely disagreed with the assessment of Beauty and the Beast that Belle is a battered woman who marries her abuser. The Beast does show some borderline abusive behavior, but I think the way Belle deals with it is actually a pretty good example for young women. The first time he becomes violent and destructive, she leaves immediately, stating that she can’t stay another minute. Her own safety is clearly more important to her than the promise she’s made to stay. When she returns, it’s only because he’s hurt and needs help, and then she quickly stands up for herself, showing him that he can’t bully her. After this, the Beast is forced to recognize her as another human being (if he even is a human being at this point?), and he really does change. By the end of the movie, we’re meant to believe that he has been psychologically healed and is no longer violent. Maybe not the most realistic plot line for an abuser, but given that context (i.e. that he repents and changes), I don’t see anything wrong or anti-feminist about Belle’s behavior and approach to him. I personally think Belle is the most feminist of the Disney princesses and I find very little to fault her for. From a Christian perspective, I like the Beast’s story line of repentance and redemption. He recognizes what he’s done wrong, and Belle eventually forgives him. Let’s just hope they get a good marriage counselor so he can deal with those anger issues on a more long-term basis, haha.

  9. I just listened to this podcast and I’m coming in late too. I loved Disney as a kid. I actually bought books and learned a lot about the history of the company and all the animated films. This podcast was fun to listen to, but it could have been so much more with a little more research put into it. There is a LOT to get into. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Disney, but I think it’s a good idea to recognize the problems that it has.

    As far as Belle goes, anyone who is interested should watch this clip from the (old) documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly http://youtu.be/rL1q19yrLb0 I found the part where they ask the girls what advice they would give Belle particularly disturbing. The story of Beauty and the Beast is really a story about the Beast. He’s the one with the character arc. Belle doesn’t really do anything but be nice to him. She makes no effort to change him. All the castle servants go to the effort of giving him advice and encouraging him. Her love for him sort of comes out of the blue in the end. I don’t really feel like she ever really knew the Beast. I like that she’s into books, but am a little disappointed that her favorite book has to be some unknown prince/princess story. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course. I like my share of romance novels, but it would have been cool if Belle’s favorite book had been something other than a “girl” book.

    1. Wow, this is so different than the way I interpret the story. I actually think that the romance between Belle and the Beast is the most compelling, believable, and well-developed of all the Disney princess plotlines. In fact, it’s still one of my favorite romantic movies. I don’t think her love “comes out of the blue in the end.” They grow to know each other throughout the movie as each has to learn to see the other as a human being. Her showing him compassion and understanding (i.e. “being nice”) is actually a really big deal since everyone else has just rejected him without bothering to look deeper. And she DOES make an effort to change him in that she stands up to him when even the servants are afraid to do that (the scene when she’s cleaning his wounds). I understand that there are some valid feminist critiques to be made, but I stand by my original statement that Belle is a pretty good feminist heroine (at least as compared to the other princesses).

      One additional note: her favorite book is meant to mirror her own story (She meets prince charming but won’t discover that it’s him until later/”chapter 3″). And when she describes what she likes about it, she doesn’t even mention romance. She says, “Far-off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise.”

      Sorry to be so nit-picky about this, but I think these details are important, at least to the way I understand the story and her character.

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