LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Thoughts on Final Paper: The Desexualization and Sanitized Innocence of Disney Princesses

on April 11, 2013 2:24pm

 Disney Princess

Early in the semester, I found a strong connection to the fairy tales we read that have been remade as a Disney classic. Originally, my argument followed in suit with many scholars that have argued that Walt Disney perpetuated a chauvinistic and patriarchal ideal that featured women who ultimately were at the mercy of the men in their life. This has been evident in these films through the lack of a maternal figure, the only adult women are typically evil and violent, the father figure always transfers control to the husband at the end of the film, and it is always Prince Charming that rescues the princess from a near death experience. As a woman, I obviously find this problematic because it instills into the minds of young girls everywhere that our happiness is dependent on a man. While I do not consider myself an outright feminist, I would imagine many other women would find this notion not only discriminatory but also a continuation of many current ideologies that women are nothing without the help from a man. After proposing my initial thoughts of this, I quickly realized that many people have also found these truths to be evident and there was no clear original argument that I was making, so I have since changed the focus of my paper.

Rather than necessarily chastising Disney, I decided to figure out and understand why he chose this way to market a majority of his corporation. When I looked back on the original fairy tales of Snow White, Rapunzel, the Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast I noticed incredible amounts of sex and violence that were heavily interspersed throughout the entirety of the story, some of which certainly did not seem suitable for children. Then as I began re-watching the Disney movies regarding these stories, I noticed that while Disney may have harped on the patriarchal dominance of a man, he also desexualized and took out a lot of the violence that shrouded the original tales, which made them more accessible for children. In the original Rapunzel, she is not only described as hoisting up the prince to the tower with her long hair for presumably sexual encounters, the story also features pregnancy out of wedlock, which is hardly the story I would want my child to read. Ironically, these parts of the story did not seem to make the Disney movie Tangled. Furthermore, Disney took out a lot of the violence that is featured in the original stories of Snow White, Ariel, and Belle and instead, he created a more romantic story line in order to cast a cloak of innocence on the movies to make them more affable for children. Through further research it can be adequately argued and demonstrated that while Disney may not be revered in the Women’s Studies department in Ustler Hall, his ability to make subversive tales into a more child friendly story have certainly prevailed and allowed him to remain as the leading force in children’s entertainment today.

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2 responses to “Thoughts on Final Paper: The Desexualization and Sanitized Innocence of Disney Princesses

  1. Since my final paper is also surrounding the subject of princess tales and the Disney adaptations of these tales, I thought it appropriate to say that I agree with Disney’s obvious preference of males over females. This concept is not in any way specific to only Disney, but also to the original versions of the tales and adaptations through out history.
    My belief is that profound display of male heroes and damsels in distress in the Disney versions is to appeal to a large audience. While this may offend some feminists (and just women in general), it conforms to traditional gender roles that are relate able even if not practiced by many. The relate ability is what attracts viewers or readers to stories, which is why the classic tales have persisted over time.
    I also agree on your point that Disney did a good job at making the tales more children friendly. Disney eliminated a lot of the original violence or even sexual abuse of the female leads. Even if Disney included the violence, it was usually downplayed to seem insignificant. For example, Beast is the stereotypical example of an abusive boyfriend, but the only scene where his violence is projected as negative is when Belle first arrives at the castle. Towards the end of the film, Beast’s violent behavior is a preferable trait as he is trying to protect his castle and the woman he loves.
    Disney also has a lot of sexual undertones that are downplayed. The entire concept of princes kissing sleeping princesses alludes to rape, but very few if any viewers catch that reference. I personally did not even consider that notion until it was mentioned to me as an adult in college. Much of the appeal of Disney is children’s innocence; therefore, it is necessary for Disney to eliminate as much violence and sexual references as possible to make the tales fit its own reputation.

  2. jklager says:

    I do consider myself to be an outright Feminist. Having said this it needs to be remembered that the definition of feminism is broad, having gone through many waves, i.e. the first wave of feminism Women’s Suffrage and then the second wave of feminism in the eighties. The second wave of feminism deals with the “men are bad” motto that many associate with feminism. The second wave of Feminism also dealt with the taking away femininity from women and attempting to break down gender roles. By trying to break down the hegemonic roles though Feminists from the second wave were mostly opposed to motherhood and other “typical female duties.” Having said this there is the idea that we have moved into a third wave of feminism where it is okay to be a feminist, it is okay to want equal pay, the right to choose what happens to our bodies, and the right to be more than a mother/wife. Also though, it is okay to wear dresses, it is okay to want to be a mother and be with a man, and it is okay to enjoy “feminine things.” It is much easier for me to get behind this rationale and really break down gender. I can be as loud, opinionated, in control of my body, love my boyfriend, and want to be a teacher; I can do all of these things and wear my polka dotted dress. These are all the aspects of gender I personally accept and want in my life.
    Having said all of this I want to now look at your comment about Disney princesses. I agree hands down that it is great how Disney for the most part diminished the sexuality and violence within the films they put out. There are definitely undertones and suggestions of sexuality throughout a lot of these movies but they are trends that we as adults are picking up on not the young children under the age of ten that are watching them. What I really want to focus on though is when you were discussing the male presence within these adaptations. I think there is a lot of truth in the idea that women are somewhat passed along from absentee father to heroic prince throughout many of the older Disney films. I do think it is important to note some more recent Disney films that have come around. In Mulan we see a female take charge and enter the army to defend her country. Granted, she has to lie to everyone and she only does this because she shames her family and cannot obtain a husband. Another instance we encounter is in Tangled we see Rapunzel’s strong desire to become a part of the world outside her tower. She does fall in love but beyond that she as an agency in her wish to go out and have adventures in the world she dreams of. Finally, in Brave we see a story of a young girl who is told she must marry as her duty to her clan. Through a series of events she manages to save her family and repair her relationship with her mother. She also remains true to her desire to not be forced into marriage but instead gets to decide her life for herself. This is a huge improvement from previous films such as Snow White or Cinderella. I think that as women gain strength and independence films and books for children will begin to reflect this independence more and more.

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