A lot of people tend to criticize the Disney princesses as being anti-feminist which, as a mature grown-up adult who is a fan of Disney movies but recognizes that other people may have different opinions and legitimate criticisms, I tend to respond to something like this:
NO NO NO NO DISNEY IS AWESOME STOP SAYING THAT IT’S OKAY DISNEY PRINCESSES I WILL SNUGGLE YOU ALL AND PROTECT YOU FROM THE MEAN PEOPLE
But once I get over my irrational princess love, even I have to admit a lot of feminist criticism of Disney princesses is legitimate. Early Disney princesses didn’t have very much agency. Worryingly, Frozen looks like it’s going to continue Tangled’s focus on the hero in lieu of the princess. Pocahontas is amazingly racist.* Beauty and the Beast depicts an abusive relationship. We’re probably not going to get a lesbian princess, a disabled princess, or a princess who isn’t conventionally attractive. And don’t get me started on the merch. “Sparkling Princess Mulan,” Disney? Really? Really?
So Disney princesses are bad! Instead we should let girls watch all the other coming-of-age stories that feature female protagonists with a wide variety of personalities, about a third of whom are women of color, and which thanks to their variety of female villains and side characters almost always pass the Bechdel test.**
There aren’t any.
Seriously, look at the diversity here. Merida and Mulan and Rapunzel as your grrrl-power ass-kicking princesses! (And also different kinds of ass-kicking: Rapunzel has more Power of Love, while Mulan has more Power of Passing Grades In Physics.) Belle, the shy intelligent girl who reads all the time! Tiana, who works her ass off to get her restaurant! Pocahontas, who’s a hippie (Jesus, Pocahontas is racist)! Jasmine, who weaponizes her femininity to defeat Jafar!
(And that’s not even getting into subversive readings of the text. Mulan as trans man or Rapunzel as abuse survivor, anyone?)
One of the most common criticisms of “princess culture” is that it teaches girls that their only goals should be being pretty and marrying a handsome prince. Except, uh… have the people who made that criticism seen any of the films post-Disney-Renaissance? Ariel, Rapunzel, and Jasmine all want to explore the world and escape from their overprotective parents. Pocahontas wants an end to colonialism. Belle wants to protect her father. Mulan wants to keep the Huns from invading China. Tiana wants to own a restaurant (and then when she becomes a princess she is like “fuck this princess thing, I’m going to have my restaurant!” and makes Prince Naveen work as a waiter because Tiana is awesome). Personally, I am entirely okay with encouraging girls to love their parents, seek independence, and stop people from invading countries. That sounds like a plan.
Okay, yes, Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora are pretty boring. To be fair, their princes are also really boring. There were a lot of really boring people in those movies. (What? Me? Biased?) Let’s look at this scientific chart of Interesting Characters In Sleeping Beauty, By Gender:
[Maleficent and the fairies, people. I'm sorry I gave Maleficent so little of the pie chart, because Maleficent is a BAMF, but the Fairies should get more because there are three of them and they have to share.]
I feel like a lot of people’s hatred of Disney princesses comes less from their being startlingly more anti-feminist than everyone else, and more because they’re girly and pink and focused on romance and ewwwww femininity cooties get them off get them off. (I don’t think it’s an accident that the princesses that usually get the Feminist Pass are also the least feminine ones, either.) There’s this disturbing tendency among a lot of people who fancy themselves feminists to hate feminine things. It’s okay, guys. Hating things conventionally associated with women isn’t misogynistic at all. You are Best Feminists, I’m sure.
*Although they did hire Native American consultants for the film and used mostly Native American voice actors. Which is cool.
**Dammit, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, shape up.