Princesses & Pies: the Changing Role of Women in Disney animated features

I am finally starting the series I have been talking about since I started this blog, ‘Princesses & Pies’.  “Why now?” you might ask (or perhaps not.  You may be used to the randomness of my brain.)  Well, there are several reasons.  First, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, Disney’s first princess movie is being released again today.  Second, I have been spending some time looking at films through the lens of the Bechdel test.  Third, The Washington Post ran a very interesting article last week.  Two linguists examined the princess movie cannon and looked at how much women actually speak in these movies.  The findings are troubling.  Finally, I am a woman working in a profession that has been predominantly male.  People feel obligated to use the word, ‘woman’ before my title.  I am not simply a pastor.  That is a male title.  I am a ‘woman pastor’.  This terminology is so ingrained that I can get t-shirt that say ‘Woman Pastor’ on them so people know I’m not just a pastor, but a woman pastor.  It is with all of that floating in my brain, I am at last taking a closer look at these movies to see what they have taught us and our daughters.

It is no surprise to any of us that female characters have changed dramatically in almost all genres of film.  For example, Disney’s first Princess, Snow White, bakes a pie in her movie.  As a plot point it shows her caring and conscientious nature.  It is her job as the female in the house to both cook and clean for the dwarfs.  This isn’t questioned.  If fact it is obvious to the viewer that without a woman in the house to do these things, they are not done.  In counterpoint, Rapunzel, one of the most recent Princesses, also is shown baking a pie.  In her story the baking is shown in a series of household chores that are not a sign of her domesticity, but her subjugation.  Rapunzel cooks and cleans because she is trapped with nothing else to do.  We know that the other person in the house is able to cook as well.  Rapunzel’s work isn’t necessary except to keep herself occupied.  The same activity, but two very different messages about what that activity means.

It is also no surprise that true equality in film is still a goal rather than a reality.  There are more Disney animated features featuring male characters than female character.  In fact, one of the movies categorized as a ‘princess movie’ is ‘Aladdin’ in which the main character is quite obviously not a princess.  Disney also has very specific rules about which characters are or are not princesses.  Not every person called ‘princess’ in a movie is an official princess.  There is a standard that must be met.  Woe to you if you do not meet the standards that Disney has set.

Over the next several weeks I will look at all the Disney Princesses.  I will evaluate them based on the Bechdel test, the dialog ratios, and their general characters.  I will also look at some of the ‘lost princesses’ that have faded into obscurity.  It will be interesting to see how far they have come and how far we still have to go.

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One thought on “Princesses & Pies: the Changing Role of Women in Disney animated features

  1. Lee Hamilton

    I’ve had bosses say “You are one the smartest women I know.” Instead of feeling complimented, I’d lament that they couldn’t say, “employees” or “professionals” or “lawyers” or “managers” or any other gender neutral word. Nope, because I was always pre-classified as a woman, and the entire rest of the professional relationship stemmed from this classification and this filter. I startle, but am glad, when people refer to God as “she.” I’ll be gladder still if/when I can hear “she” for God and not have a reflexive response.

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