So with all this talk of princes and princesses…
All the little children get excited when a new Disney film comes out, right? Although the Disney films seem sweet and your siblings and cousins enjoy them and have them on replay, and go to Princess parties in their tiaras, looking like they’re having a great time…but I think there is something behind the seemingly innocent, heroic princes and ‘glamorous’ princesses that we’re missing…
I first started looking into this issue when I heard about Disney’s merchandising of Merida from the film Brave. Now, Merida breaks the stereotypes of the other Disney princesses as she is is headstrong and fights for what she wants, and she doesn’t wait around for a prince to come and save her. Or see marriage as her ultimate goal in life. Instead she loves archery, going on adventures, and galloping through the woods on her horse, Angus. So all well and good, girls have a Disney figure with a bit of life and guts in her…
But, Disney has changed this feisty Merida into a new Merida, a barbie looking, sexualised and weaker version, in a flouncy dress to sell in the Disney stores. In their own words Disney said that they have made her look ‘tamer.’ I showed Magdalena (my seven year old sister) the photos of Mattel’s Merida and she said “look it’s Barbie.” Which says it all really, (and I talk more about Barbie later.) In Disney’s makeover of her she is wearing the dress that she hated, she has been given a tinier waist, wider hips, the dress has been pulled down off the shoulders, she has been given larger eyes and eyelashes and a passive stance. So not an alternative princess at all! What message does this give out, I think it says; “A girls appearance is more important than anything else, and this is how she will get her prince, and this is what will make her happy.” Well this doesn’t sound like real life to me! If we grow up believing this, when reality kicks in will we think there is something wrong with us? Will we feel failures? Will we feel let down and depressed.
So I was shocked that Disney felt the need to change Merida’s appearance in order to sell her. This got me thinking about the Disney princesses in the film and the messages they are giving out to girls and boys. I watched them again, with a critical perspective and asked myself what qualities were prized in a Disney princess, and what brings princesses happiness and fulfilment, this is what I found.
Snow White: Main virtue, tidiness and nagging the dwarves to be tidy and clean, and happiness comes from being saved by a prince.
Cinderella: Main virtue, cleaning and tidiness being subservient and allowing herself to be walked over. Not noticed till she is given a makeover by her fairy godmother. Happiness comes from being saved by a prince.
The Little Mermaid: Main virtue, her voice and her beauty. Her happiness is again solely in the hands of the prince.
And so it goes on…
These films show girls that happiness comes from their prince only, thats all. Also have you noticed that none of the Disney princesses have female friends either. and their mother is usually either dead, a witch who manipulates them or a wicked step-mum. So the girl is all alone and therefore vulnerable and easily controlled and manipulated by the slightest kindness, usually in the form of a Prince.
So this is all make believe right? We all know that. And little girls have a lot of fun dressing up and boys don’t really think that girls are so weak and isolated that they have to be rescued by them. Or are these films more dangerous? Do they seep into us when we watch them and act them out and play with all the merchandise again and again? I look around at a lot of girls my age, and I can see that a lot of them believe in the whole Disney princess scenario. Here are the ways I see it happening:
Worrying about their appearance and spending more time changing it, than time spent on having fun, creating or learning something new. Their life revolving around what boys think of them and trying to change to make the boys like them. If I was to write the virtues that I think are important for a girl they would be very different to what I see in Disney films. Here are some qualities that I think would help to bring girls happiness in the real world.
Real friendships with other girls where they create and learn and DO things together not just talk about boys or their appearance. Grandmothers and mothers supporting and encouraging their daughters in all the things they like DOING, a community that values the girl for what she can do not how she looks. A skill that is valued by those around her that she is paid for doing. Confidence and power to change a bad situation for yourself or find people to help you who don’t ask for you to give up anything in return.
So I’m interested in whether you think the Disney princess films are influencing your girls to put how they look above anything else. So I have devised A survey for parents of girls under 10 years old. Please take a few minutes to fill in the six short questions:
So just like the public outcry about Barbie’s proportions changed Barbie into more realistic proportions, the Merida campaign has been started by AMightyGirl which hosts “the world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls.” They have launched a campaign on Change.org to say NO to the Merida Makeover, to keep Merida brave sign the petition. It already has over 248,000 signs, and needs 51,604 more. So please go sign it! And share this petition with your friends and family. I’ve written more about this on my campaign page.
The importance of ‘looks’ for a girl in getting ‘her boy’ is everywhere in the media, it’s in pop songs too. So much so that it’s practically impossible to find a song with a great beat and melody with lyrics that break the weak female stereotype. So I recently enjoyed making a music video to Victoria Celestine’s brilliant In The World song, it’s a great song with a good message to girls. It’s great when you hear singers singing empowering and positive songs, this song says that you don’t have to dye your hair bleached blonde and that you “don’t have to have any make up on, to be the prettiest girl in the world” Watch my interpretation of the song below in one of my latest music videos!
Did you know that Barbie’s used to be extremely out of proportion, even more so than they are now. This is an image of the first ever barbie doll The first ever Barbie
Does somebody in real life have hips as wide and small as that?!
This is the first ever Barbie commercial:
Notice how at the end they zoom in on the Barbie Bride, as if the goal is to get married, and to do this you need to be neat and tidy and dress like Barbie!
In all Barbie films we see princesses who wait for their Prince’s to rescue them. The only 2 Princesses I can think of who don’t have a ‘heroic prince’ are Mulan and Merida.
I started wondering wether all of this was just true for Disney and Barbie films, who are after all mainly based on fairytales, so perhaps we can’t entirely blame them. So I started looking at the way females were portrayed in every film I watched.
Then I came across a fun way to do this which you can try too; Kate Evans (the writer and cartoonist) gave a presentation at the ABM conference that my mum was at recently and talked about smurfettes and the Bechdel
Test and check it out! Because once you know about these ‘tests’ you start seeing every film and bit of media differently, and its fun!
The Smurfette Game
So to spot a smurfette you need to watch something, a film, a documentary, a TV programme, even the news! And you will see loads of boys/men, but only one (and sometimes two) female. Are they saying anything interesting? Or are they just smiling, laughing and agreeing with the men, and there as ornaments that are only functioned to make the men seem more important. Seeing as 50% female and 50% male in the world, it is shocking to see the gender bias towards the male.
So here’s what you need to do to test a film using this method, and you will be surprised at your results! To pass this test you ave to say Yes to these 3 questions
- Does the film have at least two women in it?
- who talk to each other?
- about something besides a man/boy?
Sounds simple enough, I thought pretty much every film would meet this criteria, and then I started to apply this test, and I was shocked!
It is really shocking to see how few films, and even television documentaries and programmes pass this test. Here are four popular films which fail this test:
If you do (and I hope you do!) find a film that passes this test, please let me know in the comments below and you can add it to this website here: http://bechdeltest.com/add/
I’m pleased to say the films that I make, My Little Sister (who happens to have Down’s syndrome) do pass this test!
Here is a video which describes in detail what and how the Bechdel test works:
Now back to what I was saying at the beginning…Think of some typical Disney princesses like Belle or Snow White, and how they dress cleanly and neatly, and think of how Snow White is always telling off the seven dwarfs of for not making their beds, and complaining about their lice. This portrays Snow White, aka the female as a neat and tidy, vain and bossy person. And also if you think of Cinderella, she wants to go to the ball to dance with the prince, so she does all her chores (as if she has to be a ‘good girl’ to get what she wants) but then alas, she can’t bear the fact that she can only go to the ball wearing her ‘filthy’ dress. So instead of Cinderella being creative and making her own dress, she becomes weak and tearful, waiting for her fairy godmother to save her. Well, let’s just be glad about one thing…At least it’s not the fairy godfather…!
Also, all of the Disney princesses are white, apart from Tiana, from The Princess And The Frog, but in that film, Tiana is turned into a frog, but in all the other Disney films, none of the other Princesses get turned into anything, because if they did, I guess to them it would be ‘dirty’ or ‘disgusting’…So why turn Tiana into a frog, she is exactly the same as the other princesses…tiny hips, big flouncy dress, tiara, you name it! The only thing that is different is her skin colour, so if that is the cause of Disney turning her into a frog, then that’s quite racist isn’t it? The other princess who isn’t white is the wonderful Pocahontas, but Disney has also been a bit sneaky with her name as Pocahontas means ‘Little Mischeif’ but in the end, she is just like the others, she rebells her parents and decides to marry a ‘white man’ aka John Smith.
Also notice, how most, and nearly all Disney princesses have off the shoulder dresses, also spot the ‘new Merida’ showing off her off the shoulder dress to us with a cheeky smile:
Lots of Magdalena’s friends are at the age now where they begin to love Disney films, I think it’s bad for them that we never see a Disney princess who has Down’s syndrome, or who is in a wheel chair, or who is tall or short. So if someone does have a disability or is extra short or tall, it puzzles them, and might make them think that differences aren’t natural. I’m quite tall for my age, and I’ve had a few kids ask me why I’m so tall…And it makes me wonder why would they even be thinking about that.
Now, out of all the Disney princesses, Meg (from Hercules) has to be the worst! She doesn’t even have a rib cage, as you can see! I can half understand Disney’s concern about Merida not ‘fitting into’ the Disney collection, because she does stand out. But the difference to me and Disney’s thoughts are, I think it’s great that she stands out! She looks way more confident and mature than the other glam princesses.
One great result! As me and Mum were strolling through a shop, we found a t-shirt with the good old Merida we know on it! I couldn’t believe it! But along with all the Merida t-shirts, I found some t-shirts with Sleeping Beauty in a shoulder less dress.
I wanted to find out more about the influence of Disney’s film merchandise on girls…I posted on twitter that I was researching these topics, and I got tweeted back, and somebody suggested a book called Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. Mum and I have been reading bits from this book together. Her first chapter talks about ‘What’s wrong with Cinderella?’ And comes to the conclusion, which I agree with, that the way girls are represented in the Disney princess films, and the resulting Disney princess merchandise, which is “the largest franchise on the planet for ages 2-6.” is just the tip of the iceberg. The idea that for a girl to be happy, healthy and fulfilled she has to change her appearance carries on with “extreme makeovers being a key plot device for a third of female protagonists among thirteen G-rated films released between 1937 and 2005. Two thirds of heroines in those same films were in some way put on display for their beauty (or lack thereof). Three quarters wore sexy outfits. Among animated heroines, over half had improbable physical proportions.
Check out these shocking facts from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender In Media (quoted in Peggy’s book)
1. “Across the four hundred top-grossing G, PG,
PG-13, and R rated movies released between 1990 and 2006, only 27% of all speaking characters were female.
1A. Films directed or produced by woman tend to feature a greater number of girls and woman on screen. When one or more woman are involved in writing the script, the percentage of female characters increases by 14.3 percent. But, among the hundred top grossing films of 2008 only 8 percent were directed by at least one woman, 13.6 per cent were written by woman and 19.1 percent were produced by woman.
2. “In 2008 nearly 40% of female characters in movies aged 13-20 were depicted wearing sexually appealing clothing (verses 6.7 percent of males); 30.1 percent appeared partially nude( verse 10.3 per cent of males); 35.1 percent had tiny wastes.
When woman actually do feature in a film look at the shocking statistics of the roles they are given; “among G-rated films released between 2006 and 2009, over 80 percent of characters depicted as having jobs were male. Not a single woman was portrayed as a executive, a lawyer, or a politician. Among the 1001 most popular G-rated films released between 1990 and 2005, the most common jobs held by female characters were:
A. White collar occupations 19 per cent
B. Entertainer 16.2 percemt
C. Royalty at 15.2 percent
– above in green is quoted or para-phrased from: “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”
When I was little, I never wanted to dress up as a Disney Princess, I always chose my spiderman costume, who wants to be a flouncy princess when you can be spiderman, climbing walls, exploring and sprinting buildings! But when my friends who were boys came over, they used to want to dress up in the Disney princess costumes, which had been passed onto my mum for me.
What do you think about the way girls are represented in films and their merchandise?What do you think of Merida’s makeover? What do you think of the first Barbie? Do you think Barbie’s look better than they used to? Do you agree that Disney princesses are bad influences? Do you think that Merida is a good role model? Have you ever tried out the Bechdale test? If so, on what films and did they pass?