While most of the storylines for Disney princess movies include damsels in distress who get saved by a prince, I have always interpreted the characters in a much deeper way. I learned about the stereotypes of gender roles in society, but also what happens when someone steps away from this and takes on their own identity. Most importantly, Disney taught me the importance of becoming a strong woman, and how to play a role I choose for myself.
I was four years old when I first experienced the magic of Disney. I was captivated by this new idea of enchanted fairytale lands, filled with princes and princesses. The first movie I saw that teaches children about gender roles is Beauty and the Beast. Belle plays a bright woman who loves to read. One of the many lessons I learned from this movie is that girls are intelligent. It was an early lesson, but one that stuck with me.
Cinderella was probably one of the most influential Disney movies for me, when it came to gender roles. This was my first exposure to the misguided stereotype that all women belong in the kitchen. Cinderella taught me that I am capable of doing more than that. She rebelled and made her own choices.
For my 6th birthday I had a princess themed party. It was one of those parties where you hire people to dress up as princesses and princes, sing songs, and play games with the kids. I was lucky enough to have Prince Eric and Ariel at my birthday party. All the girls got to dress up and wear tiaras, while the boys played Disney-themed games. At the time, one of my best friends was more of a tomboy, and not really into the whole princess theme. She didn’t want to dress up like the rest of the girls, so instead she played games with the boys. I remember being mad at her for not wanting to be a princess at my party, because I didn’t understand why a girl wouldn’t want to get dressed up. I just assumed that all girls loved pink frilly dresses and crowns.
By refusing to dress up, she showed me the importance of standing up for what you believe in, just as Mulan did. The message in the movie Mulan is that women are just as strong and capable as men. I learned that not all girls like the same things, and it is okay to be different. This film showed me a new approach to gender roles and proved to me that both sexes are equal.
The Little Mermaid has always been my favorite Disney movie, and Ariel, my favorite princess. In Ariel’s story people are holding her back from the thing she wants most. She proves that sometimes it’s necessary to go to extremes to pursue what you desire. I remember watching the movie for the first time with my cousins. After the movie had ended, we decided to act out the movie and each play the role of one of the characters. Right away I asked to be the character Flounder, the little fish who was a friend of Ariel’s. My oldest cousin turned me down; he told me that because Flounder was a boy, I wasn’t allowed to play the part. According to him, I had to be Princess Ariel because of my long red hair, but most importantly because I was a girl. We ended up getting in a huge fight about it, and both got in trouble with our parents. I didn’t understand that since Ariel can pretend to be a human, why I couldn’t just pretend to be a boy.
I watched Ariel risk everything for her dreams. I saw Belle learn that beauty comes from within. I witnessed Cinderella challenge her role as a domestic woman, and learned from Mulan about gender equality. From all of these Disney princesses, I formed an idea of the role that I want to play in my own life. Each princess taught me something different about the struggles that I may face as a woman and how to deal with them.
Megan Sweet is currently a student at Michigan State University. She is an aspiring screenwriter and hopes to one day write for a comedy series. She is addicted to television, caffeine, and tweeting. Check out her Buzzfeed posts (megansweet57) and follow her on twitter: @megansweet57.
(Photo via Fanpop)