Feminism vs. Femininity

When the first Women's Rights meeting was held in Seneca Falls in 1848, some people were opposed to the concept of feminism because it was not considered feminine. By today's standards, it seems silly to even consider a world where women wouldn't be allowed to vote. Modern girls are encouraged to grow into powerful women who can do anything they put their minds to, pushing boundaries and breaking stereotypes. However, what happens when the stereotype they are fighting against no longer exists? Through the years, Disney Princesses have represented the ultimate ideal for what it means to be a woman. During the Disney Renaissance era of the '90s, that ideal shifted from a damsel in distress to a rebel fighting to break free from the restrictions of her society. Today, a Disney Princess represents a young woman who has already reached the strength and potential of a queen and is simply waiting for her time to rise to power. In the 1998 version of Disney's Mulan, the titular heroine was caught between two identities and needed to grow enough to accept both sides of herself. In contrast, the 2020 version of Mulan was born as a perfect warrior princess and only needed to wait for the world around her to grow enough to accept her own strengths.

Mulan "Reflections" Split Makeup

Hollywood has created a world where being female now means being a powerful warrior who is capable of accomplishing even the most daunting of tasks that would surely bring any ordinary individual to an early grave. This dismisses any sort of feminine behavior as weak or vapid. Disney would never directly mock feminity because so many of their earlier classics featured delicate heroines who invested in the aid of fairy godmothers or princes, but they are stealthily weening such heroines out of their current media. Animated features like Charming, on the other hand, that were not made by Disney, do openly mock their feminine princess characters to appear silly and ignorant. This is an issue that is more prevalent in film than in television. Modern princess cartoons feature much stronger heroines than they used to, but the longer episodic runtimes in shows like Elena of Avalor, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and Tangled: The Series allow the showrunners to include a larger cast with stories that focus on friendship and teamwork, demonstrating to girls that we all have different strengths and must work together to accomplish great feats.

The princess movie genre has always been a safe haven for girls like me who love to dress up, get lost in stories, and plan killer weddings with our loved ones. Now, the genre is barely discernible from action movies, which were once the polar opposite. 2018's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms took an incredibly feminine ballet and turned the gentle Clara into an adept soldier and brilliant scientist, rendering the titular Nutcracker virtually useless. What should have been a visually stunning romp into a magical fantasy wonderland became another stereotypical female-driven war movie. What I always loved about princesses when I was growing up was that they were anti-violent and found peaceful solutions to their problems, even if the ones they loved tried to hurt them. Today, they are barely discernible from the princes who fought dragons and climbed towers to come to their aid. I think it's great that there are princesses out there who are capable of defeating their own dragons, but I don't think girls should be told that's the only way that a princess can be.

The princesses I grew up with were just as strong as they were feminine. Princess Gwenevere loved trying on pretty pink dresses just as much as she loved protecting the kingdom of Avalon from evil. Ariel singlehandedly defied her powerful father but couldn't break Ursula's curse on her own. The reason that '90s heroines were so empowering is that they fought to defy stereotypes even though their femininity was still an inherent part of their identity.  I recently rewatched Ever After now that it's available on Disney+ and was very impressed by how assertive Danielle acted when she was in disguise with the prince compared to how submissive she behaved around her evil stepmother. Breaking free from her boundaries allowed her to explore another side of herself. We have now reached a point where any sort of femininity is seen as a weakness. Princesses are now synonymous with warriors, and there is no place for a feminine girl in modern culture. In the original Mulan, we see the titular heroine defeat Shan Yu in a dress using a paper fan, a traditionally feminine accessory. In the new movie, she continues to dress like a soldier after she reveals her identity because that is the only thing she identifies as. We as human beings are not so one-sided.

This topic is particularly relevant this week because Disney_ will finally release their original movie, Secret Society of Second-Born Royals, this Friday. This movie is advertised as a crossover between the Disney Princess and superhero genres, Disney's two biggest franchises since they bought Marvel. As much as I love the idea of a genre crossover, I am concerned by the fact that the Disney Princess franchise appears to have already morphed into the superhero genre. Modern Disney Princesses are virtually no different from superheroes. Elsa, Rapunzel, Moana, Clara, Mulan, and Merida all have supernatural abilities that they use to protect the world around them. Does that mean Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is not truly an original idea, but instead, a natural progression toward the direction that the Disney Princess genre is already headed? We'll have to wait and see.


Unknown said…
This is a wonderful and insightful commentary on the shift in princess pop culture! I was searching for Dress-up Time Princess info and stumbled upon your site. I enjoyed reading this and I look forward to checking out the rest of your blog!
Lisa Dawn said…
I'm so glad that you enjoyed my blog! :) Feel free to follow me on social media to keep up with new posts!

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Anonymous said…
I found this blog while searching for reviews of my favorite game (Time Princess) and didn't expect to find an article that voices out loud what I'm thinking for a while.

It seems that we went from "It's not because I'm a girl that I can't fight" and "Women and men should be given the same chances", to "Girls now have to fit the expectations that most societies have had for boys since decades, and leave futile things such as cooking, dressing up and wanting to look pretty to these other stupid females who wouldn't know how to hold a sword."

Such negative stereotypes have always existed, the difference is that now it's the people who pretend to be all about women and equality who push these ideas onto young girls. The same people tell little boys that they're allowed to dress up as princesses, but give girls the message that they better not take that path if they want to be taken seriously. I thought we were allowed the choice...
Lisa Dawn said…
Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I feel exactly the same way and have made many other posts about this topic. Hollywood has become militantly against anything feminine which is why women who still fit the older archetypes turn to Asian media like anime from Japan or Time Princess, which is made in Singapore. I'd like to say it's just a phase, but it seems like there's no going back at this point. I'm not sure what the world is going to look like in another twenty years.

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