I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time but I have been so busy I didn’t have time to do it justice. Let me give it a shot. Recently over on a popular blog a woman wrote about 3 Disney female “role models’ that aren’t really deserving of that title”. I want to add my two cents of why with all due respect I think she is wrong and that the 3 she has chosen are worthy characters to emulate in many ways.
Her first target is Alice
She says of Alice “She always has her head in the clouds and it took seeing her wildest fantasies realized to knock some since into her. Even when she becomes hopelessly lost in Wonderland and desperately wants to leave, she still lets her curiosity get the better of her”
Hmmm… well, let’s ignore the fact that there would be no movie if she didn’t let her curiosity be the better of her. But I propose there is more to Alice than mere wild fantasies and curiosity over a rabbit.
Alice doesn’t just wander absent mindedly into Wonderland. She proposes at the start of the film that a world with nonsense would be better. The whole point of Wonderland is to then test out this worldview. She meets one form of nonsense after another whether it be philosophic nonsense in the caterpillar or a tea party that never ends with the Hatter.
There is actually something bold about the mental exercise Alice undertakes. The great philosophers and minds of our time have gotten to greater understanding because they dared to test the world out in a new way. For example, Plato’s Republic, Dante’s Inferno, Moore’s Utopia all put on new goggles to hopefully understand the world better. This should be encouraged and makes Alice a good role model for girls.
The thing that sucks about the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland is they forget about this part of Alice’s character and make it a meaningless adventure with a prophecy and chosen one. Alice is escaping her own problems in that version but in the Disney animated film she is seeing the world in a whole new way.
Next up is Aurora
The writer is so bold as to say “I think it’s pretty obvious that Aurora doesn’t set a very good example for young girls”. Her main beef with Aurora is that she falls in love with a man over a dance and she seems to think they are going to run away together. I guess this writer must not like Juliet, Isolde, Guinevere or any number of classic romantic heroines who fall in love quickly.
But where does it say that Aurora is planning to run away with the Phillip? She has plans to meet him later that evening and is twitterpated but I don’t think it is ever clear she is getting married that night. She’s excited about a dance with a boy. What’s wrong with that? She’s then sad when she finds out she will never see him again. Pretty natural response if you ask me.
Also, the author claims Aurora “is beautiful and can sing…That’s literally it”. I disagree. Animals do not take to people very easily but who do the animals love? Aurora. The Fairies adore her and feel sad when they have to turn her over to her father. Do you think they would feel this way if she was a ditzy nothing?
Then the author faults her for giving into the curse. “And the fate of her entire kingdom rests on her not pricking her finger on a spinning wheel; *sighs* you had one job!” This critique is by far the most baffling as even Merrywether an actual faerie can not reverse Maleficent’s magic. How is an ordinary girl like Aurora supposed to do that? It’s an outrageous claim!
Part of the problem with Aurora is we simply don’t see that much of her what with her being SLEEPING BEAUTY!! But what we do see is a loving, caring person who is elegant and graceful. How she is a bad role model is beyond me.
And then we get to the one that really fired me up!- Ariel!
The author’s qualms with Ariel aren’t particularly original, but I reject them nonetheless. She says “you should never go so far as to change who you are to get what you want, especially not for a guy”
Ok. Let’s talk about this. The first time we see Ariel she is missing the concert for what? She is off collecting treasures from a ship. This is where she finds the dinglehoffer and snarfblat. Then we first see her entering the grotto and singing Part of Your World BEFORE SHE MEETS ERIC!
She has hundreds of items in her grotto and what does she tell Flounder? ‘I just don’t see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad’.
You can make the argument that Ariel is short-sighted when she follows the Sea Witch but why does she do it? Not to get a man but because her father has just destroyed her grotto- her one connection to the human world. Eric is simply the catalyst that gets her to make a decision she has always wanted to make.
I don’t know if it is canon or not but in Ariel’s Beginning we also learn that her mother had a fascination with human artifacts- particularly a music box, so that may explain part of it as well.
Ariel is definitely smitten with Eric but how you can say it is the reason she gives up who she is I just don’t understand. I think she has always felt uncomfortable in her own skin. Again before she meets Eric she says “I just don’t see things the way he does”. It is no accident that Ariel has become a ROLE MODEL for many LGBT teens who also feel uncomfortable in their own bodies.
When she sings Part of Your World she says ‘lookin around here you think sure, she’s got everything” but then adds “I want more…”. Again, all before Eric. I think that’s a great thing to look up to. Someone who fights for where they belong and who they truly are. Triton recognizes this at the end and that is why he changes her over.
Even Sebastian says it is either Ariel be human or “be miserable for the rest of your life”. That’s a good role model in my book.
This whole thing baffles me when you have such easy fodder as Pocahontas who is actually partly responsible for an innocent man’s death. She is older than Ariel or Aurora and is consistently a poor listener to those warning caution. She does selfless things at the end but if you had to pick a bad role model of a Disney woman she’s at the top of the list.
And then there are other questionable characters. How about the girl in the Jungle Book who is perfectly happy to get the water and care for her man her entire life?
As much as I love Frozen, Anna is much less developed and is manipulated by men more than Ariel.
Megura in Hercules sells her soul to the devil to get a man. That’s pretty bad and Esmeralda in Huncback dances provocatively before men.
The truth is I don’t think any of these women are bad role models because their characters have arcs that teach good lessons. With proper parenting kids can gain all kinds of lessons from ANY Disney film.
You may think I am fangirling here but I think that’s the case with Dreamworks too or Don Bluth or any film designed for children. I have yet to see one that is so bad that there isn’t something a parent can use to teach or role model off of. Even the dreaded Chicken Little has lessons in there.
So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’ll keep my role models to the end. 🙂