Upcoming film ‘Brave’ features less atypical princess but brand still fails to address gender stereotype problems

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Once upon a time – the beginning to every great fairy tale – where princes mount white steeds and gallop to the rescue of helpless maidens, where two people fall in love and live happily ever after.

This is the pretense to the popular Disney Princess brand. Remember the very first princess, Snow White? Or what about Cinderella, Ariel, Aurora, Belle and Jasmine?

Since then, four princesses – and an impending fifth, Princess Merida, from the film “Brave” in theaters June 22 – have been added to the franchise.

Disney films teach young girls that “dreams can come true.” The fantasy of marrying the perfect man, and living happily ever after with a beautiful family without worrying about finances sounds appealing doesn’t it?

But what’s missing in this perfect façade is the hard work, determination and perseverance needed to achieve even a snippet of the unattainable dream.

It’s important to realize that Disney creates fairy tales, which shouldn’t be applied in real life. That’s the mistake some girls make. They take the bait and are forever in search of their real life fairy tale.

“If young girls are realizing the limits of this fairy tale, then why has the Disney Princess brand reached over $4 billion in sales?”
—Jenica Foster

Take MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16.” Almost every girl on this show wants a fairy tale party where they ensure they look the prettiest and sport the guy of their dreams. The best part is they don’t have to lift a finger. Could this be a result of the Disney youth indoctrination?

While some researchers condone Disney Princesses because it increases creativity and supports brain development, it doesn’t mitigate the effects of transferring fantasy to reality.

Despite this, Disney culture has been indoctrinating young children to believe in gender stereotypes since the first princess movie in 1937.

Karen Wohlwend, a literacy, culture and language education professor at Indiana University, conducted a study of 21 kindergarten students in the United States to determine the effect Disney Princess play has on children’s identities. The study’s results suggested children replicate gender stereotypes that women are frail and passive and men are heroic and strong.

She even suggested that the young girls were content with the stereotype, but found it confining. Wohlwend writes that one of the girls tried to transform her princess into a strong superhero, but struggled with the stereotype that princesses are supposed to be frail and passive.

As a result she compensated by creating a superhero princess “who can’t have a lot of powers.”

If young girls are realizing the limits of this fairy tale, then why has the Disney Princess brand reached over $4 billion in sales?

It seems Disney has made an effort to reduce these stereotypes over the years. Dawn England, Lara Descartes and Melissa Collier-Meek published the results of a study in Sex Roles Journal of Research in 2011. After analyzing several Disney movies they suggested in earlier films 86 per cent of princesses’ behaviours were feminine – passive, weak and needed to be rescued – while in later movies the number was reduced to 53 per cent.

For males, the researchers suggest princes displayed traditional masculine characteristics – wealth, strength and heroics – a little more than half of the time in earlier films, but in current films, princes displayed more feminine characteristics 68 per cent of the time.

The characters are becoming more androgynous in Disney movies, but that doesn’t mean it’s filtering down into the minds of young children.

Believing in a fantasy where women don’t have a voice and are left waiting for their prince to rescue them is unrealistic in these modern times.

A team of researchers agree; their study of 26 Disney movies published in the American Journal of Family Therapy suggests love at first sight and happily ever after ideas are damaging themes in these films.

“These images encourage an expectation for relationships that is unrealistic, as couples do not tend to live happily ever after without effort from both partners,” the report said.

Despite the criticism Disney Princess receives, it doesn’t mean women shouldn’t believe in a happily ever after. It just means we must adopt a 21st century view and adapt to the changing times.


Princess Merida attempts to destroy traditional Disney Princess brand with the new movie Brave.
Photo courtesy of: Disney Pixar
Disney has responded to and addressed this criticism with their new movie, “Brave,” which features the strong-willed Princess Merida, who attempts to follow her own path. Families will be able to watch the first Disney Princess protagonist defy Disney’s own gender stereotypes.

Now that sounds better. A princess who fights for her rights and chooses to live by her own rules. But by creating this movie, Disney is simply creating a new stereotype and a new fantasy for the new generation. It is not a solution, but a means to quell the roaring lions.

So go ahead, take the bait. Believe in the fantasies Disney has created and will continue to create for us. Just don’t be disappointed or throw a fit when it doesn’t work out like it was supposed to.


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