Disney Princesses Play into Gender Stereotypes, Set Bad Examples for Little Girls

photo of disney princesses

Humorous cartoons bring to light some rather harsh truths about the portrayal of so-called “Disney Princesses” in many movies made by the Walt Disney Company. One depicts the perspective of the princesses while the other looks at it from the princes’ sides.

The Little Mermaid
Ariel, a mermaid obsessed with the human world, falls in love with Prince Eric after saving his life at sea. She trades her voice to the evil sea witch in exchange for human legs, and is of course not able to tell Eric the truth about who she is (although she is capable of writing her name when she signs Ursula’s scroll, but whatevs).

Ariel: “It’s okay to abandon your family, drastically change your body, and give up your strongest talent in order to get your man. Once he sees your pretty face, only a witch’s spell could draw his eyes away from you.”
Eric: “Women have nothing important to say.”

While Eric is taken in by Ariel’s pretty face and sweet ways, he doesn’t seem bothered by her silence—in fact, he might even prefer it. And the fact that Ariel gave up every ounce of her true self—singing voice, fins, sisters, the little crab/fish combo she chillaxes with—for a man is really pretty disconcerting.

Snow White
Snow White is sent deep into the woods by a woodcutter who was supposed to kill her but lets her escape, where she finds refuge in a house of seven dwarfs. She’s pretty happy there, until the jealous queen poisons Snow White with an apple.

Snow White: “At first it may seem terrible being so beautiful that other women get jealous enough to try and kill you. But don’t worry, once your beauty attracts a man, he’ll protect you.”
The Prince: “Necrophilia is a good dating strategy.”

Yeah, it sucks to be so beautiful, Snow White. Karma, though … you’re a good person, you take care of the dwarfs in ways I don’t even want to consider, and then, okay, you end up dead for a while, but then a prince comes along so impressed by your beauty that he kisses your dead lips and voila!

So called ‘Street Rat’ Aladdin meets the beautiful Princess Jasmine when she leaves the palace to see the world away from her sheltered life. The two hit it off, but Aladdin is convinced that Jasmine could never love a homeless street kid. Enter Robin Williams as the Genie, and Aladdin becomes the rich and powerful Prince Ali.

Jasmine: “As a woman, your political worth is reduced to your marriageability.”
Aladdin: “Just lie, it’ll totally work.”

Yeah, Jasmine has the connection between politics and relationships figured out pretty well, all things considered. She was definitely the brains in the relationship. And Aladdin? He’s an opportunist—you lie and then smile winningly when caught, and it’ll all work out all right.

Sleeping Beauty
Princess Aurora is given grace, beauty, and so on by the good fairies, but the evil fairy Maleficent is pissed off about not being invited to the ceremony, so she predicts the baby will prick her finger on a spinning wheel when she is sixteen and die. The last good fairy is able to fix it a bit by saying that she’ll prick her finger, but instead of dying, she’ll just fall asleep for a long time.

Sleeping Beauty: “Pretty girls don’t even need to be alive to get some hot, princely action.”
Prince Philip: “Strangers want you to make out with them while they sleep.”

Yeah, I always found this one to be a bit boring … But seriously, Princess Aurora slept for a hundred years, woke up to find a handsome prince (who, were he to live in modern times, would probably be packing roofies) kissing her, and was completely all right with it. She scores, with a hundred years of morning breath, more easily than I do when I wear heels into a bar and sit by myself.

Cinderella lives with her wicked stepmother and stepsisters who treat her like a servant. With the help of her fairy godmother, she’s able to sneak to the royal ball where she of course catches the eye of the eligible Prince Charming.

Cinderella: “If you’re beautiful enough, you may be able to escape your terrible living conditions by getting a wealthy man to fall for you.”
Prince Charming: “Try a little charm, wealth, and fame. That’s hot.”

So Charming was a sugar daddy? SO not hot …

Beauty and the Beast
Belle’s father gets lost in the woods and comes upon a magical house where the objects are alive … and he is threatened by a terrible beast. His daughter, Belle, agrees to change places with him because he is old and sick. The Beast is mean to her at first, but then they become friends.

Belle: “Appearances don’t matter; what counts is in your heart. Unless you’re the girl.”
The Beast: “Mmmmmmmmmmmmm, Stockholm Syndrome.”

Stockholm Syndrome—I’m sorry, but that has me ROTFLMAO. Seriously. I’m a sick woman, I guess.

So what do you think? It had never before occurred to me how really twisted these “enviable” relationships were. And you know the worst part? They all lived happily ever after …

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55 thoughts on “Disney Princesses Play into Gender Stereotypes, Set Bad Examples for Little Girls

  1. Not to mention the two-timing Prince Charming!

    I’ve thought through this before. Yes, the classic princess stories are awful. But hey, read the older traditional versions they prettied up. Now there are some great stories!

    I think that in the course of a little girl’s life, a few princesses won’t ruin her if she has real live women to look up to, and when it is balanced by stories about strong women doing their own thing as well.

  2. I loved the Disney princesses, but I also couldn’t possibly have understood the weirdness of the relationships at that age, so it’s all good.

    And much as Princess Jasmine’s “political value” is depressing, it’s entirely historically accurate. Although her tendency for rebellion probably would have earned her acid in the face or death rather than a marriage. Urgh.

    • Well the ‘signing in English” might have been only for the viewer’s benfit. For all we know she could have techinally been singing in merwriting.

  3. Yes, they can be twisted. But think of when they came out, and think about what age group their for. My 4 year old niece doesn’t see the bigger message that the princesses have, she just sees fantasy, happiness and pretty dresses.

      • Wrong! only two princess are getting marred at 16: Aurora and Ariel. Snow’s 14, , Mulan and Jasmine gets engaged at 16 (Jasmine 15 until the announcement day) Belle’s either 17 or 18 (conflicting)., Merida is supposedly 16. Rapunzel is techinally 17 in the beginning until the next day and then she’s 18. Anna is also is 18, Cinderella and Tiana are 19. Elsa is 21.

    • serious! However, you have to remember the stories they were taken from, and women were basicly bred stock at the time they were written. Way back when, men were debated wether women had souls! So you can imagine the stories that they would write. The only thing good going for a girl WAS to get married and have children, preferably sons so that SHE will be taken care of in her old age.

      However, to present to the society of little girls that its ok to run out on your parents (or whomever is taking “care” of you), spend that night with the boy, and live happily ever after? No wonder why the girls at my school get a different boyfriend every week or so and become single moms by almost every one of them! And what age are they? 15 – 19.

    • Yeah, but check out the ORIGINAL version of some of these “children’s stories”. They’re often very different from the Disney version. Sometimes….for the worse.

      • But children aren’t aware of those original stories, nor should those original stories affect the way you look at the movies that come from them.

        You don’t like the story, don’t read it. Just sit back and enjoy the movie. :D

        • I don’t think that is meant to be a criticism of the movies. Just a note.

          It’s hilarious to see what was considered a children’s story years ago. Most seem to be moralizing tales along the basic pattern of ‘if you do this, then this will happen, and you will die a horrible gruesome death’.
          And then there are some that seem to be gruesome stories that don’t even have a lesson anymore.
          But great fun!

  4. This article is ridiculous and is the epitome of over-analysing. Also, whoever wrote this was wrong about many facts regarding the actual stories. I usually love this website, but… WOW!

    • Do you mean there are problems with the Disney versions or the real stories? I see no problems with the descriptions.

      • What do you mean no problem with the descriptions? While there is truth to the idea, they’re skewed to back up the argument. Cinderella- the prince met and entire nation’s worth of beautiful women before they made a connection. Beauty and the Beast- The Beast is an asshole and it’s Belle that changes him (although that’s a probably a much more dangerous myth to fling around). Arial- She was obsessed with humans, falling in love with one only pushed her over the edge that she had been teetering on for so long. There’s more, but you get the idea.

    • I disagree with you Malia. Have you ever actually seen the movies? It’s true. Dating way back to the original Disney princess movies, whether you feel it’s over-analysed or not, the women were damsels in distress, waiting for their prince to come along and sweep them off their feet. Snow White: the damned prince. Cinderella: the damned prince. Sleeping Beauty: the damned prince. While I agree that the older movies got substantially better like Aladdin, where Princess Jasmine was an independent woman who didn’t want to be pushed around by her father or anyone else on the topic of marriage, and Beauty and the Beast, where Belle turned the horrible, mean, grumpy Beast into a normal, functional human being, the early movies WERE still pretty fucked up, pardon my language. Even the Little Mermaid, where Ariel gave up all she had for man. Love, yes, but a man that she didn’t even know and threw herself at his feet, and why. Because he was cute. Sappy, swooning women all over the place. This was a fabulous article.

      • I’m someone who looking at the stories from two perspectives history and not history. Snow and Cinderella just wanted someone to treat them like a bloody human being!! I mean come on in a time periods like the ones Disney’s Snow White and Cinderella take place in being a servant was in a sense a ‘respectable’ job. But there’s a catch, you basically had to be invisible whenever you mistress (or ‘owner’) was around unless she called for you. Belle is probably the first and maybe only person to scold him for loosing his temper for YEARS.

        None of them care that the love interest is the prince heck, Cinderella didn’t even know until the very next day her love interest is the Prince Charming!! Ariel feel in love with Eric just be seeing his attitude and interaction with Max a meer mintues before Grimsby says “Prince Eric”. And Aurora techinally likes Phillip because of the fact he’s polite, and doesn’t go too ‘fast’.

  5. I completely agree with the above article, but I also completely and utterly love and advocate Disney. I can’t help it. The films may be inevitably sending awful messages, but quite frankly I never thought of them too deeply when I was little. I just liked the songs and the fact that the pretty people ended up together. As I got older I figured out the twisted-ness for myself, but hell if I still don’t love Disney princesses. Although, I never agreed with Ariel leaving her dad for her boyfriend – that shit just does not fly, my friend.

  6. I don’t buy this at all. The messages are obviously skewed to make some sort of dramatic oppressive scene. I grew up watching these movies (I mean literally, I couldn’t stop watching them) and I received the opposite message as a little girl. I saw that these women where facing obstacles and they somehow overcame them. I mean, yes, the earlier ones did seem to need help form a prince, but I didn’t see that, and I never wanted prince charming to save me. When you’re little you don’t want too see a movie about a career woman, you want romance and adventure. And these women were strong-willed, unique characters (at least in their own settings – Belle was studious, Jasmin was feisty and didn’t believe in marriages, Ariel was defiant).

    And btw, what about Mulan? She risked her life to save her family. Sure, romance was involved, but it was only second fiddle to the real story. I don’t know, entering into full on war doesn’t seem like despairing woman to me.

    • That’s why you don’t see Mulan in here. The later ‘princesses’ were of a much more active type.
      But come on, Snow White? Lay there dead until a kiss.
      Sleeping Beauty? Lay there sleeping until a kiss.
      Cinderella? Dreamed until her fairy godmother appeared, then cried until the prince showed up.

      I think in general they got steadily better. The early ones really do just sit around dreaming of a man to rescue them. The later ones do some useful things for themselves, and the recent are actually reasonably cool girls who just also happen to be abnormally curved and pretty.

  7. Conspirators have been pointing out the inner motives of Disney films and characters for years. Steeped in drug promotion,overt child sexuality and sacrilegiousness and the occult. I mean good God,the man gave us Britney Spears,he has to be the anti-Christ!

  8. I’m going to come out as the odd duck here, but I absolutely HATED the Disney princess movies as a kid. They pissed me off and I refused to watch them because the female leads did absolutely nothing until they were rescued (I was a feminist even as a young tender kindergardener) by which ever prince happened to be in the story. I LOVED Robin Hood (the Disney Fox) because he fought for what he believed in, and, jumping past the Disney ship, Miss Piggy (from The Muppets) because she always knew what she wanted and went after it, and usually got it.

  9. These movies are part of an industry intended to make money, period. The spin off products, figurines, dolls, clothing etc. are part of the industry. There is no interest or desire here to create realistic role models for boys or girls, but no doubt the mass production and viewing of these products do have an effect on children. Continuation of gender-based stereotypes isn’t good for anyone.

  10. As a kid, I never thought about stuff like this. It was all about good winning over evil. Of course, Aladdin, Beauty, and Little Mermaid came out when I was an adult, but I still didn’t read much into them before letting my kids watch the films.

    I’m studying fairy tales right now and the originals are so different. What about Cinderella’s step-sisters cutting off parts of their feet to impress the prince? Or the fact that many princes had died trying to rescue Sleeping Beauty?

    Disney is Disney and I guess they’ll always put their spin on things to make them more 1) acceptable, and 2) profitable.

    • Or the only way for the little mermaid to live was to kill him on his wedding night to another woman, which she couldn’t do, causing her to plunger herself into the sea and die.

      Then again, the basic equation of beauty=good, and ugly=evil is another issue to bring up with disney.

  11. I love a princess story, most women/ girls do.
    It starts off with Disney cartoons as a child and the idea continuse into adulthood with movies like Pretty Women
    and Greese, reality shows like The Swam.
    I think it pushes the idea if were pretty enough
    or down and out or in some other sad case of affairs a man will come along and save us.
    As adults we realize life is not so much a fairytale.
    I wonder if women never saw or heard any of these stories if our ideas about men and real life would be different?
    Im old enough now to know movies arent usually real life.
    Maybe its not the same but it feels the same
    Tell me you havent felt like a ugly duck once in your life
    and thought maybe with just the right outfit and hairstyle
    who knows what could be possible.


  12. What a big load of bollocks!! Is this serious? I grew up completely obsessed with Ariel and Pocahontas (btw, from here I RECLAIM her LEGITIMATE right to be a Princess), and here I am, about to finish University, I’ve lived in two different countries, speak four languages and those princesses are not my role models. I did love them as a child, but my expectations on life aren’t related to them in any way – come on, there were FAIRIES involved, they were mermaids and they lived in castles. Not very realistic, huh? Children are not stupid. Let them have their fantasies. Also, unless you lived in soviet Russia you also had these role models and look, here you are, writing about them.
    People surrounding the kids are more important than the films with fairies.

    • How can you reclaim her right to be a princess when she simply never was one?
      Many people have many poor role models in life, and manage to become functioning reasonable adults despite. That doesn’t make it unreasonable to try to provide good role models and discourage poor ones.

  13. I never liked Disney movies as a little girl, with the exception of The Lion King, Mulan and Pocahontas, all of which are either pro-female or neutral.

    Another weird one: In The Lady and the Tramp, Tramp takes Lady out for a nice Italian dinner, nails her and then leaves in the morning. Nice guy.

    To think that my parents were criticized for letting me watch Jurassic Park at age 5…

    • Now see that one has good morals!
      Do bad things = get eaten by a dilophosaurus.
      Be a lawyer = get eaten by a T-Rex.

      • Dinosaurs aren’t gender-biased.

        Actually, come to think of it, I think all the velociraptors were female… Clever, deadly, able to hunt in packs; now there’s a role model young girls can look up to!

  14. Principally I agree with the article, but I do have to defend Jasmine and Belle a little. Jasmine’s political paralysis isn’t her fault, and she clearly resents it. In the end, she gets what she wants. Aladdin also seems to have lied out of shame and inferiority for his love (having already met Jasmine before the Genie). Despite the title, Belle’s beauty is almost incidental as far as she is concerned. It only serves to allow the Beast to really learn his lesson (recalling the prologue of the movie). It doesn’t matter anything to her, and in fact she finds it burdensome because Gaston won’t buzz off.

    All the others are agreeably creepy. Even though it’s super morbid, the end of the written story of the Little Mermaid is a better lesson for little girls :-)

  15. Is no one remembering the fact that they weren’t in any way (or so I’m assuming) affected by watching any of these movies as a child?

    And bagging on Snow White? Come on, it was put out in a time when women were sort of expected to just wait around for a man.

  16. I was a critic even when I was a little girl. I watched all of the movies listed here, and the only ones I really wanted to be like and didn’t find too much wrong with were Mulan, Bell, and Ariel’s lovely voice. I laughed at the stupidity of the other “princesses”. Yeesh, it’s sad that back then that women did not get the recognition they deserve for going through all the crap men put on them. I’m only 17 now, but I know that men are basiclly only looking at your body and the whole world in a beauty contest.

    Miss Malice, btw, I can see where you are coming from. It is sad to say too that women WERE expected to wait around for a man. It sucks that men DO expect that from women, and expect every women they meet to know that and live by it. Thus abuse from misunderstanding the women they hooked up with and getting confused because of the poor role models they were given.

  17. I’ve always admired Ariel. She was independent and rebellious and she did what she wanted to. The whole giving up her voice thing was her mistake, being a young woman and making mistakes is only normal, right? The love at first site thing is standard for Disney, and I never believed in it anyway. She only got married because she wanted to, and she had to convince her father that it was all going to be ok. She didn’t do it just because she was expected to.

    Also, what about Alice? She went off on her own adventure too. I know she’s not usually included as a “Disney Princess” but along with Ariel, she was one of my favorites. And there isn’t even a romantic interest in that movie.

    I grew up to be a fiercely independent, smart young woman, pursing my dreams to become a lawyer. Along with the Disney fare, my parents made sure I read books with strong female role models. Tamora Pierce’s books were my favorite. Her Alanna series is about a woman who is determined to become a knight, and she covers up her gender until she is knighted, and then proves herself to be the best knight out there, despite everything working against her. Disney isn’t harmful as long as little girls have other influences.

  18. Have you read Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain? Eilonwy is freaking amazing! (And Disney made a really cheesy combo of several of the books called “The Black Cauldron”, but Eilonwy is nowhere near as cool in the movies as she is in the books)

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  20. the thing is, in the disney movies, they always portrayed them as really strong women… and that also has a positive effect on children. but ya maybe these other subtle messages play on our subconscious too.. you can find these messages everywhere though!

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  24. I live next door to a house with three girls, all under the age of six. They are completely Disney Princess-obsessed. I’ve babysat a lot, and as soon as they’re back from school or play-group, it’s into their costumes and watching Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. I wouldn’t be shocked if they could recite every line. I was never into it myself.

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