I’ll admit I feel sort of protective of Disney princesses. So many parents have banned them from their homes. So many little girls are robbed of their friendship and guidance. All in the name of “feminism.” It makes me sad. Because I love them and, more importantly, because I think they’ve been unfairly maligned. So the other day, when I came across a post which accidentally illustrated how ridiculous this criticism of Disney princesses actually is, I became irrationally excited.
Danielle Lindemann is a mother and sociologist who decided to “edit” her daughter’s Disney princess book. In doing so she thought she was sending a powerful feminist message but, in fact, she was just proving my point. Lindemann, of course, was hailed as a feminist hero online when the images were first published (by a professor from, I’m ashamed to admit, my alma mater, Occidental College, named Lisa Wade on thesocietypages.org). But her misguided post is a perfect example of the flaw in the whole Disney-princesses-are-anti-feminist narrative.
Here’s what happened. According to PopSugar, Lindemann, who studies gender roles, became frustrated with her daughter’s incessant reading of her favorite book about Disney princesses, feeling that it promoted inappropriate gender stereotypes. According to Lindemann, the books are “basically teaching these little girls that their worth lies in looking nice and hooking up with the right guy.” So she took a pen and added some edits to her daughter’s book.
But, here’s the thing. None of the images (which have now been shared on multiple sites online) actually promote the ideals she says are so abhorrent. “A princess is kind,” reads a page depicting Snow White. It ought to be fairly uncontroversial to say that kindness is a positive attribute. But Lindemann’s addition, “ . . . of a badass,” implies that, rather than being kind, women must be somehow subversive in order to fit in to these new “feminist” gender roles. (Not to mention the fact that she’s adding profanity to her three-year-old’s picture book!)
“What is a princess? A princess is brave!” reads another page of the book. Um, brave sounds good, right? That doesn’t sound like the sort of passive, damsel in distress character that Lindemann and her compatriots would object to. And yet, in a speech bubble coming from Princess Jasmine’s mouth, Lindemann writes, “”My body, my choice!” What, for the love of all that is holy, has this to do with anything?! Unless, in the previous page, Aladdin was depicted as trying to impregnate Jasmine and then engaging in an earnest discussion about what to do with the unborn baby, this is a total non sequitur!
It goes on and on like this. Not one of the images depicted promotes the ideology of “looking nice and hooking up with the right guy” that Lindemann is trying to push back against. The closest one is “A princess likes to dress up,” but it doesn’t even specify what they like to dress up as, and Lindemann’s addition of “in her medical scrubs, when she goes to work as a neurosurgeon” doesn’t really add or detract from the message. Sure, a princess might like to be a neurosurgeon, or a fairy, or a unicorn, or the president. It’s a book aimed at three-year-olds.
The most ridiculous of these images, in my opinion, is of Princess Jasmine and Aladdin, flying on a magic carpet with their arms around each other. The page reads, “Jasmine flies through the sky.” Lindemann added, “She holds onto Aladdin because he is scared,” and she gave Aladdin a speech bubble that says, “Protect me, Jasmine!” This kind of makes me want to throw up a little.
The page itself actually makes no mention of Aladdin. It doesn’t even say, “Aladdin takes Jasmine on a magic carpet ride.” It’s about a girl, flying. Seems like that should fit in with the “feminist” narrative that Lindemann, et al. subscribe to. Adding the bit about Aladdin’s fears unnecessarily emasculates him. Why do either of them have to be scared?! They’re holding each other because they love each other. And the page is about a girl who can fly. Jeez.
Lindemann’s comments about her daughter’s reaction to these edits is just the icing on the cake of this total misunderstanding of Disney princesses. “It’s weird,” PopSugar quotes Lindemann as saying, “because I expected my daughter to react to the edits, but she sort of just rolled with them. Maybe the new narrative seemed natural to her. Why wouldn’t Cinderella have sparkly shoes and also be a neurosurgeon?” Right! Nothing in the original book was at odds with her mother’s “feminist” agenda. So her additions were unnecessary and went unnoticed by her daughter.
Now, of course, I also believe that there are differences between genders and that Disney princesses really are positive examples of femininity in a modern world. The fact that so many little girls (Lindemann’s daughter included!) gravitate towards these characters says something about their impact and importance as role models. Even the older movies, which do sometimes espouse values we now view as antiquated, have a lot to offer little girls looking to grow into modern, but feminine, women. But that’s a topic for another day. The point here is simply that Lindemann’s argument (and the broader argument that her comments fit into) doesn’t hold up on its own terms.
The stigma around Disney princesses, the idea that their message is no longer relevant to today’s women and girls, or, worse, that it’s actually antithetical to it, is in error. It just isn’t true. And Lindemann’s misguided attempt to correct something which doesn’t need correction is a perfect example of why. Little girls, even girls like Lindemann’s daughter who are raised to believe that gender is a social construct, love Disney princesses. Why? Because Disney princesses are brave. Because they are kind. Because they are beautiful and magical and smart. Because they are women. No editing required.