Updated: Mar 2, 2022
Our world is built through fantasies. It is through fantasy that children (and adults) grow and develop their expectations, and many of these fantasies are nourished from fairy tales, stories of princesses and princes. And nothing better than looking at the Disney universe, more specifically the universe of the Princesses.
Fairy tales act as a bridge between the real and the imaginary, since they display the dynamism of different cultures and represent the structure of a society. The stories we tell children will integrate their imagination and will help them to better understand how the world works.
As a woman born in the 90s, the representation of the female characters from Disney had a great influence on the way I constructed and idealised the role of women and consequently, the expectations of others towards me and of me towards others.
Over the decades, the way in which Women are portrayed has changed - Women are no longer submissive princesses, waiting for their prince charming, but warriors, with an active voice and strength.
Until 1991, the characterisation of Women/Girls in Disney films (and others) was that of the Princess who dreamed of a better life, with Prince Charming who would help her achieve the future she desired. Look at Cinderella who was condemned to a life of looking after her stepmother and her sisters, or Snow White who, even though escaped, stayed to live with the seven dwarfs, becoming their caretaker and the guardian of the home they shared. What does this show us? That the role that women should assume was that of caretaker of the home and family, being subordinate and dependent on man.
The first major difference appears with Bela, in 1991. Bela appears as an interested, curious Woman, with a taste for reading. It is also in Beauty and the Beast that the Princess takes on an active role, that is, she does not wait to be saved by her prince, she guides her own destiny. And for the first time, it is the Beast who needs her love to be saved. And mind you, she fell in love with a monster, far from the perfect Prince Charming.
And Beauty was just the first of this new generation of Warrior Princesses: Mulan, Pocahontas, Tiana (The Princess and the Frog), Merida (Untamed) and so many others. It is this new generation of Warrior Princesses that shows today's children that a woman's role is whatever she wants: that she too can make decisions, be strong, courageous, fight for her interests and, above all, be independent and save herself. Princesses become warriors, they break traditional patterns, stop dreaming of a true love to save them and start living their own lives.
The evolution of the role of women in animated films and fairy tales is fundamental for the development of our children. Why? Because it makes it easier for us to identify with them, because we live in a society that wants and fights for gender equality and equal opportunities. Through these fairytale figures, children control a scenario in which they are inserted and, consequently, they also construct their social role, interpreting it according to the behaviour that most appeals to them. Therefore, the different characters, in this case the Princesses, serve as examples of the different roles we can assume.
We can see that with each new film and with each new Princess that appears on our screens, their behaviour is changing and there is a clear evolution in the female image, a consequence of fluidity and modernity. Our Princesses portray the way we see women today: a Woman-Princess-Warrior, capable of fighting for her destiny, of being independent and self-determined.
And who doesn't want to be or be close to a Warrior-Princess-Woman? I know I do!