Did you grow up loving Disney? Did you see yourself in the iconic princesses Ariel, Belle and Cinderella? Did you have the dolls, sing the songs, and dream the dream of a happily ever after? As you grew up, were you told that Disney had lied to you? Had sold you a false bill of goods? Had made you admire helpless women in ridiculously fragile shoes? Sighing, did you believe the critics and hang your head in shame? Well, have no fear! Faith Moore has written the rebuttal to this argument that will shield you (nay!) armor you with the knowledge to take back the Disney princess from the clutches of people who…well…just don’t get it. Curious? I was too! Why? Because I did love them, and I did sigh, and I was made to believe that to love those stories meant I was only someone who wished to be rescued, and not heroic at all. Read on and join a conversation that—while at first glance might seem silly—is actually very important. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Faith Moore and her excellent book; Saving Cinderella: What Feminists Get Wrong About Disney Princesses and How to Set it Right.
I’d love to know about how you ended up becoming a “Disney Princess Addict!”
I had the great good fortune to grow up during Disney’s renaissance, which began in 1989 with The Little Mermaid. I was six when that film came out and I remember seeing it in the theater and loving it. But it wasn’t until Beauty and the Beast came out in 1991 that I really fell hard for Disney princesses. Something about that story just latched onto my heart and hasn’t let go. I got to see all those great Disney renaissance movies in the theater when they first came out: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King. I grew up with them. And I knew, even then, that something had changed when I watched Pocahontas and then Mulan. It was only as an adult that I realized what had happened to Disney princesses — that this vocal minority of feminist critics that I call princess critics — had shifted the princess narrative toward “feminism.” And then, well, I had to stand up and fight for these stories I love!
You talk about the history of fairy tales in the book. Can you talk a little bit about their importance and legacy?
The thing that really gets me about the feminist rejection of fairy tales is that fairy tales are actually women’s stories. Princess fairy tales, in particular, are all about a beautiful, and morally strong, woman at the center of a narrative. And they were, in many cases, created and told by women. What could be more “feminist” than that?! Fairy tales are allegorical stories designed to teach a universal truth about life. In many cases they were told by mothers to explain or warn their children about things in life that are difficult, or hard for children to comprehend. Princess fairy tales, in particular, were often ways for little girls to come to terms with the (sometimes frightening) changes of puberty. Many fairy tale narratives, like “Cinderella,” appear in nearly all the world’s cultures and date back, sometimes, thousands of years. The notion that these stories are outdated relics that ought to be done away with completely disregards the fact that they have resonated with human beings for, in many cases, longer than any classic work of literature.
The word feminism has gone through many iterations over the years. Can you tell me what you mean by “feminist” as it applies to your book title?
This is a really astute question. The problem with the term “feminist” is that it now bears no resemblance whatsoever to its original definition. Feminism came about in reaction to actual inequalities between men and women that needed to be addressed. It simply stated that women ought be viewed as equally valuable to society as men, such that, if a woman wanted and was able to do something that was traditionally only open to men, she could. And many women who call themselves feminists today are still referring to this definition. The problem, though, is that the movement — as represented by the media — has morphed into something more sinister. These days, the feminist movement has come to embody the oppressive tactics which used to be associated with “the patriarchy.” The movement is now about women telling other women that, in order to be successful and achieve “equality,” they must act like men. These are the feminists I’m referring to in the book’s title, because it is film critics and other cultural commentators who call themselves feminists who have gotten Disney princess movies so wrong.
What is the most glaring error feminists get wrong about Disney princesses?
The entire feminist misunderstanding of Disney princess films — and fairy tales in general — stems from the fact that they take them too literally. Feminists don’t understand that fairy tales rely almost entirely on symbolism. Because fairy tales are designed to be very short narratives expressing complex but universal truths, they operate within a symbolic language that’s consistent from story to story. In my book I call this concept “fairy tale shorthand,” but other people have called it other things (mythographer Marina Warner calls it a “symbolic Esperanto,” for example). So a forest, for example, always represents the protagonist’s inner turmoil. And a princess represents the ideal of womanhood. She is high-born and beautiful not because we must all be those things, but because those things represent her inner grace and beauty. Feminists don’t get that. They think Cinderella, for example, is a story about a girl whose clothes were so pretty that a rich and powerful guy decided to marry her. But that’s so obviously not the case! The story is about a girl who is given the opportunity to wear her inner goodness on the outside so that a man of worth can recognize instantly what kind of person she is. It’s this literal interpretation of fairy tales that has completely derailed the Disney princess narrative.
I love the idea that femininity has its own strength that is completely different than a man’s—yet just as strong. Could you talk more about that, and about how the feminist movement encourages women to abandon feminine traits to be (ironically) more like men?
Men and women are different. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement but it is. And their differences cause them to be better at, or more interested in, different things. Men are physically stronger than women, and they’re more interested in action, adventure, and getting things done. Women are more focused on emotions, relationships, planning, and nurturing others. None of these traits is inherently better than any others. But, because men have historically had power over women, feminists have adopted the mistaken notion that masculine traits are superior to female traits. Or, put another way, that if women want to wield the power men have historically enjoyed, they must adopt the traits of men. But that completely sells women short! Women are strong, brave, and powerful. It’s just that their strength, bravery, and power come from different places and look different to men’s. Insisting that a princess is more feminist if she wields a sword than she would be if she cleans a house negates the very real strength, and discipline it takes to be a homemaker.
As you mention in your book, there are recent Disney princesses that you don’t think are ideal role modes for young women. Can you talk about one of them and why?
The worst example of this, by far, is Merida from Brave. Brave is a perfect example of what happens when people who don’t understand fairy tales try to tell a “feminist” fairy tale. The movie uses fairy tale tropes — particularly the imagery and narrative arc of Beauty and the Beast — and tries to make them be about mothers and daughters instead of men and women. The result is a pretty creepy mess. Because the film is actively trying to make a case against marriage and men, Merida’s arc — which ought to be away from her mother and out into the world to follow her dreams — sends her right back to where she started, a child in her parent’s sway. Merida makes a whole bunch of terrible and selfish choices and never seems to understand that her issues came from trying to change her mother and not herself. The whole thing is a Freudian psychiatrist’s dream. Ick!
What would you like to see from Disney regarding princesses in the future?
There are two things I think Disney needs to acknowledge if it’s ever going to create good female role models and stories again. The first is that women can be strong and brave in ways that are different than men. And the second is that romantic love doesn’t make you weak. If they could keep those two ideas at the core of a new narrative, I’d be okay with them branching out into some new types of princess stories.
And last but not least, who is your favorite Disney princess and why?
That’s easy: Belle. I love the story of Beauty and the Beast particularly because it shows how, by never compromising her true self for anyone, a woman can inspire a man to become worthy of her love. Belle is bookish and quirky (like me) but she never even tries to behave like the people around her, even though they’re all pressuring her to be less “odd.” And, in spite of that (or, really, because of that) she finds a man who loves her for her true self. It makes my heart sing.
In a day and age where conversation and debate have virtually disappeared and been replaced by disrespectful lecturing, it’s refreshing to read Faith’s case for why something as innocuous as a fairy tale matters. In every chapter, she braves to defy the “princess critics” and their current assessment of how princesses are out of date and less than extraordinary. With excellent writing and humor, she casts her spell; and as far as your humble correspondent is concerned, rescues her princesses from a fate worse than a poisoned apple or everlasting sleep—but from irrelevance. It certainly seems she has no intention to yield her argument and “Let it go!” 😉
Buy Faith’s book here.
Check out Faith’s website here: https://faithkmoore.com
Follow her at Twitter here: @FaithKMoore
Join her Facebook group Disney Princess Addict here:
Faith also has a great YouTube channel called Princess State of Mind. Catch it here!