Feminism, Disney and Life Lessons

I read a story in The Times this morning:

“Sarah Hall, says that the story of sleeping beauty promotes unacceptable behaviour because the prince had not sought consent for the kiss.”

The parent of a 6-year-old was spurred by the recent #MeToo campaign and felt that the story conveyed a bad message to her child and that it shouldn’t be on his recommended reading list.

And honestly- I don’t really know which side of the debate I’m falling on here.

On the one hand- I read that snippet, and I think- “fuck the world has gone insane.”

Sleeping Beauty (I’m thinking the Disney version here) is an absolute childhood classic for me. I loved princesses and fairytale stories as a child- I love the songs, the story and I think of Aurora as a classic Disney princess.

I love The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Snow White… (to name a few)

I grew up on these stories and I’ve never once considered that they might have actually damaged me or my perception of the world- but this story has got me thinking.

On a closer read of the article, Sarah Hall doesn’t entirely want to ban the book- but she does want to use it for older children, to start a conversation about consent.

And to me, that can only be a good thing.

The Disney is 100% a toned down version of a very old fairytale.

Sleeping Beauty is based of a story written in the 16th century. In the original story, she’s actually raped when she’s asleep. Now THAT is problematic.

I think that highlighting to slightly older children that even though it’s only a story- perhaps a conversation about being kissed by a total stranger and how that might make you feel- could be beneficial.

The thing is, if we’re going to get politically correct about ‘Sleeping Beauty’- we need to entirely reassess the entire Disney franchise.

Disney princesses are awash with stereotypes about female beauty. They’re packed with poor lessons in life and I don’t know if you can really consider many of them good female role models.

Ariel changed her body for a man and left home, Pocahontas had to chose between a man and her individual success, Belle (although she loves books and is a badass) ultimately got by a lot on her attractiveness.

American linguists found that Male characters have three times as much dialogue as female characters in films produced between 1989 and 1999.

Disney women are on the whole attractive, wealthy, able-bodied and talented. A poor standard to give to a younger and susceptible generation.

But is that a sign of the times that they were produced in? Feminism was stunted from the 50s, women were still fighting the battle for equality- and although we’ve got a long way to go- I think that things have changed since then.

We’ve become more accessible through the years with stories like “Frozen”, “Brave” and “Moana”- we’ve got empowered female leads, who run their own path in life and don’t rely on their looks or a man to save them at the end of the story.

So perhaps the heavy hitting topics are important to tackle.

If we can combat traditional ideas of “feminine” traits through our new Disney films- then maybe Sarah Hall has a point.

Maybe we should use older Disney to talk about difficult topics.

Consent with Sleeping Beauty.

Trusting strangers with Snow White.

Changing your body with Ariel.

Group acceptance with Pocahontas.

By making the stories accessible, we can start conversations with young people about right and wrong and ultimately bring up a generation of more widely accepted social norms and understanding.

But- am I overthinking all of this? Is it just a bit of fun and games?

What do you think?





  1. November 24, 2017 / 12:27 pm

    This is possibly the best blog/article I’ve read on Disney and feminism. I have to agree with your mixed feelings, I really love Disney, but some of the attitudes towards women and the portrayals of women are…lacking…for want of a better term. They turn women into an ideal rather than a person, and that’s a pretty terrible message to be sending very young girls. Having said that, I absolutely love the idea of using Disney to open up conversations with slightly older children. It’s very difficult to start those conversations with kids without overwhelming them, and it would be great to use Disney as a kick-off point. That’s a really positive way of dealing with those issues.

    • rachelalice16
      November 29, 2017 / 10:50 am

      Thank you! It’s so difficult to strike the balance between both loving the original films, but also an adult realising that they actually can be hugely problematic! Thanks for reading xx

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.