Throughout history, Disney princesses have had a lasting influence on women everywhere. Fairytales are a way for literature to uphold the patriarchal conventions of society. These harmless stories presented to children at a young age; establish the normalcy of the dominance of men in their minds. Social conventions and gender roles are all subtle learnings that are picked up from everyday fairytale. This paper will focus on the contrast of character personality and social norms between two Disney Princesses, namely Cinderella (Cinderella 1950) and Merida (Brave 2012).
Cinderella Is one of the oldest most well known Disney princesses of all. She is also on of the most helpless princesses ever created. She is subjected to being a housemaid, in a house that should rightfully be hers. (Since the death of her father) Cinderella was treated worse than a slave in her own home, made to do the dishes and clean the house. Yet she does nothing about it. She listens and obeys her cruel stepmother. All she does is sing a song and feel sorry for herself. At no point in the story does she decide to take matters into her own hands and fight for her freedom.
Cinderella is portrayed as a dreamer. She constantly wishes for a better life. One without her horrible sisters and mother. But most of her fantasies involve finding true love and getting married. She view marriage as the only solution to her problems. Enforcing the idea that a woman without a husband cannot survive.
She grieves over being excluded from the royal ball, she cries endlessly and longs to go for this perverse spectacle wherein woman are paraded and judged according to their beauty. Cinderella longs to find true love and believes that the only way to do so is to attend a ball where the prince gets to choose his bride on the basis of her beauty. Here we see women are treated as objects merely present to look pretty on a mans arm.
Cinderella is a dreamer, but she is constantly waiting on other people to fulfill her dreams. She is incapable of achieving her goals by herself. She depends on supernatural power to transform her into a lady suitable to attend a ball; personally she does nothing to improve her social standing. Cinderellas entire character is basted on societies notion of beauty and success. she gives into the male stereotypical idea of beauty and is greatly overjoyed by her new sparkly shoes and shiny dress. This reinforces the idea that men do not care for your brains or wit but rather your appearance.
Cinderella accepts a life of domesticity. She does not wish to be free of independent. She has no real interest of her own. She accepts the fact that she will be a homemaker subjected to the will of her stepmother first, and later her husband. All she wishes for is to find a man. Her lifes ambition was to move up the ladder from serventhood to wifehood. Once again we see the importance given to the male figure in the movie and the subtle oppression of women.
Cinderella judges her self worth on the basis of her ability to attract a man. By herself and alone she feels useless and helpless. Even society is portrayed as one that gives more importance to the institution of marriage than the independence of a woman. Society seen as being superficial and male dominant, while women are portrayed as ignorant and weak.
In spite of being treated unbearably, Cinderella still returns home after the ball. Where she decided to wait for the prince to come rescue her. The love of her life, he carries her glass slipper in hope of finding the perfect fit, as he cannot remember what she looks like.
In my opinion Cinderella does not come across as smart, other than her beauty, cooking and cleaning skills she is nothing out of the ordinary. Take away the mice and the godmother and you will notice she does not do anything to improve her own situation. For example, the mice design her dress for her. Her godmother gives her a carriage and a new dress when her sisters destroy the first. The mice let her out of her room when her stepmother locks her away, and the prince whisks her away from her place of servitude. Cinderella herself, meanwhile, does little more than lament her situation and wish for someone to rescue her. She is passive to her own faith.
Brave A 2012 Disney Pixar film, brings to light a new age, unconventional princess. Merida is the sixteen-year-old tomboyish daughter to the Kind and Queen of Scotland. Her mother Queen Elinors desire to see Mrida as a proper royal lady, Mrida however is an impetuous girl who wants to take control of her own destiny.
Right from a young age (in the opening of the movie) we see the little princess eager to learn archery. She has more interest in her fathers skills and love for battle than her mothers diplomacy, grace and femininity. Merida gives more importance to horse back riding and archery than she does to shiny shoes and ball gowns. She has no interest in finding a suitor and in giving in to societies conventions of marriage.
The character traits of Merida are similar to the ideologies of radical feminism. Radicle Feminism challenges patriarchy and opposes gender roles. They also believe that the way to deal with patriarchy and oppression of all kinds is to address the underlying causes of these problems through revolution. Merida is the first Disney princess who fights for a revolution. We see this when she declares that she will fight for her own hand in marriage as she is determined to, not get married
The film carves its own path, where the witty repartee over shadows the lack of romantic development. There are no delicate hair dos, dazzling gowns or intimate evenings. The suitors are simply buffoons, unfit to comb Meridas unruly flowing red hair, much less match up with her archery skills.
She maybe a princess, but unlike the stereotypical damsel in distress Disney princess, we are used to, Merida is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Through the course of the move she makes a mistake, but she does not need prince charming to ride in and save her. She makes her own trouble and gets her self of out it.
Queen Elinor is seen as a very dominating figure through the movie. She is the one who makes all the decisions, she is determining to transform Merida into the perfect princess and find her a prince. Queen Elinor strives to instill in Merida knowledge and manner of a royal, expecting complete commitment to her high standards. However her daughters rebellious nature and free spirit get in the way. She has certain reservations of how a woman should and should not act. She also constantly reminds Merida that a bow and arrow or any weapon for that matter is not meant for a lady. Queen Eleanors thoughts and actions largely portrays society and its view towards women who do not conform to its ideal traits of feminism.
Merida is the first animated princess in history who does not fall in love. She does not act on the basis of romantic motivations and does not choose a handsome suitor in the end. Brave is not just about the triumph of a young girl over a patriarchal society and dashing away with its conventions. Though the heart of feminism can be seen very clearly through the portrayal of choices and compromises. It is Meridas strength of character and not her physical abilities that make her a rare and outstanding Disney princess
Cinderella VS Merida
From the oldest to the latest addition to the Disney princesses, notice the difference in the portrayal of their characters. Cinderella and Merida are completely opposite to each other.
Cinderella is passive. She is incapable of making her own decisions and taking control of her life. She sits by as though she is merely a spectator to the things happening around her. Cinderella let her life depend on other people. Merida on the other hand is participates fully in the deciding of her fate. In fact it is her intervention with destiny that helps Merida achieve her goal. Unlike Cinderella she does not sit waiting to be saved. She becomes her own hero.
Cinderella constantly took orders from the people around her. She made no attempt to fight back or take what was rightfully hers. She considered herself weak and incapable. Therefore she was taken advantage of, by her stepsisters and stepmother. In brave we see the princess constantly fighting back, constantly going against her mothers wishes and staying true to who she is. She does not for one-minute doubt her character and her choice. Merida does not let anything stop her from being her tomboyish self.
Mothers also play a very important part in the lives of both characters. Mothers in both movies though they are completely different both come across as very strong figures of feminism. Queen Elinor and Cinderellas stepmother both know exactly what they want and exactly how it achieve it. In Brave we see Meridas mother trying to teach her dignity and decorum, but she stays wild, brawly and undignified. While in Cinderellas case we see her accepting her fate and doing nothing but weeping about how miserable her life really is.
Beauty as seen through the eyes of Cinderella involves a shiny dress and pretty new shoes. She gives us the idea that to be notices you much have pretty clothes. Cinderellas character is portrayed as shallow and materialistic. She depends on what she wears and what she looks like to get ahead is the world. She feels better about herself only once she in a carriage wearing new clothes. Merida on the other hand cares nothing for the superficial idea of beauty; we see her struggle with the corset and fitted dress. She feels much more at ease in her comfy clothes with her bow and arrow by her side. Merida loves her messy red hair she does not feel the need to conform to societies idea of prefect beauty. Her self worth comes from her confidence of who she is as a person.
The idea of a prince charming is non-existent in the movie Brave. Merida does not spend all her time daydreaming about a man. She is far to busy practicing archery, horseback riding and rock climbing. She is a strong character and does not need a knight in shining armor to save her. The princes presented in the movie and scrawny, half witted and no where close to handsome. The movie does not reinforce the idea of unrealistic men. Cinderella however is the perfect example of a movie where the prince saves the damsel in distress. The prince here is portrayed at tall, handsome, gentle and charming. Not to mention superficial as he would have never noticed her if she did not look the prettiest in all the land.
Lastly the theme of marriage is portrayed completely differently through both characters. Cinderellas spends all her time waiting to find her one true love whom she can marry. From beginning to end the story is planed in a way that make marriage seem like the single most important thing in a girls life. Cinderellas search for self-identity leads her to believe a husband and marriage is the only way. Here marriage is symbolic of the transaction from adolescent to womanhood. Cinderella teaches us that the only way to advance in life is to marry your way out of misery by being slender and beautiful.
Merida perceives marriage as completely unnecessary. She does not believe that a man can help her any more than she can help herself. Merida proves than anything a man can do, she can do better. To her marriage is simply a social norm that se refuses to adhere to. Meridas strength of character and willpower is what stands out most. She is the nonconformist independent princess who teaches up to save us.
Through out history, the Disney princesses seem to be born into a powerless position and are in the transaction from adolescent to woman. Aurora, due to her curse, is treated as fragile and over-protected. Jasmine isnt allowed to interact with the world and Ariel is expected to be a singer for the entertainment of the kingdom. If you have watched the movies (as I am sure you have) You will notice these women commit gender treason, they blithely bask in the glory of the patriarchy anointing them with the empty title princess, thereby condemning innocent little girls worldwide to a life wracked by miserable, insatiable lust for a crown, a ball gown, and a 17-inch waist. Yet they are still considered feminine role models. The world need more princesses with feminist ideologies to help bring about a revolution in the (still) male dominant society we live in.