Princesses, (social) mirror on the wall

Le principesse Disney e l'immaginario che si portano appresso

The Disney princesses and the “imaginary” that they carry with them

Beautiful and thin, graceful and harmonious, romantic and always in search of love, kind and helpful, affable and loving, obliging and attentive. The Italian (and English) provide an infinite number of synonyms to describe the gender role, always the same, of fairytale princesses: characters that are basically unreal in which, however, many girls still try to mirror themselves. But it is useless to blame the choices of the last century. From 2012 things have changed more in the entertainment rather than in the women’s head…

An imaginary carried out, above all, by the most mainstream princesses, those of the cinema that everyone knows. For some time now, a cartoon (similar to the image above) that portrays the most famous Disney princesses, describing them for what they represent, behind the fairy tale, has been circulating on the internet . Far from the glaze of the dream, fairy tales are accused of perpetrating certain stereotypes, convenient for society, on how a woman should be or at least behave.

If you look at them all together they are actually a little disturbing. All the same, same pose, same mannerism, same glance between the sweet and the alluring. Preferably bare shoulders. All women we have never seen around. All saved by a man, a prince. All stories of women in which other women turn against them.

They are the blondes Cinderella and Aurora, the black-haired Snow White and Jasmine, the red-headed Ariel and the brunette Belle. A single female model, always proposed the same from 1937 to 1992, only with different colors.

Snow White, now more than octogenarian, created in 1937, was the first Disney princess ever. The cartoon says: “her youth and beauty is seen as a threat by another woman and therefore she gets killed. Her beauty will eventually save her, attracting a man who will protect her“.

La spettinata Merida

A disheveled Merida, the first princess that has registered a strong impact in the differences between the imaginary of the “old” princesses and the new ones (from 2012). Merida is in fact “the first princess that does not have a male figure at her side to whom she is sentimentally linked”.

Cinderella, 1950, teaches that “if you are beautiful enough, you will be able to escape aberrant living conditions by marrying a rich man”.

Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty in the woods (1959), “promised bride at birth to solidify a political position, is killed by another woman out of spite. Her “boyfriend” saves her with a kiss. A man, therefore sex, is again her only salvation”.

Ariel, The little mermaid (1989) is the example that “it’s okay to abandon your life and family, drastically change your body and let go of your talent if you have to conquer your man. The price will be speaking no more, but when you are so cute there is no need”.

Belle, The Beauty (of the beast 1991), “is sweet, sensitive and beautiful. She also depends on ‘a prince who can save’ and rescue her”. She teaches that “the external appearance (of men) does not matter”.

Jasmine of Aladdin, 1992, “a princess who must be married to meet the requirements of the law. Her reluctance to bow to it, causes her powerful father many problems”.

Moana e il suo compagno di viaggio, il semidio Maui

The princess Moana and her travel companion, the demigod Maui. With her the adventure is no longer exclusive to men.

But the cartoon stops at Jasmine, in fact, but luckily the world has moved on. The princesses begin to have some extra thickness, for example a talent, a passion, a certain temper. Already Princess Jasmine showed “reluctance” for her condition. Then all the others came.

Today the Disney Princesses, beyond fairy tales, are a franchise. After 1992, besides the great classics, Pocahontas (1995), Mulan (1998), Tiana of The princess and the frog (2009), Rapunzel (2010) and Merida in The brave (2012) were added, first princess under the Pixar brand… and the difference is perceived! Then is the time of Anna and Elsa in Frozen (2013), two “princesses” together for the first time, described through a both simple and complex characterization that shows the real relationship that can rise between sisters and women in general, in a range that goes from the “envied enemy” to the “soul mate”. The last “Disney official princess” is Moana (2016). Then many others considered unofficial (because not really stereotyped princesses), including Nala (The lion king), Alice (in wonderland), Daisy Duck, Esmeralda (The hunchback of Notre Dame) , Lilo (and Stitch), Maid Marian (of Robin Hood)… and dozens more.

It takes a bit to understand that much has changed (and will change) and no pseudo-feminist cartoon is needed anymore. Until 2016, at least, if you went to the official Disney website, from the description of Snow White to the one of Merida it was so evident that a century really went by. Indeed, Snow White was described in an even more gruesome way, if possible, than the one intended to be “controversial”!

Snow White has a docile character and she is as kind and caring as beautiful. Despite being a princess, her stepmother, the Queen, treats her like a servant. Yet she never complains. Snow White is generous and affectionate, she cleans and cooks for the seven dwarfs and is happy to make others happy while confidently waiting for her Prince Charming”.

But from Snow White until today, the lives of many women have fortunately changed. And so the princesses are also changing. One of the last, Merida, is a rebellious girl without makeup, and the first words that describe her are “determined and impetuous”, usually male adjectives. Moana, the twelfth Disney princess, joined the others at Christmas 2016. Sixteen years old, Polynesian, daughter of a tribal chief, “she has always felt a strong bond that calls her to the sea, travel and adventure… forbidden things for a woman” (oddly…). “But Moana does not give up, following her instincts and finding her way, and this will lead her on a wonderful journey through the Pacific Ocean, full of myths and legends, with which the inhabitants have a deep, sincere and respectful bond”. For the record, Moana in Italy came out with the title Oceania, for a (stereotyped) reason: in the ’90s, Moana was the name of the most famous Italian pornstar. But would children really have that malice? Or simply the same memory? What if it was? There are those who claimed that it was, in reality, for “marketing and copyright reasons”, on the other hand changing the protagonist name into Vaiana, is meaningless compared to the symbolism of the film: in Polynesian “moana” means precisely “ocean”. Without references to Moana Pozzi, for which we are also happy that she is still remembered with so much emphasis to deserve the exclusive name. After all Moana wasn’t a “simple pornstar”… she was a very clever woman with her personal philosophy.

Bambina legge Frida Khalo della Colleccion Antiprincesas

A little girl reads Frida Khalo of the Argentinian “Colleccion Antiprincesas” (Antiprincesses collection)

Without forgetting all the “alternative princesses” that many girls and boys are already getting to know today. There are many initiatives, including in the editorial and digital fields: for example the Argentine “Antiprincesas” (antiprincesses) series which tells the (true) stories of great women such as Violeta Parra or Frida Khalo. Rapsodia Edizioni accepted the idea and translated it into Italian: “these fairy tales tell us that perhaps the world today needs truer stories, harder stories, more real feelings, to learn the most important lessons” commented the head Eleonora Lo Nigro. Or the project Rebel Girls, an American idea of ​​ebooks about the life of great women, like The stellar lady about the recently deceased Italian astrophysicist Margherita Hack, born in Firenze in 1922, “you can’t believe it, in a street called Centostelle…” (that in Italian literally means “hundred stars”).

In short, it is true that the first princesses were all submissive women, but it was also a historic reality. Finally, we can’t forget that many comes from ancient tales and fables that had an original educative intent, thought especially for adults, that some time was stereotyped, taking into account the social roles of the time, but some time has been lost in the adaptations for cinema. In any case, getting mad with false enemies, the effects (or representations) rather than the causes, isn’t useful. First of all, women must change in themselves. Creative works reflect only the times in which they born and live.

Related to cinema and gender read also: The quiet revolution of Marion Dougherty


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