The Princess Next Door
By Vasundhara Pande(23/08/2020 00:30IST)
Disney Princesses- a memory of every girl’s childhood who was gifted either a balloon or a pencil box, or a t-shirt with these flawless, young maidens printed on them.
I myself remember carrying a Disney Princess bag in kindergarten and bragging among my friends about the same, but little did I know that the weight of the bag was surely less than the impression these princesses have on a young girl's mind.
Nobody really talked about Disney Princesses and the horrifying social standards rather stereotypes they set until “Peggy Orenstein” addressed it in her article “What is Wrong With Cinderella", published in the New York Times.
Now you must be wondering what really is wrong with her, Peggy or Cinderella, if you think something is wrong with the latter then congratulations you are on the right track and incase the former, then my friend, keep on reading.
To call princess a “trend” among girls is like calling Harry Potter a book. There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items. “Princess,” as some Disney execs call it, is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created; they say it is on its way to becoming the largest girls’ franchise on the planet. The issue is 25,000 Princess products,” says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.
While in the other hand, the stereotype that girls only play with princess toys is stemming out of these products. The Disney princesses are instrumental in making the young girl believe that all she has to become one of those princesses, maybe Cinderella, who has the perfect eyes, or the mermaid who has to look in a certain way to grab the most pivotal thing in the world," male attention." By all the criticism, I don't mean to devoid children of Disney princesses rather toxic standards which were set by Disney princesses of the previous century.
Disney princess have drastically transformed since 1930s.
The early and mid 20th century had Cinderella, Aurora- The Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Jasmine from Aladdinetc, who have been a significant part of our childhood Sunday routines. I still remember as a five year old, I used to admire these extravagant and eloquent ladies, little did I know they were not less than "damsels in distress"
As I grew old, I realised they were a victim of the then patriarchal society. The first characteristic trait that defines these protagonists is the fact that they are all alone. They each have their own individual problems and desires, but do not have any safe support systems to rely on and communicate with. Even within these shaky support systems there is a complete absence of other (human) women that our protagonists can depend on – in fact, our princesses are so alone, that they are reduced to relying on animals for ‘true’ companionship. These so called female leads were portrayed as lonely women who had no aim in life except for finding themselves a suitable match who with his love will light up her lonely world .In other words, their ultimate goal in life was to find a perfect partner and live happily ever after, at least that's what the end of every Disney fairytale claimed. They were never supported by other female characters instead other female characters were portrayed as witches or step mothers who had strong vendetta against the protagonists. For example: Cinderella was a victim of callousness from her stepmother and step sisters.
This atmosphere gives birth to an unfriendly environment especially for women, who indirectly get fed the common stereotypical saying," A woman is a woman's biggest enemy."
My heart was shattered into pieces when I came accross the grim reality of the Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty. According to the story, Aurora was cursed to sleep for a hundred years by an evil fairy, to be awakened by a handsome prince at the end of them. However, the ground reality is entirely different and heart-breaking. Aurora, the sleeping beauty was never kissed by the Prince; rather she was "raped" by him, until she gave birth to a child and woke up from the infant's cry. This isn't something that a child should get to know, right? But the child shouldn't even get to know a sugar coated truth!
How can we miss the Little Mermaid, who left no little way to feed the young kid's mind that it is okay to change yourself, as if being yourself is a crime. She lost her unique tail, so that she could get the love of the prince as a human? I still wonder cannot the prince accept her with the tail, and if he couldn't how does he claim to love her? (Take note young girls!)
Now comes the early 21st century princesses who just aren't princesses, thanks to the relatively open minded writers!
These protagonists though intelligent, independent and resourceful but still need a male saviour who will help them in their fight against breaking the shackles of oppression, as if she alone couldn't!
Here, marriage is showcased as an attainment of stability, and more importantly, peace, a ‘solution’ to our protagonist’s troubled journeys, implying that while individualism is great, a quiet, domestic life should still be the ultimate end goal; marriage ‘frees’ women from the ‘troubles’ of having individual dreams, aspirations, and ambitions.
Moving forward the years and entering into the world of Disney princesses after 2010, who show a gradual progress in absolute terms of women empowerment. Here, the female lead has an individualistic identity, which implies that she takes decisions, is brave, expressive and intelligent. Here, the female leads act as supportive partners. Elsa and Anna from "Frozen" are worth quoting.
Now, asserting your own choices is not longer a deviation from the normal – it is an accepted part of life. We see our protagonists making their own decisions and acting upon them, bravely facing the consequences that follow. While there are male characters in the key plotline, they are finally placed at different levels of importance, and are no longer necessarily pivotal to the protagonist’s success. Thankfully, here the protagonists act as saviours. Entering into a matrimonial alliance and producing offspring is not their ultimate goal, they are ambitious, confident and self- motivated. However, the idea of marriage is only to add more happiness in their lives, in terms of supportive partners.
It is very reassuring to see how these role models are evolving, transforming from being helpless, lonely individuals, completely dependent on men, into strong, independent women who aren’t afraid to stand by their choices and shape their own future
Someone rightly said that life is not a fairytale. That certainly doesn't imply that we should stop telling young kids especially girls to stop dreaming or to stop believing in the magic of life, rather we should encourage them to believe in themselves first and not get influenced by a misleading fairytale.
How beautiful this world would be if Jasmine had been told that she can travel the world on a carpet even without Aladdin!
Editor In Chief (INARA)
- Personal observations