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6 Disney Princesses Who Are Actually More Feminist Than People Realize

Disney princesses have gotten a bad reputation for several years. Most of the criticism focuses on the fact that the early Disney princesses were not “strong female characters.” They were more passive and portrayed in traditionally feminine roles—their stories focused on their beauty, romance with men, and their roles as damsels in distress. And while the criticism is not without merit, there are also praises that the women deserve for their portrayal. They’re not all “bad” role models for girls, and there are many reasons why when you look at each princess’ story individually.

1. Snow White

The first Disney princess, Snow White, fits the archetypical princess role. She was criticized for being a damsel in distress and married a prince she had just met. But Snow White does the best she can with her situation, given her age and choices at the time. She was young when she lost both her birth parents, and she was young when she was treated like a slave by her jealous stepmother. When the Queen sent the Huntsman to kill Snow White, she became orphaned and had to deal with that trauma on top of everything else she had gone through. And when she marries the prince she just meets, that was very much a product of its time, since women couldn’t hold down jobs. While she isn’t the most nuanced Disney princess, the choices she makes in the film are done to the best of her abilities.

2. Cinderella

Cinderella is in a similar situation as Snow White. She’s passive in many ways and marries a prince she just meets. She gets criticized for not escaping her abusive family, but that’s ignoring the fact that she was the victim of abuse. Blaming Cinderella for not “rescuing” herself is victim-blaming and feeds into our problematic narrative toward survivors of abuse. Cinderella remained resilient and optimistic despite her circumstances, which is amazing to me, and her marrying the prince was the only way she could escape her situation. And considering that he was much kinder to her than her stepfamily had been in her entire life, it made sense that she’d marry him.

3. Aurora

Sleeping Beauty’s titular character had no choice when it came to marriage or being cursed by the villain. Princess Aurora was betrothed, which was a common arrangement back during her time, and when she was cursed, she was hypnotized into doing so; she didn’t have control over her actions. The story makes her a very passive and flat character, which can be critiqued in its own right, but it also means she doesn’t have choices when it comes to the danger she faces. I think she made the best decisions she could given her circumstances.

4. Ariel

The Little Mermaid’s Princess Ariel’s criticism tends to ignore how active and nuanced her character is in the film. Ariel’s criticized for giving up her life for a prince she just met, but it’s misleading to say that she only became human because she fell in love with a guy. Ariel always wanted to be human. We see this at the beginning of the film when she collects human trinkets, and we see it again when she sings “Part of Your World” and laments about not being human. This was all before she met the prince. And she rescued him, not just once, but twice, and she actively decided to become human and make that happen. Ariel was the first Disney Princess the franchise allowed to have more freedom as far as making her own decisions and playing an active part in her story.

5. Belle

Out of the princesses I mentioned above, Beauty and the Beast’s Belle probably gets the least amount of criticism. But one thing Belle does get criticized for is having Stockholm Syndrome, a condition in which a kidnapped person develops an emotional bond with their kidnapper. Since Belle is kidnapped by the Beast, this criticism is often a point of contention, and being kidnapped certainly isn’t a healthy situation to start any relationship in. But it’s important to note that, while this would never happen in real life, Belle’s kidnapper actually does become a kind person, and that’s when Belle starts falling in love with him. She didn’t like him before that, and she stood up to him on several occasions for his poor treatment of her despite her being a hostage. She is also active in the story, taking her father’s place as a prisoner and saving the Beast in the end.

6. Jasmine

As the non-titular character of the Aladdin film, Jasmine does not get as much to do as the protagonist, and she is put in a more passive role. She does get captured and has to be rescued near the end of the film, and she didn’t spend a lot of time getting to know Aladdin before she fell in love with him, a recurring theme in early Disney Princess films. But Jasmine does assert herself. She actively fights against being forced to marry because it follows tradition. At one point during the film, she calls out the suitors, telling them she’s not a prize to be won. She’s not afraid to be assertive, doesn’t let Aladdin get away with treating her poorly, and actively fights against the main villain when he threatens her life and her kingdom.

Disney princesses (and fairytales in general) are indeed unrealistic in many ways, and sometimes those unrealistic elements lead to problematic portrayals of female characters. But there are also real-world lessons to gain from their stories, and the princesses deserve more credit than they get. All the women portray traditionally feminine traits at times, which shows that femininity isn’t a weakness but a strength. They all exhibit kindness, resilience, and hope. And ultimately, they show us that happy endings do come true.