Oh, the things I could say about this:
These films do contain some mixed messages for women and men, but one thing that drives me insane is the reference to these films as anti-feminist. To which wave of feminism are you referring to? Oh, you’ve analyzing these female roles as symbolic, then came up with a real world equivalent? How clever! Listen: in order to evaluate a film and its contextual relation to society, we must understand the context of the film within itself — the characters’ motivations, historical context, and how that all ties into the plot.
Am I saying that over-simplified representations of women don’t exist for the sake of keeping a stereotypical patriarchal society intact? No. I’ve seen Michael Bay Movies. They still exist. What I am talking about is the over-simplifications of men and women many people make when analyzing these films and offering no alternative re-writes in order to fix said “problems.” There are many complaints about how movies like these misrepresent women, but little suggestion as to what constitutes an accurate representation.*
At the end of the day, it’s all fiction. These Disney princess stories are extremely watered down for the sake of screen-time and target audience. A five-year-old does not have the critical thinking skills to conclude that marriage is the equivalent to looking pretty while lying around all day. I’d like to think that the majority of western society has grown beyond that line of thinking and that we are able to pass that along to our sons and daughters. Modern “Prince Charming” is a man who treats women as equals and doesn’t mind doting on them from time to time. He’s not Jafar or Gaston, clearly. While the representations of these prince and princesses in these films are extremely romanticized, it is also extremely naïve to think that a real world equivalent exists, neatly packaged in a quaint box with ribbons and diamonds, and delivered free to our doorstep with promises of living happily ever after. These characters are merely representations of whom we should strive to be and how we should and shouldn’t treat one another.
Take Ariel for example:
Yes, she trades her voice in for a pair of legs to in order to woo Prince Eric. Many people see this plot device as suggesting to women and young girls that they do not need to have a voice (metaphorically) to win a man’s affection, only looks. While that statement is demeaning to women (and men) by also suggesting that men only care about a woman’s appearance, many people fail to look beyond the stereotypical box and consider other scenarios in which a man would still fall in love with a woman despite her inability to speak. IE: a deaf woman. For deaf women, especially those who have been deaf from birth and never learned how to speak, this idea that you can find love without having a literal voice shatters social-norms.
Granted, “The Little Mermaid” clearly does not portray her as deaf and Prince Eric knows she is not deaf. However, Ariel not possessing a literal voice doesn’t automatically make him a misogynist or take the female gender back hundreds of years. Prince Eric does not try to change her or dismiss her for not being his “dream girl.” He takes her on adventures, bringing out more of Ariel’s trademark energy and lust for adventure. Her wonderful and spirited personality isn’t stifled. This is what the prince falls in love with, not just her looks. Remember, he first falls in love (or becomes incredibly infatuated, but for the sake of the fairy-tale argument we’ll go with love**) with Ariel by only catching a groggy glimpse of her and briefly hearing her beautiful singing voice. When he meets her again, he decides that she wasn’t the woman he thought she was, but Prince Eric falls for her anyway.
Ursula, The Sea Witch, uses Ariel’s voice as a method of payment because she is trying to purposefully set her up to fail. She realizes what the importance of having a voice is to a person’s individually in “normal” society and knows Ariel’s singing voice was what attracted Prince Eric in the first place. Also, if Ariel fails to make Eric fall into love with her, Ursula will hold her captive until King Triton comes to save her daughter; thus fulfilling her plan to take control of the kingdom. So, what does Ursula do when Eric and Ariel get a little too close for comfort? She sabotages it, transforms herself into a human, and hypnotizes Eric into falling in love with her. If there is any lesson to learn here, it’s “DO NOT be a manipulative jealous bitch.” It make not get you killed in real life, but karma WILL bite you in the ass.
AND Eric risks his life to SAVE Ariel from the sea witch. A man who only thinks a woman is hot – nothing more – does not save a woman from impending doom. Eric is willing to be seen in public with her and genuinely cares for her. Watered down storyline or not, in real life, those are two among several big factors in determining whether or not a man is really interested in a women.
Breaking it down:
1) Eric has no idea that Ariel is a mermaid. According to the humans, mermaids are just made-up. Even Eric, in his post-concussion confusion, wasn’t sure if Ariel was a real person.
2) By changing her appearance, Ariel accomplishes two things: One, she is able to spend time with the man of her affections. (The last time humans checked, they were fresh out of magical octopus women would could change their legs into fins.) Two, by transforming into a human, she is able to keep the society of mer-people a secret, and therefore protect her family, even if it wasn’t for the entire film. After all, King Triton has a thing against fishermen. And humans. All the humans.
3) Leave it to a manipulative octopus witch to tell a young, impressionable woman that “Men up there don’t like a lot of blabber […] They’re not all that impressed with conversation. True gentlemen avoid it when they can.” This is a woman that clearly cannot be trusted, so why take her “expertise” on men to heart? Ursula is a clear example of how NOT to win a man’s heart. Her everyday appearance reflects who she is on the inside.
*Do we even know what constitutes an accurate representation of a modern-day woman? Ariel isn’t supposed to feel more like herself by obtaining a pair of legs? That’s like saying transgendered men and women should be forced to remain uncomfortable in their own skin. If Ariel isn’t supposed to “change” herself for the sake of winning the affections of a man, then is she supposed to be completely and utterly compliant with her father and Sebastian, whom are both men. That can be construed as anti-feminist as well because of her submissive role. Stop creating catch-22’s and just let the women be. Feminism is about the availability of choice and realizing that women are capable of and want to control their own lives. Do people get mad at Aladdin changing himself to woo princes Jasmine? No, they just see him as a manipulative liar, which is not only unfair to the male gender but makes perpetuating this double-standard completely acceptable.
**Consider the time period: People died pretty quickly back then, so everyone was in a rush to find love and get married. Because, you know, you could be dead tomorrow.
Next part, coming soon: Belle.