The Case of the Missing Princesses
My daughter (the big klutz) broke her favourite Disney princess pink cup the other day, so being the hopeless softie that I am I went straight onto the Disney store website to order her another. Now this is where I ran into a problem that perhaps only parents of young children who love Disney princesses can relate to, Disney have released a new version of the pink cup and this new version no longer features one of my daughter’s favourite princesses. That princess being Princess Tiana from the film Princess and the Frog. Now, please bear with me. This article is not just about the highly stressful problems that 5 year old Disney obsessed little girls face.
For some time, my daughter has been demanding an explanation as to why Mulan (another of her favourites), Pocahontas and Merida didn’t feature on her pink cup. She has also wondered why they don’t ever feature in the Disney Princess magazine. You see, my daughter like many other children her age, is incredibly observant (it is at times quite frankly annoying). She notices things like “why are there only 5 chocolate coins left when yesterday there were six”, “where is that amazing cereal box that I stuck a bit of foil to that I brought home from school 8 months ago” and she also notices missing Princesses from Disney merchandise. She has also started to notice that it always seems to be the same Princesses missing every time. So now, along with poor Mulan, Pocahontas and Merida, Tiana has now become another victim of the missing Disney Princess and to be honest when she did feature on any merchandise, she was always shoved to the back, allowing princesses such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to take precedence.
So, why have these particular princesses gone missing or have been conveniently forgotten about?
Now the more observant of you will notice that 3 of the 4 “missing” princesses are not white. Tiana is black, Mulan is Chinese and Pocahontas is of course a native American. Some might argue that Merida being ginger and Scottish could also be considered to be part of her own ethnic group. I say you’re probably just being hilarious and undermining genuine ethnic groups. However, it probably is worth noting that she is not American and is the only Disney princess to speak with a non-American accent (yes, even Mulan has an American accent). Those of you that know your Disney princesses and their copious amounts of merchandise, will know that Princess Jasmine from the film Aladdin is still regularly featured and definitely not “missing”. Jasmine is of Arabic decent (which country Aladdin was set in has never been clarified), so it could be said that the reason these particular princesses are missing cannot be racist or xenophobic. However, I do not feel the race connection can be ignored. Yes Jasmine is non-white and non-American, but compared to the other 4 princesses she is by far considerably more overtly sexual. For example she is forced to seduce the evil Jafar in order to save her life.
So, does this make her a more acceptable Princess to feature in the Disney merchandise? Looking at the missing 4 princesses, I would say so. Merida, Tiana, Mulan and Pocahontas are not as sexual in their charactisation. They are also the less “girly” princesses. Pocahontas jumps of cliff edges into rivers, climbs trees, refuses to marry the man her Father wants her to and saves the life of the man who she loves. Not quite your usual damsel in distress character. Mulan challenges the idea that a woman cannot fight and joins the army (albeit disguised as a man) and proves her worth and rescues pretty much everyone along the way. Tiana has ambition and demonstrates that with hard work and tenacity you can achieve your dreams. She is also the only princess with an actual career. Lastly, Merida, well Merida is quite frankly awesome. She was the only princess before the days of Queen Elsa (who technically isn’t a princess anyway) that does not have a love interest. Her fate does not lie in the hands of a man. She is feisty, gutsy, athletic, brilliantly stubborn and outspoken. She is basically everything your average princess should not be.
If Merida purposefully ripping her restricting princess dress so that she can “win her own hand” during the archery competition isn’t a symbol of the suppression of women by the patriarchy then I don’t know what is. These princesses do not rely on their looks or sexuality to achieve. It is also worth noting that their princess dresses are the least “girly” with the exception of Tiana who actually spends most of the film as a frog anyway.
All the other princesses compound the idea that the most important thing about a woman is her looks and need a man to define them and more often than not- rescue them. The exception possibly being Rapunzel who of course saves herself from the tower. However, Rapunzel with her long, LONG golden locks and huge baby-like blue eyes does conform to stereotypical princess looks.
Thank goodness that we now have Elsa and Anna of Frozen fame. I’m quite confident in saying that Disney are not going to forget these princesses any time soon. I’ve always argued that Anna is the real hero of the two as Elsa is simply born with her power. Whereas Anna saves her sister’s life purely with determination, guts, perseverance, boldness and aah love (gee love is the most powerful tool of them all etc etc). Most importantly, the girls do not sacrifice anything for men that they love (don’t even get me started on the symbolism of Ariel from the Little Mermaid sacrificing her voice for a man she has barely known for 2 seconds).
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with girls who happen to be girly and feminine. We are all different. Women are not simple, 2 dimensional people. We come in all different shapes, colours and sizes and we all have different personalities, ambitions and skills. This is the point that I am trying to make. When Disney have gone to the effort of creating a princess that does not fit the normal princess mould, she seems to be quickly forgotten about. Disney has a huge responsibility in creating role models for little girls. If little girls only see princesses that aren’t like them they are going to feel as if they are abnormal and that they are different from other girls. Disney princesses should be a diverse representation of all girls. In an age where diversity or rather the lack of is still incredibly a significant issue, Disney cannot afford to allow these princesses to remain forgotten. Only this month, yet again all 20 actors nominated for Academy awards were white. It is inexcusable that when Disney finally got around to creating a black princess, she is now being quickly shunted to the background and forgotten about. Disney have the power to make a difference and it is astounding that their effort so far to do so is a tad lazy. Elsa and Anna are a great step in the right direction, but I still feel we have a long way to go yet.
So, have Tiana, Pocahontas, Merida and Mulan gone missing because of their race or their lack of conformity to feminine norms? Sadly, I fear it is a combination of both of these reasons. All four of these princesses are excellent role models for young girls and Disney needs to push these to the front equally along with all the other princesses. The moral of the story being, all girls are different, all girls are equal.