In my freshman year residence hall, there was a bulletin board put together by the collective RAs in the building. It was full of all the beloved Disney princesses and bright colors. Upon a closer look, though, I realized it wasn’t a fun, nostalgic nod to my former cartoon idols. Instead, the board explained how "unhealthy" all of the Disney romantic relationships had been, namely and especially for the women in each story. Growing up as a Disney lover, I remember being particularly perturbed by this revelation. Now, older and wiser and not quite as easily influenced, I understand that there definitely are flaws in the Disney formula. But for all of those pitfalls, there are also seriously uplifting and empowering feminist Disney moments that the princesses experience that should not be overlooked, either.
Those moments are important and influential, and I think they deserved to be acknowledged in the same way that the downsides are. After all, there’s a lesson to be learned, good and bad, in everything isn’t there? Here are 11 actual feminist Disney moments that will make even the most cynical older Disney fan remember exactly why they loved these films as children. They're part of our cultural zeitgeist for a reason.
1. When Mulan Sacrificed Her Safety And Societal Stereotypes For Her Family
In the scheme of things, long hair, pretty clothes, and a matchmaker mean almost nothing if they're keeping you from keeping your family safe. It takes guts to go against the grain.
2. ...And In Doing So, Redefined What Femininity Is
Mulan is a teacher to all genders about love, sacrifice, and challenging stereotypes. After all, it's worth noting that as soon as she no longer needed to dress like a man, she was back in her dress with her hair flowing free, because acting "masculine" was never the point of what she was doing. The point was getting to be herself.
3. When Belle Showed Gaston The Door
Because she "wanted so much more" than being a wife to an ungrateful, gross jerk who didn't respect, appreciate, or understand her.
4. When Ariel Stood Up To Her Father, Got Some Legs, And Did The Damn Thing
Triton's heart was in the right place, but assuming Ariel couldn't hold her own and protect herself was hindering her more than it was helping. Ain't no mermaid with wanderlust and a mission got time for that. Sure, The Little Mermaid has accused have been antifeminist because Ariel gave up her family for a guy she'd never met, but that way of thinking often neglects to mention that she's always been fascinated by the human world; Eric was the catalyst for her departure, not the whole cause.
5. When Grandma Willow Laid Down The Law
A wise, older tree imparting wisdom onto younger, more naive, younger humans. The wisdom of elders is a tale as old as time, but the way that Pocahontas blends generations, showing that both the young and the old can be wise, and making Grandma Willow as much of a well-defined character as Pocahantas herself, truly struck me as wonderful in a universe where most parental figures are dead, unnamed, or irrelevant to the plot.
6. When Jasmine Proved Competency & Athleticism Had Nothing To Do With Gender
I think this really speaks for itself.
7. When Belle Took Her Education Into Her Own Hands Despite Being Labeled As "Peculiar"
Much to the chagrin of the narrow-minded townspeople, but, hey, at least the local sheep were progressive thinkers. The fact that Belle was so committed to being exactly who she was, in all of her nerdy bookworm glory, and regardless of the fact that she had no friends, was a great lesson to teach young women. Happiness is better than popularity any day.
8. When Nala Wasn't Intimidated By Simba Just Because He Was Bigger And Stronger
She was quicker, anyhow. Watching Nala pin the king of the Pride Lands like it was no big thing was one of many reasons she was my childhood here.
9. When Aladdin Proved That It Wasn't Just The Disney Princesses Who Were Lovestruck
Men have emotions, too. Men like romance, too. Men are sentimental, too. Men make mistakes to get the attention of a girl they like, too.
10. When Megara Refused To Be Underestimated
A superhero slogan if I've ever heard one.
11. And When She Called Out Issues Of Consent So Smoothly We Didn't Notice
As a kid, this line went right over my head. As an adult, I applaud the powers that be for including it, so that little girls and little boys everywhere realize that "no" means "no" and anyone who doesn't take your no for an answer isn't someone you want to be with.
See? Disney did get it right a lot of the time, and your favorite movies, even when problematic, can still teach you very important lessons.