Breaking through the glass ceiling with a glass slipper

Shahtaj Khawar, Contributor
Featured image courtesy of Disney

The Disney princesses can be broken up into three categories based on release date. There’s the classics, Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora; then the Disney decade of Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan; and the fierce five with Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Anna, and Elsa.
By analyzing the princess stories we can see a slow but steady progression towards empowered female protagonists. The classics start off with beautiful, compliant, and naïve princesses who make no decisions for themselves. The princesses await the day a handsome prince will marry them and stroll off into the sunset to live happily ever after.
The Disney decade brings a cascade of strong-willed, lively, and determined princesses who are not afraid of a little adventure and want more from life than what they are being offered. The fierce five break barriers by putting themselves first before they could think of love. And it was done without princes.
This gradual headway depicting feminine qualities has changed from humbly accepting orders to wanting to focus on themselves first. This may also be reflective of the ideals of the time period the movies were released. Cinderella was made in a time where women were homemakers with zero social and political influence, whereas the men were the breadwinners.
Nowadays, women are more goal-oriented with strong ambitions, wanting more from life than what was possible in Cinderella’s time.
That’s not to say Disney princesses have reached feminist perfection, it’s far from it. There’s still a long way to go but progress has certainly been made with the huge success of 2013’s Frozen.
Jasmine from Aladdin is by far my favourite princess. I may be a bit biased because I absolutely adore anything with the name Jasmine, especially the flowers. She defies the laws of royal marriage by marrying Aladdin, a “street rat.” The breakthrough is when she stands up for herself by declaring “I am not a prize to be won.” She does not condone the objectification of women and no amount of wealth entices her. The unfortunate part is that she resorts to playing up her sexuality by seducing Jafar in the end.
Pocahontas, a Native American, is curious about learning new things and is willing to follow her heart to the foreign John Smith while defying social expectations as the chieftain’s daughter. She even steps in to save her beau from being killed. Even though she does not end up with said love, we see her make her own choices while also stopping a potential war.
Mulan takes the prize for being the most kick-ass and brave Disney princess. After being told that she would never make the “perfect bride,” she disguises herself as a boy to join the army. She challenges gender roles by proving that a woman can match not only wits, but also brawn with any male soldier. There is no prince coming to whisk away a beautiful princess as Mulan is the one doing the rescuing. She saves her father from fighting in the war, her instructor from death, the emperor when his castle is attacked, and all of China by defeating the enemy.
The Princess and the Frog premiered the very first black princess. Tiana is your average New Orleans girl striving to reach the dream of her late father: to own a restaurant. Through a fateful encounter she meets a prince along the way but is willing to put love on hold while focusing on her ambition. We see her perseverance as she works long hours to collect the money to finally open a restaurant.
All of these young women paved the way for the Frozen sisters to take the world by storm. The story features two royal sisters, Elsa and Anna. Elsa is constantly keeping Anna at arm’s length after accidentally striking her with her powers, while Anna is desperate for any contact with her older sister after the demise of their late parents.
This movie allows a princess to do things that were not allowed before. Elsa is allowed to make mistakes – she does not hesitate to harm someone when she is in danger, doesn’t think twice about abandoning her kingdom after being crowned queen, and she even creates a giant snow monster to kill anyone who dares to come near her.
Moreover, we see her transform into an independent young woman who no longer cares what anyone has to say about her when she releases herself from all expectations with the line “that perfect girl is gone,” in “Let it Go.”
Here’s to hoping the upcoming Disney princess movie Moana (to be released November 2016) will break more barriers.

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