For years, I’ve been annoyed with how sexist most Disney fairytales are, but it wasn’t until I read “The Disney Princess Carry Along Treasury” book, written by Rita Balducci in 2003, that it all “clicked” for me and I became truly scared of Disney’s messages, scared for the safety and well-being of the little girls who eat this stuff up like candy. The stories in this book do nothing less than groom girls to be submissive, happy victims of violence and abuse.
Full text of the Snow White story:
“A long time ago, an Evil Queen tried to kill a young Princess named Snow White. (1) She was jealous of the young girl’s beauty and goodness.(2) Snow White escaped into the woods and found safety with Seven Dwarves.(3) They love and protect her from harm.(4) In return, Snow White cooked and cleaned for her new friends.(2) Every evening, they danced and were merry, never dreaming that the Queen was still plotting to harm the Princess. One morning, an old woman (5) offered her a big red apple. Snow White innocently took a bite – and fell to the floor. The jealous Queen had disguised herself and poisoned the Princess. The sad Dwarves placed the lovely girl(2) on a golden platform and stood watch over her. One day, a Prince rode through the woods. He saw Snow White and knelt to kiss her.(6) Her eyes fluttered open and she knew at once he was the Prince of her dreams!(7)”
(1) Violence in the opening line. Also, women in Disney stories are always enemies, never friends or allies. Mothers, especially, are either dead or Evil.
(2) Snow White is valued only for her beauty, goodness, sweetness, and domestic abilities. The Queen’s jealousy of Snow White’s beauty encourages girls’ obsession with appearance, and competitiveness amongst one another.
(3) Message = “Women are your enemies, but you’ll be safe alone with seven strange men in the middle of nowhere!” It’s the direct opposite of the truth.
(4) Message = Snow White needs to be protected because she’s too weak and helpless to take care of herself.
(5) Demonization of older women
(6) Promotes sexual assault. A man finds an UNCONSCIOUS WOMAN (aka a woman who is UNABLE TO CONSENT) and kisses her.
(7) And of course, she likes it!
Partial text of Cinderella story:
“There was once a young Princess named Cinderella whose wicked stepmother put her to work as a servant. Although she worked hard, Cinderella never complained. She was kind to all the mice and birds and never gave up on her dreams.”
Again, it’s a woman, a mother, who is the Evil one.
The message this story sends to young girls is: Even if you are horribly mistreated/abused, suck it up and don’t “complain!” Don’t dare have enough self-worth to realize, ‘hey, I don’t deserve this,’ or seek help. Just be unfailingly gentle and kind to every living creature, and dream dream dream, and maybe someday your Prince will rescue you.
This story very clearly depicts abuse as acceptable.
Full text of Beauty and the Beast story:
“One day, a young girl named Belle was taken prisoner by a Beast in an enchanted castle. The Beast seemed fierce and cruel, but the other members of the household [anthropomorphic furniture, it must be clarified here] became Belle’s friends. The Beast grew very fond of Belle, and wanted to please her. He invited her to dance with him under the stars. Belle realized that the Beast had a kind heart and began to enjoy his company, too. One of the men who wanted to marry Belle was a selfish man named Gaston. When he learned of Belle’s feelings for the Beast, he gathered the townspeople together to kill him. Gaston and the Beast fought on the slippery roof of the castle. It was a fierce fight. As the Beast lay dying, Belle realized that she truly cared for him and whispered the words ‘I love you.’ Suddenly there was a flash of light, and the Beast was transformed into a handsome young Prince. Their love had broken the spell!”
This is the story I find most appalling and that chills me to the bone.
Let’s re-cap, shall we? A woman is kidnapped by a cruel, fierce man, who, BLESS HIS POOR SOUL, is really so NICE once you get to know him! He wants to “please” his victim, so does he let her go? Noooo, he dances with her under the stars, and of COURSE the grateful woman realizes how NICE her abuser is. Why, she learns to ENJOY being his prisoner.
Meanwhile, Misogynist #2 is pissed that Misogynist #1 is trying to claim HIS woman. He wants to conquer (ahem, “marry”) her, so let’s see, how shall he go about making that happen? Be kind to her and invite her to spend time with him so they can get to know each other? Of course not! Her feelings for him, or consent to a relationship, are irrelevant. No, he will claim her by murdering the person he believes she loves the most. It doesn’t matter that this would upset her, because like we’ve established, her feelings and thoughts aren’t worth shit. So, Misogynist #1 and Misogynist #2 violently fight for their prize. It would be absolutely unthinkable for the woman to choose neither violent, controlling man (that just doesn’t happen in the Disney world!), and she has no friends or support system – save the anthropomorphic furniture – so she chooses Misogynist #1, whom she has at least become familiar with after spending so much time with him – being his prisoner and all. She tells him she loves him, and POOF! he turns into a handsome, youthful Prince and they live happily ever after. (If he’s young and gorgeous, he totally can’t be abusive, right? Right!)
This is the story of a domestic abuse victim. Belle is kidnapped and held prisoner by an admittedly cruel, fierce man, who maintains her isolation from friends and family and potential support systems, and yet he is portrayed as the poor, misunderstood hero of the story, worthy of Belle’s compassion and love. When he transforms into a “handsome young Prince” after Belle declares her love for him, this wrongfully teaches girls (that is, tells girls the LIE) that abusive men just seem that way, but deep down they’re not, and that if you just LOVE THEM ENOUGH, the Prince within will be freed! If the man remains abusive, it’s your own fault for not forgiving him, not giving him more chances, not loving him enough. It’s victim-blaming; it puts the onus of responsibility on the woman.
Often, the general public’s attitude about domestic violence is, “Why doesn’t she leave him?”, when of course, the correct question is, “Why doesn’t he stop abusing her?” If anyone’s wondering where this victim-blaming attitude about domestic violence comes from, look no further than the popular media little girls are being brainwashed with at the highly impressionable age of 2 or 3 years old. (I discovered this book while providing childcare for a girl who just turned 3, actually. The book is one of her favorites). In recent years, scientists have discovered that humans’ neuronal development is most crucial, rapid, and malleable between the ages of birth and 3, that “how children function from the preschool years all the way through adolescence, and even adulthood, hinges in large part on their experience before the age of three” (p. 6, Starting Points for Young Children, Carnegie Corporation of New York, 1994). The information we are feeding to these rapidly developing, highly malleable brains matters greatly, and there is no excuse for reciting propoganda that primes them to submit to abuse.
Why was it even written? Why was it published? Why is it distributed? Why do adults buy it for young girls? Why aren’t we enraged and protesting?