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Television Discussion: Roles of Women in Disney Movies

Updated on April 2, 2013

Women, throughout history, have always received the short end of the stick when it comes to any sort of agency or freedoms. But in Disney movies, everyone is equal and gets fair treatment. The women have just as much agency and freedom as the guys. Right?

And if you believe that one, I'll give you another.

But in all seriousness, let's investigate how Disney treats their women and see for ourselves.


Who is your favorite disney princess? (Tell us why in the comments section)

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Snow White - Snow White - 1937

Snow White is the first of the Disney princesses. In 1937, we are able to see Disney's first take on a woman's role. Snow White is a woman that is pretty, obedient, and sweet-natured. As such, she doesn't mind cooking and cleaning because "some day [her] prince will come": A tall, handsome, rich, young man.

When Snow White is frightened, she runs away from home only to find a small, dirty shack in need of much cleaning. The dwarves allow her to stay there, only under the circumstance that she performs the role of a woman: The one who cooks and cleans; Snow White's Natural role.

Snow White is tricked by her evil step-mother, (also a woman, remember that), into eating a poisonous apple after which she falls into a coma. Only when the Prince comes is she able to wake. She falls ill unable to function, and a man comes along to give her new life.

This isn't exactly what I'd call blatant feminism.

The Little Mermaid - Ariel - 1989

In this movie, Disney doesn't change much. However, they made Ariel much prettier, and put her in a clam-shell brazier. The entire plot of the movie is for Ariel to marry Prince Eric. She even ends up trading away her voice for legs. This seems to send young girls the message: "Stay young and beautiful".

At the end of the movie, she falls in love and marries Prince Eric. That's nice and all, but now she becomes a human and completely leaves her underwater home, her friends, her family and everything that made her who she is behind. She trades her life for a man. It's kind of interesting to note that several decades after Snow White, The Little Mermaid displays the roles of women in not too much better a light.

Beauty and the Beast - Belle - 1991

Yes, the new and improved woman! See Belle, everything that Snow White and Ariel were, but now Belle enjoys books! Yes, folks, she's intelligent too!

In all seriousness, however, Belle ends up going to Beast's Castle to rescue her father from the clutches of the Beast. Once there, however, she finds that he's really kind and sweet on the inside, despite all of the threats of violence on the outside, and that she may be able to change his heart. Lo and behold, she can change his heart! Now he's transformed into a human prince. Yay! Happily ever after.

So, while the moral on the face of the story says "Don't judge a book by it's cover", the hidden moral seems to be "Woman, if you are gentle and kind-hearted enough, you may be able to change the life of a cruel, beastly man, and if you can't, it's your fault if he abuses you". That's not a very nice message for Disney to be sending young girls, now is it?

Aladdin - Jasmine - 1992

Jasmine is the first of the Disney Princesses who was a princess before marriage! Surely this is progress.

Unfortunately, even being royalty isn't enough for Jasmine, as she still seeks to go out and find a man. Though Aladdin is surely Arabic, he has more Americanized features and asks people to call him "Al", while Jafar is Overaccentuatedly Arabic and plays the villain. Here, Jasmine is also asked to go against her own culture (almost), for her man; but she still needs him. The only difference at the end of this movie is that Aladdin and Jasmine don't get married.

The Lion King - Nala - 1994

Nala is an interesting character because, early on, we see that she can pin Simba to the ground with relative ease. In this regard, Disney made her a stronger character. However, when Simba leaves town and Scar takes over, Nala and the other lionesses are helpless until Simba, the male role, comes back to her rescue. Another case of Disney leaving their women with a lack of agency and strength.

Pocahontas - Pocahontas - 1995

This is another nice story where Native American Pocahontas falls in love with Colonist John Smith and the Native Americans make peace with the Colonists and live happily ever after.

Yes, that's nice and all. It even fits in line with everything else that Disney has done to women throughout the decades. But the story itself isn't even true. The real Pocahontas was a child when she met John Smith. Pocahontas was kidnapped and sent to England to advertise the colonies. Meanwhile, back home, nearly all of her people were killed, including her immediate family. She was homesick in England and fell ill. She ended up dying in England never able to see her people again.

I, personally, think it is an insult to the Powhatan nation to pretend it never happened. Get your story straight, Disney.

Mulan - Mulan - 1998

Finally, we have Disney's Mulan. As per usual with Disney's idea of history, Mulan falls nowhere near the real Hua Mu-Lan of Ancient China who was quite a great hero, and was regarded as one of the great heroes of Ancient China - Not just one of the great women heroes.

Here, however, for it to fit into a Disney movie, Mulan needs to fall in love with Shang, her commanding officer. Of course, to even fight in the army, she is required to lose all womanliness and pretend that she is a man. When they find out that she is a woman, Shang is required to kill her, but cannot. Obviously, this means that they must marry and live happily ever after.


In summary, Disney simply does not treat women properly. Women seem to have no agency or freedom in their movies and it is only when a man arrives that they are able to really do much of anything for themselves.

Do you agree? If so, let me know in the comments.

Do you disagree? If so, please let me know in the comments.


Now that you have seen how Disney treats their women, which Disney Princess do you find to be the most mistreated?

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      Anne 5 years ago

      Um hello? You seem to have forgotten here that Snow White was a princess too. I mean doesn't the huntsman call Snow "the little princess" when the Queen (her step mom) orders him to "kill" Snow. I think the Dwarves also mention it.

      "The, uh, Princess will sleep in our beds upstairs."

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      dave 6 years ago

      does anyone think that ariel was way to young to be married off to eric (who i guess to be at least 25?)? i think disney did not thought this one through too well.

    • Epsilon5 profile image

      Epsilon5 8 years ago from Eastern Pennsylvania

      Thanks for reading!

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      sophs 8 years ago

      Great hub, I never really looked at Disney films this way. To be fair Belle went back for the beast not knowing he would turn back into a Prince, so she loved him for who he was not how he looked. He didn't really abuse her he was just a bit scary at first. I enjoyed reading this hub, very different :-)