We live in an era of unprecedented female empowerment, whether its outspokenness against gendered harassment, pushing for equality, or just plain ole’ visibility. The closer we move toward these more inclusive ideals, the more dated and questionable everything behind us looks, which is why both Kristen Bell and Keira Knightley have decided to question their daughters’ exposure and experience when it comes to certain Disney princesses and the potentially regressive ideals they imply.
Bell and Knightley, both Disney princesses themselves (the former having voiced Anna in Frozen, the latter getting her Stateside breakthrough as Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean), have come out this week against the anti-feminist values embodied by the old Disney princesses. Bell claimed that due to the dated values of Snow White’s story, she approaches the princess not as an aspirational figure but more as a cautionary tale to teach her daughters about feminist issues such as consent, posing questions to her kids such as “Don’t you think that it’s weird that the prince kisses Snow White without her permission? Because you can not kiss someone if they’re sleeping!”
Knightley, on the other hand, has completely prevented her daughter from watching certain Disney films, specifically those that centers around women undermining their ideals for a male partner, such as Cinderalla and the Little Mermaid. Regarding the glass-slippered princess, Knightley criticizes her story as one about someone “waits around for a rich guy to rescue her. Don’t! Rescue yourself. Obviously!” while admitting that when it comes to Ariel’s story “the songs are great, but do not give your voice up for a man. Hello!”
Many commended the women on Twitter for their approach to highlighting the skewed and dated values that remain in these stories:
Snow White is too passive, waiting for a man to save her. Yep, I agree with the points on strangers and consent as well. Different era…
— Lily Mills (@LilyMKE) October 17, 2018
While conversely, a number of fans—both of Disney and the actresses themselves—have criticized the women’s choices as ignoring these stories and the way women are treated in them, instead believing that these fault-filled stories are ones that have to be told and talked about:
I love Keira, but Cinderella rescues herself. She stood up to her abusers and she fought back against their abuse any longer by having a night off, then escaping. It is a *huge* thing for victims to go against what their abusers order them to do. She was extremely courageous.
— 𝒞𝒽𝒶𝓇𝓁𝑜𝓉𝓉𝑒 (@Charlotte18Kath) October 17, 2018
Ariel wants badly to be part of human society even though her father prohibits it. Her attraction to Eric is secondary; she is so desperate to express herself that she resorts to a witch's spell to do so when her father shuts down her interests.
— David Gouldthorpe ☃️ (@DGouldthorpe96) October 18, 2018
Though their past catalogue may be speckled with skewed perspectives when it comes to gender and race, Disney does thankfully happen to be on Bell and Knightley’s side of history, embracing more strong female characters along with remaking its old classics with an increased focus on racial visibility.