If you’ve read my thoughts on Moana and Frozen, you know that I am done with new Disney Princess movies. I find that Disney is too focused on making their princess features as marketable and politically correct as possible, at the detriment of telling original, interesting stories and complex characters. But lately I realized that my disdain of new Disney Princesses is a symptom of a larger problem I’ve noticed: the overabundance of princess characters in media.
Princess Peach. Princess Zelda. Xena, Warrior Princess. Princess Serenity. Princess Sally Acorn. Princess Allura. Princess Diana of Themyscira. Princess Leia. Princess Bubblegum (and all the countless princesses in the land of Ooo). Even the great Miyazaki has some of his female characters be princesses when they could easily be ordinary girls. This is just a small sampling of the many, many, MANY princess characters in media aimed at kids. You can find a (possibly incomplete) list HERE. After looking at that list, what did you notice they all seem to have in common?
That, if they are in media aimed at boys, the princess is sometimes the ONLY prominent female character, and if they’re in media aimed at girls, it’s the princess who is the most important character out of all the other girls.
This is a problem for a few reasons. The biggest reason to me being the sheer lack of other roles female characters in kids media get. Boys can be soldiers, knights, kings, pilots, scientists, adventurers, speedsters, plumbers, and even complete average joes and still be important and heroes. Girls by and large still tend to only get the role of princesses, especially if they’re the main female character. Obviously, not ALL kid’s media shoehorns their female protagonists into the role of the princess, but it goes to show that, in a lot of instances, the first instinct is to make her a princess and not, well, anything else.
Let’s go back to Disney for a bit. Take a look at all the Disney Animated Canon films that center on human female characters: Snow White, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Frozen and Moana (Aladdin doesn’t count because Jasmine is not the focus on the film, and I hesitate to include Lilo & Stitch because Stitch gets all the marketing focus and he carries the central plot). Out of 56 films released so far, only 12 films have female characters as the central protagonist, and with one exception, they’re all princess films. Meanwhile, Disney male heroes get a much wider range of roles like it’s no big deal. (No surprise: most of my most fave Disney movies are male-led because of this.)
There are two other problems with the princess trope. One of them being the sheer lack of positive QUEEN roles. Queens in media are either nonexistent, villains, or only provide a tiny supportive role. In either case, it’s the princess’s father who is more important. There are also situations where the princess is the only person in charge and her parents are either dead or out of commission, but she still doesn’t go by the title of queen. This is still apparently a problem today; in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Luna and Celestia were supposed to be queens, but the marketing team intervened to have them be called princesses instead. The princess role isn’t really that empowering the more you think of it (it’s a role you are assigned at since birth and you’re expected to look and act a certain way as you find a husband) but at least as a queen you get some real power. Apparently that’s too much for some people.
And finally, my big problem with the princess trope is that it kind of reinforces that only princesses get to be beautiful and important. In some cases, the princess character can be harder to sympathize with because they come from a place of immense privilege. Why should I care if you want more when you have everything you could possibly want? But more than anything, any other female character in the princess’s respective media gets left out in the cold so the audience and other characters can coo over her.
I feel like now is the time to introduce girls to other types of female characters. Show them that the they can be more than just princesses. Give us female knights, pilots, explorers, scientists and blue collar workers. Give ordinary, everyday girls the fantasy that they can save the world.
And of course, let’s have more female rulers that aren’t princesses. In a world where women still struggle to be in positions of power, I think it’s about time we show girls that it’s better to be a president than a princess.