By Devorah Blanchor
Who’s afraid of princesses?
Me, that’s who.
I even hated the Disney princesses a little bit.
That’s bananas, you’re probably thinking. What have they ever done to you?
It’s a fair question. At first, they look pretty innocent. None of the Disney princesses has ever hit a puppy, as far as I know. They’re not lobbyists trying to overturn Roe vs Wade. They’re not responsible for me never having fulfilled my secret dream of living in Barcelona, and they’ve never even run a Ponzi scheme to defraud elderly people out of their savings. So what was my problem?
It started, of course, when I watched the Disney princess movies for the first time as a little girl. I liked them. I liked Bambi much more, but the princesses were ok. I never fantasized that I was a princess, however, or dreamt that I’d become one. Still, in spite of my apathy I know the princesses affected me. Because once I got older, I waited for my prince to come.
But this isn’t about how there were no good men. This is about how I waited because I was certain I’d eventually find the perfect boyfriend who would become my ideal husband. That was the fairytale narrative.
As this story was being sold to me both in the movie theater and at school, I played it safe. I spent my childhood being good, chaste and having faith. At 15, I was lonely, but I believed it would all work out. At 20 I was very lonely yet still believed that my prince would come. At 25, I despaired because everyone I knew had been in a serious relationship except for me.
Was my decade of loneliness the fault of the princesses? More to the point, should I sue Disney for $179 billion?
Let’s examine the evidence. I’m 45. When I refer to “princess movies,” I mean the trio I grew up with—Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. If Disney princesses have a reputation for being passive creampuffs, it’s because of these three dull, uninspiring icons. I dare you to call these characters “heroines” with a straight face. Two of the princesses literally sleep through parts of their story.
For my daughter, Mari, these early films were beside the point. She saw Snow White a few months after seeing Frozen and forgot about it the next day. But, embedded as they are in our culture, the stories did matter to me. Even though I never loved the movies like my “girly-girl” sister, they got under my skin. Like many women, I learned that being beautiful mattered. I learned that a prince can save you.
And so I waited and was alone for many years. Unsurprisingly, I was also clinically depressed. There’s a connection there. A passive approach to life—where you depend on outside forces instead of your own resources—is often correlated with depression. In other words, since their princess movies promoted the passivity I’d embraced, I should sue Disney for emotional distress, right?
Unfortunately my cunning plan to bathe myself in pink diamonds is flawed. Aside from the fact that their legal team would be far superior to mine, suing Disney, or blaming them for anything that happened to me, is just another symptom of passivity. In my mid-twenties, the only way for me to climb out of my depressive state was to take responsibility for my life. No one was to blame for my being alone except for myself, my actions and my inaction.
Question: Why are the early Disney princesses—aka the Sleepy Trio—so passive?
Answer: Because they need a man to save them, of course.
Now it’s one thing for writers to have spun that fool’s gold back in the day when vacuum cleaners were marketed as a perfect Christmas present for the ladies. But the fairytale theme in cinema persists. Isn’t that a bitch? Or at least a wicked witch?
Sadly for my daughter, she will get to see not just one Disney version of Cinderella, but two. In 2015 Disney released a live action version of Cinderella. I realize there’s only so much you can do with the plot of a folktale that has ancient origins, but at the same time, did Disney really have to stick with the 1950s version so closely?
There are multiple ways to dislike the original Disney Cinderella movie. Here are just a few of my favorites:
Once upon a time, three mean and ugly women victimized a young pretty one.
Or how about this one?
Once upon a time, a young woman’s beauty solved absolutely all her problems.
Here’s a perplexing one:
Once upon a time, a handsome prince fell in love with a beautiful woman but he couldn’t recognize her without her fancy clothes and had to ascertain her identity using her shoe size. Wait, what?
Although, arguably, the one that messes girls up the most is this:
Once upon a time, a woman was in distress. Once she got the Ring, however, she never had to worry about anything ever again. It’s all about The Ring.
On that note, I’ll just go ahead and quote Reese Witherspoon. Here’s what she said to the New York Times about her film Wild, based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed.
“We save ourselves. Every woman knows it.”
Yes we do. It took me a little too long to figure that out. Besides waiting for my prince, I also waited to get help for depression, waited to figure out what was holding me back and waited to take responsibility for my own life. Once I did, it started turning out alright. Spoiler alert: There was absolutely no ring involved.
We save ourselves. The clock just struck midnight. So unless we can retell the story in a relevant way, let’s put Cinderella to rest. It’s time.
Adapted from The Feminist’s Guide to Raising a Little Princess by Devorah Blachor with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2017 by Devorah Blachor.