We all know the stories. The princess falls in love with the prince. He rescues the damsel in distress from the tower or the dragon or the wicked queen … or anything at all really. The plot in many fairy tales relies on a woman in trouble needing a brave, strong man to rescue her.
I loved Disney as a child, and I still do, but it is clear that stories such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are based on gender stereotypes. They show children that women spend their time looking pretty, cooking and cleaning and that women need a man to look after them. These ideals are old-fashioned and outdated. I personally would feel uncomfortable teaching these values to children – boys or girls.
Luckily, Disney has clearly seen that their female characters were weak and helpless and their new films feature strong female characters. Tangled, which tells Disney’s story of Rapunzel, was released in 2010. Rapunzel is an intelligent and creative 18 year old who asks a man to help her to visit the kingdom. Although he is helping her, she also helps and saves him. She uses her intelligence and people skills to save him from a group of criminals, and she uses her magic (perhaps a symbol for special talents) to heal him when he is hurt.
Disney’s award winning film Frozen was released in 2013. Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Snow Queen, it tells of a young girl, Elsa. Elsa can make it snow and turn water to ice. When she starts an eternal winter, it is her sister, Anna, who decides to save the kingdom. When Anna’s heart is frozen, an act of true love is needed to save her. We immediately think of true love’s kiss. In the end, the act of true love which saves Anna is her decision to give up her life for Elsa.
The females in these stories are intelligent, brave and adventurous. They are better role models for young girls and show children that girls can be heroes too. Disney’s choice to show strong, independent females working together with men shows the progress which has been made in gender equality. Hopefully, through efforts such as this, the idea that a man always rescues the woman will not be passed on to future generations.
Who are your favourite strong, independent female leads from film or fiction? Why?