Feminist Friday: How to Write a Feminist Fairy Tale

Friday, July 13, 2012

Last week I went to my favorite local movie theater not once, but twice. (I’m almost mayor of the place on Foursquare.) And even though Magic Mike and The Amazing Spider-Man were great I’m still kicking myself that I have yet to see Brave. This Pixar film follows the adventures of Princess Merida who wants to defy the customs of her kingdom and choose her own path in life.  As a feminist, I should have been at the theater to see this opening day. I need to step my game up.

Writing for Nerve.com, Sonia Saraiya ranked Disney princesses from least to most feminist. File this under “Things I Wish I’d Written.” I really need to step my game up.

Looking at Saraiya’s list I immediately noticed that the three Disney princesses ranked the most feminist were also young women of color. I found this quite ironic since women of color are constantly being told, usually by members of their own ethnicity, that they can’t be feminist. Back in May I received an email that read: “A black woman cannot be a feminist…sorry.” True story.

Does this list mean women of color are better feminists? Of course, not! What it shows is the mark of progress. These feminist fairy tales not only seek to dismantle the notion that women should be demure, one-dimensional characters depending on a prince to save them, but also challenges the notion of what a princess looks like. She doesn’t always have to have blond hair and blue eyes. (Side note: I love that Princess Merida of Brave has thick, curly hair! That might be a Disney first.)

This got me to thinking, what does it take to create feminist fairy tale? Here’s what I’ve come up with:
  • Your princess needs to actually be awake. She can’t be revolutionary if she spends half the story unconscious waiting for a dude to come kiss her. Princess Aurora, I’m talking to you.
  • Your princess needs a voice. Sure, that sounds obvious, but Saraiya reminds us that in The Little Mermaid Ariel actually trades her voice so she can have a chance with a cute boy. (Though, she should get points for rescuing said boy from drowning and for longing for a life of adventure.)
  • Your princess needs a sensible wardrobe. Not to give poor Ariel a hard time, but it’s hard to fight gender stereotypes in a clamshell bikini.
  • Your princess needs a dream. She needs goals that go beyond just finding a husband. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying marriage is anti-feminist. I love being a wife, but I also love being a writer.  Perfect example: Tiana from The Princess and the Frog wants to run her own restaurant. If that’s not progressive I don’t know what is.
  • Your princess needs to be badass. There’s really no other way to say this. For example, instead of waiting to be rescued, your princess needs to be the one saving others, yes, even men. She needs to be the hero of her own story. Check out the Nerve article to find out which Disney princess is the most feminist (and badass) of them all and let me know if you agree or not.

And while reading that article, this song kept playing in my head...

Who are you favorite Disney princesses?


  1. I'm not ashamed to admit that one of my favorite movies is The Little Mermaid. I wouldn't call Ariel a feminist but that movie is spectacular.

    1. No argument there. Even the writer of the Nerve article says The Little Mermaid is the best Disney movie in her opinion.

  2. Tiana is great because she lived her life her way even when as a frog!