The Princess Diaries: Can Little Girls Handle Disney?

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Yesterday on EW's Popwatch blog, Mandi Bierley pondered watchingSleeping Beauty, with her soon-to-be niece, realizing there are worrisome things in it. “The first gift the good fairies bestow upon the baby Princess Aurora is beauty, and she is engaged at 16,” she writes, adding, “Seriously, what do you do?”Obviously I know what these fears are grounded on: societal pressures, subliminal messages, traditional gender expectations. And to this I say: Ms. Bierley, I see your concerns and raise you a Flora, a Fauna and a Meriweather. But in all seriousness, maybe I’m extra defensive because Sleeping Beauty is my favorite Disney movie, but also because nothing about this or films like it changed my ability to comprehend the choices offered to me in a modern world, to doubt my worth as a thinking person, or to confuse an animated movie with the realities of going to pre-K and getting into mud fights with little boys. Are fairy tales antiquated? Yes, by definition. They’re ancient stories based on ancient archetypes which very often deal with good and evil in a stark way that appeals to children at least as much as do the princesses’ gowns and princes’ swords. If we’re talking about the actual Grimms’ stories, they are so bizarre and sinister and so often rooted in ancient folklore that seriously, marrying at 16 is the least of your problems. As to movies like this one? If a child lived in a room in which she watched nothing but these movies day and night, had no other influences, talked to no other children and saw no real women then, yes, she’d probably have a very warped view of the world. I’m guessing this is not the Fritzl-like case. I would say though that if for no other reason that cultural literacy, a child should be familiar with these archetypes. Although I don’t expect to bring up my future children in a religious home, I have every intention of acquainting them with the Bible — as a symbolic text of incredible historical importance with some beautiful poetry and some fundamental lessons in it, around which we will not be completely basing our lives. I should think if they can appreciate the subtleties of that — as children can — they can understand that 16-year-old Aurora lives in a magical world populated with fairies and evil dragons which, for good and ill, is not real. And, okay, pious generalities aside: Sleeping Beauty is a really good movie! Flora, Fauna, Meriwether and, hell, Maleficent! Are strong, independent female role models. Perhaps it should also be said that these were the characters who made the strongest impression on me as a small child, and on little girls whom I know now. Yes, Briar Rose/Aurora’s beautiful pink-blue gown was memorable, but the generic princess was far less interesting than the irascible fairies or the single most terrifying villain in all of Disney Fairytales. So, here’s my advice to Ms. Bierley. Give yourself — and your niece — credit for intelligence and good sense. Thank the good lord we live in a time where, at least as little children, we can enjoy a fairy tale as a fairy tale at the same time as we can admire strong female role models and take our place in the world for granted. A feminist — even a little one — can still enjoy Sleeping Beauty while maintaining her cred, and while the trees might still be thorny, the forest is a much nicer place than it was. And this is a wonderful thing! There’s a lot of things to worry about out there – I don’t think you need lose sleep over this one. How do you handle 'Sleeping Beauty' and other fairy tales with young girls? [Entertainment Weekly]



I would be more concerned about a kid getting rabies when they try to befriend little woodland creatures...