Feminism is hard to talk about, especially when introducing it to kids. While the concept is simple, stating that all sexes are equal, it seems teaching it has its complications. In some instances feminism is misused for profit; for example, the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot. In other instances, it’s used to gain favor by speaking on political correctness; the 2016 presidential election has more than enough examples. In the case of Disney, it happens to apply to both. For years, Disney has been teaching children lessons, but feminism is one they couldn’t quite teach. Using princesses, Disney has created a marketable brand that preaches good morals but never follows through. It wasn’t until the arrival of STAR VS THE FORCES OF EVIL that they finally got it right. Because it’s a show rather than a movie, Disney finally has a fully fleshed out concept of feminism but how does it reflect of Disney’s character? 

The Princess Brand

Premiering January 18, 2015 on Disney XD, Daron Nefcy’s project came to life. STAR VS THE FORCES OF EVIL is about an  interdimensional princess named Star Butterfly who’s come to Earth as an exchange student. The reason for her visit is to prove to her parents that she can understand her powers and use them responsibly, lest she be sent to boarding school. From the getgo, Star is a wild ball of destruction and sunshine who loves rainbows and fighting monsters. Against all odds, she and her new friend Marco fight to be unique, most notably against the Disney Princess brand. That’s right, specifically the Disney Princess brand.

Now, this sounds odd, a Disney show rebelling against Disney. How is is still on the air? It’s all about subtext; anyone who knows Disney knows that their bread and butter is animated princesses like Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. These three are the original who brought in a lot of money for Disney, but they also brought a lot of criticism.  The public disliked the women being damsels in distress and having bland personalities to boot. Looking to keep the public’s favor, Disney went to work to redesign the brand.

Read: Donald Trump and the Problem With “Boys Will Be Boys”

Fast forward a few decades, Disney tried again with Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine. They were initially welcomed with open arms because they were active participants in the story. They weren’t damsels and they were full of attitude. All was well until people peeled back the superficial layer and noticed a trend: Ariel ran away from home and married a stranger. Belle left home and was abducted, then succumbed to stockholm syndrome and then married a stranger. Jasmine ran away from home, then came back . . . and then married a stranger. Along with that, each princess always wanted an ambiguous “more.” More of what exactly? Being princesses, they never had to want for anything nor did they have any political responsibilities. Essentially, they acted out and got off scot-free with a hot dude as a bonus. The subtext here would imply to expect that everything will work out without any effort. Not exactly the best moral for kids. Once again, Disney went back to the drawing board.

Step forward a decade and the general theme of the modern princess has become “dream big, princess.” These princesses, like Tiana and Merida, are inspiring girls to follow their dreams no matter the obstacle. The new cast is diverse in their goals, motivations, and ideals and is critic-approved. Yet oddly enough they aren’t the face of the Disney Princess brand. Despite now having the princesses they were always criticized for not having, Disney still places the original trio front and center. One could say that they simply want to pay homage to their original work but when it comes to advertisement, the original Disney princesses reign supreme. Does it not seem odd that the criticized characters of old are the face of the new slogan “dream big, princess”? The three princesses who had no goals outside of dancing and singing? Does this perhaps present a false sense of goodwill that is only motivated by political correctness? Am I reading too much into this? Perhaps, but the very fact that the contradiction exists is why Star’s biggest nemesis is the brand, and there’s proof.

A Choice

Now, the most important detail to know about Star is that she is a free-willed and flawed person. She’s irresponsible, she lacks concentration, she doesn’t always make the best decisions, and best of all, she embraces it. Yes, it’s a good thing that she embraces them because she’s aware that she’s not perfect and that her choices define her. While she may falter from one adventure to the next, she is always trying to better herself and her choices. This aspect of Star is so crucial that in the episode entitled “Mr. Candle Cares,” in which a corrupt guidance counselor convinces Star that she has no choice but to become a queen, she attempts to break a rule that would keep her from ever becoming one.

Introducing: TRUE BELIEVERS: PRINCESS LEIA!

Saying Star goes overboard is most definitely an understatement but it’s understandable. If someone told you that you have no choice over your future and that everyone will decide things for you, it would be terrifying. One could say that it’s practically brainwashing, which is probably why the boarding school that was mentioned prior literally brainwashes disobedient princesses. The metaphor is pretty heavy handed, but it sets a precedent of what it’s like to not have a choice. It’s better to make the wrong choice than not to have one at all. More importantly, it’s vital that you and you alone make active decisions in your life. It’s why in 1920 it was such a crucial moment in American history when women were allowed to vote. Women were becoming more independent, developing aspirations, and were being defined by something other than just their looks.

Thinking back to the princess trio, none of the women had much control over what happened to them. It was usually an elderly guardian that made the decisions in their lives. This speaks volumes about their lack of character. The most active these princesses ever were was when they flaunted their beauty—isn’t that regressive? In 1942, “Rosie the Riveter” was made to encourage women to be active in the workplace, taking on men’s jobs, and eight years later CINDERELLA comes out, insisting the dream is to do the opposite.

One might say it’s counter productive. It’s for these reasons that Star is so fearful of becoming a queen. She’s been told by her family that the tradition is to forfeit choice, that looking the part is more important than playing it. It’s at the end of the episode that Marco, the deuteragonist, counters Star’s humdrum acceptance of queendom with the most important quote in the episode: “But that doesn’t sound like a bad thing, you’re going to run Mewnie your way no matter how destructive.” He insists that you always have a choice. Needless to say, this is a good reason to consider Star’s most notable nemesis to be the Disney brand.

Best Intentions

Overall, it should be noted that the Disney Princess brand isn’t evil, just short-sighted, much like Tom, the antagonist of the episode. In short, Tom is Star’s ex who attempts to turn a new leaf but falls back into bad habits. Along with anger issues, Tom tries to manipulate Star back into their relationship. Like the brand, it’s sweet that he puts forth an effort to change, but he never considers what she wants first. In this case, it’s better to move forward rather than to cling to the past. In all honesty, one couldn’t ask for a better metaphor than that episode. It presents all the subtext to start a conversation and hopefully motivate Disney to change.

As of now, the best thing Disney could do is present more diverse princess that better represent women of today. While the original trio will always be loved, it’s princesses such as Star that will motivate minds to be creative, to think, to innovate, and to not fear mistakes. There are plenty of other themes of feminism that the show touches on and hopefully, this encourages other shows, films, and politicians to raise the level of discourse in their dealings with feminism.

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3 Comments

  1. Cutedog4

    November 23, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    I strongly agree

    Reply

  2. Cutedog4

    November 22, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    I love this show, I watched one episode and then the next day I watched the entire series 1 by 1. I really hope they continue the show for a bit longer. It is so funny, even though “Bon Bon the birthday clown” was a huge disappointment! I feel like a relashionship between Star and Marco will never happen. But I will still watch watch it and love it.
    Thx!

    Reply

  3. nicholasrong

    November 15, 2016 at 8:49 am

    This show has literally changed my mindset about girls.Me being a boy who was thought by my dad that girls are lame,and tells me sometimes something like this when I fail to do a task “What Are You A GIRL,YOU CAN’T EVEN DO THIS RIGHT,what are you Lame !?” So for most of my life since I was 9 i began to think that girls were like most classic disney princesses,they have no powers,they don’t usually fight back,and run away,and most of the time depend on someone to SAVE THEM,and not putting a lot of work to achieve their dream and depend on some miracle or magical being to do that for them.And they all expect to be treated like a princess,and expect most people to be kind with them ALL THE TIME,And NEVER like to get teased,and love only “girly” stuff.

    But after watching this show,it showed that girls can be Independent,and just want to be who they really are,whether it is to be a princess or a total badass! I’ve never seen a cartoon with a girl who shows such individuality and awesome personality such as star,she likes rainbows and unicorns but also likes stuff no typical disney princess usually likes,like “boy” stuff,like flames and sometimes violent & muddy activities.she shows a really big contrast from what I originally thought what a girl is SUPPOSE to like,SUPPOSE to be treated,and SUPPOSE to become.

    I’m really glad that Daron Nefcy and her team brought this character to life,it taught me so much about gender equality without ever directly addressing the problem it self ,in it’s own amazingly entertaining way,and I hope it helps people like me realize that girls don’t always have a classic disney princess personality,they have their own personality

    Reply

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