Women’s Representation in the World of Disney – Comparing Both then and now

Image Source: Youthopia

Disney and its movies have gone through many changes over the years, both in terms of plotlines, lessons, and the way that women are represented. 

When Disney movies were first being showcased to the public, many of them instilled in young viewers the ideals of love and the traditional role men and women played in a relationship, where men were seen as the rescuers of women and women were seen as “damsels in distress.”

Disney’s Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Sleeping Beauty–three of the first Disney “princess” movies that were released to the public–showcase the stereotypical “damsel in distress archetype,” where women had to be rescued by a knight in shining armor.

Disney’s view of women illustrated that a “knight in shining armor” was necessary in order for them to feel protected and loved in society. However, as we all know, this is not the case for women in the real world, where they have the skills and traits necessary to care for and love themselves independently.

As more and more Disney movies were released, they began to stray away from that “damsel in distress” archetype, allowing for a more accurate depiction of women in the real world and the ideals of love. 

Two more accurate depictions of women in Disney movies came once 1998’s Mulan and 2010’s Tangled were broadcasted to the public. These two movies represented rebellion against Disney’s older female stereotypes due to the rising waves of feminism in society at the time.

These movies paved the way for Disney to continue producing movies that went against their “damsel in distress” theme, including 2012’s Brave, 2013’s Frozen, 2016’s Moana, 2021’s Raya and the Last Dragon, and 2021’s Encanto. All of the women in these movies are portrayed as independent women who are able to protect themselves and their families without a “knight in shining armor.”

In the movie Frozen, for example, the importance of feminism is clearly depicted through both main characters, Anna and Elsa. As Anna hopes to get married to Prince Hans of the Southern Isles–the main antagonist of the movie–he informs her that he only actually wanted to marry her for her crown and her kingdom. 

The movie demonstrates that women do not need men to save them, as is seen at the end of the movie when Anna needs an act of love to become “unfrozen.” The act ends up being the sisterly love between Anna and Elsa rather than romantic love between Anna and Prince Hans.
As Disney continues to create more and more movies, we can only hope that they remain on this path to providing accurate and non-stereotypical female representation in their films, and I have a strong sense that they will.