Today is International Women’s Day, and people seem to be celebrating the occasion like never before, with positive vibes and girl power spreading throughout the lands. As the day comes to an end here in Australia (our timezone is half a day ahead here), I was so inspired by some of the fanfare that honored the occasion here that I began to think about how the role of female characters in the media has evolved so beautifully. A perfect example of this is the evolution of Disney characters, who have moved swiftly from helpless princesses to brave heroines, and I thought that was worth exploring.
The stereotypical Disney Princess started with Snow White in the classic story of a woman hiding from evil, saved by men, before being rescued by another man. She knew no fundamental skills besides the expected cooking and cleaning she contributed to the Dwarf’s house. Fast forward to today’s princesses like Tiana, with enterprising business ambitions, or Rapunzel, full of adventure and intrigue. The characters of this century are a substantial departure from their predecessors. While the female role was often a lead in the movie, she rarely came in the form of a heroine. Films like Brave and Mulan began to change that stigma, introducing a new level of independence to the women we saw on screen.
Female lead roles in other media began to shift too; for example, the love interest in Frozen ultimately turned out to be Elsa’s sister, Anna, rather than a romantic love that was introduced to save the day. Disney has begun exploring storylines that don’t require romance in order to entertain. The protagonist in Inside Out was a young girl working through the emotions of a substantial change in circumstances, exploring vulnerability without the need for it to be ‘fixed,’ instead using the breakthrough of communication to round out the story arc.
They might not be considered traditional princesses though the women of Star Wars and Marvel have also come a long way. Films like Wonder Woman, Black Widow, and The Force Awakens portray women in lead roles where their intellect, power, and strength are showcased. And while there is still an argument to be had that there is still a lack of equality in the entertainment industry, this article isn’t about that. It’s not a judgment on how far we have to go but an appreciation of how far we have come, alongside an acknowledgment of the creative forces that pushed for these characters to grace our screens so that women would have a stronger voice in film and television.
Even outside the screen, our characters see a new side of their female counterparts. In 2021 we saw Minnie Mouse make Captain at Disney Cruise Line, and in 2022 finally featured in pants by Stella McCartney over in Disneyland Paris. They might seem like little things, but they all add up to one giant step forward in the way women are seen and portrayed by some of the most influential sources.
I love where this is going, and I appreciate the men and women of the entertainment industry, both within Disney and outside of it, who have worked tirelessly to change how things were. Dynamic characters, working partnerships, and storylines that ring true to real life all give our youth the hope and encouragement they deserve from their film and television experiences.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.
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