Contributed by Rebecca Doran, Journalism major
Disney’s Frozen has been getting lots of attention for finally having a princess who doesn’t require a man to save her. It seems to me that everyone has forgotten about a strong-willed princess that made her Disney debut in 1998: Mulan.
She was a character who failed at being a suitable wife and daughter in her era. So to bring back honor to her family and to save her father from death on the battlefield, she impersonated a man in order to join the army. If she were found out, she would die.
Both Mulan from her self-titled movie and Ana from Frozen demonstrate courage that has rarely been seen in Disney princesses. But what Mulan has that is equally important, but which Ana didn’t seem to demonstrate, is a brain.
Ana rushes off to save her sister without really thinking. She meets a guy at a party, and before it’s over they’re engaged. She leaves her kingdom in his hands – a guy she knew nothing about. She runs off in the middle of the snow storm with no food and no idea where she’s going. She also entrusts another man with her life – a man who speaks to a reindeer and whom she has never met before – and asks him to help her find her sister.
Mulan, on the other hand, uses her brain through the whole movie. Sure she can’t remember the cultural requirements for becoming a “suitable bride” without writing it on her arm, but she does win a chess game, defeat almost the whole Hun army by causing an avalanche, shimmies up the palace with a scarf, and defeats the leader of the Hun army with a fan! Not to mention her little stunt during training when she is the only one who figures out how to climb a pole to retrieve the arrow at the top.
According to the Child Studies Center at NYU Langone Medical Center, girls in grades 5 through 9 purposefully downplay their intelligence because they think it’s not “sexy.” This sexualization of the female body can be seen in almost every form of media from movies to music to books. When teen girls perceive their main role to be sexual, they can develop self-esteem issues and eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, by age six, 40-60% of girls think they are too fat.
This is all because more emphasis is place on the physical appearance of girls and women than on their brain. This is why princesses like Mulan are needed in children’s movies. If little girls can see that Mulan saved China without having to rely on her looks, but rather on her brain, then maybe they will stop pretending to be unintelligent. Maybe if there were more princesses like Merida from Brave, little girls would understand that their value is not dependent on having a boyfriend.
While Frozen is a step in the right direction for Disney, I wish they would have included more critical thinking from both Ana and Elsa.