As children, there is a constant pressure to never conform to femininity. In the media, we see feminine women objectified. Rather than get to the root of this problem, young girls are taught that femininity is feeble and weak. Therefore the ‘not like other girls’ phenomenon is formed. Disney Princesses like Merida, Rapunzel and Elsa are spoken of so highly due to their independence and non-conformity to the patriarchy. But are these models in fact the polar opposite?
My interests as a child ranged from Doctor Who to dolls, although I was definitely on the tomboy side of the spectrum. Looking back, it’s hard to define whether that boyishness was authentic me, or simply a reaction to the feminine figures I saw in the media. I hardly wore dresses because I didn’t want to appear ‘too girly’. As a young girl, men seemed to be strong and powerful. My goal shifted from being ‘less girly’ to being ‘more manly’. I wanted to be the Doctor, not the companion. It sounds so pathetically egotistical when put into terms like that.
A couple of months ago, I put on Cinderella – my favourite Disney princess film (although I’ve hardly watched any Disney princess films in my time on this earth). Watching this again but as a teenager, not a child, sparked the idea for this blog post. I noticed that Cinderella was rarely mentioned as a ‘favourite’ of the Disney princess franchise (although she does have some tough competition). Why is it that young girls are so turned off to the idea of admiring feminine figures?
Of course, I can only talk from my personal experience. However, I went over my Instagram stories to ask you a few questions on this topic. Here’s how you responded:
I then asked you who your favourite Disney Princesses were (these are only a few responses, couldn’t fit them all on!)
It’s clear to see that the strong, badass, independent princesses are the favourites among my followers. That’s awesome! They are truly brilliant characters. When we take Cinderella as an example of a less popular princess in these suggestions we can uncover that:
- Cinderella loves animals, and her kindness towards these creatures is very prevalent through the original film and all of the sequels.
- There is little talking in this film – as it is a 1950s motion picture – so Cinderella doesn’t get much chance to speak up for herself. In comparison to Belle, she does seem quite ‘passive’, but this is just how the movie is constructed.
- This lack of dialogue, however, means we never get to learn much of Cinderella’s character. It is all seen in her actions: working for her step-family, scrubbing floors, singing, feeding the animals.
This may not be why she is less popular, but just a few suggestions.
Although there is nothing ‘wrong’ with Cinderella in its essence, the way it is interpreted has a lot to do with its popularity. I feel as though we grow up and everyone’s favourite is Cinderella so we try to pick something different to be ‘unique’ or something (“I’m not like other girls”) Cinderella gets whisked off her feet by a prince she has only just met. Is this love? (well, she actually sings a song about that one) Or, was this just to escape her abusive family? Or perhaps, falling in love coincided with her escape as an excuse – but she was going to set free anyway?
For some of us, it’s hard to admit that we would very much enjoy to dance with a Prince, in a ballgown. We don’t admit it because… well, we don’t want to be like other girls? It’s all very pathetic at its roots.
Sidetracking, but Cinderella emulates the highest Virgo vibes, which as a Virgo myself, I can see.
Virgos commonly conceal their emotions because they do not want to trouble others. They like helping other people with their problems, rather than solve their own. They enjoy being kind to others; however, a downside of a Virgo is that they don’t want to worry their peers and will therefore conceal their own emotions. Cinderella, it seems, would never have the bravery and pack up and run anyway because of her own discomfort as she doesn’t want to burden others.
Meeting the prince is her excuse. She falls in love. She can get away.
Obviously this poses an issue, because Cinderella needed the Prince to escape her abusive family. She depended on the Prince for her own happiness. This is an issue because Disney are conforming to gender roles, and gender roles that are favoured by the patriarchy ie. dominant male figure saves woman in distress.
As a woman, I will be biased. However, ‘alpha male’ characters aren’t always a good example for boys either. It is wonderful to be headstrong, independent, witty, well-versed (the list goes on) but there is a point where it becomes toxic.
Toxic masculinity is a long-lived idea, but in recent years the term has become more popular and social media is opening up more conversations on the topic. Toxic masculinity is represented by the lack of emotionally transparent figures in the media. Masculine types are more favoured, and less emotional figures are seen as ‘stronger’. The fear of judgement about opening up with mental health discussions is why “three-quarters of registered deaths in 2018 were among men (4,903 deaths), which has been the case since the mid-1990s” – data on England, Office for National Statistics (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/suicidesintheunitedkingdom/2018registrations)
As a woman, it doesn’t feel like my place to write about this topic pretending to know what it feels like, because I will never experience anything close to that pressure. However, it is everyone’s duty to share the stories of lives lost and from that encourage destigmatise men opening up about their mental health. We should collectively be doing our best to make the men in our own lives feel comfortable enough to talk about their feelings if they need to. ‘Prince hero’ characters are allowed to exist, of course, just as a ‘damsel in distress’ is allowed to be represented in media. But in balance there needs to be more complexities to characters. Different twists on traditional tropes, and completely new and original ideas that don’t conform to tradition at all. Everything has a place!
Cinderella has so much opportunity to becoming a more complex character, and in live-action adaptations we definitely see this more. But, because of the main focus – getting whisked off her feet by a prince and they live happily ever after – somehow its overlooked.
I truly believe the patriarchy has led us (women) to think this way. I say this because as soon as we (women) see that a woman needs a man to be happy, we don’t like the idea of her. This is a prime example of internalised misogyny. We don’t see past the whole masculine hero thing, so we don’t accept that she can be a strong woman. But you can have a male hero, and still be a great woman. That Cher interview has been popping off of TikTok and Instagram for a good couple of months now, and I will put it here just in case you haven’t come across it:
“You said a man is not a neccessity, a man is a luxury”
“Like dessert, a man is absolutely not a neccessity”
“Did you mean that to sound bitter?”
“Not at all, I love dessert, I think men are the coolest but you don’t need them to live. My mum once said to me ‘Sweetie, one day you should settle down and marry a rich man’ and I said, ‘I am a rich man’https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZsL5R_CR-k
Over the course of the last few weeks, I have been watching/listening to lots of video essays on the ‘not like other girls’ trend. If you’re new to the idea of internalised misogyny (unfortunately we’re all subject to it, aware or not), or just want to be a better feminist, I can recommend these videos:
Grab a cup of tea or coffee, put it on in the background while you work; they make the overwhelming discussion feel more digestible. Do not feel patronised for the length of these videos, I swear time will fly.
On the same topic, I asked you all on Instagram what ‘not like other girls’ means to you. It was interesting, but unfortunately not surprising, to see the responses I received. I’ll leave screenshots of the answers here so you can read through, and maybe even spot your own contribution!
Thank you so much for reading today’s post! Those of you that keep up with me on social media will be aware of how long of a process writing this post has been (mainly due to my extremely practised procrastination skills… oops). I hope you enjoyed it and if there’s anything you’d like be to add or take away, please let me know. This is a topic I have never written about publicly before and if I say anything wrong or out of place please educate me. We’re all learning at different paces and I would appreciate patience as I try to navigate this topic in the most respectful way possible.
What are your thoughts on the ‘not like other girls’ trend? And, just out of interest, who is your favourite Disney Princess?
Mine is probably Merida because I love Scotland with my whole heart, and cannot wait to live there in the future. I love the comedy in the film, and the relationship she has with her mum. She is one of the only Disney Princesses that has parents, my friend pointed out the other day.
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