As a child, I spent countless hours watching classic Disney princess movies, Errol Flynn swashbucklers, and other such old-fashioned boy-meets-girl affairs. I rooted for the hero to slash his way through whatever thorn thickets, dragons or evil sheriffs of Nottingham stood in his way to reach his Aurora, his Maid Marion, his one true lady love. I didn’t know it at the time, but these timeless tales were shaping my heart and my imagination by teaching me what true love looks like. Were they often fantastical and idealized? To be sure. But then, I was six years old. And already, a most powerful weapon against all distortions of love’s true nature had been placed in my hands: romance.
A Different Take
Fellow millennial Liberty McArtor recently made waves hereabouts with her piece, “Let’s Be Honest: Disney Has Been Sexualizing Its Characters For a Long Time.” Her take on classic Disney fare like Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty was rather different from mine. She highlighted the fact that the princesses were wasp-waisted, buxom beauties often in their teens. This casts wakeup kiss scenes from doting princes in a more disturbing light: “Perhaps parents should think about the message it sends their little girls that when they are 16, a man they don’t know will save them with a kiss on the lips.”
By contrast, she praised the stories of tomboyish princesses like Merida and Elsa, where romance was sidelined by action/adventure or family drama. This jibed with her own personal experience of being that little girl who always wanted to skip the kissing scenes. Her memo to Disney: More of this and less of that. “That” being romance, of all varieties, not merely the gay sort. Meanwhile, she thinks conservative Christian parents should be “wary of the message their daughters are receiving when they constantly watch portrayals of teen girls who are hyper-sexualized and focused on Prince Charming.”
I see Disney’s legacy films quite differently. Yes, Sleeping Beauty’s Aurora in particular is exaggeratedly thin and buxom. And yes, she occasionally sports an era-appropriate dress that bares more than I would approve of. But she’s no Playboy bunny. Some of her outfits are even buttoned up to the collarbone. And what of the shy loveliness of Cinderella, or the child-like innocence of Snow White? Miley Cyrus is hyper-sexualized. Beyoncé is hyper-sexualized. Hyper-sexualized, ye olde Disney princesses are not.
Moreover, I think the fairytale genre holds much promise for conservatives. As millennials, we should tread thoughtfully when evaluating the literary heritage of the West that has been passed down to us. There’s an all-too-prevalent temptation to evaluate every cultural artifact through a 21st century lens, leading to conclusions that are less relevant than we think.
For example, girls as young as 14 were regularly married off to older men in the eras depicted in such tales. Though this did result in sadly arranged unions, it also resulted in many happy ones. And while we’re talking about teen girls’ readiness for marriage, look no further than the Virgin Mary herself, than whom no purer exemplar of feminine virtue can be conceived.
But to the main point: I don’t think the sweet, innocent sentiments expressed by Snow White in a song like “Someday My Prince Will Come” is something for parents to be “wary” of with their children. Cinderella’s “So This is Love” and Aurora’s “Once Upon a Dream” are likewise free of guile. Certainly, there is pop media that can create unrealistically high expectations for young girls, or give them an unhealthily twisted image of romantic affection. See: Twilight.
However, we should waste no chance to point our children toward the Good, and healthy romance is certainly a component of that. We should celebrate the wondrous natural beauty of the male/female bond in front of children at every stage of their development, in age-appropriate ways. This is precisely the goal early Disney accomplished through their romantic fairytales. By using such tools to teach young boys and girls early and often what love is, Christian parents can prepare them to recognize what it isn’t.
Nature Abhors a Vacuum
Liberty admits that second-wave feminist considerations are driving her thesis to a certain extent. She doesn’t want Disney to put feminine princesses on a pedestal, because not every girl is waiting for her prince to come. She wants Disney to encourage girls to find their own path in life, whether it involves a Prince Charming or not.
The problem with even such second-wave sentiments is that nature abhors a vacuum. I submit that the very liberals and feminists who raised red flags about Aurora, Snow White et alia were leaving such a vacuum for LeFou and Gaston to rush in. Liberty rightly notes that as cultural romantic mores shift, so too will Disney’s. But the solution is not for Disney to get out of the romance business, any more than the solution to government-sanctioned gay marriage is for government to get out of the marriage business. Indeed, Disney just offered up a lovely picture of romantic innocence with its last live-action princess adaptation, Cinderella. (Memo to Disney: More of that.)
The gay lobby wants to begin indoctrinating children as young as possible, because they want to warp a child’s perception of what is natural and normal. All the more reason for Christian parents not to treat love and marriage as “delicate” matters to be “broached” at leisure. Children may not be able to grasp sexuality, but they see the man and the woman kiss, and they know that it is good. The little girl who tucks her dolly in at night may not understand where babies come from, but she knows they are of the utmost importance, and when she grows up she will (she will!) have her own.
Of course, none of the above is meant to belittle those who are ordained to singleness, whether literally or figuratively. As St. Paul notes, some people have a special calling to a vocation that would be hampered by the demands of marriage. But we should encourage marriage-mindedness in those who are not among that select few. There’s a reason why God looked down and thought to Himself that it was not good for man to be alone. At the end of the day, I like to think Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders said it best: “The purpose of a man is to love a woman, and the purpose of a woman is to love a man.” (For more from the author of “True Romance Is a Powerful Weapon Against the Gay Lobby” please click HERE)