I have been operating in my militant feminist mode recently. It was initially prompted by reading Italo Calvino's classic "If On A Winter's Night A Traveller" which I found to be sexist and proceeded to let my opinions be known on goodreads here.
The following rant was initially generated by this book. I have not read of course as I don't have time for such things, but I read the reviews. The book makes a shocking discovery that most Disney princess fairy tales are sexist.
It reminded me of how shocked I was when I discovered that myself at the tender age of 8.
So princesses, eh? What do they do in Disney films? Not much really. They pretty much wait for their prince charming. They sleep or they are locked somewhere, sometimes they trade in their voice for a chance to be with their prince (vide: Little Mermaid). Ah, who cares for the voice? It is not like they are going to seduce their prince through a stimulating conversation. They have the looks, and when you have the looks, you just need to sit there patiently and good things will come to you (though be warned, occassionally it might take up to 100 years). Disney princess love their princes becuase they are princes and they are handsome. And princes love their princesses because they are young and beautiful, therefore they are good.
The antagonist is usually an old, ugly woman (therefore evil, because there is hardly a greater crime that a woman can commit than be ugly and old).
Of course men can still be good when they are ugly (like the Hunchback of Notre Dame), or even bad when they are handsome. Such freedom is not allowed for women.
If being pretty is the only way for a Disney female to achieve anything then we can hardly be surprised that certain ones would go the extra mile and try to kill off any woman who is prettier than them (vide: Stepmother in Snow White).
It was only in 1991 that Disney finally started to catch up with the times a little. In 1991 they produced my favourite Disney film - Beauty and the Beast. It became my favourite long before I declared myself a feminist or even knew what that meant. All I knew was that in that film I had a heroine I could identify myself with as it was extremely hard for me to identify myself with someone who did nothing and didn't seem to have any personality. It was like identifying yourself with a chair or a broom stick.
And here comes Belle. She is smart, she reads books, she takes care of her father (i.e. she is good for real, not just because she is pretty), and she hates a certain handsome chauvinist pig, who by the way is the antagonist in the film. Gaston is his name and he is every Disney princess dream come true. I mean he is handsome and muscular and all the girls in the village want him bad. What's not to love. However, Bella does not give a rat's ass and prefers to read books.
When she meets her 'prince charming' it is not love from the first sight. They actually get to know each other first and THEN they develop feelings. The Beast doesn't fall in love with Bella because she is pretty. Though, I am sure that doesn't hurt but still he considers her personality first. It was a very revolutionary and unprecedented approach for Disney. If that wasn't enough, it is Bella who has to save her father (at least twice) and her man. She saves them! You go, girl!