The Danger of a Single Story

In this video, the acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses her upbringing and the stories she was surrounded by as a child. She reflects on how they affected her. Even though she grew up in Nigeria, she was surrounded by Western literature. She loved to read and write stories, but they were similar to the stories that she read. They were about white people, in the snow, drinking ginger beer and eating apples.

As an author of stories about Africa, and being African herself, she recentered around African literature when she got ahold of it when she was younger. Suddenly she felt represented and more connected to her reading.

In this TED talk, Adichie warns against the “single story”:

“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”

Adichie’s words apply to Disney. With the evolution and growth of television and movies in children’s lives, Disney is a socialization agent unto itself. Disney still dabbles in racist and sexist stereotypes (see: Tangled and Princess and the Frog) and as our children consume these stories, they become perceived truth.

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Dissatisfied Princesses

This is a cute video created by YouTube user AVByte that criticizes Disney’s princess stereotype. The princesses featured in the video (Jasmine, Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle) are lectured by Queen Elsa on their refusal to critically think about their story lines. Princesses such as Pocahontas, Mulan, and Merida are omitted, perhaps because their story line does not revolve around finding love but on other factors and AVByte’s criticism might not have held up.

This video exposes many of the problems that are prevalent within the older princess films. While progress has been made with films such as Frozen and Brave, old princess tropes are still prevalent and surround our young girls. Even though Snow White and Cinderella are older films, I grew up watching them and even though I am now in my twenties I still see young girls enjoying them. The presence of criticism such as this cutesy YouTube clip is uplifting, however, because videos such as this can spur discussion among mothers and their daughters about what being a girl and a woman means. And even newer Disney princess films such Tangled fall under this trope, with Rapunzel being saved from Mother Gothel by Flynn Rider and never given the chance to grow outside of someone else.

Girls need to recognize that they need to develop as themselves first, then worry about falling in love. Love is an incredible human emotion and should be experienced by everyone one way or another, either between siblings such as in Frozen, family such as in Brave, between friends,  or between those in a consensual relationship. Dialogue such as this video needs to exist to bring light to the fact that men are not the be all and end all. While these older stories may center around the woman character, the real story is about finding and keeping a man. So are the stereotypical Disney princess movies really about women? ‘Cause it really seems to revolve around men.