These are as voted by the members of the University of Sunderland Feminist Society. And tied votes were broken by my sister, who ordered them accordingly. My comments are at the end.
#10 – Elsa from Frozen (2 votes)
She’s the only member of the Disney princess line to become a queen in-movie. She’s an allegory for those of us dealing with anxiety and depression and we love her for it. She proves that the bond between sisters is a pure and true love that is stronger than any magic.
#9 – Tiana from The Princess and the Frog (2 votes)
The first black Dinsey princess and the last of the traditionally animated brood, Tiana has a special place in our hearts. She’s a black woman in 1920s America who works numerous jobs to become a business owner and her own boss. She is nothing but impressive. She may spend most of the movie as a frog (we’re not happy with this), but her personality shines through.
#8 – Ursula from The Little Mermaid (3 votes)
Yes, she’s evil, but it’s so nice to have a character who is confident in her body. She had the magic to turn herself in to anything, but she chose to love herself instead. That is is something to admire. She masters magic and has ambitions. They’re evil ambitions but we all start somewhere.
#7 – Belle from Beauty and the Beast (3 votes)
Considering the era it’s set in, it’s impressive she could read at all. She deals with her own Nice Guy who harasses her, but she still sees the good in people. She nurses the Beast back to health and remains loyal to her father. She’s selfless, kind and adventurous. We love her.
#6 – Pocahontas from Pocahontas (3 votes)
While the men go to war, Pocahontas listens. She refuses to tame her free spirit, and in the end it saves her people. She’s compassionate, brave and the most realistic looking of the Disney princesses (though her hair is something we can never aspire to imitate). She’s not afraid to put her life on the line to keep peace and she encourages young girls to choose their own paths.
#5 – Nani from Lilo and Stitch (3 votes)
She’s not the focal point of the movie, but she is the emotional crux. Nani was once a champion surfer, something she put on hold when her parents died and she became the sole guardian of her little sister. She never makes Lilo feel strange for her coping methods or quirks and she even degrades herself when she gets a job at a tourist trap luau, something which belittles her heritage. She draws attention to this, but she does it to make ends meet. It’s a more beautiful sisterly bond than Frozen, and a movie so often overlooked.
#4 – Merida from Brave (4 votes)
She’ll be shooting for her own hand. It was nice to see a Disney princess who didn’t want to get married. Merida had her talents in archery and horse riding and she wasn’t afraid to stop up for herself or her beliefs. her story is one of the importance of love between mother and daughter, something which most Disney movies are lacking.
#3 – Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (5 votes)
Like all historic feminists, she was branded a witch. An activist with a golden heart, Esmeralda saves lives and never apologises for her abilities. She deals with slut-shaming, sexism and racism on a daily business but still somehow remains selfless and strong.
#2 – Maleficent from Maleficent (6 votes)
The original Mistress of Evil was recently given a Wicked-esque backstory, and it delivered all of the good stuff. Maleficent is a warrior and captain of the army of magic. The heart-breaking rape imagery and her road to self-healing is masterfully done, and we adore a woman who gets things done. She is a survivor, and her love for Aurora is pure.
#1 – Mulan from Mulan (7 votes)
Based on a real amazing figure in Chinese history, Mulan deserves top billing on our list. She saves China. And the best part about it is that she does it as herself. Mulan’s journey of self discovery sees her try to be feminine and fail, and later sees her attempt to be masculine to no avail. Only when she allows herself to be who she truly is does she flourish. She’s smart, strong and the hero of China. You really don’t meet a girl like this every dynasty.
That was our top 10. So what does it all mean for Disney?
I want you to look at the diversity. Five of the top ten are women of colour (six if you count purple as a colour). In a cast of characters so often as white as snow, it’s nice to see some solid representation.
While six of the characters are part of the Disney princess range, only Belle and Elsa have a constant flow of new merchandise. Tiana gets some, but Pocahontas and Mulan seem only to come out as part of the princess group shot. Even more insulting is that Mulan’s merchandise is more often than not the pink matchmaker’s dress from the first part of the movie, the dress Mulan feels alienated in.
Nani for me is one of the most under-appreciated characters in all of Disney. She’s not the focal character, but she’s shown to be an extremely talented surfer who gave it all up to raise her sister. And she raises her alone, subjecting herself to working in a tourist trap luau place that makes a novelty of her heritage. She never once makes Lilo feel stupid for her coping methods or interests. She’s a caring, loving sister and I love her. And while she does have a love interest in David, but he isn’t her whole world. Her world is Lilo, and she does everything in her power to protect her. To me, they’re a stronger sister bond than Elsa/Ana.
Special mentions from me who didn’t make the list are Kida and Audrey from Atlantis, Megara from Hercules and Helen Parr from The Incredibles. They’re all incredible women in their own rights, though from less popular movies.
Disney, you have to do better. Choosing women who embodied feminist, admirable attributes was hard. Harder than it should have been. And let’s be honest, we have most examples of women of colour here already. It would be nice to see more.
Next time, I’d like to talk queer disney.
And so, dear readers, we reach the end of another post.
Let me ask you this: who is your Disney feminist idol? Is there a character you think deserves to be up here? And is there anyone you think should be taken down?
Let me know your thoughts.