Disney taught us about right and wrong - but there's far more to it

There's no such thing as a 'bad feminist' opinion, and shouting somebody down won't help the discussion

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Much has been made of the messages iconic Disney movies have given to generations of young girls. The early heroines, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty et al, passively awaited their male suitor, who saved them from destinies involving poverty/banishment/a murderously jealous mother-in-law. Later, Disney's female protagonists became feistier and more opinionated, yet their narratives still hinged crucially on snagging their male counterparts. Indeed, the Little Mermaid thought nothing of sacrificing her voice in pursuit of her love interest - if that's not a powerful metaphor for female oppression I don't know what it is.

For me, however, more damaging than any of these messages is the one that silently yet powerfully pervades pretty much every story we're exposed to in our formative years - namely that there is such a thing as absolute right and wrong. The biggest injustice seemingly forced upon us by Disney and their ilk was the notion that our adversaries will eventually either see the error of their ways or die, leaving us free to live happily ever after. The visuals may be full of colour but the underlying ethos is black and white.

Is it any wonder, then, that in the social media era, in which everyone MUST have an opinion that can be expressed in 140 characters or less, we're faced with a society where many are unwilling to listen to one another and unable to compromise? Nowhere is this more pronounced than in debates about feminism.

The past year has been a cultural exercise in oneupwomanship with bloggers, social media users and public figures all competing to be crowned the 'best' feminist. Twitter is awash with women arguing over what are the key elements of the feminist agenda, often calling each other 'bad role models'. We appear to be spending more time bickering amongst ourselves than making progress.

LBC presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer posted a tweet on Tuesday following The Sun's decision to link Page 3 with a breast cancer charity which read:

“Never have I seen anything as offensive as [the] Page 3 V breast cancer splash. Yours, a Woman”.

The implication being of course that she spoke for women everywhere and The Sun must in this instance represent male-led misogyny. What she neglected to mention is that the Page 3 desk at The Sun is run by women and consists of a female photographer who photographs other women. These women were in this instance collaborating with charity Coppafeel, which is founded and run by, yep, you guessed it, women. And all of these women believed they were acting in the best interests of their fellow woman.

Are they, then, 'bad feminists'? The truth is there's no such thing - as Caitlin Moran famously said in her book 'How to be a Woman' - if you have a vagina and believe you should be in charge of what happens to it, then you're a feminist. And that's before we take all the male feminists (of which there are many) into account.

The feeling of being outraged is often accompanied by a deeply held conviction that one is indisputably right. Yet there are people who are equally outraged by things with which we might wholeheartedly agree. Indeed, as Ricky Gervais pointed out in his televised interview with Piers Morgan for CNN, some people are offended by mixed marriage, but it doesn't mean they're right.

The industries we so often rail against - 'the media', 'fashion', 'politics' - they are all made up of people and that in itself offers an opportunity for progression through compromise. But if we storm in, convinced of our own inherent moral superiority, proclaiming that everything others believe is misguided and detrimental to society, we will be met always with hostility and reticence to change. After all, if someone snatches the chocolate bar you are eating out of your hand and tells you that you have no right to eat it because it's bad for you, your instinct is to snatch it back, take a large bite and tell your critic to sod off, however right they might be.

There is a way to approach discussion - compromise and understanding will be the most valuable and powerful tools feminism ever wields. After all, as Disney also taught us:

'A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down'.

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