Disney has a problem with women that goes way beyond the Snow White kiss

Why the row over the non-consensual kiss on Disneyland’s new ride is not an overreaction

<p>Snow White’s Enchanted Wish attraction inside Disneyland, Anaheim, California</p>

Snow White’s Enchanted Wish attraction inside Disneyland, Anaheim, California

After being closed for more than a year, California’s Disneyland has reopened, and immediately sparked a row over its new ride, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, which features an animatronic recreation of the moment in which the prince kisses the sleeping Snow White. 

In a review of the new ride for San Francisco publication SFGATE, editor Katie Dowd and contributor Julie Tremaine wrote: “Haven’t we already agreed that consent in early Disney movies is a major issue? That teaching kids that kissing, when it hasn’t been established if both parties are willing to engage, is not OK? It’s hard to understand why the Disneyland of 2021 would choose to add a scene with such old fashioned ideas of what a man is allowed to do to a woman.”

It seems to me that this is one of those things that on the face of it appears to be a massive overreaction (I mean, it’s just Snow White, for goodness sake!) and on the other hand, not an overreaction at all.

Writers know well that if you want to make a point, don’t tell someone, show them. As much as I talk to my daughter about being the heroine of her own life, that girls and boys are equal, that there is nothing – nothing! – boys do that she can’t, I’m aware that every time I put the TV on, our Disney + subscription shows her something very different. 

This is hardly new information, but there’s never a bad time to say it again: Disney’s attitude to women is demeaning, diminishing and often downright creepy. The early Disney movies have much in them that is, as Dowd and Tremaine put it, “not OK”. But things must have improved, right? Not hugely, no. Women, in the world of Disney, don’t get to just do stuff. Their adventures have to be about finding a happy ever after, which is, inevitably, heterosexual love. 

Look, for example, at Belle, in Beauty and the Beast (revived in 2017, starring Emma Watson). She sings, plaintively, “There must be more than this provincial life,” before meeting the man-turned beast who has kidnapped her father. Taking her dad’s place in the castle, she then apparently succumbs to Stockholm syndrome. Poor Belle. Clever, ambitious, brave and good looking, she’s made to suffer simply so that some rich and entitled dude can work through his Issues.

Or how about Tiana in 2009’s The Princess And The Frog? All the poor woman wants is to open and run her own restaurant. And yet, over and over, she is harangued for rejecting love, until finally she gives in and marries the lazy and obnoxious Prince Naveen. The film ends with them setting up a restaurant together. I hope Tiana had a watertight prenup.

Even as recently 2019, Frozen II’s Princess Anna spends much of the film perplexed by Kristoff, who has decided his girlfriend embarking on a quest to save her kingdom signals that this is exactly the moment for him to propose. Yes, it’s funny, but let’s be clear, he does get the ring out at the end, and she says yes. It reminded me of the dude who proposed to his girlfriend just as she finished running the New York Marathon. Sure, mate. Make it all about you.

In Disney’s world, two people of opposite sex in the same space is enough to ensure that they will and must get together. Look at Tangled (2010) in which Rapunzel marries Eugene, who is quite literally the first man she has ever met. Or Larva (2014) in which an ancient volcano is unbearably lonely. Then, just as he’s growing extinct, BOOM! There she is. Existing entirely to adore him. (Oh, also, he’s a crusty old mountain, while she, also a mountain, is somehow really pretty. Anyone noticing a theme here?)

So, yeah, they’re just movies. They are also the grand narratives we give to our children at exactly the point where their young minds are grappling with how to understand the world. Over and over, these stories say that girls are there for the taking. That hate and fear can be turned to love through sheer persistence. That the most appalling behaviour can and should be forgiven. Love conquers everything, right?

Well, no, actually, and nor should it. This is where we circle back to the unconscious Snow White.

Disney could easily remove this kiss from their new ride. Whether they do or don’t does not, to my mind, matter much either way. For the kiss is emblematic of a much wider problem within the storytelling culture of this entertainment behemoth, whose tentacles are wrapped so firmly around western society. While Disney continues raking in the billions, will there be meaningful change? I very much doubt it.

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