Damsel In Distress: What Disney Is Really Teaching Our Daughters


This weekend I had my future step daughter and her cousin over for a sleepover. After dinner and showers, I had the girls pick out a movie while I made them popcorn. The girls chose the 1996 version of 101 Dalmatians. The smell of popcorn drowning in butter got the best of me, so I decided to sit down and watch the Dalmatians (or eat 101 pieces of popcorn) I am glad I decided to. Every time I decide to watch a movie over, I see things I missed before. This time questioned a central part of the story: who was the villain?

Within fifteen minutes of the movie, under the radar fashion designer Anita meets with Cruella De Vil. Villainous Cruella is interested in Anita’s Dalmatian inspired designs and invites her into her office to talk about changing the line from stripes to spots. Cruella wanted to know how Anita went under the radar for so long and how she’s worried about her one day being scooped up by the competition. Anita tells Cruella that she is faithful to working for Cruella and the only reason she would ever leave would be if she met someone and started a family.

I literally paused the movie. Remote in hand, I turned to the little girls with sleep in their eyes and I told them what Anita said was not okay. I told them that they don’t have to choose between starting a family and doing what they love to do.  There’s the argument that women may want to be a mother instead of working and that’s valid. I counter that argument with this, what if a man was having that same discussion with his boss? Would that be okay for him to do or would the viewer’s realization of wasted talent settle in?  I know I would ask him why he couldn’t be a husband and a father and continue his career. Who was really the villain here? Was the villain Cruella the (crazy) fashion giant who owns her own company or the horribly scripted Anita saying she couldn’t do what she loved and have a family?

What was different in the 53 years since the original movie? Now in 2014, eighteen years after the remake, we’re still in the same boat. Cruella was an heiress who morphed into an evil entrepreneur boss. Another gem of a message for little girls: women who run companies are witches.

Early in May of 2013, Disney got into hot water by attempting to change the look of their newest princess, Merida from their 2012 film, Brave. Merida was a different kind of princess, one who refused to get married at 16, had a bow and arrow and didn’t wear makeup. When Disney was “inducting” Merida into their equivalent of a Disney princess hall of fame, they drastically changed her look. Merida got an eye lift, cheek implants, a smaller waist, bigger hips and thicker eyelashes.

These stories are a couple of examples of inspiration for a new Disney ride, “Detours into the Dark Ages”. Guess what? I don’t meet the requirements for this ride and neither should anyone else. I have this image of myself holding back a group of little girls from blindly getting onto a ride that could warp their view of what a woman is.

I feel like I have ridden “Detours into the Dark Ages” one too many times – now I want to hurl.