Disney: Telling tales or harmless fun?

So apparently Kiera Knightly and Kirsten Bell have said they don’t let their children watch Disney films like Cinderalla or Sleeping Beauty because of the message they send to young girls.

Before I get into how ridiculous I think this is, I will highlight that I don’t have daughters (before you shoot me down). But arguably any negative message to children is bad for boys as well as girls. I may not be a mother of girls, but I have been a daughter, I have a god daughter and plenty of friends and family with daughters, so have a genuine interest in what is and isn’t appropriate for young girls.

So here’s what I think. Don’t let a made up story/film dictate your child’s self-worth and future. I’ve written before about supposedly negative narratives in children’s films and their potential impact and I really think we have to be careful about over sanitising and politically correcting everything they are exposed to at a young age.

OK, that’s not to say I’ll be letting my boys watch adult themed films over the half term, but if watching age-appropriate content, they witness stories that could direct their thoughts in a certain way, then use it as a conversation starter. Let’s be honest, we can probably find some kind of negative influence in a lot of kids’ TV shows.

Cinderella may have been ‘rescued’ by a rich man, but she was in an abusive domestic relationship. She was being bullied by other women, got out and found happiness. Sleeping Beauty was effectively in a coma, but someone was able to awaken her (although the need to kiss her is understandably creepy in a 21st Century context). Snow White had to put her trust in 7 male strangers to look after her and keep her safe. OK they were  all rescued by men, princes in fact, but is that such a bad thing?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they should be held up as shining examples of womanhood, but let’s not put them down and ban them. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of appropriate escapism as long as it is just that. These films were somewhat reflective of their time, so let’s not erase history.

Disney films have progressed since the days of ‘Prince Charming’.  What about Aladdin? He was a peasant, who fell in love with a princess – a woman who didn’t look down on him because he had nothing (there’s a lesson in that). What about the likes of Moana, Pocahontas? Badass women who changed their world. And of course Frozen has smashed records given it’s girl power storyline.

We should encourage diversity of content for children from an early age. In the same way they need to see people of colour, people with disabilities, different genders in different roles more regularly, they also need to see different stories and experiences. They need to be able to compare, contrast and build an idea of right, wrong, reality and make believe, with our guidance.

A girl is more likely to think she needs rescuing by a man if that’s the only story she is told. Likewise a boy will think he should never cry if that’s the line he is spun. As the adults, we can manage how these stories are interpreted.

Being rescued isn’t a bad thing. Some people want to be ‘rescued’. Some people need to be rescued. Some people want to rescue themselves. Some people take life each day as it comes and if they meet someone that adds to or cements their happiness, great.

But rather than hate on romanticised, classic stories, let’s focus on creating new, representative, challenging stories for our children – all with a great soundtrack of course 😉

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