But actual fairytales are pretty far off from achieving it, too.
Disney’s classic “princess” films are packed with female protagonists and targeted – for the most part – toward little girls. But, as it turns out, it’s men who get the majority of the screen time.
According to research by linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, in nearly every Disney film, the male characters speak a far greater percentage of the dialogue than the female characters do.
The problem is especially bad in the “second wave” Disney princess films of the ’80s and ’90s, like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Pocahontas.
The ironic thing is that the first-ever Disney princess film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (released way back in 1938), was actually pretty progressive when it came to splitting the dialogue equally between the genders at about a 50-50 ratio.
The good news stops there, however. The next film, Cinderella, dwindled down to a 60-40 male-to-female dialogue ratio. And then with Sleeping Beauty, men snagged 71 percent of the speaking time.
Fought, a professor at Pitzer College, says that discrepancy can be explained by the lack of female characters aside from the “princess” in these films. As we all know, there is not an abundance of mothers in Disney movies, but as it turns out, there aren’t a whole lot of female sidekicks, female advice-givers or female foil characters either. There’s just the “princesses” – and the occasional villain.
“There’s one isolated princess trying to get someone to marry her, but there are no women doing any other things,” Fought tells The Washington Post. “There are no women leading the townspeople to go against the Beast, no women bonding in the tavern together singing drinking songs, women giving each other directions or women inventing things. Everybody who’s doing anything else, other than finding a husband in the movie, pretty much, is a male.”
Eisenhauer, a graduate student at North Carolina State, chocks the lack of female dialogue up to the male standard in society.
“My best guess is that it’s carelessness, because we’re so trained to think that male is the norm,” Eisenhauer said. “So when you want to add a shopkeeper, that shopkeeper is a man. Or you add a guard, that guard is a man. I think that’s just really ingrained in our culture.”
The study did reveal some positive trends in Disney princess films. In the more recent releases, like The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Brave and, of course, Frozen, women were twice as likely to receive a compliment based on their skills or achievements, rather than their looks. To boot, all of these films except for one (Frozen) have a more even balance of dialogue – in Brave, they even grabbed the majority, with 74 percent of the lines being said by women.
Keep it up, Disney, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll pass the Bechdel test before too long.