It is March 8, International Women’s Day! There are many ways to celebrate women and this day. For those who want to celebrate quietly, why not sit back and pop on a feminist Disney movie. I know, Disney doesn’t have a reputation for being feminism friendly; what with all the waiting around for Prince Charming. But they are getting better and here is a list for you to choose from.
All movies on this list pass the Bechel test, the basic standard for determining whether a movie is feminist or not. You can find out more about the tests here.
A star rating has also been included to help you to determine the strength of feminism in the movie, some fare better than others.
Female Hero: Merida
Merida is a Scottish princess who has reached marriageable age. Who will she marry? The strong one? The handsome one? Or the other one? Instead Merida wants to follow her own path and create her own destiny.
This movie is an excellent story of breaking with traditional gender roles and the bonds between mother and daughter.
Female Hero: Moana (plus female villain Te Fiti)
Moana is the daughter of a Polynesian Chief, who will one day be Chief herself (female chiefs are a non-issue here). Her island and the people living on it are threatened and Moana leaves on an adventure to save them. Moana is a film with great female representation. Not only is the hero female, but she is strengthened by the presence of her mother and grandmother. AND we have a female villain. There is no romance story in this movie, which is another reason this movie has made this list.
Female Hero: Anna and her sister Elsa
Frozen is a tale of two sisters. One is queen who only wants to protect her little sister, the princess. Yes, there are romance storylines in this movie but ultimately, it is about the love between sisters. This movie includes the line “You can’t marry a man you just met”, thus touching on the ‘love at first sight’ theme found in many Disney films.
Lilo and Stitch
Female Hero: Lilo
This is another tale of the relationship between sisters, and their new friend. Lilo is a girl who doesn’t fit in. She is passionate about her interests, which don’t match those of the other girls in her luau class. Instead of changing herself, she wishes for a new friend, someone who she can be ‘weird’ with. This movie is also about family, and that family isn’t always a mum, dad, and
Beauty and the Beast
Female Hero: Belle
Many argue that this film isn’t very feminist. She does after all fall in love with her captor, which is very close to being a case of Stockholm Syndrome. This makes the list however due to Belle’s attitudes towards marriage, men, and life in general. Gaston is the most handsome man in the village, so why wouldn’t anyone want to marry him? Belle shows that you don’t have to be the wife of someone and that women should dream of more. The new version is released later this month. It is said to have more feminist elements to it (thanks to Emma Watson) so check it out!
Female Hero: Rapunzel
Rapunzel chooses to chase after her own goals and enlists a thief to help her. She shows him who is boss and fights the bad guys with the help of a frying pan. During her travels she comes across big, scary, tough men…who enjoy singing and dancing as much as she does. One member also collects small china unicorns, wonderfully turning gender expectations on its head.
Female Hero: Riley and her inner emotions Joy, Sadness, & Disgust (plus the male emotions Anger and Fear).
With a mostly female cast (including vocal feminist Amy Poehler) this film is about emotions and what they can do. Everybody has 5 core emotions; Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. We follow them inside Riley’s head as she navigates a great change in her life.
This movie has been hailed as an excellent way to discuss emotions and mental health with children.
The Princess and the Frog
Female Hero: Tiana
Tiana is a woman who works hard to achieve her goals, and does not need anyone – least of all a rich spoiled prince – to help her. Despite being green for most of the movie, Tiana is Disney’s first black princess. Yes, there is a romantic ending to this story but you know that Tiana won’t be held back by any man.
Female Hero: Mulan
Mulan challenges gender stereotypes by disguising herself as a man and showing that not only can she do anything the other men can do, but be the best at it. She uses her wits where she isn’t physically stronger and it is her quick thinking that saves all of China. And she actually gets the credit for saving the country.
Female Hero: Judy Hopps (and a female villain!)
This movie was included on the list because we not only have a female hero (and villain), we also have a society split into two (sound familiar?). The animals of Zootopia have evolved into anthropomorphic beings who no longer need to hunt each other, yet society is still split into predators and prey. There is also elements of casual (and not so casual) racism (or specism?) in this movie – e.g. foxes are not trusted and are discriminated against.
Female Hero: Poppy
We know, this is not a Disney movie. But we felt that it deserved to be on this list. This movie has a female hero, a female villain, a female helper, AND a female DJ. Poppy, the troll princess, must rescue some of the trolls who have been kidnapped, even though no one else wants to help her. She sets off by herself and faces danger on her own.