Food and Drink Editor Lydia Waller shares her opinion on Keira Knightley not allowing her daughter to watch certain Disney fairytale films due to toxic female depictions
Recently, Keira Knightley publicly stated on the Ellen DeGeneres show, that she has banned her 3 and half year-old daughter Edie, from watching two particular films, which are Cinderella and The Little Mermaid. Basking in the wake of MeToo, young Hollywood actress and now young mother, received a hearty applause for her feminist conscious maternity. Although it is wonderfully reassuring that young women in the media and particularly the acting world, are highlighting toxic fictional depictions of the damsel-in-distress princess, I cannot deny an urge to question the extreme banishment of these fictional cartoons. I cannot stress enough that the recognition of sexist narrative tropes is so important in today’s education and education of popular culture. Yet, I feel obliged to question the necessity of Knightley’s statement being so public and questionably self-congratulatory. Gender neutrality in parenting roles is becoming ever increasingly more important, yet what is most important is the day to day implementation of it, in one’s own circumstances not one’s public credit as a woke figure.
I am trying not to discredit Knightley for her social consciousness in her parenting, as what she has recognised as problematic to female understandings of success and independence, is nothing but positive. The criticism I have, is the glorification of her announcement and the media reception of her statement. Knightley stated that she has ‘definitely’ banned Cinderella from the house because she is a character that is ‘waiting around for a rich man,’ and she has banned Little Mermaid because ‘you do not give up your voice for a man… Hello!’ The identification of these patriarchal narratives in Disney tales we have all enjoyed in our past, is evidently very healthy, yet more so for the current generation of young adults as they were the tales of our childhood. Concepts of submissive and helpless femininity in literature, have only just started to be dismantled within the last few decades or so, and now the Disney content for today’s current infancy consists of ‘Tangled,’ ‘Frozen’ and ‘Wreck it Ralph 2,’ which all reinterpret a patriarchal narrative of helpless princesses into stories of female independence and power.
The Disney literature and characters of today are already concerned with defying princess stereotypes; we are fortunate enough not to have to worry about genuinely patriarchal instructive narratives being forced upon our younger generations. Of course, the entire eradication of sexist tropes and archetypal feminine figures have not been removed from literature and will not be for a long time, yet the nature of current Disney and fictional popular culture for today’s children, is not of the nature where we need to be concerned of the toxic binary gender portrayals that are being fed to infant cognizance of identity.
Although Cinderella is a nostalgic part of a lot of our childhood’s, we must not mask the incorrect and unrealistic aspirations of helpless young women to their fate without men, with the charm of fairy tales, as Knightley has noted. Yet if we are to be restrictive on the teaching of princess tales because of their problematic gendered narratives, we must also look at the toxic masculinity that many folklore and fairy tales have been charged with, in the past and current popular entertainment. Big, strong, emotionless knights, male villains and war heroes have also been very prevalent in childhood fiction and imagery in the past decade. Ultimately, what needs to be recognised is the psychological and complex issues that arise with familiarising children’s aspirations with unrealistic fictional binary standards that are now severely outdated. Yet, I feel as though the current politically correct consciousness of society and media, will ensure that a great deal of the future generations will not have to tackle the problems of such prescriptive terms as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine,’ particularly in Disney.
I think it is a healthy question to ask if Knightley is being a little too damning of the Disney princess tales? They are fictional, charming narratives, that explore different cultural depictions of women as the beautiful princess; Mulan, Princess and the Frog, Pocahontas, Snow White, all different narratives of young women’s experiences in a differing cultures and circumstances. And yes, there is a common denominator of heroic prince charming, but the narrative is shifting. If anything, the young generation of today are privileged with the degree of social and political consciousness to which literature and the media are constantly occupied with. Therefore, I do question whether the utter eradication of older princess characters from acknowledged fiction, is entirely necessary as it isn’t the immediate literature for the infant generation of today.
What can be learnt from Knightley’s declaration of her PC parenting, is that it is important to recognise the patriarchal narratives that pervade older Disney stories of princess and princes and ensure these unrealistic expectations and aspirations do not pervade our own children’s lives. Yet I feel that the literature of Disney and other fictional entertainment brands, are so socially conscious of the dismantlement of gender binaries and representation, that we need not be too concerned with the fairy tales that will be coming to our future generations’ screens.