1990s Feminism and Fairy Tales

Most of my project research has focused on both the original Hans Christian Andersen and the Disney versions of The Little Mermaid. Our question has shifted a bit from when we first conceived it; our focus is now more on how feminism in the 1990s affected the way that Disney interpreted the tale from its original version. For this reason, I have started conducting some research on feminist movements, especially how feminism existed in the 1990s.

In the third wave of feminism, a new spectrum  for women's identities developed.
In the third wave of feminism, a new spectrum for women’s identities developed.

We have discussed in our group the need to examine the way that femininity was used in the third wave of feminism as a way of rejecting objectification in relation to the Disney versions of our three tales. The research I performed in developing our timeline, allowed me to begin exploring the waves of feminism and how the tales were affected by these historical contexts. I think that it would be a good idea to look into the development of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” as this was an archetype that originated in the third wave of feminism and is certainly seen in the character of Ariel and perhaps in the heroines of the Mulan and Aladdin as well.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely … to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. — Nathan Rabin

I’ll be using the version of The Little Mermaid from Tatar’s book as a primary source, as well as the original Disney movie script. I have found newspaper articles and illustrations contemporary to the original and Disney tales that I can use as primary sources, too.

Scene from Disney's The Little Mermaid
Scene from Disney’s The Little Mermaid

I have found SurLaLune Fairy Tales to be an excellent source for locating more information on both the original and Disney versions of the tale, in addition to helping me locate more sources. From Mouse to Mermaid has a lot of interesting information on how The Little Mermaid, particularly the Disney telling, relates to feminism. Tales, Then and Now offers overviews of how different scholars have interpreted the heroine in The Little Mermaid over time in both the original and Disney versions.

There is still plenty of work to do on this project. I definitely need to locate more information on feminism in the third wave, especially relating to views of femininity and androgyny, the dislocation of gender from sex, and the development of new archetypes like the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”. Our group is trying to gather information on the Bechdel Test and whether the tales would pass or fail. We are also trying to examine the roles and motivations of the heroines via data collection.

Ariel is an independent and determined young mermaid. She spends her days singing, daydreaming, and adventuring with Sebastian and Flounder. She falls for a human named Eric and risks everything for her true love.– DisneyPrincess.com

Our project attempts to cover and contextualize a great deal of information. In addition to feminism, we also want to see how geographical movement and orientalism affected how Disney ultimately told these tales, especially in the cases of Aladdin and Mulan. These are two areas we have yet to focus much research on, and we may have to drop them off if we run out of time. They are important though and would be interesting to explore if possible.

We have a wide range of research to perform and relate to each other. I find of all of it to be very intriguing and I believe that once completed our project will offer an unique perspective of three tales and the third wave of feminism.

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1990s Feminism and Fairy Tales

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