A Definitive Ranking Of Disney Princesses As Feminist Role Models

You know Disney princesses aren’t real. Many of the animated royals are rooted in actual time periods, political movements, or are loose interpretations of historical figures. But, they’re 100% animated characters who inexplicably sing all the time. That doesn’t mean we can’t use them to start a conversation about feminism, though.

For a word that’s got a fairly straight-forward definition, feminism sure is a shades-of-gray kind of term. Merriam-Webster says it’s "the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities" and the "organized activity in support of women's rights and interests." We’re into that. But, just to show you how we’re grading the ladies in question, here, we’ve created a rubric. We’ll consider:

1. The role of men in the princess' life: How independent are they? If their goal in life is to simply find love, that’s totally fine. Feminism is about having the choice to marry, not being forced to.
2. Economic agency: Are they stuck? Is marriage/financial union the only way for them to advance?
3. Activism & Shine Factor: How proactive are they in their situation? How do they empower and support other women?

Ahead, we’ve ranked the Disney princesses according to these standards. How does your favorite princess rate?

Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
#12: Cinderella
Role of Men: Cinderella’s really only got two men on her mind: her deceased father and the prince. Still, they just so happen to control her life. Her father’s untimely passing is the reason she’s in this terrible position in the first place, and it’s only the prince who can save her from it. It wouldn’t have killed her to formulate some type of escape plan. Also, someone needs to tell this girl her boyfriend’s got a foot fetish.

Economic Agency: She’s got nada. And, when life finally does throw her that bone of a fairy godmother, she wishes for a dress, when she probably should have asked for a pied-à-terre in Paris, away from her family. Maybe start her own cleaning business.

Activism & Shine Factor: She straight-up hates her female family, and that’s totally fair. There’s no sense of community. Her fairy godmother is the only one who can help a sister out. Even her female animal friends say things like “leave the sewing to the women.” Woof.
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
# 11 Jasmine
Role of Men: Jasmine’s the epitome of that teenager who’s constantly rolling her eyes going, “Daaaaad!” The sultan wants her to marry someone, but she’s being picky/doesn’t wanna get married. However, it’s unclear what she wants to do instead. Just hang out with Raja, I guess. It’s alright that she falls in love with Aladdin. But, can we address the Jafar thing? She quickly becomes an object to be passed around, rather than an angsty teen sitting at the palace. Neither lifestyle is very aspirational.

Economic agency: She’s the daughter of the sultan, so she’s set. But, the sultan also expects her to marry one of her suitors.

Activism & Shine Factor: She doesn’t have a female community, so she’ll have to be measured on her efforts to promote women’s rights — for which she receives zero points.
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
# 10 Ariel
Role of Men: It’s Trident’s ocean. She just lives in it.

Economic Agency: Someone needs to give Ariel a lesson in economics, because her wheelin’ and dealin’ game is lackluster. Who trades in their voice for a boyfriend? No one.

Activism & Shine Factor: This one’s full of mixed messages. On one hand, Ariel’s willing to change her entire body and just give up talking forever so she can marry Eric. Her cries of “But, Daddy! I love him!” are enough to place Ariel right at the bottom of this list. However, there’s an argument to be made for the occasional empowering lyric. Even the reason behind her wanting legs can be interpreted as a proactive way to get out of the ocean and experience the rest of the world. “Bright young women, sick of swimmin’, ready to stand.”
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
#9 Snow White
Role of Men: Snow White’s entire story is arguably centered around men. She has seven male roommates. She’s got the Huntsman to thank for not offing her in the first place. And, the prince is the one who saves her from what was bound to be a very awkward funeral. However, this isn’t a situation she’s chosen for herself.

Economic Agency: She may not have money or a job, but she manages to pay her rent by doing housework.

Activism & Shine Factor: The entire story is rooted in female jealousy. No shine here, friends.
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
#8 Belle
Role of Men: Belle’s fairly independent. She’s reading. She’s caring for her father. She’s actively refusing the advances of Gaston, the biggest bro of all time. He says things like, “It’s not right for a woman to read. She gets ideas and starts thinking,” which she meets with a shrug. When it comes to Beast, she’s having none of his broody attitudes.

Economic Agency: It’s unclear what Belle does for work. It’s confusing. In any case, she’s looking for something more than this provincial life, so she’s not looking to just shack up and settle down.

Activism & Shine Factor: The single ladies in town hate on Belle because she has the sole affection of Gaston. Not a great lesson for girls.
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
#7 Mulan
Role of Men: Mulan’s surrounded by men — by choice. She assumes the role of a man to save her father from fighting in the war. Her father didn’t force her to go.

Economic Agency: Considering the historical time period, Mulan would probably spend her life as a wife and mother. The path she chose allowed her to have her own accomplishments and honor before marrying.

Activism & Shine Factor: Mulan doesn’t really have a community of women to lift up (though her grandmother is arguably the funniest Disney character, ever). But, hopefully her actions changed the way her community viewed the capabilities of women.
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
#6 Rapunzel
Role of Men: Rapunzel’s got zero time for romance. Her main concern is going to see the lights on her birthday and explore the world. A man helps her escape, but their love is a side effect of the story — not the main plot.

Economic Agency: She’s stuck in a tower, paralyzed by false fears and her guilt-trippy “mother.” Except, unlike Cinderella, she does something about it.

Activism & Shine Factor: There’s not much she can do to shine on, here. But, she’s very proactive in creating a world for herself, even within the confines of the tower. Though she’s a teenager when we encounter her, she doesn’t believe her life has truly begun yet, since she’s had few meaningful experiences.
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
#5 Elsa
Role of Men: There’s no man in her life, because ain’t nobody got time for that when you live in an ice castle. She also keeps Anna in check when she’s about to go marry Hans after knowing him for 20 minutes.

Economic Agency: Girlfriend lives her own life in her ice castle. Doesn’t get more independent than that.

Activism & Shine Factor: The movie really focuses on sisterhood and the bond between women. Into it. But, she’s not really making any explicit feminist statements.
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
#4 Aurora
Role of Men: In what is perhaps the lamest curse of all time, Princess Aurora will fall asleep indefinitely if she pricks her finger on a spindle. So, she’s basically in a witness-protection program where her fairy godmother aunts are hiding her in the woods until she’s 16. Even though she was betrothed at birth to Prince Phillip, she’s got only women and animals around her. Yes, Phillip is the one who delivers the true love’s kiss to wake her in the end, but it’s not Aurora’s fault that she needs a boy to break the curse.

Economic Agency: She’s entirely dependent on her aunts to care for her, but she’s also a princess so it’s not like her life was ever going to be anything other than cushy. It doesn’t matter if she ever gets married or not — she’ll still inherit the good life that comes with being royal. Don’t hate the player.

Activism & Shine Factor: Maleficent aside, the women are actually really wonderful to her. Her aunts have essentially raised her in a place where women run the game.
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
#3: Pocahontas
Role of Men: It’s hard to know exactly what Pocahontas wants. Is she dodging a marriage to Kocoum? Or, is she just trying to go beyond that tricky river bend, somewhere past the sea? She equates a marriage to Kocoum with the end of her dreams. Her relationship with John Smith is rooted in her wanderlust as well as one in which they educate one another.

Economic Agency: Pocahontas would probably have a hard time leaving her village on her own. But, she also didn’t rely on actual currency to do what she wanted. She could find her own food and survive in the wilderness.

Activism & Shine Factor: Her female community is small, but it’s strong. Nakoma and Grandmother Willow give her advice, but encourage her to follow her heart. She sees the women around her not as competition, but as resources. In the end, she chooses her community over some guy who showed up and was like “baby, how about you and me?”
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
#2 Merida
Role of Men: It’s not that Merida’s a feminist for not wanting to get married. It’s that she made her own way. She’s smart, and her discovery of the archery contest loophole shows she’s not gonna marry some guy just to please her family.

Economic Agency: For someone who’s set up to be married off to a suitor, she’s very good at utilizing what’s been handed to her. She’s downright clever.

Activism & Shine Factor: Merida’s all about being free and doing her own thing, setting a great example for female viewers. Even better is the film’s focus on the strong mother-daughter relationship between Merida and Elinor — an element missing from many Disney films.
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
#1 Tiana
Role of Men: When Tiana wished upon a star, she didn’t ask for a prince. She asked for help opening up her own restaurant, a dream she shared with her late father. Her romance with Naveen comes only after she’s got the restaurant running — and he’s helped her set it up.

Economic agency: She’s obsessed with hard work and educates Prince Naveen about the importance of really earning what you want in life, rather than waiting around for it, or trying to marry into money. All the money she has, she’s worked for. Tiana’s basically a walking Destiny’s Child song.

Activism & Shine Factor: Charlotte’s obsession with the superficial only makes Tiana look more empowered. Still, Tiana’s a good friend to Charlotte and supports her.
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