Disney Debate: Rapunzel

Welcome to Disney Debate!

Over the next 11 weeks, we’ll discuss each of the “official” Disney princesses. Read the information and question below and then use the comments section to join the debate. Engage with people’s comments by replying to them, and add your own points by creating a new comment. Comments must be civil to be included.

WEEK 10: RAPUNZEL

On the surface, Disney’s Tangled seems to take us back to a much more traditional storyline: an ingenue looking for a way to escape an evil mother figure. But feminists often point out that Rapunzel’s use of a frying pan as a weapon, and her ability to turn her hair into a lasso allow her to be a more “badass” princess. Beatriz Serrano of Buzzfeed, for example, writes, “How cool is it for a Disney princess to grab a frying pan and use it as a weapon? Is there a more forceful way to reappropriate a symbol of feminine oppression than beating the sh*t out of someone with it?”

Is Rapunzel more “feminist” than the earlier, more traditional, princesses (like Snow White and Cinderella)? If so, is it her skills with her hair and a frying pan that make her a feminist, or is it something else?

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6 thoughts on “Disney Debate: Rapunzel

  1. Rapunzel is definitely my favorite princess movie; it came out when I was an adult, so I saw it first and only with adult eyes (well, not a mature adult, I just mean it doesn’t have childhood sentimentalist attachment). A huge part of my enjoyment is Flynn/Eugune. The whole story overall is more intricate and interesting, and I love the humor. However, it doesn’t really seem to have that old fairy-tale feel really (actually, has any of them since Princess and the Frog or does it start with Ariel, now that I think of it? Or are only the older few really that old fairytale way?). I don’t think Rapunzel is feminist (although, that “When will my life begin” song seems to have some of the particularly shallow feminist overtones). She seems to present one of the more well-rounded princesses, sweet and respectful, but firm where she knows she is doing right to confront evil and wrong-doing. I do think her personality is a bit pale, especially in light of Flynn/Eugene’s more flamboyant personality.

    Back to that fairytale aspect (the whole Princess and the Frog got me started on that). I think the trend tended toward perhaps removing that aspect and making the story more well-rounded or more of just a story like any other movie. Then the focus for some was making the princesses more feminist. I think that is where everything gets messy and confused. Where the symbolism versus realistic portrayals should start and end and then what form the realistic portrayals are. I guess the difference between a Disney fairytale and what we now have the focus of the Disney princesses. I feel like the question of feminism starts becoming more, I don’t know, relevant or significant when the stories move from symbolism? But I think we can do more a developed story and symbolism; I think the animated Beauty and the Beast and the live action Cinderella both do this well. I guess maybe I don’t understand the whole fairytale of Rapunzel or what is should represent as well.

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    1. I think the Disney version is so far removed from the original fairy tale that it’s fair to view it as its own entity. But it does make use of fairy tale symbolism which can be interpreted — just not to reach the same conclusion as the original story.

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  2. Gahhh…
    So she uses a frying pan, does this make her a feminist icon reappropriating feminine objects as weapons? I’m gonna say no. Feminist have an obscured view of traditional roles for women to begin with–chained to the kitchen as a slave. Any brave woman from any time would use the tools around her to ward off a strange intruder. So using the frying pan for Rapunzel is like using Mace or the like. She takes it with her as a precaution. Belle picks up a branch to ward off wolves, and Tiana uses her tongue. I suppose the earliest Princesses didn’t need to protect themselves physically like the newer ones, but feminists now have become so sexist. Women can’t just be strong of character or brave in her own feminine way. Rapunzel had never seen a man, and her using the frying pan was a moment of hasty cleverness to prepare for the unknown outside world. So to feminists her just protecting herself as any woman would is uncommon and even portrayed as masculine–which is what all women should strive to be apparently

    -Rachel F.

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    1. I agree. What I really like about Rapunzel is that she is completely feminine. Even the physical things she does are things a woman could realistically do — take someone off guard with a hit to the head with a frying pan, use her super long hair as a rope, etc.

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  3. I second Rachel F’s views. It seems to me that feminists have a very caricatured view of what true femininity entails. For example Boudica, a real princess and Briton in the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, led a revolt against their occupation after her property was illegitimately confiscated and her daughters raped. With these immortal words, addressed to her army, as recorded by Tacitus, an enemy of her people, she started a war.
    “It is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters,” and concluded, “This is a woman’s resolve; as for men, they may live and be slaves.” This is not a woman pretending to be a man; this is a woman encouraging the men of her tribe to defend the honor of women and of freedom, or be called slaves. Likewise Rapunzel is simply protecting her honor from an intruder with whatever comes to hand. No, women do not have to be feminists to be counted among the brave, resourceful, tough and intelligent.

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  4. Ugh. No. Just no. The use of a frying pan for self defense is totally natural, as Rachel said above. It has absolutely nothing to do with being masculine or feminist or making a statement about ‘feminine oppression’. (Does it never occur to anyone that some of us actually like cooking and baking? Rapunzel clearly does.) The use of kitchen tools for anything other than their mandated purpose is NOT a feminist thing. Besides Rapunzel wasn’t the first person to do so. Think of Ariel combing her hair with a fork…or Samwise Gamgee using a frying pan as a weapon. Even Flynn/Eugene admits it’s a great idea at one point, thinking he needs to get himself one! Anyone who argues that THAT is what makes Rapunzel ‘more feminist’ is really reaching.

    Tangled is my favorite Disney movie. Ever. And Rapunzel is second only to Cinderella in my line up of favorite princesses. She is sweet and optimistic and bubbly and brave, she dreams big, and she faces challenges with strength and goodness of heart. Her willingness to sacrifice her freedom for Eugene’s life, in the end, is one of the most beautiful things. (As is his determination to save her instead.) Rapunzel will forever be a perfect example of a girl who is strong and fun and feminine all at once. There’s nothing about her that tries to be anything besides herself. And that is why I love her.

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