Typically, when you hear the word ‘feminism’, the last thing you think about is Disney’s 1937 feature Snow White, and why should you? All the movie did was epitomize the idea that all a woman needs is a man to save the day. Or does it? Sure, True Love’s First Kiss woke Snow White from the ‘Sleeping Death’ at the end of the movie, but other than that, where is he? This dashing prince only appears twice in the whole movie, and is only talked about once or twice. So, if he’s not saving the day all the time, then what is Snow White doing with her life? Actually, a bit more than you might think.
At the beginning of the movie, we learn that Snow White is put to work as a scullery maid and is forced to wear rags by her jealous stepmother (oh, the horror). This part is really only glossed over and used more as an introductory scene to all the main characters (or side, in the prince’s case). Later on in the movie, when Snow White uses those skills in the ‘real world’ (aka the dwarves’ cottage), she gets accepted as a working member of the household. Had she not been forced to work as a maid in her old home, Snow White’s story could have ended very differently.
In addition to being accepted into the dwarves’ household, there’s a small part of Snow White’s personality that comes out that doesn’t quite fit into the stereotypical attitude of a woman of the 1930’s. At times, when the dwarves were being outright sexist (99% of Grumpy’s attitude was sexist, fight me nerds), Snow White’s sweet demeanor has a surprising undertone of snark. She proved right from their first meeting that she wasn’t going to take any shade, and eventually taught the dwarves not to just behave themselves because she was a princess, but to respect her when she has hit the lowest point of her life.
But what about the Prince? How could Snow White’s attitude be justified as feminist when she’s too busy batting her eyelashes at the guy? Other than what I already mentioned earlier, let me expand on the whole “lowest point” comment from earlier. Here is a fourteen year old girl, waiting to be engaged to a prince or other high ranking noble (remember, this is Germanic territory in the early 15th century), when suddenly she learns that her own stepmother wants her killed. As such, she is forced to run for her life and hide in the most inconspicuous place she and her little animal friends can find. Doesn’t sound like a very good time to be batting eyelashes, does it?
Admittedly, this was a pretty difficult article to write. As someone who has never been a fan of stupid cheesy love songs or Snow White, I knew that going into this week’s Disney Day would be a challenge for me, but after watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with a more open mindset, I realized that perhaps Walt Disney was a little more progressive than I originally thought.
What do you think? Can Disney’s first feature film ever be considered feminist, even if only slightly?