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  • Writer's pictureCaterina Sullivan

Some Alternatives to Disney Princesses

Updated: Nov 3, 2018

Image credit: Marc Levin

Everyone hates an armchair parent... but that's exactly what this article is about.

I don't have kids of my own, but all I dream about being one day is a mum. I'd love to have a daughter - they tend not to smell as bad as teenage boys.

One thing I like to think I will never do as a mum is let my daughters read some of the traditional Disney princess books.

Most little girls I meet want to grow up to be Disney princesses. I cringe when I hear girls aspiring to grow up to be "beautiful" and "marry a handsome prince". I want my daughter to tell people she wants to grow up to be "intelligent" and "healthily independent".

Goal 5: Gender Equality really does start at home for a young age, and here's how you can set the scene for your children with some far better female royalties.

Replace Ariel for Queen Elizabeth I

Ariel fell in love with a man she had never properly met and who fell in love with her purely for the sound of her voice - not for the strength of character she portrayed when she defied her father and decided to pave her own future. Nor did Eric fall in love with her for her wit or her confidence. In fact, Eric moved on to a completely different woman when said woman stole Ariel's voice. Crazy, right!? Meanwhile, in England, Elizabeth I was busy being a bad*** independent woman. Elizabeth I was one of the most famous queens of England, also known as the Virgin Queen. Elizabeth I remained unmarried and a virgin, showing little interest in marriage despite the expectations at the time. Like Ariel, this required serious strength of character, defying what was asked of her by her family. She also showed her strength when she, as a Protestant, did not pass judgement on Catholics, accepting people for who they were, regardless of religion.

Replace Aurora for Queen Seondeok of Silla

I don't know about you, but if a strange man broke into my house and kissed me in my sleep, I would be unleashing a whole world of hurt on him - not marrying him. But Sleeping Beauty was a little different; she fell in love with the guy that broke into her house. Under a spell or not, that's just weird. Prince Phillip's display of creepiness is surely the opposite of chivalry. Meanwhile, Queen Seondeok was all about chivalry, creating the first evidence of a Korean chivalric code. While Aurora was sleeping, Queen Seondeok became the first female ruler of Silla, one of the three Kingdoms of Korea. The Korean queen used her incredible intelligence and ability to use evidence to make educated guesses about the future to her advantage. She ruled during a time of violent rebellions, defeating her enemies in each instance. Queen Seondeok was also a champion for the alleviation of poverty.

Replace Belle for Christina of Sweden

Beauty and the Beast is probably the best example of Stockholm Syndrome at play. For those of you who haven't come across Stockholm Syndrome before, it is a condition in which hostages develop a connection with their captors. Belle falling in love with the Beast is a cause for concern given he was holding her hostage. Belle gave in to the Beast. Queen Christina, however, formed her own destiny. Revered as one of the most intelligent and most well-educated women of the 1600s, Christina was once described by the Pope as "a queen without a realm, a Christian without faith and a woman without shame." She refused to marry, rejecting what society defined as the sexual role of women during the mid-1600s. Unlike Belle, who was all about her appearance, Christina was described as a very masculine woman, sporting masculine features, engaging in masculine interests and wearing masculine clothes. It was reported that when Queen Christina was born, the midwives first thought she was a boy due to the amount of hair on her body and the coarseness and strength of her voice. Modern biographers believe Christina to have been a lesbian, which makes her burial in the Vatican grotto even more impressive.

Replace Cinderella for Empress Elisabeth of Austria

While Cinderella was wishing for the day some rich prince would sweep her off her feet and take her away from her misery, Empress Elisabeth, also known as Sisi, was making the most out of her life. OK, yeah, Cinderella’s stepmother didn’t let poor Cindy get away with nearly half as much as Sisi’s mother-in-law did. However, Sisi’s first daughter was named by her domineering mother-in-law - hold up… not only named BY her but named AFTER her as well (tickets!?). I’ve got a fair amount of love for Sisi, one of the first women recorded in history to workout. Girl was getting gains! Not only that, she was totally aware of the fact that people thought she was crazy and just carried on anyway. She took pride in her appearance but sported a tattoo (much to her husband’s disapproval mind you) of an anchor to express her love for sailing.

Replace Jasmine for Jahanara

I must admit, Jasmine isn’t too bad. She makes a stand on succession law and on her views on marriage. However when she runs away, she pretty much just gives up. Jahanara, on the other hand, is a much better role model. You may be thinking Jaha-who? If you’ve ever heard of the Taj Mahal, you probably know a little bit about the family of Jahanara. Her father, Emperor Shah Jahan, built the Taj Mahal for Jahanara’s mother, Empress Mumtaz Mahal. After the unfortunate and unexpected passing of her mother at the age of 17, the Princess stepped into her mother’s shoes. A fierce warrior and scholar, Jahanara faced her first near-death experience when she was just 13 years old. She gave extensively to charity and to fund the building of mosques. Through her diplomacy and strength of character, she was able to make her voice heard and argue occasionally with men, something very rare in her culture at that point in time.

Replace Snow White for Cleopatra

Snow White, Red Lips. She’s got Cleopatra to thank for her iconic look (Cleo invented make-up). But as a princess who needed saving by a Prince after being poisoned, I’m sure Cleopatra would not be impressed. No, unlike Snow White who hoped to be saved by some stranger kissing her after she had died (pretty sure that’s necrophilia) Cleopatra accepted her fate (although Cleopatra did not die from poisoning; she died of envenomation). But what makes Cleopatra such a great role model for young girls? Other than the fact she spoke nine languages, has been reported to be a philosopher, a poet and a politician, Cleopatra ruled Egypt for 21 years by herself. Not only that, Cleo was a warrior and one of the first true feminist icons.

Disney is not total doom and gloom. There's a couple of stories I like from Disney. However, just make sure you're not getting the Disney-altered version!


Pocahontas, a Native American, risked her life to save that of an Englishman who had been captured by her people. This was not an act of love, as portrayed by Disney, but an act social justice, standing up for what she believed to be right. It was only later that she married an Englishman who was genuinely in love with her; however, her feelings towards him have not been documented.


I have saved my personal favourite until last... Mulan. Not only does this movie portray the first homosexual Disney character (WIN!) but the whole story of Mulan is just utterly slaying... literally. Mulan pretends to be a man in order to fight the Huns. For 12 years she pretends to be a man. And she's such an amazing warrior that no one questions it. Upon returning home, she turns down the offer of an official post and asks to return to her hometown. The part of the story Disney does not tell is that when she is called upon to become a concubine of another ruler, Mulan commits suicide as she would prefer to die by her own hand than be owned by a male. This is a Disney princess I can be inspired by!

So take some time this weekend to cuddle up with your children on the sofa and share some of these amazing stories of women. If young girls and boys are exposed to these Queens and Princesses mentioned above, there will be nothing to stop them from writing their own amazing fairytales in years to come!

This article was originally published on the Global Goals Australia Campaign website.

#globalgoals #family #goal5 #sdg5 #genderequality #disney

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