Animation’s Feminist Anthems: A List

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Hi, I’m Michella and I AM A FEMINIST! Pleased to meet you. Below, find a list of animated songs and reasons why I think they are badass feminist anthems that celebrate women and their agency, challenge gender roles, and are inspirational. And please don’t be scared off by the term “feminist.” We don’t bite and we’re all about accepting everyone and not judging and just living in groovy harmony and respect. Doesn’t that sound fun?

Like Other Girls—Mulan 2

This song is all about Mei, Su, and Ting-Ting feeling trapped in their roles and responsibilities and wanting just a little bit of freedom, like other girls have. It was the first song that popped into my head when I thought of this list because of how much these ladies admire other women. They’re not jealous or bitter, they just long. And what are they longing for? To play and climb trees, slouch, eat cake, be free to make choices, dance, no tight shoes! Yes, they want love, and that gets a line, but the repeated mantra is “no hands folded perfectly,” “no pinchy shoes,” “just to be free like other girls get to be.” It’s such a sweet, beautiful song that also challenges gender roles.

Who usually gets to play outside, get dirty, “be crazy?” Well… boys. Boys are expected to play sports and be physically active (though the song equates it to being a girl’s activity, which is great!). Girls are usually delicate and taught manners. Mei, Su, and Ting-Ting have to be elegant, use their fans, and are escorted everywhere, like they aren’t strong enough to walk on their own. In my Victorian Lit class we talked about how writers like Dickens and Thackery never have female characters that “walk.” They “trip” or “glide/float.” Breaking that down, trip: immature, young, clumsy, incapable, needing protection. Glide/float: angelic, not real, unearthly, perfect, elegant. Women can never just be normal people that “walk.”

One other point about this song, I love how “Like Other Girls” is a GOOD thing. “You don’t want to be that girl,” is oftentimes an insult. Being compared to other women isn’t a good thing in our society. To stay on the subject of literature, many times we see dialogue that says, “You’re not like other women.” Meaning, you’re not clingy or needy or “insert stereotype here.” Women are pitted against each other! But no. This song takes that and spins it in a positive light.

Belle (reprise)—Beauty and the Beast

We all know this song. I love the fury in Belle’s voice when she begins the song and then it turns to a desire. So this song made my list for a couple reasons.

The first might be the simplest: Belle rejects marriage in favor of adventure. Now, marriage is definitely its own adventure. But Belle is, what? 18? Belle wants to live. We know she loves to read and her favorite book (the one she reads in the opening song) has “far off places, daring swordfights, magic spells” and a sweeping love story (“Here’s where she meets Prince Charming, but she won’t discover that it’s him till chapter three”). Belle is not against love. Her song explicitly states it would be nice “to have someone understand.” Whether that’s in the form of romance or friendship, who knows, but she wants it in the context of an adventure. Not Gaston, who prizes her for her looks and is shallow. They have nothing in common. They would never be happy together, especially living in that small-minded town.

The second is that Belle also rejects the expectations of her society. The song ends with, “I want so much more than they’ve got planned.” They is not just Gaston. They is everyone. They is the pressure, the expectation, the town. They is anyone that tells Belle she is supposed to be this kind of person. And sadly, the entire opening song established there are a lot of people that have their own ideas about who Belle should be. This is a great song because Belle sometimes internalizes. She’s always kind, she said hello to everyone while they gossiped about her, but here is really the first time we see her stand up for who she wants to be, even if it is just to herself. It is hard to admit what you want. It is scary when there are a lot of people that are going to try to talk you out of it. And I think Belle is a great amazing feminist for that.

For a Moment—The Little Mermaid 2

I was hesitant to include this song even though it jumped out at me. As I thought about it, I realized I wanted to include it because it’s basically the only mother/daughter song Disney has ever produced. I also just love Ariel, Eric, and Melody to bits and we’ve talked about Part of Your World so much.

Even though this is a mother/daughter duet, our babies are apart from each other. Sad face. It’s very angsty. Ariel is so desperate to make amends and Melody is finally so happy, but also sad she can’t share that with her mom. Their relationship is really the heart of the movie since Ariel keeps this secret about Melody’s heritage and this song is where we get to dig into all those complicated emotions. A lot of times mom/daughter relationships are portrayed by the media as super close or the opposite. There is no middle ground, and like what I brought up with Dickens and Thackery, women aren’t allowed to be human. They don’t get to go through a full range of emotions compared to their male characters. And frequently, they don’t have complex stories and conflicts with other women. Many times their plot revolves around a man. For a Moment is a song about how two women are feeling.

Here Ariel is remorseful for her mistake, but determined to find her daughter, and make things right. Right before the song, she makes the choice to leave Eric, to do this on her own (or, separate, since Eric is still looking, too). Melody is just Ms. Happiness with her new fins. She stumbles a bit, getting situated, but for the most part, she’s a natural (which makes sense since she’s half mermaid!). The only disappointing part is that she can’t share this with her mom. She doesn’t think her mom will understand (“wish my mother could hear it” meaning she doesn’t and never will). But to juxtapose that, Ariel and Melody both use “song of the sea”/”sea is my song” which shows you just how in synch they are. They’re mother and daughter, after all! They both love the sea. Ariel may have chosen land, but that scene where she dips her feet in the water and her face is filled with an ache to return just tells you all you need to know.

On a totally non-girl power point: The visuals also kill me because Melody is just exploring and Ariel is retracing all her steps, hitting all those nostalgia buttons as we see the grotto and the rock bench from Under the Sea with grownup Ariel.

I Won’t Say I’m in Love—Hercules

So, like the Belle (reprise) I’m not picking this song because Meg rejects marriage. Feminism is not about rejecting marriage or looking down on housewives. I chose this song because Meg is so hurt. Meg is guarded because of her past, Meg is wary, Meg is so so so scared. I love that Disney gave us Meg because she’s someone trapped in a bad situation because of her choices and past trauma from a relationship. Sadly, most of us are scarred. We’re damaged. We don’t come with bows on us, unharmed. Meg represents that.

Furthermore, Meg is given the opportunity to be affected by her trauma. A lot of times women are discouraged from talking about their pasts—such as coming forward with sexual abuse claims years later. Or women are “overemotional.” If you’re not “better” within someone else’s expected timeframe, then you’re making too big a deal out of it.

Not Meg. Meg is not okay from her past relationship. She’s given the chance to argue with herself, to want something, but be afraid she wants it. She’s not one dimensional precisely for this reason. There are layers to Meg. At first she appears like a flirt, but that’s just a mask. This song is where Meg tries to lie to herself, to keep the mask on, but in the end Meg realizes that’s not possible. Like Belle, she admits what she wants to herself, which is the first step to going after it in reality.

And who is encouraging her to take a chance? The muses! Coincidentally, all women. More women cheering women on and supporting each other. What is more feminist than that? (Hint: The answer is nothing.)

Almost There—Princess and the Frog

Ah, this song! Such a great anthem. Tiana is filled with such a drive. She has this amazing goal and isn’t going to let anything get in her way. Tiana definitely had some things to learn, like being single-minded isn’t the way to go about being happy. But, taking this song out of the context of the movie, it’s a song about achieving your dream, something that is self-fulfilling. It has nothing to do with another person. It’s something Tiana is doing for herself. This is what I love most about Almost There.

It might be the first animated song where women are encouraged to be savvy business ladies. It’s okay to want a career. It’s a self-esteem booster, it just makes you feel good when you’re doing something you love and you do it well. Many times women are expected to be “humble” and “modest” and confidence can be misconstrued as cockiness or arrogance. But why shouldn’t we take pleasure from doing a good job?

Like some of the other songs, Almost There mentions expectations (“people down here think I’m crazy, but I don’t care”), because those pesky buggers are everywhere, sadly.

Let it Go—Frozen

Okay, everyone has heralded Let it Go as an anthem since it came out. It’s Elsa finally being true to herself, being brave, and loving that person. Let’s zero in on a very specific lyric: Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you always have to be, conceal don’t feel, don’t let them know. Wow, that’s a lot!

First, women are supposed to put on a mask in public. Like Meg hides from her trauma with a flirty persona, women should put on a good face. Smile. Be cordial. Be demure.  This goes right into “be the good girl” while boys will be boys. This is every gender role the previous songs have battled with. Su, Mei, and Ting-Ting want to climb trees and scrape their knees, but that’s for boys (even though the song presents it as something women can do, which is great!). Belle is expected to marry Gaston. Elsa shouldn’t be overemotional, she should keep her mouth shut and smile. Whereas boys can be hyperactive and do whatever they want because they’re boys and boys just have all these impulses that can’t be controlled. This way of thinking continues into adolescent and adulthood and is what makes rape culture so rife.

Next, we have “conceal, don’t feel,” which is actually really interesting and twisty. So we have this stereotype that girls want to talk about their feelings all the time, that girls cry, and so on. But, women are ridiculed when they do just that. “Cry like a girl” is an insult. I hate to keep using the “overemotional” card or the “needy, clingy” label, but that’s just the way it is. Women are expected to do these things, but if they do, they are scorned for it (because: good!). And maybe they don’t even do it in excess, but there’s such a low tolerance for women expressing themselves at all.

On the flip side, to keep talking about gender roles, boys are definitely taught the same thing. Boys aren’t supposed to have a soft side. They’re masculine! Strong! Testosterone! And boys are also made fun of if they don’t conform to this expectation. Many times, men also aren’t allowed to go through the full spectrum of emotions. This is wrong. This is just as wrong as the insane stereotypes surrounding women, even though we do not talk about this as much.

Let it Go has an important message and for obvious reasons, definitely is a feminist anthem.

I Whistle A Happy Tune–The King and I

I think this one is a lesser-known animated movie and I actually had forgotten about it till recently myself. I want to end on this note because this song is all about overcoming fear and that’s a great message to end on.

I think it also, sadly, feeds on the “conceal don’t feel” aspect of Let it Go and gender roles because some of the lyrics are: I strike a careless pose and whistle a happy tune and no one ever knows I’m afraid. At first glance it’s all about putting on that mask, of women not being able to express their feelings. But, as the song goes on, the meaning is that if you trick yourself into feeling brave, you may be as brave as you make believe you are.

So: things are scary. People get scared. But we are in control of how that fear affects us. Anna’s method, as she teaches her son in this song, is to whistle a happy tune “and the happiness in the tune convinces [him] that [he’s] not afraid.” Maybe she should teach him that it’s okay to be afraid and talk about his feelings, but it’s also important that we don’t let fear paralyze us. But, Anna doesn’t tell her son NOT to be afraid. She doesn’t tell him men are brave, that men don’t get scared. Instead of pushing that fear aside or pretending it doesn’t exist, she encourages him to feel it, and then essentially, fake it till he makes it.

Anna puts us in control of our fear. And isn’t that what fear is? We’re not in control in fearful situations. So whistling is a way of taking back the power.

I also wanted to end with this song since it puts a woman in a position of authority. She’s the leader, people are listening to what she has to say. And I can’t think of many animated songs where a woman is the head of a group. Women frequently have solos, but many times a male leads a group number. Look at: I’ll Make a Man Out of You (Shang), Be Our Guest (Lumiere), Kiss the Girl (Sebastian), and Topsy Turvy (Clopin). I do think He’s a Tramp from Lady and the Tramp and Dig a Little Deeper from Princess and the Frog are good examples of female led group numbers in addition to this, though even He’s a Tramp isn’t very groupish, but I’ll count it.

Conclusion

I just wanted to make a list of songs that celebrated girl power and wax poetically about them. Ta!

What’s your feminist anthem? How do you feel about these songs? GIVE ME ALL YOUR OPINIONS.

Follow Animated on Twitter and Tumblr.

Cheers,

M&M

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