Disney needs to show more diverse and realistic depictions of women to inspire young girls. Disney's current content presents women as a monolith: Women are either damsels in distress or a side character to a male lead.
In early Disney princess movies, we see more than just the trope of a man saving a woman — most of the princesses are bland, sexual objects. In "Sleeping Beauty," the prince kisses a seemingly dead woman. In "Cinderella," the prince can't remember what the woman he danced with all night looks like. In "Aladdin," Disney played on the stereotype of brown women being feisty and sexual, with almost all of the women in the movie wearing racy clothing.
As Vaishnavi Pallapothu writes for Medium, this is sending the message to children that a woman's looks are her most important asset, and physical appearance is the only thing a man will look for in a woman.
Disney needs to create more powerful roles for females that young girls can look up to in the future. It's important for Disney to create a positive image for young girls and boys, such as Merida from "Brave." She goes against her family's wishes of an arranged marriage, wanting to break free of a society that thinks a woman needs a man. When there was trouble in the movie, she fought for herself and didn't need a man to care for her. This is such an important message to teach: Girls can do things independently and don't always need a love interest to help them.
Another good example of positive representation is Moana. She sets to the sea to save not only her island but the entire ocean. Yes, she needs Maui's help, but in the end, they come together as a team to fight for what they want. This also teaches young girls they can fight for their families and what they believe in.
"Mulan," the animated version made in 1998, has one of Disney's best female representations. It portrays a strong, independent Asian woman fighting for her family when her father can't. Mulan shows to all the young girls watching that she can do anything that a man can do, even fight in a war. One powerful scene in the movie is when she climbs up a pole with weights on her hands before any other soldiers, showing that she is just as strong or even stronger than the other men.
Disney recently released a new live-action Mulan movie focusing on the more serious side of the story. But in the new movie, the producers somehow seemed to forget this is a story about female empowerment. Instead, the movie is being narrated by Mulan's father and his story with Mulan. Yet again, this gives a man the lead over the women.
Disney needs to keep making powerful women for young children to look up to. Although we have princesses such as Moana, Merida and Mulan, those movies were made in 2016, 2012 and 1998, respectively. There also isn't much to look forward to; there are currently 17 confirmed future Disney projects, and only five of those include a female lead.
It's time for Disney to change.
The problem with Disney is they give audiences one piece every couple of years in the hope of satisfying the need for a powerful, strong female. It needs to be continuous, at least as much as they produce powerful male roles. Disney needs to talk about this blatant sexism that audiences have seen over the years. And it's time for Disney to stop following the outdated stereotypes of women being nothing but a damsel in distress or a side character to a man.