I usually try not to comment on other people’s parenting decisions, but after hearing Keira Knightly’s latest interview I just can’t help myself.
While appearing on Ellen, Keira explained that she won’t let her 3-year-old daughter Edie watch Disney movies Cinderella and The Little Mermaid. She told Ellen DeGeneres,
“Cinderella: banned. Because, you know, she waits around for a rich guy to rescue her. Don’t! Rescue yourself, obviously.”
As for The Little Mermaid, Keira said,
“I really like the film, but The Little Mermaid. I mean, the songs are great but do not give your voice up for a man. Hello?!”
Listen, I get it. Ariel isn’t exactly the feminist role model we all want our children to look up to. She trades in her voice to pursue a man she just met and she ends up leaving her family to be with said man.
But if Keira thinks that banning The Little Mermaid is going to make the difference in her daughter’s girl-empowered upbringing, then she’s completely delusional.
As a child of the 90s, I grew up on films like The Little Mermaid and on toys like Barbie, many many Barbies. Barbie is, of course, not a model of body positivity — she’s pretty much the idealized version of Eurocentric beauty standards. I mean, her proportions alone are ridiculous. (But in Barbie’s defense, her boyfriend Ken was more like an accessory and she had a million careers, which was very radical at the time of her conception in 1959)
But guess what? Despite all of this, I turned out to be a totally badass feminist (and so did my sister, for the record). We were surrounded by amazing female role models. My mother was a high-powered lawyer — and still is — and my grandmother was independent until the day she died at age 94.
My mother encouraged me to go to a liberal arts college, where women’s studies courses opened my eyes to intersectional feminism and the injustices in the world.
Disney princesses were a big part of my childhood, but they didn’t make me. Because, as most people know, my childhood was shaped by so many different things.
The Little Mermaid is just one movie. And while toddlers’ minds are rapidly growing, a fictional movie isn’t the only thing they’ll digest.
I’m grateful that Disney has made significant changes in the last few years. Moana has become one of my favorite movies. A girl who saves her whole community? Yes, please!
But in general, we need to stop focusing our feminism anger on movies and dolls. These things are important but they aren’t game-changers. You know what’s truly imperative? That you yourself, as a parent, exemplify the behavior you’d like to see in your children. That you show them real-life women who are breaking barriers; Women like Michelle Obama, Laverne Cox, Ashley Graham, Tarana Burke, and Patty Jenkins.
There are so many more layers to raising a baby feminist than simply banning a movie with catchy songs. And if you’re really so stuck on the Disney princesses, then maybe it’s time you reassess your priorities.