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Fairytale Friday: Super Action Hero Princess, SAHP

July 19th, 2013

Merida from Brave being brave

In the Black Apples submission pile we found quite of few specimens of this aggressive, new breed of fairytale princesses, hereby named SAHP (Super Action Hero Princess), that has been crowding the silver screen for a while. We think this new species is very interesting, but we haven’t quite decided if we like her or not…

The SAHP is an answer to the call for less helpless princesses. Parents suddenly realized that sitting around, tiara in hand, waiting for pink castles and princes, was no way to lead a life for a young girl of our day and age, and so the role model had to change. This plea was naturally particularly aimed at Disney, who has more or less “owned” the fairytale princesses since 1937. Disney took the cue, and the first one of these reformed princesses was the intellectual Belle in Beauty and the Beast in 1991. Later they have followed up with more of these “stronger” female leads, like Tiana in The Princess and the Frog (2006) who is initially more ambitious than interested in love.

Ambitious cooking by Tiana

This was all very good: it made the princesses more three dimensional, more human in many ways, but then they had to go and make them action heroes… For once, we cannot entirely blame Disney: fairytales has been the rage in popular culture of late, and Disney wasn’t the only ones who heard the demands for stronger princesses. Apparently though, strong doesn’t only equal the ability to read or have a decent job, it means the ability to fight (like a man!), and so the SAHPs were born.

Over the last few years we have seen many SAHPs, here’s some Snow Whites:

Snow White in armor, from Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White sparring with a dwarf in Mirror Mirror

Snow White taking aim in Once Upon a Time

There is no doubt that our princesses needed a makeover – it was long past due. But does strong and self-sufficient necessarily equal “prone to violence”? Can’t we think of any other way to make them strong, female leads than to make them able to chop and stab their way out of sticky situations?

This is a difficult question, because the stabbing and killing usually has been the prince’s task – and though females can kill just as well as any man – it makes me a little uncomfortable that we sort of “evolve” our heroines by giving them (phallic) weapons and traditional male roles…

Stereotypes die hard though: even though Disney’s Tiana and Giselle (from Enchanted) start their own businesses; it is cooking and designer clothes, and even if we give the princesses weapons, we are a bit particular about the kind of weapons they wield, and archery seems to be the obvious choice for the SAHPs:

Tough princess character Angelika in The Brothers Grimm

Shrek‘s Fiona with an arrow

Gretel with crossbow (Hansel and Gretel: Witchunters)

See also Merida and Snow White above…

This archery frenzy could of course have something to do with the popularity of The Hunger Games, but it started before that and might just as well have something to do with the fact that this is a weapon that can be aimed from a distance, and as such doesn’t require close proximity with the victim, and the dirty act of maiming (less blood splatter on your dress).

Disney has answered the SAHP challenge in a different, more creative (but no less feminine) way: in Tangledit’s Rapuntzel’s hair that is the weapon:

Lethal hair

It was admittedly cool when the princess gang in Shrek 3 put down their embroideries and was transformed into mean, lean fighting machines, and Snow White’s army of evil birds was best of all… But now the SAHPs have become run of the mill, and one cannot help but wonder if there isn’t a cleverer way to do this? Trading the tiara for amazing fighting skills (taking down an army with your hair…) might not do much to redeem the princesses as a role models for little girls. I’m pretty sure there’s a different, far more interesting, way down from the tower than the one that requires a quiver and a bow…

Those girls (from Shrek 3)

As for Black Apples; we don’t think that the ability to handle a sword makes a princess “dark”.  This is interesting, because many writers obviously thought so, and gave us traditional fairytale princesses with a sword… Which begs the question: if a female does the killing, does it make her less good? The slaying does nothing to make the prince less of a good man – but is it different for the princess? Do we feel like she’s acting against her nature? Does the fact that she is now a potentially dangerous woman make her dark – or evil? And if so: is the SAHP here to stay, or is she just passing through on her way to happily ever after?

An early SAHP: Disney’s Mulan from 1998



Camilla Bruce 2013

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