Feminism in Snow White and Pretty Woman


Feminismin Snow White and Pretty Woman


Feminismas a concept or principle has featured strongly in modern times onvarious issues such as culture and social structuring. The concept,which has taken the form of a movement headed by its supporters, hasgained support and opposition in various circles. It calls for genderequality and respect for women. Although there is no standarddefinition for this concept, Hooks (2014) offers a provisionaldefinition that feminism is both an awareness of women’s positionin society as one of disadvantage compared to men and a desire toaddress these disadvantages. From this, it can be deduced thatfeminism is a doctrine that seeks to challenge and create awarenesson women’s peripheral role in society and push for political,economic, and social equality of the sexes. Support for this movementchallenges the socially constructed roles of women in societydepicted through politics, culture and cultural artifacts. Culturalartifacts in society such as film, ads, music, books and literatureexhibit the gendered role and place of women in a male dominatedsociety. The films Snow White and Pretty woman show howobjectification of women as sexual symbols has evolved over the yearsand has influenced society in the real world as driven by feminismand other factors.

Thetwo films clearly portray women as secondary human beings whose mainpurpose is to be objects of desire for use by men. The feministmovement has expressed its opposition to this objectification ofwomen and the perception of women as subordinates to men. The ideathat is persistently presented in the Snow White Film and Prettywoman is that women are as good as their looks. In the case of theSnow White, the main character, Snow White, is portrayed as abeautiful princess whose beauty makes her jealous stepmother want tokill her. This shows the value that females at that time attached tolooks. The Queens is convinced that staying young and beautiful willsomehow make her more appealing and loved by the people. Shetherefore uses mind control and sucks youth out of people to makeherself younger and more beautiful. Because she is jealous of SnowWhite youth and beauty which the magic mirror favors, she hiressomeone to kill her. In the same way in Pretty woman, Vivian believesin her beauty to help her attract men when working as a prostitute.Her value lies in her being sexual object to fulfill men’s desires.She dresses provocatively and even uses a lot of make up to makeherself more beautiful to attract men. The man who plays thesupporting role, Edward, is attracted to her merely because she isbeautiful. Initially, Vivian is just an object he can purchasebecause he can afford to. Snow White and Vivian therefore manage toget favors from men simply because they are beautiful.

Interestingly,both films simultaneously converge and diverge on their perception ofbeauty. In Snow White, beauty is portrayed as being white as snowhence the name Snow White. Again, her idea of dressing in longprincess-like dresses depicts what was expected of women at thattime. Her ability to clean and do household chores while hosted bythe dwarfs also point to her hardworking nature good ness whichcompletes her beauty while the queen’s evil and selfish naturemakes her less desirable. For Snow White, it these same traits thatwins over the prince. This shows that beauty is not just about thephysical appearance. In Pretty woman, also, Edward later comes tofall in love with the personality of Vivian. To him, Vivian is notjust beautiful outside but inside. The two films diverge onperception of beauty in regards to work or intelligence. The dwarfsin Snow White are amazed by Snow Whites ability to work whichcomplements her physical beauty. On the other hand, it is Vivian’sdesire to educate herself and help her friend that complements herphysical beauty. This is what makes Edward fall in love with her andthus show that there is more to beauty than just physical appearance.

Thefeminist movement has challenged modern and traditional portrayal ofbeauty. Snow White represents this traditional portrayal of beautythrough her conservative dressing, subordinate role and associationwith household chores. The modern portrayal evident through Vivianwho has what is considered a slim desirable body and is depicted assexual object. The creation of the Snow White merchandise in form ofdolls which promotes certain unrealistic physical features as beautyhas been criticized. In the same way as the film itself, Snow Whitedolls tend to popularize the idea that pale or white as snow isbeautiful and long blonde hair is beautiful too. All across theworld, Snow White has set the trend in defining beauty which has beencopied by other dolls created from film characters and from otherinspirations. This has created an imbalanced view of women and placedundue pressure on young girls on attaining the standard beautifullook popularized by these dolls. The presence of these dolls in othercultures such as Africa and China has directly challenged culturalvalues and perceptions of beauty in these societies. Wade and Bielitz(2005) argue that white dolls such as Snow White and Barbie amongothers marketed to African Americans have placed undue pressure onyoung girls to be white resulting to skin bleaching. This is becausethe dolls are marketed in a manner to suggest that they representwhat is universally defined as beautiful. The same effect has beenobserved in China and other Asian countries where teenage girls havedied hair blond to achieve the standard idea of beauty and successperpetuated by these dolls.

Thisconceptualization of success is evident in two films on how beauty isassociated with success in life and good things. Again, thisperception of beauty is highly sexualized meaning that otherimportant aspects of individuals are ignored. For instance, the staffat the classy hotel where Edward and Vivian are staying look downupon because of her trashy dress code. The same happens in the classyevents that Vivian accompanies Edward. However, there is an immediateswitch in loyalty and attitude towards Vivian when she learns todress well. The hotel staff and the rich women at the events that thecouple attends suddenly respect her and view her as someone importantand successful in life. One the other hand, Snow White earns herrespect from the dwarfs from performing seemingly manly tasks ofsplitting wood. The two characters clearly show how women’sability, characters level of success in life is judged thoughappearance unlike men. Feminism thus seeks to push women fromobjectification to a more equal platform where they can be judged forwhom they are and not how they look (Zeisler, 2008).

AlthoughVivian uses her physical beauty to earn a living, she realizes thatit is not enough. She therefore, seeks to advance her life bylearning new things such as opera, chess and even taking classes. Sheis eager to encourage her friend Kit to do the same and even offersher cash to assist in what she nicknames ‘scholarship.’ Thisclearly confers the modern ideology of a woman as being more thanjust her physical looks as promoted by feminism. The same approach isalso applied in modern day ads that portray women as equallyintelligent to men. For instance, women are more frequently featuredin adverts in a manner that suggest gender equity. A good example isa banking ad poster by Ally Bank that features a woman which directlyendorses the idea of women as professions involved in gainfulemployment and are financially empowered (Zeisler, 2008). Thisdiffers strongly with ads from several decades ago that showed womenengaged in household chores. A good example is a sexist ad fromdecades ago is from Kellog’s which proclaimed that “so the hardera wife works, the cuter she looks.” This suggests women areworkhorses which is not right (Bailey, 2014). This change is alsocaptured by Vivian who has to prove herself as more than a woman bydriving while Edward is the passenger. This captures the idea ofequality as promoted by feminists.

Thegender role of women as depicted in Snow White is household chores.This portrays females as less capable than males who are engaged inmore respectable professions such as hunting. Their weak physique isalso highlighted by how she stumbles as she walks in the magicalforest. This kind of depiction which shows a woman as a vulnerablecreature which makes her beautiful, desirable and acceptable. Thisis highly contrasted against the Queen whose strength and power isportrayed as unnatural. Her possession of a magic mirror and otherunnatural abilities portrays what is not expected of a woman. Thesame approach is maintained in Pretty woman where Vivian’s frailbody captures her fragility as a woman. In fact, the mis-en sene inthe film highlights her slender nature and her figure as a woman tocapture her fragility and sexiness. The camera even gives severalclose-ups of Vivian to capture her beauty and more so her flawlessskin.

Althoughthe two films focus on beauty strongly, they differ on women’ssexuality. In Snow White, the main character is a virgin. Thiscaptures her purity and innocence. Everything about being a virginother than being beautiful is also well portrayed. In fact, it is oneof the reasons that her stepmother is jealous of her. This coincideswith this period in history where only virgins were consideredsuitable for marriage and the girls who were not virgins wereperceived immoral. In contrast, the main character in Pretty woman isa prostitute. She is portrayed as someone who has taken control ofher sexuality. This in some way coincides with the modern societywhere losing virginity before marriage is normal. In fact, the factthat Vivian is a prostitute does not trouble Edward or prevent himfrom dating her and seeing her inner beauty. Taking control of hersex life is a sign of female empowerment and gender equality.

Inpretty woman, women are portrayed as accompaniments to their men.Women are portrayed as individuals who cannot stand alone in thesociety or even have respectable careers. All the men in the eventsthat Edward and Vivian attend are mostly accompanied by theirgirlfriends of wives. The fact that the events are largely meant formen and women are carried along as accompaniments further portraysthe secondary role women play. On the other hand, the same approachsupports the feminist push as it portrays men as incomplete withoutwomen. The idea is that both genders need one another equally but fordifferent reasons. The same approach is also present in Snow Whitethrough the huntsman who seeks to have his wife raised from the deadby the Queen through her magic powers. In one or another way, the twofilms show men as weaker sexual beings who cannot do without women.As such, men need men as much as women need them thus equal partners.

Theability of a woman to desire and have her own in Pretty womancaptures the strength of a woman. In most cases, women are portrayedas creatures to be possessed and owned by men. Women have apresumably minor role even in choosing mates and sexual partners. Incontrast, Vivian is portrayed to possess this masculine power todesire and express her bodily needs towards a man. Traditionally,this role has been preserved for men who court women and even ask fora woman’s hand in marriage. By Vivian desiring Edward, it gives animpression of women possessing equal power to males in determiningintimate relationships.

Fromthe discussion it is clear that that feminism features strongly inthe films Pretty Woman and Snow White as well as in other culturalartifacts. Given that the two films are from different periods whichexperienced different levels of feminism, it is clear to see how theplace of women n society has changed in some areas and how it hasremained the same in others.


Bailey,J. (2014). The changing face of outrageous advertisements. Retrievedfrom


Hooks,B. (2014). FeminismIs for Everybody: Passionate Politics.New York: Routlegde.

Wade,T. &amp Bielitz, S. (2005). TheDifferential Effect of Skin Color on Attractiveness,

PersonalityEvaluations, and Perceived Life Success of African Americans.Journalof Black Psychology 31215

Zeisler,A. (2008). Feminismand Pop Culture: Seal Studies.New York: Seal Press.

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