Like a splash of cold water, 1992’s Aladdin presented a new kind of Disney Princess—one who was ethnic and wore pants! Before we get too excited, let’s remember: she’s dressed like a belly dancer with a twig-like waist, at one point she’s literally bound in chains, and she’s only a supporting character because (get this) Aladdin is actually about Aladdin. In many ways, Jasmine is a blatant example of an objectified, ignorant “little woman” whose value depends on marriage. But before we condemn her as the worst Disney Princess role-model yet, let’s look again. Actually, no princess fights against her “supporting role” more. Perhaps if we fought against the media’s unrealistic standards of beauty and other social injustices with the consistency and passion of Jasmine we might witness more progress.
We first see Jasmine across the wide palace patio, sitting as cool and calm as the fountain water beside her. The princess’s cool demeanor turns to frustration at her father’s rebuke for refusing yet another suitor’s proposal. He reminds her that the law says: “she must be married to a prince.” In other words, her security and power completely depend on marriage to an authoritative man. But she doesn’t agree. She says, “If [not when] I do marry, I want it to be for love.” Jasmine considers marriage optional, her choice, and certainly not her source of security or power. To prove her ability to do things on her own, make real friends, and survive outside the palace walls, she runs away—because this princess is a woman of action!
Out in the gritty streets of Agrabah, she meets Aladdin who saves her from near amputation. Jasmine doesn’t stay a naïve damsel in distress though. Being a “fast learner,” she’s soon pole-vaulting across rooftops as easily as Aladdin. Sparks fly as princess and street rat discover a mutual thirst for freedom and autonomy. But their relationship blooms only to be cut short when the guards arrest Aladdin. Our woman of action disregards the imbalanced size ratio between she and the guard, attempting to use physical force to achieve Aladdin’s release. When that doesn’t work, she doesn’t hesitate to reveal her royal identity, which causes the guards to bow in submission. Unfortunately, despite their respect for her rank, she has no power in this case. She immediately addresses with bold fury the man who does—the evil Jafar.
The self (and magic lamp)-seeking Jafar lies that Aladdin has been executed. Though the princess is tearful, she isn’t defeated. In fact, when the clueless Sultan reunites Jasmine and Jafar, her disdain for the villain is all the more heated. She says to him, “When I am queen I will have the power to get rid of you.” Unlike her father, Jasmine is acutely perceptive and sees Jafar’s corruption clearly.
To add to his list of miserable traits, Jafar exposes himself as the personification of anti-feminism. For one, pegging Jasmine as a “shrew” conveys the misguided belief that feminists are man-hating witches, when, in reality, they are largely people-loving advocates for equality and individual rights (like Jasmine). Furthermore, as Jafar schemes to become Sultan by marriage, we also see his attempt to strip Jasmine of her independence, equality, and identity—patriarchy style—with phrases like, “Speechless I see—a fine quality in a wife!”
While Jasmine scorns Jafar and rejects countless suitors, she by no means hates men. She actually rejects the dishonesty, self-absorption, and patriarchy she sees in them and demands respect. If Jasmine doesn’t represent the ultimate feminist, I don’t know who does.
When Aladdin re-enters her life disguised as Prince Ali, she thinks he’s just as pompous as the other men she’s encountered until he agrees that she isn’t “a prize to be won.” For once she’s not unheard or falsely stereotyped, but seen as an equal with a valid opinion. With Prince Ali (Aladdin), Jasmine finds escape from illegitimate labels and freedom to enter “a whole new world” of self-government. At the same time, she doesn’t fall into a love stupor. Rather, she maintains her keen perception. Jasmine picks up on Prince Ali’s true identity right away, and naturally executes a clever trap that strips Aladdin of his mask. Again, Jasmine fights against anything that would undermine her intelligence or value as a human being.
Interestingly, Aladdin fully recognizes Jasmine’s intelligence and independence. He sees beyond Jasmine’s exposed body and actually raves to the Genie about how “smart” and “fun” she is. Only when prompted does Aladdin remark on her beauty. In fact, he’s so intimidated by Jasmine’s strength and self-certainty that he accepts a false sense of identity, conforming to society’s outline of a man’s worth, in order to impress her. (Oh that’s why the story’s about him!)
The film nears its end with gloom and smoke enshrouding Agrabah. By becoming the Genie’s new master, Jafar threatens to take the throne with his own Genie-improved sorcery. Despite the intimidating wickedness in front of her, Jasmine remains unshaken. When ordered to bow before him, Jasmine declares, “We will never bow to you!”
Wow! We better take notes! What if we refused to bow to corruption, unachievable beauty, unfair prejudice, etc. (everything Jafar represents)? Maybe it’s time to follow Jasmine’s example and stand in strong rebellion against anything that would rob us of individuality, autonomy, and self-worth.
Of course, Aladdin eventually catches up to Jasmine in courage and self-confidence. (That’s when the movie gets to end.) Aladdin finally remains true to himself and… drum roll… Jasmine is given the power to choose her own fate. The law is changed so that the princess has the authority to judge the worth of a companion.
Jasmine consistently and persistently fights for her right to choose (her own future that is), to be heard, and to be respected. She never settles for a “supportive role,” but demonstrates her own power and leadership, independent of the men in her life. In the end, it’s her example that shows Aladdin how to achieve his own freedom and autonomy. Essentially, she’s the ultimate leader—always ready for action and intensely aware of issues that need attention. If we emulated Jasmine even slightly, just think of the ways we could improve our own lives and transform our global community into a whole new world!