Princess Power

So there's a new Disney princess coming to town, and everybody's talking because she will be their first black princess. Welcome to the modern melting pot, Walt. So there's all this brouhaha about whether or not she's upholding negative stereotypes or is a positive role model who can be a shining beacon for little girls of color everywhere...

Well, I'm not actually that invested in the race issue, but it brought up an old peeve of mine, regarding those darling princesses, and Disney in general. It's that whole gender thing. Why do all those girls have an impossible hourglass figure, which they tend to show off in fairly revealing outfits? Why do they always rely on a man to come to their rescue? Do we really want our girls growing up thinking that a kiss from Prince Charming is going to solve all their problems?! (a prince they've never met, by the way, who often kisses them on first sight and often while they are unconscious...) And what about the mothers - they're always dead and their replacements are always vile. Aging in Disneyland seems to mean turning wicked and warty - where are the elder wise women to look up to?

So we basically have this constantly repeated message that beautiful is good and ugly is evil. And by "beautiful" we only mean one thing, regardless of skin color: perky boobs, tiny waist, rounded hips, flowing locks. And make sure you are somewhat hopeless without the help of a hunk - even if you're a little bit kick-ass, you can't do it all alone! I admit I haven't really been in the Disney loop lately, so maybe there's a whole slew of riot grrl princesses with spiky hair that come in all shapes and sizes and don't ever need a man, or maybe they even do some saving of their own, or hell, even love another woman! But I haven't seen them.

I love pink. I think being a girl means all kinds of things, and that frilly and strong can go hand in hand. I'm not against love or fairy tales, but the image Disney holds up just pisses me off. It's time to bring fantasy a little closer to reality.

1 comment:

Reed said...

I don't know Claire -- to the extent Disney movies have replaced the telling of folktales and fairy tales in modern society, the very "unreality" of Disney princesses may still be crucial element of the story if they are to operate as fairytales.

The "princess" in a fairytale is, arguably, merely a symbol in the semiotic sense of the word. As a placeholder for certain values, she must be "beautiful" while the evil counterpart must be "ugly." The "beautiful" princess is a vessel for "good" societal values (generosity, etc.) while the "wicked" counterpart must be "ugly" (representing "bad" societal values like greed). I do absolutely agree that the impossible hourglass figures are a reflection of our society's own warped ideal of beauty (the Disney princesses seem to be gradually transforming into Bratz dolls). But I still think the importance of the archetype remains. The princesses have to be "beautiful" because it is just the fairytale shorthand for "good". If we want to convey societal values to children (one object of fairytales) its easier to create symbolic representations of the values rather than explain why, a priori, the values are good.

The absence of mothers in these stories is also a structural feature of the classic fairytale. In the "Morphology of the Folk Tale", Vladimir Propp's study of the structure of folk tales, the first of the 31 narrative units is "absentation" - the forced removal of the hero or heroine from the home environment. The presence of a elder wise woman acting as a "mother" analogue would disrupt the the fairytale, stopping the progess through the narrative phases in the first phase. I think a similar argument can be made for the kiss from Prince Charming; its not a suggestion about how relationships should operate, but a symbol of the heroine or hero's return from the "exile" that began at the beginning of the fairytale, without complex analysis of a real relationship.

Obviously, its great to subvert the fairytales, too (and fun), but I think the classic morphology of the fairy tale identified by Propp, Roland Barthes and others still has validity.

So, I guess I join you in objecting to the images used by Disney to convey beauty and ugliness, but not necessarily in objecting to the telling of the stories.

Hope all is well!

- Reed