Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Disney Princesses and Feminism

Holy "once upon a time"! There is so much chatter right now in the blogosphere about the world of "pink toys and princesses" for little girls and whether/how we feminists should strike back.

It's a quandary I think about a lot, I must confess, because I freaking LOVED the pink aisle in the toy store as a child. Yes, even though at the age of 8 or so the boys in my class were already calling me a feminazi (no joke) I was still playing with Barbies AND I was besotted with Aurora, Belle, Jasmine and the gang. In fact, the much-maligned "Disney princesses" line sounds to me like a fantasy concocted by my friends and me as we swooshed around the living room in castoff long dresses, hoping for adventure/princes to sweep us away: Wouldn't it be great if all the princesses got to be together? *(That being said, I had a twin brother and I also played with he-men and transformers,)

But just because one can transcend a girly childhood and live a full-feminist life doesn't mean we can't critique said childhood's frilly trappings. After all, fairy tales were invented to control women's behavior to begin with. In Gilbert and Gubar's breakdown of Snow White, for instance, the pricked finger=menstruation/sexuality which turns the virginal young queen into the evil stepmother, the magic mirror=voice of the patriarchy turning women against each other and telling them they're never good enough, and the glass coffin has some other dope significance I forget.**

As Sarah Haskins points out in the Target: women video below, the Disneyfied versions of these stories send a pretty similar, if somewhat more simplistic message. And she doesn't even mention that the "spinsters"/witches are vagina dentatae.

I think hiding this stuff from our daughters or nieces or sibs or mentees or forbidding it will only make girly-land this enticing sparkly world that they experience at their friends' sleepovers or whatever. And we don't want that. So while we should reject the consumerist aspect of it (ie limit the amount of princess swag we purchase), we should by all means let the young ladies in our lives swirl about with a long train and an imaginary prince. But also give them stories about tomboys and read them Roald Dahl's "Revolting Rhymes." Encourage them to write sequels where the princesses save the princes, and teach them how to be critical observers of their society from a young age, while still enjoying imaginative movies and stories.

Easy as pie right? And we'll all live happily ever after! Insert trilling song here.

[As for this other gender-normative crap, the sweet lily palace castle and rose petal cottage ... That stuff just utterly stinks and has no imaginative value whatsoever, so don't buy it for your daughters. Tell them to go slay a dragon or a vaginal old witch instead.]

*Incidentally, I never went for Cinderella or snow White or Ariel that much. My faves were far and away Belle cause she was a nerdy bookworm like me, and Aurora because when she's sequestered in the woods as Briar Rose, she wears the below outfit, way cooler than her pink/blue dress:

** I just looked it up. According to Gilbert and Gubar, the coffin turns Snow White into the patriarchy's ideal woman, an "it," an object, passive behind glass. Ergo the prince loves her at first sight. Also, the dwarves domesticate Snow White and prepare her for a life of female servitude.
As the "Gs" write of the classic tale's so-called happily ever after: "Surely, fairest of them all, Snow White has exchanged one glass coffin for another." (p. 42) In other words, she's now trapped in the same passive life that drove her step-mama (who is really a sexualized incarnation of her real mama) CRAZY with her poisoned combs and apples and stuff.


  1. Oh wow, THANKS for this! I've spent the morning talking with my English 101 class about the idea of "romance" put forth in the Twilight series, so I got to this piece through your Twilight discussion. This, too, is absolutely relevant to what we're talking about in class these days--the idea of women as the passive objects of romantic love (and my students, for the most part, still seem to quite like it that way...!).

    Anyway, thanks--I'm subscribing to your blog.I'll definitely refer to it in class tomorrow! :-)

  2. Wow, thank you! Good luck with your class discussion. I've taught, so I know it can be an uphill battle to expose ingrained social biases, but everything you say does make a difference.

  3. But just because one can transcend a girly childhood and live a full-feminist life doesn't mean we can't critique said childhood's frilly trappings.


    I have fun picking through sexist crap in Disney movies. For some reason it doesn't flip the Feminazi Rage Switch (TM) that other sexist stuff does. I guess because I loved all that stuff and turned out all right.

    I loved Belle too. I always thought she stuck with the Beast cause he gave her that awesome library.

  4. You made me feel old. My version of a Disney princess was Maid Marian, the fox. Of course, I'd already decided I wanted to be Allan-a-Dale.

    We let our girls do as much Disney stuff as they wanted. My 16 year old turned out fine and feminist. (She refuses to read Twilight, preferring the Willow/Tara eps of "Buffy") My 8 is more a girly-girl, but even she firmly believes she can do anything her brothers can.

    A truck-driving mother cancels much gender indoctrination, esp when she takes the girls out on the truck.

  5. Thank you for this. It reminds me to buy my 4 year old daughter books about Joan of Arc and Amelia Earhart, which I read as a kid and found so thrilling.