Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bonfire of the Disney Princesses

I could care less for the Disney Princesses phenomenon, but at least my distaste hasn't crossed the line into conspiracy madness. Barbara Ehrenreich, writing in The Nation, examines the Princesses and concludes that they're just a tool of the man to force little girls into skewed gender roles.
Contrary to the rumors I have been trying to spread for some time, Disney Princess products are not contaminated with lead. More careful analysis shows that the entire product line--books, DVDs, ball gowns, necklaces, toy cell phones, toothbrush holders, T-shirts, lunch boxes, backpacks, wallpaper, sheets, stickers etc.--is saturated with a particularly potent time-release form of the date rape drug.

We cannot blame China this time, because the drug is in the concept, which was spawned in the Disney studios. Before 2000, the Princesses were just the separate, disunited, heroines of Disney animated films-- Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, Aurora, Pocahontas, Jasmine, Belle, and Mulan. Then Disney's Andy Mooney got the idea of bringing the gals together in a team. With a wave of the wand ($10.99 at Target, tiara included) they were all elevated to royal status and set loose on the world as an imperial cabal, and have since have busied themselves achieving global domination. Today, there is no little girl in the wired, industrial world who does not seek to display her allegiance to the pink- and-purple clad Disney dynasty.

Disney likes to think of the Princesses as role models, but what a sorry bunch of wusses they are. Typically, they spend much of their time in captivity or a coma, waking up only when a Prince comes along and kisses them. The most striking exception is Mulan, who dresses as a boy to fight in the army, but--like the other Princess of color, Pocahontas--she lacks full Princess status and does not warrant a line of tiaras and gowns. Otherwise the Princesses have no ambitions and no marketable skills, although both Snow White and Cinderella are good at housecleaning.

And what could they aspire to, beyond landing a Prince? In Princessland, the only career ladder leads from baby-faced adolescence to a position as an evil enchantress, stepmother or witch. Snow White's wicked stepmother is consumed with envy for her stepdaughter's beauty; the sea witch Ursula covets Ariel's lovely voice; Cinderella's stepmother exploits the girl's cheap, uncomplaining, labor. No need for complicated witch-hunting techniques--pin-prickings and dunkings--in Princessland. All you have to look for is wrinkles.

Feminist parents gnash their teeth. For this their little girls gave up Dora, who bounds through the jungle saving baby jaguars, whose mother is an archeologist and whose adventures don't involve smoochy rescues by Diego? There was drama in Dora's life too, and the occasional bad actor like Swiper the fox. Even Barbie looks like a suffragette compared to Disney's Belle. So what's the appeal of the pink tulle Princess cult?

Seen from the witchy end of the female life cycle, the Princesses exert their pull through a dark and undeniable eroticism. They're sexy little wenches, for one thing. Snow White has gotten slimmer and bustier over the years; Ariel wears nothing but a bikini top (though, admittedly, she is half fish.) In faithful imitation, the 3-year-old in my life flounces around with her tiara askew and her Princess gown sliding off her shoulder, looking for all the world like a London socialite after a hard night of cocaine and booze. Then she demands a poison apple and falls to the floor in a beautiful swoon. Pass the Rohypnol-laced margarita, please.

It may be old-fashioned to say so, but sex--and especially some middle-aged man's twisted version thereof--doesn't belong in the pre-K playroom. Children are going to discover it soon enough, but they're got to do so on their own.

There's a reason, after all, why we're generally more disgusted by sexual abusers than adults who inflict mere violence on children: we sense that sexual abuse more deeply messes with a child's mind. One's sexual inclinations--straightforward or kinky, active or passive, heterosexual or homosexual--should be free to develop without adult intervention or manipulation. Hence our harshness toward the kind of sexual predators who leer at kids and offer candy. But Disney, which also owns ABC, Lifetime, ESPN, A&E and Miramax, is rewarded with $4 billion a year for marketing the masochistic Princess cult and its endlessly proliferating paraphernalia.

Let's face it, no parent can stand up against this alone. Try to ban the Princesses from your home, and you might as well turn yourself in to Child Protective Services before the little girls get on their Princess cell phones. No, the only way to topple royalty is through a mass uprising of the long-suffering serfs. Assemble with your neighbors and make a holiday bonfire out of all that plastic and tulle! March on Disney World with pitchforks held high!

There are certainly things to object to about the Disney Princesses. The blatant attempt to make brand-conscious consumers out of three-year-olds? The bastardization of the original tales by Grimm and Perrault? The sheer amount of junk turned out under the Princess line? These are valid concerns. I can't really get upset about girls wanting to wear pink frilly stuff, though. Ms. Ehrenreich's shrill attempt at humor falls about as flat as the three-year-old after the "poison apple".

Ms. Ehrenreich fusses about the hyper-sexualization of young girls, but she's upset that there's no Pocahontas dress? Hello! But perhaps she'd rather have us stick it to the man at Disney by supporting the competition. Bratz dolls, anyone? Now there's some wholesome goodness unaffected by "some middle-aged man's twisted version" of what's hot on tots.

Her protestations aside, I have to believe that Ms. Ehrenreich is unencumbered by acquaintance with young girls, or she'd know that all their dress-up clothes fall off their shoulders, because they like to dress up in clothes that are too big for them. And then they fight like cats and dogs and throw high heels and climb trees. Frankly, I'd find it disturbing to have my children around someone whose proclaimed philosophy is that "one's sexual inclinations--straightforward or kinky, active or passive, heterosexual or homosexual--should be free to develop without adult intervention or manipulation." No wonder the three-year-old plays dead.

24 comments:

rhinemouse said...

The most striking exception is Mulan, who dresses as a boy to fight in the army, but--like the other Princess of color, Pocahontas--she lacks full Princess status and does not warrant a line of tiaras and gowns.

What is Jasmine? Chopped liver?

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Great post, all your points are on-target, but this caught my eye:

...the 3-year-old in my life flounces around with her tiara askew and her Princess gown sliding off her shoulder, looking for all the world like a London socialite after a hard night of cocaine and booze.

She imagines her 3-year-old doing cocaine and booze? The hatred of the left for children, even their own children, really knows no bounds.

Rick Lugari said...

Apparently so rhinemouse. Never minding the fact that there are even characters like Pocahontas and Jasmine, what do you suppose the complaints would be if Disney created a Pocahontas sporting a tiara and a pink gown? Let's throw in a medieval European castle to boot.

...is saturated with a particularly potent time-release form of the date rape drug.

Too funny.

...Otherwise the Princesses have no ambitions and no marketable skills, although both Snow White and Cinderella are good at housecleaning.

Let's lament gross commercialization and the harm it can do yet consider a person's worth by their ambitions or marketable skills! Nice.

mrsdarwin said...

Paul,

The three-year-old is not Barbara Ehrenreich's daughter; Ms. Ehrenreich is 66. She's careful not to specify the relationship, so I don't know whether the child is a granddaughter or a great-niece or just some kid she sees around.

Anonymous said...

"The hatred of the left for children, even their own children ..."

Where the heck did that come from? The left, or rather, this person who is presumably leftist, is talking about the problems of marketing, yearning for positive role models for girls, and seems genuinely critical of the culture at large, and all the "right" can do is harp about the hatred of children?

Sheesh.

That said, boys and girls both can use upgrades in their respective hero cultures. As the parent of a pre-teen girl, I wince a bit at Hannah Montana, but at least my girl reads and has adult women friends who are good role models.

If child-hating is someone's soap box, let me add a parting shot on one of mine: Why do females only make up 11% of the Roman Martyrology? And please don't say that boys are in need of eight times as many saintly role models.

Darwin said...

Anon,

Call it spill-over impression, but the same author has indeed written about how burdensome children are in the past, and indeed has a rather wave-making NY Times Magazine piece about how proud she was of having aborted several children she "couldn't afford" at the time.

j. christian said...

Whether or not the author hates children, I don't personally know, but among those who are at least disdainful of children, I suspect that the cause is a touch of projected self-loathing... Unable to grow up and cast off their own childish ways, they despise it when they see the real thing.

That's my two cents of pop psychology for the year.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Snow White: when lost in the woods, struck a business deal with seven strange men who didn't really want her there, but came to love her. (Something a lot of business women should try to do, rather than aiming to be hated.)

Sleeping Beauty: despite starting out life CURSED by the actions of others, things turned out alright. Heaven forbid girls think they can rise above their starting.

Ariel: She made a bad business deal, and defeated a freekin' sea-witch. What more do you WANT? Her to swear off men?

Belle: she looked beyond appearances to love someone for who they truly are.

Jasmine: rejected tradition and an arranged marriage, instead following her heart and marrying a man from the street.

....

Frankly, I think the lady just didn't like the whole "princess" thing. For some reason, a LOT of "career" women go absolutely nuts when you suggest that little girls might LIKE girly things.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Anon: if you'd really like to know about sexual the Martyrology, how about...looking it up?

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09741a.htm

Or would that be to close to shooting your own strawman?

Literacy-chic said...

I don't like Ehrenreich, but I can't stand the Disney Princess thing. It is all about consumerism. Like the talking cash resister--one girl I guess has to play the cashier, but the cash register sells the consumer a diamond necklace--for $60. What happened to buying groceries? There's a lot that's messed up with marketing for little girls in general, it's just a shame that less polarizing figures don't write about it.

Rick Lugari said...

Bring back the Teen Talk Barbie. She may have said "math is hard", but judging by her measurements she's a natural at it. ;)

Seriously though, commercialization in our society is awful - at every level. I like Foxfier's observations, though not being entirely familiar with these movies it seems to me the later ones have a sexualization factor to them...dunno for sure, it just seems that way to me. Nevertheless, I can think of few things better for a girl than the idea of princesses. It's not just natural, it's well ordered and a delightful fantasy. Like playing house or with a baby doll, the princess fantasy is directed to that great good of the family - a man, a woman, their children and a place to call their own.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the anon post; ordinarily I sign my name.

I can't say I always take into account the past literary efforts of secular essayists. I tend to confine my disdain for those of my own tribe, like Deal Hudson or Bill Donohue.

I think foxfier makes some good points about the personal fiber of those Disney princesses. Even that new one in Enchanted, who starts off as rather fluffy shows a good spine by the end of the story. Indeed, perhaps better role models than the author.

As for the preponderance of men among the canonized saints, you have it in the Eucharistic Prayers, the Litany of Saints, and the liturgical calendar. Pretty thorough list ... for one gender.

Peace to all

Todd

Histor the Wise said...

"As for the preponderance of men among the canonized saints, you have it in the Eucharistic Prayers, the Litany of Saints, and the liturgical calendar. Pretty thorough list ... for one gender."

There are a lot of saints not in those things - take a look at Butler's (4-volume) Lives of the Saints.

More importantly, what exactly does it matter that most of the saints in the public prayers are male? It hasn't seemed to affect anybody, male or female, that much.

Histor

P.S.: How did you get the statistic on the Roman Martyrology? The only such statistic I know is that 9% of the Doctors of the Church are female.

Anonymous said...

"More importantly, what exactly does it matter that most of the saints in the public prayers are male? It hasn't seemed to affect anybody, male or female, that much."

That could be the point. If we had more saints that were lay people: women, men, and children, that might start affecting believers in a more substantial way.

A friend checked the database on saints, and came up with 88% male, mostly priests. I trusted the person, but I've never surveyed myself.

Todd

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

I'm pretty sure the most common way to become a saint is to be killed for your faith, and a priest WOULD be a very open target for such a killing. (Doesn't hurt that, while female religious do get killed, most of humanity doesn't like to kill women.)

Bernard Brandt said...

As I am gifted both with prescience and a connection to an e-mail group that posted the start for this particular posting, I thank you for posting it this in a place where I can discuss it without having to deal with at least one individual who has flagrantly posted therein.

As I recall, this individual (with the initials, P.R.), had later posted to say that he had read a book on systems thinking, and that the author of this book had said that other cultures had different interpretations of the astronomical heavens than our own, and that each interpretation was in its own way valid. Or words to that effect.

I thought better of answering him in that forum, as my previous entries appear to have had the effect of ending discussion in another forum. But I was tempted to say the following:

Yes, I entirely agree that each traditional interpretation of the heavens is equally as valuable as any other.

Therefore, I celebrate the Babylonian view of the heavens as being drawn by a great turtle who swims through the abyss.

Equally, I praise the Mayan view of eclipses as a great snake temporarily eating the sun before it disgorges it.

And likewise, I meditate upon the Ptolemaic universe in which the Earth is the center of the universe, and the visible planets and the sphere of heaven revolve (in perfect circles) around it.

Now excuse me while I join the Flat Earth Society.


Thank you for allowing me to vent, and a happy Christmas to you and the entire Darwin clan, monkeys and all.

Histor the Wise said...

"If we had more saints that were lay people: women, men, and children, that might start affecting believers in a more substantial way."

The problem is not that we have few lay saints. We have lots of them. (For some examples, see "Secular Saints" by Joan Carroll Cruz.) The problem isn't even that most of them are men. The problem is that most Catholics don't have a devotion to any particular saints, but think of them in the collective: "Yes, we pray to the saints." If more Catholics took patron saints, developed personal relationships with them, and otherwise showed devotion to the saints, it would have great effect upon the Church as a whole.

If we had the canon of saints evenly split between priests, nuns, religious, and laypeople; men, women, and children; whites, blacks, Asians, and Latinos; but nobody gave them a second thought or spoke to them as if they were real people - what good would that do anyone?

Histor

P.S. On a related note, who's the patron saint of debaters again?

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Well, I would've guessed Jerome, since he wasn't...um...agreeable, but apparently St. Thomas Moore is the one for debate.

Personally, I talk to St. Jude and the Archangels a lot.

Nârwen said...

IMHO, a child with a strong personality could handle just about any toy. (I'm speaking as someone made her cute little baby dolls and stuffed animals fight battles and explore the 'jungle' of the ivy bed...)

Anonymous said...

"The problem is that most Catholics don't have a devotion to any particular saints ..."

Agreed.

"If more Catholics took patron saints, developed personal relationships with them, and otherwise showed devotion to the saints, it would have great effect upon the Church as a whole."

What we've done instead, is to substitute hero-worship. Instead of saints, serious Catholics rally under the banners of Rahner or Burke. And less-intense Catholics adopt athletes or celebrities.

I'd say the problem is pretty much rife straight through the Church, wouldn't you?

Todd

Darwin said...

Who would have thought that talking smack about Barbie could create some much discussion...

Narwen,

Indeed. Never shall I forget the time the teddy bears in our household established a dictatorial regime and put all the dolls in a prison camp... And my sister claims to still be traumatized over the Barbie French Revolution. (It's hard to get the heads back on... Not that my brother and I were worried about that.)

Tedd,

I don't think it does to take the political aspects of the Church too seriously. Sure, there are fan followings for teachers and personalities on "both sides" of the spectrum, but at least from where I sit on the somewhat right-hanging limb it doesn't seem to keep people from having devotions to various saints. Perhaps there's someone out there too busy rooting for Burke or Schoenborn to have a devotion to St. Therese or St. Ignatius Loyola or whatever other saint takes his fancy, but I haven't met that person yet. People's devotion (or lack thereof) to the saints does not seem to correlate with their interest in living Church personalities -- except to the extent that such interest in living personalities shows that one is paying attention at all.

Darwin said...

Todd, I mean...

Rick Lugari said...

Yeah, D., If it wasn't for spins on the French Revolution (decapitation), napalm attacks (gasoline), WWII firing squads (lining up the master race Fräuleins for espionage and taking them out with BB guns), the occasional fireworks "accident", or in the case of my wife's dolls suicide by hanging, the neighborhood Barbies would have had a play life of but a week. I guess it goes to show that boys are good stewards of material goods.

Nârwen said...

Ah, but I wasn't playing with boys. I made up the battles and such out of my own female head. I didn't actually destroy the toys, but I think that was because I tried that once, and Grandma threw a fit. If you knew my grandmother, you'd understand. (R.I.P., but she was, well, scary....)