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Coffee and Outrage

November 12, 2009

Most of you have not experienced my pre-coffee state. Let me tell you, it’s not good. It involves a lot of bumping into things, evil glares when asked favors, and an inability to converse. Today after my shower and before my coffee, eyes unfocused with sleep and lack of glasses, I checked my email to find this article about Disney Princesses from Andy. The article itself is not that interesting, because, let’s face it, it’s nothing that we haven’t heard before. Feminism and Disney have been arguing since forever, and this is just another way to present that argument. What I do find interesting about this article is
1. The attention it pays to the male objectification in Disney, which is largely ignored, unless thrown out by douchey males being like “Women don’t have it so bad, because men are victims more than them!” Instead it is more a presentation on how no one escapes systems of oppression, even those in the dominant role.
2. The comments. Oh, dear god, the comments.

It’s both fun and aggrivating to read comments about anything remotely feminist on the internet, because it’s a lot like beating your head into a wall and not being able to stop yourself. The arguments are typically the same, and once you’ve read one string of nauseaticlly ignorant comments (from both sides, I promise), it becomes very tiring to try and read other articles. But the threads under this article are actually decently interesting, if for no other reason than to remind us how messy the issue of feminism in pop culture is. There are several arguments for the current representation of Disney women that I find particularly interesting.
1. Having women who are strong and self-reliant would not fit with the time period of the film, lowering its credibility (not following the zeitgeist).
2. Kids need everything boiled down to its lowest, simplest form, or they don’t understand it, so Disney is doing the best they can.
3. This argument is a drastic oversimplification of Disney movies that ignores…something…no one ever specifies what it ignores, just that it’s an oversimplification.
4. That Disney movies teach other, more important values, such as respect and how important love is.

Easy counter arguments that I can think of, now having had one cup of coffee are, in order:
1. Children’s movies, people. There is an accepted reality that we all understand when watching a film. We commit ourselves to this crafted reality, meaning that the film does not have to be 100% accurate (which is good, since most of these movies involve fairies and spells). If we can change reaity enough to include mythical things, why can’t we change it to include strong women and healthy relationships? Also, kids don’t care about zeitgeist.
2. If you spend 15 minutes talking to Teagan Marie (my 5 year old neice), you’ll realize that kids have the amazing ability to reason and think. Yes, some things are too complex for them, but they have a real talent for understanding stories and cause-and-effect. They need simple language, but throwing a strong woman charater who relies on merit more than beauty is not going to somehow confuse children into not understanding what a movie is about. Mulan, anyone?
3. You’re right. This is an oversimplification, but I think these are the main points of the argument. If we look at these characters in terms of what they actually do in the movies, this is it. They use their beauty (occasionally brains, too) to find and marry men, as long as the men save them first. Clearly this isn’t a full argument, but it’s also just a picture, not an essay. Chill out, internet.
4. I refuse to beleive that in order for children to learn that love and respect are important, they have to learn that women are pretty, useless, and need rich men now. In fact, I think that the manifestation of respect and love that Disney teaches is pretty harmful, because they are taught in the oppressive patriarchical structure of these movies. What is respect in the Disney world? What is love? These are some pretty warped values to me, because they are taught in a socially destructive environment. If anything the inclusion of strong women in Disney movies would serve to better define respect and love for children. You don’t have to sacrifice the one for the other.

That being said, I love Dinsey movies. When I go to Ohio now, it is rare that I don’t watch a Dinsey movie with my high school friends or sister. They remind me of being a kid and are most engaging stories. I can enjoy them for the role they played in my life, for the music, for the company I keep when watching them, and for the sheer enjoyment of them. But I would love nothing more than to see a positive change in the next Disney films. I’d like to see a feminist influence to show that feminism does not equal un-funny, un-entertaining crap.

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2 comments

  1. hullos… bounced over from the disney article page…
    emmms… with regards to yr counter argument on point 4, i’ve to ask why love in disney films is considered warped. i would think that its very much a simple fairy tale kind of love… as a child while watching aladdin, what was love to me was just warmth, closeness, things that we fight for… and happy endings… how is that a problems for a child? either that or i was a really unperceptive child and failed to see the “oppressive patriarchal structure” which is a “socially destructive environment”?
    but at the end of it all, love is more complex than all these as well isnt it? its not as if the love element from the films will encompass the child’s entire understanding of what love is…so… i kinda find it hard to take when u seem to want to refute the notion of love from disney films… ^^


    • Thanks for taking the time to read this and comment. I really appreciate it =]

      I’m not going to say that love in Disney is 100% evil and wrong, because that would be really unfair. What I’m trying to get at is that I think whenever you’re teaching some value or virtue in a context that is harmful, the virtue suffers. In Disney, it is not that the basic points of love suffer. The phenomenon is basically described. But it is a sort of rejection of non-normative loves that exists because they remain silent in Disney films. By having the same type of weak female character go through the same ritual of falling in love is very limiting.

      Of course, as people grow up they will hopefully develop a more mature perspective on love (I don’t think it happens as often as I’d like to think, but it happens). People are informed by more than just their favorite childhood movies about love, and this all works to craft a picture of what this abstract concept actually is. But I think that Disney movies as well as most of the rest of pop culture for children inform this view more than people would like to admit. I don’t think it should be Disney’s responsibility to educate children on all the complications of love, but I do think they should use their fairly enormous power over children to suggest more than “When you fall in love, random boy 1 will do anything to save you and protect you and give you lots of money, and you might only have to help him out occasionally until you’re married.” Sometimes Disney does fairly positive things, but most of the time you have to really try and see them.



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