This week I am going to be writing a series of posts about Fairy tales, Princesses, romance and girly culture!
Once upon a time, I was a Disney kid.
Looking back with my recently grown feminist perspective there are a lot of things to find fault with. The emphasizing messages can be reduced down to needing a man to rescue you, needing a man to complete you, and needing a man to find or create any happiness in yourself. Also there is the financial aspect, needing a man to rescue you from poverty. And lastly the Disney Princesses are shown as very one dimensional women, those are the only things that seem to occupy their minds. They are often waiting to be rescued, and preparing to be a wife and house keeper or they try to rebel against their fathers/families only to still end up in a traditional role. Romance and being a wife are the main preoccupation (that and getting a fabulous closet full of clothes and shoes). What girl doesn't want a walk in closet full of her favorite things, items she identifies with?
Those critique points having been stated what we are left with is that stories such as Cinderella are still a fairy tale. Even though Disney has produced a flattened version of fairy tales the deeper roots are there even if we don't see them at first. Fairy tales have been around for a long time, and their original purpose was to teach deep and meaningful lessons. Many original versions also sometimes paint harsh and terrifying pictures; in the original version of Cinderella the Step sisters have their heels and toes cut off in an effort to fit into the glass slipper. In essence even within a Disney fairy tale, the bones are still there. Sometimes they are scattered through the re-telling and sometimes they lay just underneath (See Clarissa Pinkola Estes).
I really love Clarissa Pinkola Estes and her work of unearthing archetypes and the deeper elements of fairy tales. I also like discovering new ways of understanding my world through a more feminist lens, one that lets me be empowered and pay attention to what unconscious messages I am receiving from our culture. However I often surprise myself with what things I am still drawn to; such as fairy tale princess, and romance type movies. I know they are not always empowering, I know they paint an unrealistic portrait of love and relationships, but yet my feminine side still responds to those type of story lines. I have thought that it is perhaps due to how I was raised, with the first beginnings of the Disney Princess culture. Maybe it has still taken me a long time to unearth and separate myself from those early messages. Another thought I had was that perhaps those who favored traditional gender ideals were right all along, and that this was indeed something tied to my greater feminine nature. But I know there are many women who do not identify with the princess culture as a way to express or define their femininity. So that chips away from the supporting structure of that hypothesis; which assumes that all of the female sex will favor princess culture as an expression of their gender or femininity. So we can take out the idea of it being a thing related to being of the female sex and shift it back to gender and environment. It could certainly be that I am still breaking away from what I was raised to think and believe, but I am starting to look beyond that and examine the impact of environment specifically.
In my first use of the term "environment", I meant it to be used in the context of gender. In other words something that is born of cultural influence and the environment you were raised in. If you were raised in a traditional household the princess culture script would have likely been a normal aspect of that. You are taught ideas about gender by your family, friends and outside influences that are part of our culture (Disney, school etc.). But what if we re-frame this idea of environment by thinking of it as a mirror. Disney Princess movies are an artistic expressions coming from our culture and they reflect those expressions back to us like a mirror. And if we consider that fairy tales are lessons, we can also think of them as a map of that lesson. Fairy tales can also be reflecting important cultural elements during the period of their origin. So even though Disney has produced a stripped down, flattened version of Cinderella (Fairy Tales & Princess stories) not only are the important bones to the story still there if we look for them, there is also the reflection of our feminine culture in its current state. And that means while it may not contain the ingredients for feminine empowerment without some unearthing of the deeper elements; we are actually being presented with something that accurately captures the impression, feeling and struggle surrounding being a woman in our culture.
I believe this is why I resonate with those movies, there is something in them that is still relevant.
I have tried to pin down the feelings I get from princess culture, girl culture movies, and what those feelings represent. I have of course already found my "prince charming" so that is not a desire that comes up in the same way it might for others. However at the root of finding a prince charming is the desire not just for a relationship but for love. This is relevant to the human experience of wanting to be loved, but as a woman this is particularly relevant to the uphill battle we fight to be loved and accepted as we are. Finding Prince charming is representative of our struggle with not being enough in our culture. We are told we are too fat, too thin, we are told how to dress, how to wear our makeup, how much makeup and that we wear to much makeup and should go natural. Our hair cut and color are never right, and were are both prudish virgins and total whores. Feminism pushes us to be more than we have been taught that we can be, but it comes with its own set of do this not that type rules.
Traditional roles still plague us when we want to be mothers and wives and people are still asking whether or not it is appropriate for us to have a career and a family, the debate has not been settled on whether it's okay for us to do whatever we want. The underlying meaning of Prince Charming is that we end up with love and the ability to be ourselves no question and that we get to stop struggling so hard. Especially when some of the core aspects of our struggles in feminine culture are to be approved of by men. So here he is, showing up and just immediately approving of us.
We are also fighting a battle to be respected as women; in our careers or at home, to be paid the same amount for the same amount of work, to have bodily autonomy, complete and equal rights, and to not be harassed and victimized through domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault.This is what Happily Ever After means; first finding love and acceptance with Prince Charming and then the "after" part where we find safety and equality because he is supposed to love us. The palace that we can move into- not only will we be able to afford it but it exists in this whole other realm were we have equality and will not be repeatedly victimized. And lets not forget the dream walk in closet with everything our hearts could desire because here social justice and economic distribution of wealth are a priority. Not all the peasants have a castle but no one lives in a hovel and they can afford to buy a pair of $100.00 dollar glass slippers every now and again without worrying if they will have to stop eating for a month to pay rent. The fairy tale dream of women wanting to be a princess is real, and we want to be a princess because the whole story is a promise of love and stability, and we still struggling for those things. Socially and economically. Women in many ways are still second class citizens and it's even more difficult for women of color.
The solution is not going to be found in a fairy tale of Disney depth and dimension, those are just reproduced images of feminine culture. We have to dig for the bones in the story, the good quality meaty pieces, as well as searching for other ways of empowering ourselves and the young girls in our lives. Cinderella sings "A dream is a wish our heart makes come true", that is a bone piece. That is having vision and focusing on manifesting it into reality. In fact Cinderella so intently focused on what she wanted that she produced a wand waving fairy godmother into her life. While the Disney version is a reflection of our culture the good thing about art is that you can change it to reflect something else. That new image can be powerful enough to insight more similar images and eventually you might even see a change in the culture itself.
The feminist perspective on ways and methods of changing the damsel in distress script are important. But also important is looking at it in a way that allows for seeing the complete struggle for feminine power and that Disney Princess culture is not beloved just because of an adherence to patriarchal thinking. It is beloved because it reflects our struggles, emphasizes our desires to be free of them, and the promise of then living happily ever after.