Thursday, October 24, 2013


Those who liked the In Defense of Disney Princesses article linked over at Maggie's a few days ago might find they like the entire site, Acculturated. Its target demographic is clearly younger than I am, but seems to be an attempt by New Criterion to carve out a niche for short, intelligent commentary on popular culture. I got notified of a new biography of CS Lewis and a half-dozen other interesting-looking books. I read up on fashion: the history of Vanity Fair and how a Victoria's Secret model is now a "church lady scold." I read sports controversies: fantasy baseball, running up the score, steroids, from other perspectives - and Rick Reilly was nowhere to be found!

As for those Disney Princesses, I've never much liked them, finding them too similar and wrapped around the single pale virtue of spunkiness.  But I never had the intense disapproval, even venom, that is leveled against them these days. The essay linked above persuaded me more than a little that the kids are alright. There's more to them than one virtue.  And I always did know, though I never kept it in focus, that the fury at those rescues by handsome princes destroying all those poor girls' independence and agency and promising an unrealistic happily-ever-after was a retrospective interpretation of the stories by adults who no longer understood them.

Analogy: Job received double land, cows, children, and wealth at the end of his tale (I regard that book as a folk tale, BTW, but still consider it an important part of the canon), which more than one observer has noted is only weirdly a net good, if one has had beloved relatives taken in death earlier in the story.  Creepy, really.  But we aren't reading a history with real people and deaths, we are reading symbols.  And in that culture, Job received the standard reward for getting things right.  So too in fairy tales.  The prince and the wedding are not the point, they are just the standard reward for getting the lesson right in the story.  They are hustled onstage at the last moment as a prize.  We might offer different rewards to little girls now to close the tale. Try it yourself, if you like.

But watch actual girls playing such games and they don't focus on those last few moments.  They focus on the "trying on adulthood" that the stories are really about.  They get adult clothes, and very nice ones.  They order other creatures around - not other humans very often, but cups and saucers, dwarves, small animals.  They go places independently. They run risks.  But all of this is in the safety of the living room, and it is important that their parents watch them doing this. Adulthood - actually going out from the nest - is presented as obtainable, and if one is kind or brave or hardworking, one will get one of the good adulthoods, with a nice version of those rather troubling boys and an assurance it will all go well.  Even that is only at the last moment, with a well-dressed and boringly good-looking Guy With A Horse.  The girls are clearly oblivious to any sexual symbolism of learning to like those hairy, dangerous, frightening creatures - as they should be. The lesson is meant to be only vaguely reassuring.

Okay, having to sing their feelings thoughout the movies is a bit much.  But those are also some of the little girls favorite parts, so those songs are likely expressing feelings little girls cannot quite articulate.
What would I give if I could live out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand?
Bet'cha on land they understand
And they don't reprimand their daughters
Bright young women sick of swimmin'
Ready to stand
Yeah, that's just about how a preteen views independence and adulthood, isn't it? She goes on to learn she was mostly wrong but partly right, and grows up a little.

Related:  In the Barbie universe, remember that it is Ken that is the accessory, not Barbie, and even Cricket had more personality.  What the meaning of a game or toy would be if an adult were playing with it is irrelevant.  What it means in the child's mind is the lesson.  On that score, I wonder if the anger against some girl toys is anger at Other Women.


Sam L. said...

I'm guessing the "feminists" regard it as an assault on their position/philosophy. Because it is not of or in theirs, it must be an attack. (Dissent is unpatriotic.)

Texan99 said...

This feminist doesn't think so.

Earl Wajenberg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Earl Wajenberg said...

"The girls are clearly oblivious to any sexual symbolism of learning to like those hairy, dangerous, frightening creatures - as they should be."

Even in "Beauty and the Beast," where the Beast is pretty clearly a boy who has been cursed by the mischievous Puberty Fairy and turned into a hairy, dangerous, frightening creature, who spends the balance of the story desperately trying to overcome the first impression he makes, and whom Beauty learns to love.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I could never keep those waves of feminism straight, T99. Part of the overgeneralising males do, I think.

Texan99 said...

:-) I wouldn't generalize about males that way, but I do think that a strong aversion often leads to over-generalization. So whenever I see overgeneralization in a hostile statement about feminists, I like to remind people that I'm one, so they can figure that into their views of what "feminists" are like.

Sam L. said...

T99, I'm talkin' professional feminists, anti-patriarchalists, anti-anything that reminds them of life before 1960.

Texan99 said...

Well, to be fair, though, that's pretty much me in a number of ways. I you like anything else I say here from time to time, you perhaps ought to consider that it's coming from someone who also holds many of those views. So what you think those views consist of may not be quite what they really are when held by a real person. It's worth investigating.