Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Disney haters: Passive females

This article by Tolu Olorunda, linked by Surlalunefairytalesblog, seethes with hatred for Disney. There are many arguments addressed in the article which I will not all address now. And let me just say that, though I defend Disney, I don't pretend they're perfect. But a lot of haters-like Olorunda-draw too strong conclusions from their facts in a way that can weaken their arguments. The article basically claims that all Disney is white misogynist propoganda.

I'm going to talk about this line today: "The White female raised on Disney mostly learns that her lot in life is to seek endlessly until finding that knight-in-shining-armor—without whom her life would lack meaning."
I've already somewhat addressed this claim, considering historical context and the sources of the tales. But first of all, not every Disney female is Cinderella. In the romances where the main characters are male (Lion King, Aladdin, Jungle Book, Tarzan, Robin Hood,) the men all end up with a girl at the end. Yet no one is concluding that a man's life wouldn't mean anything without a woman. Is not this one-sided argument also sexist, then? Then there are several classic cartoons that don't have a romance at all-Dumbo, Pinocchio, Sword in the Stone, Alice in Wonderland, as well as several of the other films and shorts, including many live movies, that have been mostly forgotten now. Then there are movies which involve romance, but on the fringe, where the bulk of the story is on the characters' adventures, or on family values-101 Dalmatians, Mary Poppins, Jungle Book (yes, I know I put Jungle Book in two categories, because the focus isn't on romance, but he does end up with a girl.)

Human love and companionship isn't a bad thing. The idea that a happy ending includes a marriage is not unique to Disney at all. Take a look at generations of folklore. And what about modern chick flicks? In some way they all imply that romantic relationships are part of a happy ending. Don't they all imply in some form that a woman is not complete without a man? Not to hold chick flicks up as the ultimate standard of comparison. It's not the idea that marriage is good and can even, yes, be fulfilling, though not without any struggles at all (which is not, I think, what "happily ever after means.") It's the implication that you can't be happy without a husband-or males, without a wife-which is wrong. But this is never stated explicitly, and not only implied by Disney.

Then the article goes on to cite Beauty and the Beast as the ultimate example of this catering to men-and I've heard this argument before too-because the Beast starts out violent, therefore it promotes abusive relationships. Now, the historical Beasts started out innocent completely. Various versions have explained why the Beast got so upset over the theft of a rose-basically they just need to get Beauty to the castle somehow. But I do think this is a very interesting interpretation by Disney-that the Beast reveals through his outer self what he is on the inside. However, the whole point of the movie is that people can CHANGE. Notice that, at the beginning of the movie when he IS a jerk, Belle wants nothing to do with him. She was in the act of running away when he saved her life, risking his own-that is the turning point and what makes her decide to come back. Then the key point of the next montage scene is the passage of TIME. Unlike...every other Princess movie? Except Mulan I guess-the lovers know each other for more than a couple days (or hours). It takes TIME to develop a relationship, and trust, especially when it starts out with the boy threatening your father's life for no reason. This is common in the literary precedents as well. The Beast asks Beauty to marry him, night after night, and she says no, again and again. She ultimately weilds the power. In fact, Belle is the opposite of the damsel in distress- it is the Beast is helpless on his own, sitting and waiting in the castle (and wrongly imprisoning the occasional passerby),and Belle is the one who hold the power and does the rescuing. He is the one who needs her. She might not go out and fight dragons, but wouldn't that also be prejudiced to say love and perseverance is not a valid way to rescue someone?

One more thing. I used to nanny for two girls, ages 5 and 7. Sarah's favorite Princess was Ariel, Michelle's was Cinderella. Among the games we would play, we would often assume the identity of our favorite Princesses and act our stories with our combined movie characters (I was obviously Belle). Now, I did not guide the play at all, but let the children come up with their own stories, but mostly what we did was rescue our Princes from the villains. We would often get ransom calls on our imaginary cell phones and have to bike down the block to Ursula's fortress and have to come up with a plan to get Eric out of there. We NEVER played that the girls were sitting around the house, trapped by the villain, and needed the boys to save them. To counter this, several children do like to play trapped, or captured-but then generally they really don't want to get rescued, either by a pretend Prince or by a girl-the excitement is in the being trapped. So maybe children aren't all mindless slaves who see a couple Princesses who do domestic chores cheerfully and assume from this that their lot in life is to sit and look pretty and prepare to be a good housewife. Just sayin'.


  1. VERY good argument, thank you.

  2. An excellent defense for Disney in general, and Beauty & the Beast in particular.

  3. Great post! I love watching Disney haters get rekt!

    Disney haters are such bigots. They can't stand the fact that people are allowed to like things that they don't like.