Sadly, I still haven’t gone to see the new live-action Beauty and the Beast yet, but since it seemed timely, I decided to go back and revisit the 1991 animated film first. Ever since it came out, Belle has been lauded as one of the more feminist Disney princesses, especially in comparison to other older Disney protagonists such as Cinderella or Ariel. Belle is book-smart, curious, and outgoing, and she defies societal conventions by being completely unapologetic about who she is. So of course we see her as feminist, and it’s through the use of magic that Disney attempts to capture a feminist message in her narrative. However, despite all of Belle’s potential feminist characteristics, Disney still creates a world in which the only possible option for Belle and the other princesses is to fall in love with and marry a man. The magic in these movies exist to subvert some patriarchal values, but in the end, they adhere to others by continuously rewarding its protagonists with unwanted love interests.
I love fairy tales, both old ones and new versions. It’s fascinating how you can tell the same story twice and get two totally different meanings. You can see this with Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. Both the original and the beloved Disney version are very much influenced by Christian moral frameworks, but in two totally different ways.
This post is quite obviously two days late; Mother’s Day has come and gone. I’m-a apologize for that, but it kind of goes to point I want to make: mothers and motherhood get remarkably short shrift in pop culture in general and geek culture in particular.
For the most part, moms just don’t exist. Where they do, they’re either saintly and loving, or creepy and weird. Archetypes without full characterization. Which is all to say, it’s time we do better.
Although the idea of a contract in real life is ostensibly meant to protect both parties’ interests and hold both parties accountable, this is almost never the case in fiction. When a contract shows up, you know it’s bad news, and if it’s a magical contract, just, like, don’t even read it. Instead of reading it, run.
In day to day life, dealing with the fine print of agreements ranges from irrelevant to frustrating—maybe the paid membership you signed up for auto-renews and you didn’t realize it, or you agreed to an EULA that said you promised not to use that software to create nuclear weapons. Generally a bummer, but nothing life-altering. This mild sort of badness isn’t always the worst case, and plenty of historical examples of people passing off misleading or unfair contract terms exist. History is full of corporations and other people (#zing) who use their power to manipulate. That’s why we have laws about things like monopolies, and Native Americans are still fighting to make the U.S. honor its agreements regarding tribal lands.
Stories based on contract-signings or otherwise magically binding agreements are often reflective of power differences and discrimination in real life. In fiction, people who write contracts are evil, and want you to sign off on that shitty contract they wrote without ever reading the fine print. Then later, when you protest that you didn’t sign up for this, they can pull it out and say yes, you literally signed up for exactly this. The contract’s author is usually a wealthy villain—whether that wealth is financial or some other sort (magical ability, political power) is irrelevant. The point is, they have ultimate control over an ability or commodity, and they can dictate the terms by which that commodity is distributed. And since these contracts have magic behind them, breaking them isn’t as easy as just going back on your word.
It’s no secret on this blog that we greatly dislike the mystical healing trope where magic cures people of what would otherwise be lifelong disabilities. Often, this is because our disabled protagonists are portrayed as broken and needing to be fixed, and are just special enough that the mystical forces of their world deem them worthy of healing—but not the other disabled characters, like the villains.
But what about the opposite? What about when magic makes characters disabled instead of curing them? This is a trope that I love so much more, since hey, I could use more disabled characters in my life, but it’s usually combined with the mystical healing trope, which means that it unfortunately runs into some of the same ableist problems.
The first thing to know about feminism is that it’s concerned with women’s well-being, and the well-being of all. The second thing to know about feminism is that it’s incredibly complicated. There are many, many forms of feminism, including ones that directly conflict with one another. One of the things that all feminists can agree on is that we need good role models for young girls. But what kinds of role models are we talking about? Disney Princesses are a source of love and contention for many feminists. We can’t seem to agree on which princesses are the best; these two different rankings both claim to be done through a feminist lens, yet they’re completely different. In one, Mulan is at the top, the other she’s near the bottom.
On one hand, we see lots of little girls so excited (excited is putting it mildly) to watch Disney Princess movies, wear Disney Princess costumes, meet Disney Princesses at theme parks, and pretend to be Disney Princesses. Many of the popular Disney Princesses exemplify traditional Western standards of feminine perfection, and what’s wrong with wanting to be feminine? On the other hand, some of the Princesses are treated like objects instead of people; their agency is limited to going about their lives until a man (usually a Prince, but not always) swoops in to rescue them. They’re also drawn as unrealistically skinny, and I’m certain that barring a few height differences, every single one could swap outfits with each other. It’s a bad message to send to girls who are already subjected to a lot of body image issues. Other more modern Disney Princesses do have strong personalities and dreams of their own, and send good messages to kids. So which ones really are the good princesses, and are there any redeeming qualities to the seemingly not-so-feminist ones?
It’s been a week and a half since the midseason finale of Once Upon a Time’s Season 3, which means I’ve had plenty of time to sit around and figure out what I thought of it. In general, I think it’s moving in a good direction, but I still have some complaints. Specificity (and therefore spoilers) after the jump.