September 26, 2011

Some Day My Prince Will Come (and Things Will Just Get Worse)

DD and SI in pretty dresses
Recently, my cousin LaLa brought the girls a big back full of Disney Princess movies.  SI promptly fell head over heels with Cinderella.  It is her new favorite movie.  A washcloth that LaLa brought with Cinderella's image on it is her new favorite toy.  She wants to watch it, on a loop, all day.  Every day.

I love cousin LaLa.  I appreciate how much she loves the girls and that she wants to make them happy, and I understand why she brought Cinderella into our house.  That said...

I despise Princesses.  I hate Disney Princesses in particular.  I understand them for the most part, which is to say I appreciate the appeal that they have for little girls, but I can't watch a Disney Princess movie without wanting to throw bricks through my TV so that it never shills that crap again.

Allow me to explain.

As I have previously pointed out, children are constantly learning.  Constantly.  They learn from everything that we do.  From every experience.  From every dumb cartoon.

So let's examine the lessons of two Disney Princesses I've spent the most time with these last few weeks.  Cinderella and Belle.

Cinderella has a crappy lot in life.  She's essentially the slave of her wicked stepmother and spoiled brats of stepsisters.
She could be getting paid for this.

That said, she's a complete nincompoop.

Cinderella has SKILLS, seriously.  She can sew itsy bitsy mouse clothes.  She can balance trays loaded with full pots of hot tea on her head.  Surely, she could have found a job- a paid job, as a maid in a much more wealthy household.  One where she'd be treated with a modicum of respect.  The fact that she continues to live with her horrible family is evidence only of her complete lack of imagination.

She relies on the assistance of a handful of, most likely, brain damaged mice.  She seems to suffer from some chronic amnesia that makes her forget her family are underhanded, manipulative jerks.

What are Cinderella's assets?  She's pretty.  That's the most important.  She can sing, that makes her even more appealing.  She's meek.  She never complains to her horrible family.  She's obedient.  She knows how to cook and clean and sew.  These skills make her an ideal bride.

Yes, she's very kind.  That's the best thing she has going for her.  In fact, the moral is intended to be that if you ARE very kind, things will work out for you.  But they don't.

Thanks to her kindness, one can assume, she acquires a Fairy Godmother.  The fairy godmother is another paragon of feminine virtue- she's asexual, she's also very kind, and she is crafty.

Now, I have nothing against craftiness.  I'm crafty.  But this is absolutely the best thing that any woman in this movie has going for her.  The women in this movie, from the Fairy Godmother at best to the evil stepsisters at worst, are awful.

Not just because the evil stepmother is an emotionally abusive, manipulative, cruel jerk.  Which she is.

But because, as in all Disney Princess movies, they all despise each other.  All except the fairy godmother, who's willing to help Cinderella out with a trivial party but not with the misery of her daily existence.
The Grand Duke fears for his life.

Even the stepsisters are always at each others throats.

Male characters can have male friends and sidekicks, female characters can have male friends and sidekicks, but there are no female friends, no female sidekicks.  Because every woman is out for herself.  There is no sisterhood in Disney.  The only female characters in ANY Disney movie that seem to actually like each other are the three fairies in Sleeping Beauty... and they're always bickering with each other, they keep Briar Rose captive, and they're completely desexualized.  Any woman in a Disney movie with any kind of sexual identity is automatically at war with every other woman who might be a sexual competitor.  But I digress.

What does the Fairy Godmother do for Cinderella?  Does she free her from her awful, manipulative, underhanded stepmother?  No, she just helps Cinderella move from one abusive situation to another.  From a matriarch with a knack for inflicting emotional pain to the home of the king- a homicidal maniac who constantly tries to behead his best allies.

...and that's the happy ending.  The happy ending is that Cinderella can use her sewing, cleaning, and hot-teapot-balancing skills to please her new husband and his maniac of a father.  Joy of joys.

Now, let's talk about Belle.

Unlike Cinderella, Belle is supposed to be smart.  You know this because she likes books.  All girls who like books are smart.  But that's not what's most important.  What's most important is that she's the biggest egotist in the movie.

In a movie that seems, on the surface, to be about how egoism is bad.

Date rape is the stuff of Disney comedy.
After all, the Beast is a beast because he doesn't know how to love anyone but himself.  And Gaston is a villain because he doesn't know how to love anyone but himself.

Belle shows her true colors after Gaston's frankly terrifying attempt to all but rape Belle in her father's house.  After all the inappropriate sexual advances, after physically intimidating her, disrespecting her, and letting her know exactly where he thinks her PLACE is, what is Belle's response?

Does she decry his sexism?  His sexual inappropriateness?  His threats of violence?

No.  She merely expresses her outrage that somebody as dumb as that could think that she, SHE, could DEMEAN herself by marrying him.  Because she is SO much better.

In short, her ego leaves no room for his ego.

There's a bonus moral in that movie- love doesn't count unless you say it out loud.  One can presume that Belle loved the Beast before confessing when she believed he was dead.  But the magic spell could only be broken once she went ahead and told his cold, lifeless body.  So our emotions have no validity unless we share them.  Or, at least, until a man can tell us that he accepts our feelings as meaningful.

DD playing dress up
Those aren't lessons I want my daughters to learn.  I don't want them to think that the most valuable skills they can have are an ability to overlook outright violence and hostility, and a meticulous ability to scrub a foyer.

That said, I'm not stopping them from watching those stupid movies.  As horrible as those lessons are, I don't think they're actually hurting my children.  Yet.

...part of that has to do with the commentary that comes from Mommy while Cinderella pleads with her stepmother to let her out and marry the prince.  (Cinderella says, "Oh you can't!  You just can't!"  Becoming SuperMommy says, "Not going to bargain?  Not going to offer her fabulous wealth once you're the queen?  Not going to start SCREAMING OUT THE WINDOW?  Isn't there an officer of the law RIGHT OUTSIDE?")

As I said, and you no doubt don't believe, I get it.  I get why little girls are into Princesses.  They have pretty dresses, they get to dance and sing, everybody loves them (except the bad guys).  They get rescued, they fall in love, they live happily ever after.  There's dress up, there's magic, there's attention.

Aside from that, there are absolutely no redeeming qualities.

But I'm letting my girls have their stupid Princesses for now, because I can control the saturation.  And more importantly, I can introduce them to other outlets for those impulses that don't involve simply being the prettiest, most well dressed girl in the room.

There's historical fiction.  100 years ago, women and girls wore pretty dresses every day.  I remember reading the Little House books, and wanting to go get my OWN calico, and make my OWN pretty dresses.  There are the old American Girl books, with girls in pretty dresses riding horses, and sneaking off to play with other children, and getting into trouble.  That's an excuse for most Princess things, with the added bonus of kind of being educations.  And not nearly so self aggrandizing.

SI playing dress up at snack time
And then there are character building activities.  Dance classes, theater, music lessons.  These are excuses to ACTUALLY dress up, to ACTUALLY be the center of attention.  And I believe that it is a much healthier thing for any child to learn that you get to be the center of attention if you earn it, that you are not entitled to it.

And Princesses are all about a sense of entitlement.

So I'm gritting my teeth, and watching Cinderella on a regular basis.  SI gets her week or so of total obsession (and to be fair, she's been very sick and sort of living on the couch with her sinus infection and croup), and then we'll move on to other things.  Healthier things.

But you can bet your ass there will be no Disney Princesses sheets, paper plates, or themed parties in my house.  At least until my children are able to buy that schlock with their own allowances.

I just want to say, there are exceptions to the Princess tripe.  Princess Fiona is top of the list of Princesses that don't make me want to vomit.  But again... that's not Disney.


  1. This is a great post. I haven't gotten any of the girl movies yet -- maggie isn't old enough -- but from what I understand, Tangled is a much better movie from all these issues.

  2. My daughter watches them and talks about finding prince charming and blah, blah. That being said, I watched them as a kid, and I have no illusions. Your kids aren't going to learn their values and morals from Television and movies, unless you allow that. They learn from you. Everything in moderation. And really, I'd rather my daughter watch that than Nickelodeon! Good post!

  3. Tangled is a much better Disney princess movie, and so is Mulan. Fiona rocks. I've been looking for support in my own anti-princess quest, and Pigtail Pals and Princess Free Zone are some great websites/blogs/FB pages.

  4. Find "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" at the library-- worth reading.

  5. My daughter is deep into a Disney princess phase, and I am really conflicted about it. Neither hubby nor I care for the messages the movies and books share with little girls. They go against our own beliefs, and are certainly counter to the goals we have for her. That said, she's two years old. How much harm can it really do to let her watch Cinderella? (Also her favorite.) We neither encourage nor discourage her interest. We figure if we don't make a big deal about it, the phase will pass. Maybe it will come back to bite us in the butt. I hope not. In the meantime, I make sure she receives other messages from as many sources as possible... ;)

  6. My daughter has only seen Tangled and Princess and The Frog - not because of anything deliberate on my part, but because I don't own any princess movies and those have been on Netflix streaming. I recommend both, especially Princess and The Frog. Tiana is proud to work hard towards her not-bagging-a-man-related goal and is entirely uninterested in meeting the Prince coming to town. The movie makes a bit of a mockery of the spoiled girl who does want to meet the Prince and become a Princess. All that, and the alligator is great.

  7. I love the Princesses. My friends and family do. Sure, they can't be like Fiona or Mulan, but at least Tiana had a job, a FREAKIN' JOB! Plus, Giselle rescued Robert from Narissa, so she was a hero, and look at Rapunzel. She defeated Gothel by herself after Flynn was killed and healed him after.
    On top of that, look at the time periods that the movies were released. 'Cinderella' was released in 1950, a time when women in the workplace still seemed obscure. Same with 'Snow White,' when women were still stuck at home.
    To ban fantasy is to ban dreaming and to ban dreaming is to ban happiness. Think about it, people!

  8. This is a great post and your points are very valid. I definitely see your point. I don't like princesses. Really I don't like any cartoon character, to be honest. I pray my kid somehow skips over the, "I'm a princess stage" that most little girls go through. I have to agree with the anonymous commenter above me though. Women have come a long way from when Cinderella and stories like that were first written and the movies that Disney has come out with recently definitely start to portray that.

  9. My 5-year old twin boys love the Disney princesses as well. Their favourite two? Mulan and Lilo. OK, so I guess Lilo and Stitch isn't exactly a princess movie, but every time we hear Lilo explain why feeding a tunafish sandwich to tuna is cannibalism, we look at each other, look at twin no 2, and shake our heads, because it could be him talking! I think I preferred the Disney princess phase to the current superhero phase. Wonder Woman rocks, but she's one of the few who do. Thankfully, there's also Kim Possible, and she is definitely worth checking out!

  10. Dreaming, imagining, and even PLAYING, yes playing, is what children should do. To stifle this is to Cruelty to Childhood. I wish people like you, who pick everything in life apart, trying to see messages and inserting their view of that so called message upon society are people who want to think they are intellectually superior and somehow protecting all of us stupid dreamers. God bless dreamers and those who create a world of fantasy and play for others to enjoy! Sad - is all I can say about you and those of your ilk. Please don't protect us. We don't need a world where children can't be dreamers and watch movies that promote imagination.

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  12. The Golden Carpet:
    A prince wants to make a common girl his princess so he asks her father for her hand in marriage. The girls father tells the prince that he'll have to ask her HIMSELF. He does, but the girl turns him down because he has no NO SKILLS. So he acquires skills and she agrees to marry him. One day THE PRINCE GETS CAPTURED and has to use his skill (weaving) to send a message to the (now) princess of his whereabouts so SHE CAN RESCUE HIM.
    I wish there were more stories like it.

  13. I believe this is where the movie rating about parent guiding their children comes. If you let children watch these movies without guiding their thoughts and emotion, it will have some bad effects. So, be a movie critics and be cautious about what your children watch.



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