Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Look at this stuff isn't it neat?"

"Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?
Wouldn't you think I'm the girl
The girl who has everything?"
Um, I hope not...

Oh no! I've been brainwashed!

Ok, maybe that sounds a little dramatic but the feeling I had after watching Disney's "The Little Mermaid" this weekend was a strong one! I babysat a four-year-old girl (for a friend/co-worker) and along with reading out loud, making up stories, running around the house, playing robots and drawing pictures she wanted to "watch Ariel".

Here's a little summary of what went on in my head as the movie played: It started with, "Yay, I loved this movie when I was a kid... Oh, my god I know all the words, oh my god I know all the songs", then I started to see what was going on in a different light, "Oh my god, Ariel is sixteen and totally anorexic, she thinks she's in love with this guy and they haven't even spoken! Now she's rejecting her family for him, now she's going to see this witch (demonized single women), who lives alone, is fat, bitter and power hungry..."

I basically started to tear it to shreds and maybe I over-analyzed a little but I feel secure in saying that Disney Princesses are anti-feminist. I've read about this in essays, learned about it in college classes and even noticed it on my own but what freaked me out as I watched the movie was the presence of the two voices in my head. Logically, I could see it for what it was but there was this little tiny voice (that I'm embarrassed to even admit I have) that kept saying, "well, she is really pretty and skinny and she seems happy, maybe that really is what I want". Fortunately for me, my not-brainwashed voice was able to say, "no! This is crazy-pants!" I made it through the movie enjoying parts and feeling horrified at others. When Eric and Ariel finally kissed, the little girl I was watching ran around the room clapping her hands and cheering for them. It was easy to see that once upon a time that was me.

When I started to talk about this with different friends I observed a range of reactions. When it came to my girl friends it went from, "wow, I've never really thought of it like that but you're right" to "don't ruin the princess movies!" and then a few feminist friends who saw eye to eye and got into long, interesting conversations about what this means for us now as 20-somethings. When I mentioned these thoughts to a guy friend he kind of laughed, not in a mean way exactly but he had no idea what I was talking about, looked at me like I was literally crazy and then said something about "feminist bullshit". I felt so silly at that moment that I wanted to go home and delete the draft of this blog. I realized that rather than letting that feeling stop me from sharing my thoughts and opinions I must do the exact opposite.

It's hard to stand up against something or someone when you're afraid of being different and when what seems wrong is so subtle that you sometimes question it yourself but how else can we create change? With a topic like Disney, I'm not filled with some kind of passion or rage but it irritates me enough to talk about among friends. There are many problems with the Princess movies and yet they contain elements we all love. The thing that bugs me the most is the fact that the success of these women is completely based on getting together with or being rescued by the Prince. It also occurred to me that I am prime Disney-Princess-brainwash-age. All of these movies came out one after another throughout my childhood and my sisters and I watched everything from "Snow White" to "Mulan". Even though we had lots of other toys, books and movies, the presence of Disney in our lives was HUGE!

When I let myself think too much about stuff like this I start to feel angry and frustrated and that doesn't do anyone any good. So, instead of trying to convince you of something negative or dwelling on what has already happened I'm going to start from where I am at this moment: No, I do not think the Disney Princess movies are evil but I also do not think they do a lot of good for young girls. What can I do for myself and other women right now? Well, I can have these conversations with friends and be open and sensitive to issues that other people may bring up, even if they might seem crazy at first. It is a male dominated society that I live in and sometimes it's scary to challenge the way things are. As we all know, Walt Disney was not a woman and even though women can be anti-feminists and men can be feminists I like to seek out the women in news, arts and politics for the sake of balance.

Here are some women that have come under my radar lately:

  • This is an article that came out when Disney released "Enchanted", it touches on some of the things I mentioned earlier and is written by a woman.

  • This is an interesting note written to Barack Obama by author and feminist Alice Walker.

  • And here's a woman to get the news from: Amy Goodman

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Big Kid Now

You may not have or even teach a child but you were one and whether it was to a parent, friend or teacher you probably used to say:

"When I grow up I'm gonna be a _____!"

For me, the "blank" was everything from spy to pilot to writer! (Of course no kid's gonna say "struggling actor/painter/front desk receptionist"... but uh, I'm workin' on it.) When I thought of being a writer back then, what I had in mind was based on what I was reading at the time and that, of course, meant Children's Literature. Kid's are known for being innocent and pure but a child's mind is not all love and light. Just like the "big people" we become, a kid's mind has its dark corners too and even as a little girl, I got my thrills from poking around in the dark.

I've never taken a course on Children's Literature; however, due to the fact that both of my parents teach elementary school I've read my fair share of children's books. The books we read as kids can be anything from classic fairy tales to instructional stories and everything in between. There are talking animals, great adventures, morals and even warnings. I don't know about all kids but I was often drawn to the darker stories. Rather than the mouse-ballerina-type stuff I was into stories with an element of danger.

Looking back on some of my old favorites I recognize different interpretations and levels of meaning. Some are seemingly inappropriate for a young mind but how much was I really absorbing back then? We learn to analyze literature and poetry and we read into everything more but we don't often revisit the books we read before we thought critically. When it comes to Children's Literature how much do the darker themed stories affect the subconscious? It'd be interesting to take a class on this in relationship to early childhood development studies.

I recently stumbled upon this NY Times Sunday Book Review about some new children's books that seem edgier than most, it's an interesting article... Below is a list of a few of my childhood favorites and if you've ever studied Children's Literature or just have an opinion about any of this I'd love to hear what you think!

The Night Flight by Joanne Ryder
This little girl escapes in the night by flying out her window and embarks on an adventure in the park that puts her on the back of a wild lion statue come-to-life. The image of the roaring lion at a roaring waterfall makes me wonder if she ended up with a little more than she'd set out for.

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young
The illustrations are haunting and the tale of caution is a familiar one involving a big bad, you know.

Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak
Goblins kidnap Ida's sibling and replace it with a changeling. Creepy? Yeah... but beautiful illustrations and the simple, poetic writing leaves you wondering about more than just why these kids were left alone.

Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood
Don't talk to strangers... especially if they want to turn you into food and eat you! Once again it's the illustrations that make this one so stunning, even now.