Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What's Wrong With Cinderella?

As pink and all its power becomes highly lucrative, the make-believe fantasies of children are becoming commercial successes. It’s not just Barbie and G.I. Joe anymore. Peggy Orenstein wrote a fantastic article (aptly entitled "What's Wrong with Cinderella?"), exploring these issues and fall-out of the Princess marketing phenomena and young girls. It’s available from the New York Times, but requires subscriber access. I’ve pasted two excerpts below. Definitely an interesting read and I highly recommend it.

“[Discussing the Disney Princess line of merch]…It is also worth noting that not all of the ladies are of royal extraction. Part of the genius of "Princess" is that its meaning is so broadly constructed that it actually has no meaning. Even Tinker Bell was originally a Princess, though her reign didn't last. "We'd always debate over whether she was really a part of the Princess mythology," Mooney recalled. "She really wasn't." Likewise, Mulan and Pocahontas, arguably the most resourceful of the bunch, are rarely depicted on Princess merchandise, though for a different reason. Their rustic garb has less bling potential than that of old-school heroines like Sleeping Beauty. (When Mulan does appear, she is typically in the kimonolike hanfu, which makes her miserable in the movie, rather than her liberated warrior's gear.)”

“….If nothing else, pink and Princess have resuscitated the fantasy of romance that that era of feminism threatened, the privileges that traditional femininity conferred on women despite its costs — doors magically opened, dinner checks picked up, Manolo Blahniks. Frippery. Fun. Why should we give up the perks of our sex until we're sure of what we'll get in exchange? Why should we give them up at all? Or maybe it's deeper than that: the
freedoms feminism bestowed came with an undercurrent of fear among women themselves — flowing through "Ally McBeal," "Bridget Jones's Diary," "Sex and the City" — of losing male love, of never marrying, of not having children, of being deprived of something that felt essentially and exclusively female.

I mulled that over while flipping through "The Paper Bag Princess," a 1980 picture book hailed as an antidote to Disney. The heroine outwits a dragon who has kidnapped her prince, but not before the beast's fiery breath frizzles her hair and destroys her dress,
forcing her to don a paper bag. The ungrateful prince rejects her, telling her to come back when she is "dressed like a real princess." She dumps him and skips off into the sunset, happily ever after, alone.

There you have it, "Thelma and Louise" all over again. Step out of line, and you end up solo or, worse, sailing crazily over a cliff to your doom. Alternatives like those might send you skittering right back to the castle. And I get that: the fact is, though I want my
daughter to do and be whatever she wants as an adult, I still hope she'll find her Prince Charming and have babies, just as I have. I don't want her to be a fish without a bicycle; I want her to be a fish with another fish. Preferably, one who loves and respects her and also does the dishes and half the child care.”

I’ve long heard the mantra that feminism is about choice. Rather than confining it to a set of decisions about A or B or black or white (pink vs blue for that matter), perhaps it’s more apt to say it’s about personal balance. After all, I know I’ve got a little Cinderella as well as some ass-kicking She-Ra in my veins.


Clara said...

Cinderella, eh? A girl at my college did an audience study of Cinderella for her senior thesis, and maintained that even those who claimed they didn't identify with Cinderella (or any of the other characters in the story) actually did. Hogswash, in my opinion (or at the very least, bad research methods).

Nevertheless, Cinderella's pink dress (the one the mice make) is ripped to shreds, and she is left looking more than a little like rape victim until her fairy godmother helps her achieve rebirth in blue. Meaningless, I'm sure, but entertaining nonetheless.

Jennifer said...

Interesting study! How was the research flawed? It does sound a bit too perfect.

Blue used to be as popular as pink for women-- light shades of it were considered noble and pure. It's interesting how different colors and the meanings associated with them change and move with time.

Clara said...

Well, it was more that she ignored some of her results. Unless you have evidence (say, neurological imaging) that contradicts what your audience self-reports, you can't call it an audience study and say "even though they said this, they're obviously lying." Conclusions have to come *after* research.

Jennifer said...

She should do more research. Even if the data doesn't support her original (and probably flawed) conclusion, I'd be interesting in seeing it.