My essay from Struck A Nerve, March 16, 2015. The Magic Kingdom Edition and, in my opinion, the best show at SAN yet! (Probably because in an earlier sketch I got to play Ariel. We didn’t need to wear a costume. But you tell me to be Ariel and I say, “How high?”)
Let me preface this essay by saying I think Disney is so cool.
I’m actually going to Disney World in a few weeks with my mom and all you Capitalism haters can suck it!
Disney is awesome. Its legacy inspired legions of great artists and shaped the mediums of illustration, movies, theater and songwriting.
The uh… sexism, racism and stereotyping, I think, can be forgiven at least in some part because of social mores at the time, even though, yes, the social mores can’t be forgiven.
Don’t throw the innovatively hand-drawn baby out with the magic bath water!
That being said, I’d like to talk about the trope of the princess love story and why it really just sucks so hard.
1) The princess trope assumes mostly just white people and heterosexuals deserve a love story.
- Let’s just get that one out of the way. Only in fan fiction does Ariel finally get to have that so-obviously-desired hate sex with Ursula.
2) None of the princes are really that awesome.
- Here’s why there’s no Sleeping Beauty Part 2. Because a few months deep into marriage with her prince, Aurora realized the total snooze fest was, in fact, married life. She ran off a few years later with the court jester.
Rarely did the princes have to prove their worth. Their excellence was just assumed. The Beast was perhaps the most dynamic emotionally — flawed and forgiven. But how lame was Belle?! No one is that perfect. Girl had to have been torturing the loser candles and time pieces in the palace dungeon or something. That sick bitch is really why Chip is so broken, they just don’t talk about it.
The stories of the Disney princesses were most exciting when they were having their own adventures. I always hated that it seemed like they were settling when their someday prince had finally come.
It’s always the princess that has to give up something — living near her family, dwarf friends, fins — to be with her soulmate. Rarely was it the other way around. And for what? Some hot dude with dominion over peasants and a raging daddy complex? Gross.
3) You have to listen to the hot girls talk about how they deserve to be treated like a princess.
- Y’all know exactly who I’m talking about… the girls who society most treats like princesses because they fit the accepted beauty mold, are always the ones saying they should be treated thusly.
Listen, ladies, don’t you think we should be more concerned with the fact that we have to use an archaic term to indicate that we deserve to be showered with love and affection?
Also, do you even know what real princesses were subjected to? You want to be treated like a princess? Actually, if you’re the type of woman who says, “I need him to treat me like a princess,” your father should select your mate based on who will best fulfill the destiny of his kingdom of used car lots.
4) Princess is a very loaded term.
- OK, so one time at band camp. No really. I was a sophomore in high school and it was that time in fashion history when statement tees in bubble letters were way cool. I was, literally, at band camp and I was wearing a t-shirt that said in silver “Princess.” Now, a follower of directions I have never really been and I was notoriously “excitable” and rebellious during band, mostly because I was second-tier cool everywhere else but in band I was a badass, so this band mom’s following statement to me wasn’t completely unwarranted.
She looked at me hanging out with my friends, looked at my shirt and then said very snarkily, “Yeah, I heard you were a princess.”
I laughed out loud and walked away, which was really the most appropriate response. If you’re a grown adult whose to do list only consists of leading the band boosters, hanging out at a high school band camp and talking down to a 10th grader, fuck you, but I remember thinking “Wait. When did this become a bad word?”
Princess, a role little girls are taught to admire, imposter and desire, quickly becomes a negative slur the moment you become sexually competitive or assert any real sense of independence. You’re a princess until you’re a “fucking princess.” It’s more confusing than the time get-a-job Simba saw grown-up Nala for the first time at ye ol’ watering hole.
5) The princess trope creates an unattainable standard for dudes, too.
- Unless you are the prince, you are a loser. Or you are a friend of another species, thus signifying and justifying your automatic friend-zoning. Or you are a sexually ambiguous sage. Or you are a creepy bad guy.
The whole meme of being a princess is that you are somehow special despite how pervasively average you may be. And somehow every little girl is allowed to live in this fantasy, at least for a time. Now, that is incredibly harmful I think because it subconsciously says little girls are the only ones in need coddling, but it has to also be harmful on the other end of things, right?
For one, this just creates a relationship ideal that is doomed for failure. Men are not made up fantasy princes. They are human beings with flaws and emotions and, sometimes, undefined jaws. The princess trope sets up girls to look for the perfect Prince Eric and totally miss the awesome Flounder right next door.
Second, the men in these movies who are not the princes are routinely emasculated or stereotyped in their own right. Ariel’s dad turns into a tiny penis-like worm, Belle’s dad being kidnapped and unable to save himself is the whole point of her story beginning, and the men in Mulan other than her love interest are just hyper-masculine dolts.
Sometimes even the princes must be saved by their princesses—a theme you see more in the movies from the ‘90s and ‘00s—a nice attempt at rectifying the damsel in distressing, but one that seemed to point to love happening as a result of saviordom, just in a role reversal from Disney movies past.
The newer movies just totally 180-ed themselves gender-wise. Now the guys, like the free-spirited prince in The Princess and the Frog, are the one-dimensional, du-dum-dum people in need of saving by the strong, beautiful, ambitious woman. Men, they seem to say, we don’t need you, but you totally need us to save your stupid asses.
6) Hello unattainable and unfair body standards.
And, again, I’m not just talking about for women, although the most recent scandal regarding the live action Cinderella’s impossibly small waist just proves that this is still, in fact, a problem (are only those pretty skinny girls the ones whose love story deserves to be told?), these movies are unfair to guys outside a certain body type too.
It’s no coincidence that Jasmine and Belle’s fathers both were squat little doughy guys whose shape was a metaphor for their inability to get anything right done. On the other end of that, check out the guys who are bad. Except for Hercules, because duh he’s Hercules, the dumb guys are always muscle bound bro types (like Gaston or the taking-orders version of genie that’s a mindless slave to Jafar) and the bad guys are usually skinny and dark (ie. Scar, Cruella DeVille and Maleficent).
I understand using a shape or style as a visual story telling cue, but at what point do you have a social responsibility to thoughtfully mixing up the stereotype? I think definitely at the point that you influence generations of children and use their interest to make billions off of your stories.
And, finally, number (7) on a similar note. No one, I repeat, no one looks good in layers of tulle. No one except a five-year-old. And me. At Disney World. Next weekend.