Monday, March 25, 2013

Talking Points 7: Brave, Orenstein--Connections

After reading Orenstein's chapters, particularly the section on "Pinkification" and then reading Tyne's blog regarding the Steubenville rape case, it only made sense that this performance came to mind. I'm glad I was able to find it as for a moment the poet's name escaped me but luckily I had posted it to tumblr a year or so ago and it was easy to find (that's why tagging is important, y'all!)
I'll post the text of it at the end of this post. Do watch the video, it's powerful

EDIT: For whatever reason the video isn't playing from here. Go watch it on youtube
Anywho, onto the post.

                Reading the Peggy Orenstein excerpts from Cinderella Ate My Daughter served not only to be a good supplement to the Pixar film Brave but also to our course assumptions, particularly the second (Youth is a Culturally Constructed Category). In the chapter “Pinked!” Orenstein gives many examples of how youth, and various stages of youth, are truly just cultural constructs and nothing more. Not only are these categories cultural constructs but they have been constructed to uphold our society’s dominant ideology of Capitalism. As Raby noted in “A Tangle of Discourses: Girls Negotiating Adolescence”, pleasurable consumption is a dominant discourse of teenagehood:
Youth today are courted as a high-consumer group, and are modelled in the
media as the ideal age, with teenagehood constituting the onset of ‘the best years
of your life’. Social historians often connect the emergence of adolescence to
processes of production and patterns of consumption (Raby, 437).
What Orenstein’s text makes clear is that teenagers aren’t the only valuable group that marketers target. The whole Princess line was created because of its marketability. Dora the Explorer, supposedly an example of Nickolodean’s subversive gender portrayals, might as well be a part of the Disney Princess line when it comes to her toys and other merchandise (Orenstein, 42). What’s actually good for the children, in this case the young girls’, psyche isn’t even a factor passed the first stage of product development. More important than teaching girls that they can be a wide variety of things, that they can embody a multitude of characteristics and interests, is cash-money. How does that not disgust everyone?

Another truly sad thing about many popular girls’ toys, particularly the Disney Princess line, is that these toys put docility and fragility on pedestal. It’s not as if these Disney Princesses are giving us subversive takes on what a princess is. They are very much in line with what we would expect. The Princesses that are showcased are always waiting for “True Love’s Kiss”, they love their man with every fiber of their being and would sacrifice themselves for said man, they often enjoy cleaning or are at least very good at it. They rarely have much motivation beyond love, and even if they started out with others motivations half way through their story LOVE becomes the biggest thing on their mind. There’s nothing wrong with love and wanting to be in a happy and fulfilling relationship, but to teach our young girls that that’s what their main focus to be is a great detriment. Even the princesses who we think combat the dominant depiction of the servile and fragile princess actually aren’t subversive at all.. In Croteau’s “Media and Ideology” he notes:
Research on the ideology of media has included a debate between those who argue that media promote the worldview of the powerful—the “dominant ideology”—and those who argue that mass media texts include more contradictory messages, both expressing the “dominant ideology” and at least partially challenging worldviews (Croteau, 161)

Where Croteau doesn’t go far enough, in this particular piece, is that he does not address how the seemingly contradictory messages are often just disguises, Trojan horses if you will. Take Mulan for example. I wrote about this before in a comment section to Julie’s second blog post on Christensen’s “Unlearning the Myths that Bind Us”. Mulan is NOT the gender-bending badass “Princess” that people like to believe she is. Nala, from Lion Kind, is more badass than Mulan to be honest. Mulan is a strong woman, yes, but the strength that she exhibits is simply a different expression of the same beliefs as the other princesses. Mulan’s great sacrifice, risking her life to fight, was in order to protect her father. It was an act of selflessness, which is a characteristic that we often teach to our young girls. Selflessness, self-sacrifice, these are traits that we instill, usually covertly, to the young women in society. In moderation these traits aren’t terrible, and in fact can serve to make someone a compassionate human being. However, girls aren’t often taught to be self-sacrificial in moderation. We are taught that we need to serve others, that we must be kind and caring and help others in any way that we can (even if that serves to hurt us). That’s a damaging thing to constantly be teaching kids, especially if no counter-message is produced.

Orenstein touched upon a wonderful point when she mentioned the ways in which intragender competition is taught to girls. There can only be one highlander princess. That princess must be the fairest in the land or else she risks her status as a princess. This competition is not only with the girls’ peers, it’s intragender-intergenerational competition that is bred. We see this through the common tropes of women presented in these stories: The Crone, The Matron, and the young beautiful girl/princess. The Crone is what we never want to be, the Crone is the old Queen who gave Snow White the apple. The Matron…well she has one foot in the doorway to Croneville. The Princess…she’s the one we want to be, she’s good/nice/sweet/beautiful/etc. This is another message that’s often given covertly (through a “secret Education” if you will). As I said, take Snow White for example. We all know what trope Snow is. The Queen, however, inhabits both. She is at once the Matron and the Crone. As she ages, she becomes more evil and more overtaken by jealousy. At the peak of her despicability she is THE CRONE. Older women are rarely depicted as anything other than evil in Princess tales (unless their ~*~*magical fairies/godmothers*~*~). We even get this in Brave, the so-called feminist Princess movie. There’s really no evil antagonist in Brave. The closest that we come to evil would be the Witch *cough*Crone*cough*. She set everything awry in Merida’s life, and if she could do that who knows what evil she’s capable of.
I did enjoy Brave, it was an entertaining film to watch. However, it was not a feminist Princess flick in the least. The majority of the competition in the film was intragender, as usual. The most subversive part of the film wasn’t that Merida was athletic and could shoot arrows like nobodies’ business but rather that she was a selfish brat. I’m not saying this because she wanted to put herself first over tradition, but the lengths that she went were incredibly selfish. Enlisting in some random witch’s help to change one’s mother is generally not a good idea. As they say in Once Upon a Time “magic always comes with a price”. And it did. Even after her mother was turned into a bear it took forever for Merida to stop thinking solely of herself and to see her mother’s plight (that she caused, mind you). And so we're still left with basically what we had before Brave. We lack a good example of a balanced character for young girls. Merida's selfishness makes me question her strength. Is she truly strong or is she just self-centered? We don't want to teach children to only be selfless, but we also don't want to teach them that they should ONLY think about themselves (unless they turn someone into a bear, then they should probably get some compassion and get their shit together).

Anywho, I don’t want to linger too long on Brave or else I won’t have anything to say in class tomorrow.

Speaking of class, I suppose my questions would be: How did y’all see Merida? Did you see her as a feminist Princess? Do you think she’s a good role model for girls? What would you envision a “feminist princess story” looking like? What would the characteristics of the Princess be? Is it possible to have a feminist princess story?

And now the text of the poem, as promised

Sierra DeMulder

We are taught
from the moment we leave our pink nursery
that we are collapsable paper dolls
light to hold
easier to crumple. 
that as women our worth lives secretly wrapped in lace and cotton panties
our fragility armored with pepper spray and mace, they say:
women will be raped or sexually abused in their lifetime
and I am one of three daughters.

Now imagine: each victim is an acrobat
Her sanity, a balancing act
Our response is the unfailing safety net
We never expect to see her across the wire
You weren’t just violated, we tell her
You are an empty museum
A gutted monument to what used to hold so much worth
And with the best intentions we tell her to reclaim it,
Put a price tag on her rape and own it,
But don’t stand too tall, don’t act too strong
or we will name you denial, come back when you’re ready to crumble
Like your bones are made of chalk
You may only laugh cutely or cry beautifully
So cry beautifully
We will catch you

We are calling it theft 
As if he could pluck open your ribs like cello strings
Pocket your breasts, steal what makes your heart flutter and tack its wings to his wall,
Some days you will feel dirty!
Some weeks you’ll remember how hard it is to breathe in public, like your heart beat is climbing to the attic of your throat only to suicide itself out on the pavement
But know this: the person who did this to you is broken, not you.
The person who did this to you is out there, somewhere choking on the glass of his chest, 
it is a windshield, and his heartbeat is a baseball bat saying regret this, regret this

Your body is not a hand-me-down
There is nothing that sits inside you holding your worth,
no locket that can be seen or touched, sucked from your stomach and left on the concrete
And I know it’s hard to feel perfect
when you can’t tell an Adam’s apple from a fist
because some ashtray of a man picked you to play his Eden.
but I will not
watch you


    1. Whomp, sorry for weird text formatting. I write the posts in Word first and paste it into blogspot. For whatever reason it's not allowing me to create a uniform presentation of text. Oh well.

    2. I love the poem! it beautifully expresses and dismantles socities house!