The Gender Politics of the Royal Wedding.

 

From “Theory: Why Women Care About Princesses” by Echidne of the Snakes on Jezebel:

“… What is it that little girls seem, once again, to be emulating in their play? Cinderellas and ballet dancers. I believe that the reasons for those choices (by their parents and the toy industry and the society) are the same old ones: Here are role models for girls which apply even in a world of gender inequality, yet don’t truly alarm more egalitarian parents. Those role models are not that different from the models given to boys: football players, space heroes, characters with gigantic muscles and super-powers. That they are fewer and more anemic goes with the territory of gendered expectations.

“Sure, children grow past those types of toys, and they even grow past the gender-policing stage. But perhaps something remains, something which is then evoked by a royal wedding in women or a football game in men.”

Related: The Royal Wedding: The Other Event of the Decade?

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Theory: Why Women Care About Princesses.

[Echidne of the Snakes] Homepage.

Images via Legitimate News, Vipfuly, Coco Perez.

Disney Princesses—Damsels in Distress?

 

From “Cinderella Fights Back” by Kate Forsyth on MamaMia:

“The original Little Red Riding Hood, for example, was a peasant girl who escapes the wolf due entirely to her own cleverness. It was Charles Perrault who gave her a red cap—symbolic of passion and blood—and made the tale a cautionary one in which the heroine is gobbled up by the wolf. It was the Grimm Brothers who brought in a male hunter to save her, making her seem like a twit.

“The original Rapunzel—named ‘Persinette’ in a 1696 tale by French writer Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force—was the daughter of poor people, so hungry they steal a handful of parsley from a witch. They are forced to give up their child or face the death penalty. Locked away in solitary confinement in a tower, Persinette sings so beautifully she causes the prince to fall in love with her. Persinette has sex with him, plots with him to escape and, in the end, gives birth to twins, saves the prince with her healing tears, and persuades the witch to relent. The Grimm Brothers’ retelling made her into such a meek little idiot that the psychological term ‘Rapunzel syndrome’ was coined to describe a woman who waits passively to be rescued.

“Fairy tales work because they speak in metaphor, archetype, and symbol. They contain within them all of our deepest fears and deepest desires. Don’t deny your children the thrill and danger and power of a good fairy tale; just pick the right ones to tell them. One in which the heroine is brave, bright, kind, resourceful, and saves both herself and others.”

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Cinderella Fights Back.

Movies: Blondes Have More Fun—And They’re Magical!—In Tangled.

 

The premise of the latest Disney princess effort—a retelling of the story of Rapunzel—is that the damsel in distress is locked away in her tower so that mean baddies won’t be able to find her and steal her supernatural healing powers.

The clincher is that if she cuts her long hair, it turns brown and loses its magical properties. A blatant favouritism of blondes over brunettes if ever there was one!

Granted, the brunette Disney princess has seen somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, with the first African American princess, Tiana, in The Princess & the Frog, Mulan, Esmeralda of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pocahontas, Jasmine from Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast’s Belle, and even the flame haired Little Mermaid. Perhaps the blonde haired heroines (okay, I wouldn’t exactly class Cinderella and Aurora as “heroines” per se, but Rapunzel certainly kicked some but in Tangled) wanted a shot at the multi-dimensional princess crown.

Other than that, I really enjoyed Tangled. I usually find Mandy Moore supremely annoying, her voice especially, but I could barely tell it was her throughout the movie. Chuck’s Zachary Levi was great as the misunderstood Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert. Unfortunately, I missed the first ten minutes or so due to a delicious brunch and Saturday morning traffic on Chapel Street, however it was fairly easy to pick back-story up at the tear jerking pinnacle.

Attack of the Three-Dimensional Disney Character.

So there’s the vanilla damsels in distress of early Disney films, like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. And there’s the first independent princess, Belle, “who enjoyed reading and learning, and who lived her life according to her standards”.

But there’s a new kind of three dimensional Disney character, in the form of the villain.

Now, The Beast from Beauty & the Beast isn’t exactly new (he’s pushing 20 years old), but seeing the process the Disney animators went through to create him in Dreams Come True: The Art of Disney’s Classic Fairytales (there’s also some featurettes on the DVD, which has been re-released from the vault) reveals just how complex a character he is.

Incorporating features from a buffalo, bear, gorilla, lion, boar and wolf, but with gentle cows ears, ensures The Beast doesn’t come across as completely horrible.

Both in the exhibition and in the curator’s talk I attended, it was mentioned that despite his ugly exterior, the Beast had to have attributes (both physicalthe aforementioned cows ears, and blue eyesand personality-wise) that a beautiful woman of Belle’s integrity, intelligence and courage could fall in love with. (It could be argued that there are some classic abusive relationship markers in Belle and the Beast’s union, but more to come on that next week.)

Elsewhere, in the upcoming Tangled, which is also featured in Dreams Come True, Mother Gothel, Rapunzel’s keeper, is the movie’s villain. However, she and Rapunzel share a more complicated relationship than that of Snow White and the Evil Queen, Cinderella and her evil stepmother, or Aurora and Maleficent (whose appearance was based on Katharine Hepburn, FYI), in that the animators wanted Mother Gothel to be “believable for Rapunzel to love”. God knows I’ve had my fair share of love-hate with my mother, so I think this movie will be quite relatable in that respect.

Can’t wait to see it in January!

Related: You Can Ring My Belle.

Women in Fiction: Are Our Favourite Female Characters Actually Strong, or Stereotypes?

Women in Fiction: My Favourite Fictional Females.

Elsewhere: [Overthinking It] Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women.

[Overthinking It] Why Weak Male Characters Are Bad for Women.

The Representation of Trees in the World of Walt Disney.

This is an edited version of a research article I wrote in 2008; one of the most inspiring and fun essays to write for uni, which was reflected in my mark. It’s a left of centre topic, and maybe a bit left of centre for this blog, but it’s just something I’m trying out. Go with it.

When we think of the wonderful world of Disney, trees aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mindunless you’re a horticulturalist!

You might think of the magic of such classics that bring back childhood memories, like Peter Pan or Dumbo; the crown jewel of Disney that is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: or the somewhat negative public perception of Disneyland, Disney World and the subsequent “Disneyfication” of the Western world. The one thing we definitely don’t immediately associate with Disney is trees.

But the tree is a very important aspect of not only Disney films, but the whole universe that Walt Disney created. Did you know that there are over 5,000 different types of trees at Anaheim, California’s Disneyland theme park, including Australia’s own eucalyptus tree?

And in almost every movie the action, at some point, takes place in a forest or woodland area, abundant with lush growth. In Snow White, the title character is stalked by the huntsman and seeks solace in the Seven Dwarves’ cottage in the woods. Sleeping Beauty’s Aurora ponders her future love in the forest amongst her animal friends. Beauty and the Beast’s heroine Belle and her noble steed are attacked by wolves in the snow-covered wilderness surrounding the Beast’s castle.

So where did the mastermind Walt Disney gain his inspiration for the use of trees? Some of his first fairytales he adapted into feature films came from the Brothers Grimm, who wrote Snow White and Cinderella, undoubtedly two of the most popular and well loved fairytales and, thereby, characters.

The Brothers Grimm, writing about the lush green countryside of the European settings for these stories, inspired Disney through their gift of writing. Walt Disney also had a fascination with animals (from crickets in Pinocchio to lobsters in The Little Mermaid ), so much so that he produced a series of documentaries on the animal kingdom and nature, called True Life Adventures. Titles in this series included “Seals Island”, “In Beaver Valley”, and “The Living Desert”. An article on Walt Disney in a 1963 edition of Modern Mechanix magazine said that, “Walt’s early edict for… all the True Life Adventure pictures was to get the complete natural history of the animals with no sign of humans: no fences, car tracks, buildings, or telephone poles.”

Disney wasn’t only interested in portraying animals on film, but also conserving species and their environments for future generations. This is evident in the construction of the Tree of Life at Orlando, Florida’s Disney World Animal Kingdom sub-park. While the tree is fake (it consists of about 100,000 silk leaves sewn onto over 8,000 branches), it has carvings of numerous animals on it, allowing children to experience an African Safari with illustrated depictions of animals that may not be around for much longer.

The “Tree of Life” was drawn directly from the incredibly successful 1994 movie, The Lion King. In the movie, the tree is shown only a few times, where the mandrill Rafiki draws symbols of Simba when his life seems to be in danger.

Gail Krause says that, “… Rafiki is the wise ‘shaman’ of the animal community; he writes the image of the lost and then found king, Simba, on a central tree, making real for himself the ‘death’ and ‘resurrection’ of the true leaderan interesting parallel to the Jesus myth. The Disney company then created the park Animal Kingdom with a majestic Tree of Life…”.

The Tree of Life in The Lion King also serves as a marker for where Simba left his old life as heir to the King of the Jungle and his new life in exile with the feisty meerkat, Timon, and Pumbaa the rotund warthog. The fact that the Tree is in the middle of the desert where scarcely any animal roams signifies the neutrality of the Tree: the halfway point between the corrupt leadership of Scar and the carefree new life that Simba leads.

But the Tree of Life isn’t the only perennial woody plant in The Lion King. The other tree that acts as a signpost for where the action picks up is the almost half-dead, lone branch in the gorge. This tree is the framing point for the stampede that Simba gets caught up in; the stampede in which his father, Mufasa, is killed. It’s not a full, live tree, but its skeleton-like appearance is parallel to the dark, cold soul of Scar and his hyena followers, and the subsequent reign of darkness the animal kingdom is ruled by.

The Tree of Life shows that trees are not only markers for where certain actions will take place or where the central protagonist should turn, but they are somewhat characters in their own right. Trees are key characters/motifs in the Disney films Pocahontas, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, as they provide turning points or revelations in the story.

Mark I. Pinsky, author of The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust, says, “Providence will show up in the form of a fairy, wizard [or] talking willow tree,” if ever you should lose your way. Or rather, in Alice’s case, stumbling down the rabbit hole underneath the tree she falls asleep in is how she begins her wayward journey.

Pocahontas, the story of a Native American girl who promotes acceptance between white settlers and her own people, is the obvious example of a Disney film with a tree as an actual, personified character in Grandmother Willow. According to the Living Arts Originals website, “Willow tree symbolism includes magic, healing, inner vision and dreams… Forests are the abode for the nature spirits”. A lot of research probably went into the character of Grandmother Willow, as these classic Native American qualities of the tree are evident in her. She acts as Pocahontas’s “fairy godmother”. Although Grandmother Willow could be personified as any nationality, she is fittingly a Native American like Pocahontas and her people, because that’s who Pocahontas identifies with (as evident in the conflict between Pocahontas’s tribe and John Smith’s men). When Pocahontas brings John Smith to Grandmother Willow, she shows him her magic and opens up the Native American culture to him, and thereby the settlers, as Pocahontas did in reality many centuries ago. Grandmother Willow, using her virtues of inner vision and dreaming, encourages Pocahontas to follow her path, shown to her by the spinning arrow of John Smith’s compass, thus orchestrating great change in conflict between the “savages” and the whites.

Alice in Wonderland, the most eccentric of all Disney’s films, uses trees in a number of ways. Firstly, the tree in which Alice is studying in at the beginning of the story is the tree under which the white rabbit escapes, and she follows. A magic mushroom (perhaps a reflection of the author Lewis Carroll’s drug use?), makes Alice grow to the height of a tree, where a nosey pigeon refuses to believe she’s “just a little girl!”.

One image of the tree, or woods/forest, that rampant not only in Disney films, but many other contemporary movies, is the personification of the treetaking on human characteristics, such as eyes and arms, to give off a menacing vibe. In Alice in Wonderland, the Tulgey Woods’ trees observe Alice as eyes appear , which then turn out to be a gathering of characters with eyesducks with horns, flamingos with umbrella bodies, and glasses that seem to resemble the fake-nose-and-moustache disguise that children are fond of. Treebeard, in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, both text and film is another, non-Disney example. The forest in The Wizard of Oz comes to life and the trees throw their apples at Dorothy, Scarecrow and little Toto. If I listed the numerous other movies that show trees in this way, we’d be here all day.

But, they’re all derived from one Disney flick in particular: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The first ever feature length animated film was also one of the first to depict a forest coming to life in such a way, where the trees grow arms and eyes, and bark floating in the river turns into crocodiles! No doubt other Hollywood productions have used Snow White and Disney as inspiration, especially The Wizard of Oz, with it’s out-of-this-world plot and unmistakably Disney-esque characters.

Even before Snow White, though, was the Disney short animated film Flowers and Trees, shown in 1932, which won the first ever Academy Award for an animated short. This undoubtedly would have been the starting point for trees as more than just “trees”, not only in Disney, but in film in general.

If ever there was a documentary explaining all about the depiction of trees in Disney films, it’s Four Artists Paint One Tree, a special feature that can be accessed via the 2003 special edition DVD release of Sleeping Beauty. In the doco, Walt Disney narrates as four animators go out into the field to demonstrate how they would paint an old oak tree. The first artist, Walt Peregoy, views the tree as an architectural monument, and his finished painting is evidence of the animation of the backdrop of Sleeping Beauty. Josh Meador, an effects artist for Sleeping Beauty, references the Druids, who believed trees had personalities. Maybe he was a key artist in personifying trees and bringing them to life? The next painter, Eyvind Earle, is primarily interested in the trunk, and uses watercolours to fill in the fine detail. Finally, Marc Davis represents the tree as an explosion out of the earth, with branches spraying out from the body of the trunk. After watching this documentary, you can see which aspects of each artists tree, or their style of painting scenery, that has gone into creating Sleeping Beauty. Walt ends the documentary by paraphrasing the artist Robert Henri: “The great painter has something to say. He does not paint men, landscapes or furniture, but an idea.” This seems to be the consensus amongst not just Disney’s approach to filmmaking, but the studio’s approach to letting audiences believe what they want to believe (some would beg to differ on this point).

M. Lynne Bird backs this theory up in her article titled “Ecological Ambivalence in Neverland from The Little White Bird to Hook in the tome Wild Things: Children’s Culture and Ecocriticism. She discusses the idea that trees are just treesnature is just naturein Disney films, but it’s the children’s imaginations, and in turn, Walt Disney’s child-at-heart imagination that makes a tree something more, such as in the films mentioned above. She writes, “‘The Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there’… This mix drops nature and privileges both imagination and society. The island can only become real as children look for it.”

Though not a “tree” specifically, the Smoke Tree Ranch, Walt Disney’s holiday home in Palm Springs, California, was used as collateral in the funding of Disneyland. While it was hard for him to part with the ranch, it turns out Disney made the right choice: sacrificing a symbolic and sentimental place in his personal life to create a symbolic and sentimental place for millions of others.

Walt Disney was obviously a kid at heart, as can be seen in the tales he chose to adapt and bring to a worldwide audience. Tarzan’s Treehouse, from the movie Tarzan (and was also adapted from the tree house in Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson) and located in the Disneyland theme park as an attraction, and the creation of the Hangman’s Tree, the home of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, are more blatant examples of trees in the world of Walt Disney. Hangman’s Tree exemplifies everything a child could want in a tree house.

While, once again, trees are definitely not the first thing Disney-enthusiasts think of when sitting down to watch their favourite film, but the next time you do, keep an eye out for the trees: after all, that’s what a horticulturalist would do!

Elsewhere: [Modern Mechanix] The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney Part 1.

[MSMC] The Cipher: The Mythological Tree in Various Cultures.

[Living Arts Originals] Find Your Tree: The Deep-Rooted Symbolism of Trees.

[Google Books] Ecological Ambivalence in Neverland from The Little White Bird to Hook.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

I’m filing all Mad Men titbits in one hit. I hope you can handle it.

1. Love the latest promo posters designed by Christina Perry. The one with Joan’s likeness is, of course, the fiercest.

2. Damaged child of Don Draper and Betty Francis, Sally Draper, deserves “A Freudian Analysis”. And her fair share of Freudian therapy, I would guess.

3. And so does Betty, for that matter. Perhaps a therapist that doesn’t report back to her husband. For now, though, she’s content to make herself over.

Advice blogger Penelope Trunk tells us “How to Write About Your Life”:

“… [The] number one rule is that if you write about your life there must be a redemptive moment because people like that…

So, okay. I try to see that. I mean, I’ve read plenty of memoirs Girl, Interrupted, Smashed, Darkness Visible all good books. All very redemptive at the end, for sure. But I’ve also read Anna Karenina. Well, I haven’t, but I’m able to spoil the ending for you right now anyway… She gets hit by a train. I think she kills herself.

That seems redemptive to me. I mean, at least she doesn’t have to wake up to her same problems every day.

I have told this to my… agent. She said that people do not want to read about my fascination with suicide.”

Jill at Feministe writes of her “commitment to ending up an old maid” in the 2007 article, “I’m Never Getting Married”.

Diablo Cody asks the original “Misery Chick”, Daria Morgendorffer, if her crush, Trent Lane, and the other “Trents of the world are ever suited to long-term relationships…?”. Daria’s response?

“I always thought of Trent as being the Dave Navarro of high school… Considering a girl like Carmen Electra couldn’t maintain true love with Dave Navarro; and Sandra Bullock couldn’t whip Jesse James into commitment; and Pam Anderson couldn’t land Tommy Lee or Kid Rock or Tommy Lee. All epic fails.” How profound.

Since when did mobile phones cease to become telephones? “When my so-called phone rings, my first reaction is ‘Shit. What’s wrong now?’ [However] When I get an email or text message, I feel a tingle of optimism.” My feelings exactly.

Harkening back to the “Feminism Has Failed” debate, where my thoughts were that it hasn’t failed for me personally, but for a woman who is not able-bodied, perhaps it has. Disabled Feminists ask if there’s “A Place at the Table For Me?” when discussing body image. Very thought provoking.

Keanu Reeves just can’t catch a break. Now, “The 12 Most Depressing Keanu Reeves Quotes”. My favourite? See above.

More feminist goodness, this time from Echidne of the Snakes and touching on the “burqa debate” and how women dress in different societies and cultures.

Again, an old-school article from The New York Times entitled “What’s Wrong with Cinderella?”. This is (apparently) what’s wrong with Cinderella and the other Disney princesses:

“…‘I see girls expanding their imagination through visualising themselves as princesses, and then they pass through that phase and end up becoming lawyers, doctors, mothers or princesses, whatever the case may be.’

Mooney [who produced the above quote] has a point: There are no studies proving that playing princess directly damages girls’ self-esteem or dampens other aspirations. On the other hand, there is evidence that young women who hold the most conventionally feminine beliefswho avoid conflict and think they should be perpetually nice and prettyare more likely to be depressed than others and less likely to use contraception…

The infatuation with the girlie girl certainly could, at least in part, be a reaction against the so-called second wave of the women’s movement of the 1960s and ’70s (the first wave was the fight for suffrage), which fought for reproductive rights and economic, social and legal equality. If nothing else, pink and Princesses have resuscitated the fantasy of romance that that era of feminism threatened, the privileges that traditional femininity conferred on women despite its costsdoors 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 themselvesflowing through Ally McBeal, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Sex & the Cityof losing male love, of never marrying, of not having children, of being deprived of something hat felt essentially and exclusively female.”

Following on from this, Rachel Hills of Musings of an Inappropriate Woman, writing in The Australian Literary Review in July 2008, untangles the sexualisation of children. Again, well worth the read.

We’ve gotta give the guys some attention, too, and Newsweek does just that with “Men’s Lib” and retrosexualisation:

“Since the 1950s, the image of American women has gone through numerous makeovers. But masculine expectations remain the same… The term ‘retrosexual’ has all but replaced ‘metrosexual’ in the lifestyle sections of national magazines, which are full of stories about affluent urbanites wearing hunting garb, buying designer axes and writing about the art of manliness on blogs with names like (ahem) The Art of Manliness.”

Jezebel with the quirky genius that is their movie reviews: and a double-whammy at that. Firstly, there’s “Important Life Lessons from B-List Teen Movies of the ’90s” like The Craft and Can’t Hardly Wait. And secondly, in the same vein, they profile Easy A and how it “… Tackles Slut-Shaming, Gossip & What We Expect from Girls Now”. Review to come next week.

Stylish Thought muses on “The Joys of Being Alone”, a concept which I am none-too-familiar with. I find people who don’t like being alone freaks, as does blogger Fajr. Love the accompanying pic, too.

After all that, this should have been called the jumbo edition!

Julia Gillard as Feminist Fairy Godmother?

In an article about Disney Princesses and the effect they have on young girls, this paragraph really resonated with me:

“The princess as superhero is not irrelevant. Some scholars I spoke with say that given its post-9/11 timing, princess mania is a response to a newly dangerous world. ‘Historically, princess worship has emerged during periods of uncertainty and profound social change,’ observes Miriam Forman-Brunell, a historian at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“‘The original folk tales themselves,’ Forman-Brunell says, ‘spring from medieval and early modern European culture that faced all kinds of economic and demographic and social upheaval—famine, war, disease, terror of wolves. Girls play savoir during times of economic crisis and instability.’ That’s a heavy burden for little shoulders. Perhaps that’s why the magic wand has become an essential part of the princess get-up. In the original stories—even the Disney versions of them—it’s not the girl herself who’s magic; it’s the fairy godmother…”

While we may not be in times of “economic and demographic and social upheaval”rather, we’re just emerging from themPrime Minister Julia Gillard has certainly taken the reigns of our country and is steering it in a new direction.

Some of her policies (namely the outmoded same-sex marriage ban) I don’t agree with, but she is certainly a beacon of aspiration for young Australian girls, who now realise they could “end up becoming lawyers, doctors, mothers or princesses…”or Prime Minister.

In that way, Gillard surely is a feminist fairy godmother for us all.

P.S. Happy 49th Birthday, Julia!

Elsewhere: [NYTimes] What’s Wrong With Cinderella?