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DivaDesignGirl
Registered User
(9/6/07 8:37 am)

Classic Disney Heroines are not passive???
Hello All,

I am doing my thesis on Disney princess and wonder if anyone had any input on the following topic: I am rebuking the fact that classic disney heroines are passive when compared to their newer counterparts. I am basing this on the societal values/ideologies that were present when Disney created his films. Does anyone have any thoughts regarding this?
Thank you,
Danni

Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(9/6/07 10:31 pm)


heroines
I think the team that did SLEEPING BEAUTY tried to make her more active than either the Perrault heroine or Disney's Snow White or Cinderella.

As for defending Disney's SW and Cinderella, I'm not sure that 'active/passive' is the best terminology to use. They really ARE passive, by any standard (of course Perrault's and Grimms' versions were also). But in important ways they do improve on P'a and G's. Many P's/G's heroines spend their time crying, wringing their hands, fleeing in panic ... 'the poor girl', 'the helpless maiden'. In contrast the Disney SW and Cin seem more practical, stoic; they can be respected, they are taken seriously.

For quotable text, you might contrast P's/G's heroines with Calvino's.

What would take more research but be well worth doing, would be to contrast how women were presented in popular literature (and cartoons?) by Disney's contemporaries. Tex Avery's fairy tale cartoons might be a place to start.

MaryCatelli
Registered User
(9/7/07 7:58 pm)


Re: Classic Disney Heroines are not passive???
Note that in both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, the original fairy tales had the prince fall in love while she was out like a light. Disney altered it so that the prince actually fell in love with the conscious princess, first.

Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(9/8/07 1:07 pm)


archives
Disney's fairy tales have been discussed here many times in the past, so there would be good references in the archives.

I suppose you've seen this link?
www.surlalunefairytales.c...tales.html

Surlalune also has a search function which might find stuff not at that list.

Many of the people here dislike Disney, but the other side does get presented too. I like early Disney films, and I think you're on the right track in comparing his heroines with portrayals of women elsewhere at that time and earlier, rather than with modern heroines.


Terri Windling
Registered User
(9/25/07 2:43 am)


Re: archives
There's some discussion of Disney's treatment of Snow White in this article on the fairy tale.

And some discussion of Disney's treatment of Cinderella in Jane Yolen's lovely book Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood

Edited to correct a misprint: I meant to say that Jane discusses Cinderella, not Sleeping Beauty.

Edited by: Terri Windling at: 10/12/07 6:23 am
Veronica Schanoes
Registered User
(10/4/07 8:04 pm)


Cinderella
I don't know, Rosemary, you really think that Disney's Cinderella is less passive than Perrault's or Grimm's? At least P/G's Cinderellas didn't need vermin to bring her to the prince. Grimm's is probably the best; Perrault's is very much like Disney's, really. All that crying and weeping.

Veronica Schanoes
Registered User
(10/5/07 8:42 pm)


nope
In fact, I did not "walk right into the point." I actually disagree with you. So put your tongue back in your mouth.

I find Disney's Cinderella pathetic and insipid, especially when compared with her predecessors. What you claim as "evidence of her moral fiber," I find to be standard 19th-century to 1950s nonsense about what it means to be a "good girl"--good girls don't even think bad thoughts, not even about the people or creatures that are cruel to them. Such exhortations to be nothing be sweetness and light even in the face of dreadful abuse, to continue to trusting in the good will of abusers, and never to lose your temper no matter the provocation have been actively damaging to women and girls, and I see nothing redeeming about them at all. And, she's an idiot. It really never occurred to her that her stepmother would prevent her from getting to the prince? That's naivete to the point of stupidity. The fact that Cinderella's "equals" are vermin pretty much says it all, for me. Vermin that enforce conservative gender roles, no less.

kristiw
Registered User
(10/5/07 9:59 pm)


Re: passive Cinderella
Hm, I'm conflicted (as I usually am on Disney issues, finding myself somewhat embarassingly complicit. I just can't help it. The singing mice evoke pleasant childhood memories! Also Cinderella isn't so much associated with vermin as animals in general, playing up that whole Woman/Nature dualism, as does Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella).
I absolutely agree, Veronica, that the film upholds a model of femininity as temperant, modest, and resigned to ill-treatment which is dangerous and pervasive. On the other hand, I can't help but think that if all things were equal, the qualities that compose Cinderella's "moral fiber" are worth encouraging in children of both sexes. If they weren't particularly associated with women, wouldn't we encourage children to befriend the weak, believe in human goodness, and make themselves happy in whatever small ways are available to them? I can sympathize with a girl, or boy, whose sense of goodness and rightness is shattered, more than I can with the hard-bitten, cynical and street-wise hero/ine. And in fact every hero/ine who knows enough NOT to trust everyone had to have their cry in the garden first-- that transformative moment is often how a writer creates sympathy for the protagonist. I wonder if, had her fairy godmother never appeared (as real children's often don't) Cinderella would have gone on to be a stronger, though perhaps unhappier, person? In any case, the Disney issues being often associated with the reification of normative gender roles, do you think we'll ever come to a point in gender negotiations when we can look at these films as models for children, rather than particularly women? Would it make any difference?

Veronica Schanoes
Registered User
(10/5/07 10:23 pm)


models
I don't think that will ever be possible with these films, because of how invested they are in that very gendering of their values. Cinderella's passivity, the way her goodness is so strongly associated with a Barbie-like idea of beauty (she's the only blonde in the kingdom!), her stupidity...these are not traits that would be valued if she were a hero rather than a heroine.

And they're not traits I value, actually. Obviously, this comes down to a matter of personal preference and priority, but I do not want my kids to believe in the innate human goodness of every person they meet even in the face of staggering amounts of evidence; I want to teach my children that authority figures do not deserve respect merely because they are authority figures. I don't know about making themselves happy in whatever small ways are available to them; I suppose that's not a bad thing, but I want my children to learn to take the big steps, and to be brave enough to fight for those big improvements too.

But as I say, those kinds of values are individual--I personall have always identified more with hard-bitten, cynical protagonists, even though I wouldn't describe myself that way. Nor is hard-bitten and cynical necessarily the only other alternative. I look at the heroines of Mr. Fox, Fitcher's Bird, Donkeyskin, The Three Spinners, and Tatterhood, (not Tattercloak, the other one!), and <i>those</i> are the models I want my kids to be working with. Cry in the garden when you have to, and then get up and go fight for you believe in or want. Better yet, fight for it first, and then cry a bit.

And avoid vermin. They're dirty, they bite, and they crap all over the clean dishes.

Veronica Schanoes
Registered User
(10/5/07 10:27 pm)


another model
Hansel and Gretel too, now that I think about it. Be tricky, be cunning, seize your chance, and make your fortune. :rolleyes

janeyolen
Registered User
(10/6/07 2:18 am)


Re: another model
Just a data point--in my book that Terri cites, I spend much more time talking about Cinderella than Sleeping Beauty.

Jane

Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(10/6/07 4:53 am)


larger view, classic Disney plots vs later
OP: "I am rebuking the fact that classic disney heroines are passive when compared to their newer counterparts."

Leaving aside the fine points about crying and so forth. A few days ago it occurred to me that it's not so much the early heroines being passive, as the early plots being realistic. Mulan is a fantasy all through. Belle had a loving father and then much freedom and support. It's all very well to talk about modern 'feminist fairy tales' that are all ABOUT magic swords and flying horses and such, and the girls get to use those powerful things.

But in a realistic view, what WERE Snow White's options, or Cinderella's? An abused child whose abuser is the queen, in a castle surrounded by forest. What could she have done? Run away into the forest earlier? WE know that when fairy tale heroines run away, they usually find some kind of shelter, or live well on nuts and berries. But in the real world that's not very likely, and SW thought she lived in the real world. Cinderella might have found help in the city -- but do we condemn real life abuse victims when they are 'passive'?

I'm not sure we should condemn the classic heroines -- for knowing what kind of fairy tale they were in. :-)

kristiw
Registered User
(10/6/07 7:03 am)


Re: larger view, classic Disney plots vs later
I don't disagree with you Veronica, and as you say they are personal priorities-- belief in human goodness is obviously for those privileged enough to have had loving or supportive families (as Cinderella started with). I just wanted to point out that Hansel and Gretel has a very central "crying in the forest" moment before there can be any personal growth, and in Robin Mckinley's adaption of Donkeyskin, Deerskin, the protagonist gets a whole winter to grieve and nurse her emotional and physical scars. I think everyone has to deal with the collapse of their world at one point or another, or at the very least daily reorienting crises.

MaryCatelli
Registered User
(10/6/07 7:12 am)


Re: larger view, classic Disney plots vs later
Well, we do blame characters for that, all of the time. Justly or unjustly. What do you if you hear something fall over in the other room? You go to see what it was and to pick it up. . .

When a woman does that in a horror flick, we think "dumb move."

Edited by: MaryCatelli at: 10/6/07 7:12 am
Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(10/7/07 5:11 pm)


Re: larger view, classic Disney plots vs later
In "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sleeping Beauty", Disney expanded the traditional story to give the heroines room to do active things that would not be relevant to the original plots. In "Cinderella" and "Snow White" he may have been taking a step in that direction by emphasizing and giving much 'screen time' to their cheerfulness and industry when they did receive support (from the birds etc and the dwarfs).


Veronica Schanoes
Registered User
(10/8/07 8:15 pm)


realistic?
I don't really think "realistic" is the right criterion when dealing with fairy tales--there are certainly plenty of traditional fairy tales in which heroines do respond to abuse etc. in far more active ways, as Jane's "America's Cinderella" so amply demonstrates. There are certainly SW and Cinderella variants where this is the case. Disney just didn't work with them.

Kristi, it's not the crying in the forest per se that I object to--as you note, many of the tales and revisions dearest to my heart see their heroes and heroines through grief and loss. It's that in Disney's Cinderella, crying the extent of her response. She doesn't get to go to the ball, she cries. In an incredible, impossible to foresee character shift, at least judging by Cinderella's actions, her stepmother locks her in her room to prevent her from seeing the prince, she cries. She does nothing else. Mice make her first pretty dress. Mice free her from her room.

What is it with Disney and the fluffy animals, anyway? I swear, nobody would think that these things were cute if they were updated to being helpful waterbugs that Cindy frees from their traps.

kristiw
Registered User
(10/8/07 8:53 pm)


Re: realistic?
Heh, Mulan has a cricket, as does Pinnochio, come to think of it. If I saw a talking cricket the size of my hand I'd scoosh it. That is some Indiana Jones-style disturbing.

AliceCEB
Registered User
(10/9/07 8:26 am)


Veering perilously off-topic
And who doesn't love Rizzo the Rat? (Who is routinely unhelpful, I admit, but that is his charm. :) )

janeyolen
Registered User
(10/9/07 11:15 am)

Re: Veering perilously off-topic
Hey DJ in Mass--Derek, as always snarky.

It was Terri who mentioned my book. I am NOT trolling for readers as you seem to suggest. Just don't want folks looking for the book and puzzled about NOT finding a big piece on Sleeping Beauty.

Trying to be helpful here.


Jane

AliceCEB
Registered User
(10/9/07 11:41 am)

In defense of vermin
After posting about Rizzo, it made me think that vermin, in modern media, tends to be benign or helpful, rather than plague-carrying evidence of filth. Not that they are necessarily either in the real world, I mean as symbols in text. A quick mental check not only comes up with Rizzo, but with Jerry, of Tom & Jerry fame, and Ratatouille, from the recent movie. Mice play a key role in Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester. And they have popped up as industrious characters in tales dating back to Aesop.

It doesn't change the fact that Disney's Cinderella is something of a sop--cloyingly irritating to me. The charm of the movie was never her, to me, but the mice. They are actually what redeem her, to me.

(And no fear, Jane. I had no trouble understanding the intent of your original post.)

Alice

Veronica Schanoes
Registered User
(10/9/07 4:54 pm)


DJ
Oh, for God's sake. Is it really Derek again? Derek, do you really not get the point of being banned? And you're back once again to take cheap shots at Jane?

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This is an archived string from the
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