Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why my future children won't watch the Disney Channel

Well, I keep tossing around the idea of a blog, so here it is. I like to read them, and I've been unemployed for about 3 months now, so perhaps it's best if I find an outlet for all the little thoughts shuffling around in my brain with nowhere to go.

I'm starting with Disney. I'm starting with Disney because this is a subject that really irked me a while ago, but when I started to talk about it, it came off as a rant from nowhere. After sounding like a lunatic a couple of times, I figured maybe a blog would be a better way to present myself. You know, instead of pouncing on my boyfriend when he walks in the door with OH MY GOD I WATCHED "ICE PRINCESS" TODAY AND LET ME TELL YOU HOW SEXIST THAT SHIT WAS.

Disney, FUCK YOU for what you do for women and little girls. Seriously. How many little girls think they NEED boyfriends because the happiness of every single female character in your movies is dependent on landing a man? How many girls are convinced that they are naturally weaker because each of your "heroines" requires some sort of rescuing? Even your "progressive" characters are a fucking joke. Mulan? That was your attempt at a strong female character? She has to BECOME A MALE to successfully battle and at the end, with all of her accomplishments, she still has to FIND A MAN to make a happy ending! Cinderella, Aurora, Belle, Ariel, Jasmin ALL "found love" at the end AND required a man to save them.

That's pretty egregious. However, I'll admit, it's obvious and old news in the feminist realm. What really irks me though, is the more recent Disney movie "Ice Princess". I caught this movie during my unemployment, a period in which I would watch anything. Stop judging.

In case you haven't seen it, "Ice Princess" stars Michelle Trachtenberg (of Pete and Pete fame, if you are roughly my age) as Casey, an intelligent teenager with an interest in Physics. Her mother (Joan Cusack) is involved and supportive of Casey's academic accomplishments, and specifically wants her daughter to make it into an ivy league school. However, while conducting a Physics project, Casey discovers her innate talent for figure skating, and must choose between academics and a figure-skating career.

That's the short of it. Here are the details:
The mother is portrayed as a feminist. She is actually the ANTAGONIST of the film. When she complains about the skimpy, sexualized costumes in figure skating, she is laughed off by her daughter and made to look "out of touch."

Casey's intelligence and interest in Physics make her appear geeky and awkward. She weirds out a boy at a party when she starts talking about Physics. Because everyone knows that you should never, ever appear smarter than a man. Then they won't marry you!

After Casey starts figure skating, another skater teaches her how to apply her make-up and glams her up. At this point, Casey's social life really fucking soars, of course.

Casey's ice-skating gives her new-found "self esteem" and "confidence." Your high IQ will never make you feel as good as bein' real purty does!

Casey succeeds wildly at figure skating and as a result, gives up her scholarship to Harvard. Although this causes a rift between her and her mother, she eventually wins her mother's approval.

So what the fuck, Disney? You actually just gave up on subtle sexist messages and decided to go for a full-blown, anti-feminist movie? You made the feminist the BAD GUY? You took the smart girl and made sure to point out that she was nothing until she made herself more sexually appealing? YOU ACTUALLY MADE GIVING UP A SCHOLARSHIP FOR HARVARD INTO A GOOD THING?

A lot of people will say that this is no big deal, that lots of kids watch this and it's a harmless movie and everyone will turn out fine. This is minimizing a very large societal problem. One way in which television works is to perpetuate ideas of how our society functions and what the norms are. Children watch these messages and they internalize them. They watch "Ice Princess" and they understand that being a "nerd" won't attract a man and will make you very unpopular. They understand that conforming to a certain standard of femininity will make you a social success. And that being a social success will lead to other successes. They understand that holding an unpopular opinion will cause you to be ostracized. This is a big problem. These sorts of ideas take years and years of undoing to overcome, mainly because they are so prevalent in our society (and they are prevalent because corporations like Disney are so fucking huge you can't escape them). For a lot of people, these ideas aren't ever countered, and they become vapid, shallow people with almost no ability to question norms or tolerance for dissent from the norm. Ultimately, it makes it difficult for women to be seen as equals or as more than sexual beings. It makes it harder for women to be. If you still don't think that this is the case, maybe you should step back and re-examine where all of your notions of gender and behavior stem from. Because babies aren't born with a concept of whether they should coordinate their onesie to their genitals.

Did I mention that at the end of "Ice Princess" Casey gets her man?

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