Feminism: The Same Glossy Brush

[Content Note: Racism, References to WWII, Commodification of women's bodies]

This is not a post about Merida from Brave. I already have a post up about that here. I also strongly recommend this post by Melissa on why it's problematic to trade on Scottish stereotypes even when it's for a 'good cause' like a genuinely strong female character, and additionally this post from Froborr about why denigrating men into silly-sillies is also not helpful. There is room for a lot of conflicted feels on Brave, is what I am saying, and this post isn't about that. (But there's an Open Thread here!)

What I initially wanted this post to be about was the Disney re-design of Merida, which I have been frothingly-angrish about since it occurred, but haven't been able to compose a post beyond putting up the before-and-after and saying LOOK! LOOK AT THIS! HOLY FUCK WHAT NO. over and over again. For example:

@ www.womenyoushouldknow.net


I am so angry about this. I am, like, incoherently angry about this. The first Disney princess we receive who is unambiguously a tomboy (and, yes, I recognize this is arguable from several directions, but.) and they put her in an off-the-shoulder dress, flatten her face into something unrecognizable, douse her hair in anti-frizz cream, and dunk her in glitter. I AM NOT OKAY WITH THIS. If only because, especially because, this doesn't look like Merida to me. It looks like a white girl with red hair and a blue dress. The similarities end there.

I will now quote the Women You Should Know article while I gather my composure:

Hair: her wild curls were shellacked with gallons of anti-frizz serum and tamed into perfect flowing ringlets, while crazy amounts of overall volume were added… we had no idea hair extensions existed in the world of animation

Complexion: her ruddy “I just had the adventure of a lifetime” glow is now porcelain with just the right amount of pink rosiness placed perfectly on the apples of her cheeks

Eyes: went from big, bright eyed “I’m taking on the world” circles, to a much more sultry shape accented with black eyeliner

Smile: her delightfully, open mouth goofy grin is now a sexy, pursed lip, come-hither smirk

Body: her waist has gotten inexplicably smaller and her breasts are now noticeable

Dress: is now off-the-shoulder, low-cut and covered with sparkles (essentially, they put her in the same constricting, garish dress that her character loathed in “Brave”); a slouchy, bedazzled belt has replaced her utilitarian leather belt that held her arrow sheath

Shoes: from round toe to bone crunchingly pointy… just what every adventurer needs when it comes to proper footwear

LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST… the young, expert archer’s signature bow & arrow, a symbol of her strength and independence, are now G-O-N-E!


I will also add that her pose in the Official Princess Lineup (seen below) is a classic example of a submissive pose: her entire body (starting with, but not limited to, the head tilt) is angled crushingly downward to indicate submission and non-aggression. A perfect pose for that pesky tomboy princess who made all the mens at Disney feel emasculated? Who knows.

(And, gods, but the study of posture in still images is not a NEW THING. Go watch Jean Kilbourne's Killing Us Softly 3 here. There's a full-length 'preview' option under the trailer. Go on, I'll wait.)

But! This is not a post on Merida, because I stalled on the Merida post out of sheer gibberish. And then a friend emailed me a link to this:

@ www.womenyoushouldknow.net

“This was a response to the furor kicked up over the glossy ‘princessification’ of Pixar’s Merida character, both in image and doll form. I drew this picture because I wanted to analyze how unnecessary it is to collapse a heroine into one specific mold, to give them all the same sparkly fashion, the same tiny figures, and the same homogenized plastic smile.

So that was my intent, to demonstrate how ridiculous it is to paint an entire gender of heroes with one superficial brush. “My experience of female role models both in culture and in life has shown me that there is no mold for what makes someone a role model, and the whole point of Merida was that she was a step in the right direction, providing girls with an alternative kind of princess. Then they took two steps back, and painted her with the same glossy brush as the rest. So I decided to take 10 real-life female role models, from diverse experiences and backgrounds, and filter them through the Disney princess assembly line.

I love this because I hate it. I love it because I'm supposed to hate it, and I do. I love that someone understood that it's hugely problematic to take wonderful-and-varied women and shove them into a simplistic, glittery, one-size-fits-all mold regardless of their actual personality. I love showing, very clearly, that the entire Princess Line-Up concept strips all the women of anything beyond their looks and their clothes -- Rapunzel loses her pan, Merida loses her bow, Mulan loses her sword, etc.

I love this because my gut reaction is holy fuck you did not just do that WHAT DID YOU DO TO JANE GOODALL AND ROSA PARKS AND HILARY CLINTON AND WHAT IS THIS BLASPHEMY whatthefuck. And because that's the reaction I should have. It's the reaction that (imho) lots of people should maybe have when we look at the Princess Line-Up and see that all the women look vastly different from how they looked in their movies, and yet we're not supposed to notice or care because their dresses are the same color. What. The. Fuck.

And yet. And yet.

I have conflicted feels on this because, while I truly love the message it's sending, these are real women being put through the Disney Princess Grinder to make a point. And I sorta doubt that the artist got permission first to use their images to make this point. [ETA] Nor am I at all pleased to find that he has apparently decided to sell the art prints due to "overwhelming demand". Maybe, maybe, some people are buying them to make a point to their friends and relatives, but it seems just as likely to me that a lot of people just love the Disney Princess Grinder that much, even when it's grinding real people. And I'm not okay with him making money off the images of women that he himself believes shouldn't be represented that way. I have problems with that.

seriously, what the fuck

[/ETA] I started thinking: Couldn't he just have used classic literature characters to make the same point? And then I made myself sad because I couldn't think of any iconic-and-beloved fat characters or character of color or sternly-dignified characters or tomboyish characters SO iconic-and-beloved that people would have the same visceral gut reaction at this sort of redraw. I'm sure that those characters exist individually for people to care about, but iconic across our entire culture in the same way that you would recognize, say, Jane Goodall even after being put through the Stepford machine? I'm drawing blanks.

And I think that's really tragic, that we already treat women in fiction -- both print and visual -- as so thoroughly interchangeable in the Disney Princess mold. We've already talked in the past here about how hard it is to find covers with women or color or fat women on them. We've pushed fictional women into the same one-size-fits-all mold for so long that what Disney is doing isn't even new. It's just slightly more noticeable because of all the glitter. And one of the most visceral ways to point that out is to take Real Women and put them through the mold, which carries its own set of hugely problematic problems.

I have a lot of conflicted feels about this approach, as indeed I have conflicted feels about Merida herself. But I do know, with absolutely certainty, that it shouldn't be this way. We shouldn't need to make the point that this one-size-fits-all Princess Generator is bad, because it shouldn't even be a thing. And we shouldn't need to balance whether we can live through harmful stereotypes about Scottish people and men in order to see a strong female character not fall in love with the nearest man.

I expect better. I really do.


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