In Which My Family Tell Me It’s Better To Be Miserable And Settled Down than Happy And Single…

<Warning- This is a little rambly, a little disjointed, but it’s come more from a stream of consciousness than anything else>

My sister-in-law is going through another one of her phases. The other day, she very kindly pointed out I’ve been single for three years.

Now, I have no problem with being reminded I’ve been single for three years. It’s been a choice, and it’s been a hell of a lot of fun. But sadly, every time a member of my family point out my “long standing single status”, I get looked at as if I have an alien trying to claw it’s way out from between my eyes.

No, luckily the one ally I have in my singledom is my mother. But I’m pretty sure she believes that, should I start dating, I’d make any potential partner’s head explode with talks about raunch culture, the objectification of women, and how patriarchy and capitalism are intertwined… She has faith in me, and it shows. But the rest of my family seem eager to get me married off by the time I’m thirty. Which gives me roughly two and a half years… (P.S. If you’re wondering; no, it doesn’t seem to matter whether I want to get married or not…)

See, my family have never been entirely comfortable with lone parents. Especially not those pesky lone parents who are happy being lone parents. See, the thing is, the patriarchy would rather we believed that a happy ending happens when you meet Prince Charming, and marry him on a crazy whim. YAY! Everyone knows that the Disney Princess idea of love is OH SO ROMANTIC, and not, in anyway, similar to the dynamics of abuse, right?

So, on the whole “settle down with Prince Charming” note, I was left wondering, where were these films where the end result for any female protagonist wasn’t marriage, a big, puffy white dress, and all being well with the world? (Or at least ending up in a relationship with “Mr Perfect” by the end of the film). I could think of two, off the top of my head. (*Please note, I have not included films where the female lead is a child, for obvious reasons.) These were Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, and my personal favourite, Adrienne Shelley’s Waitress. We have a cinema industry that is over 100 years old, and we’re still being told the ultimate happy ending has to involve Prince Flipping Charming, and preferably the ol’ exchange of vows. The ultimate happy ending for men? Well, you could have saving the world, that big job promotion, “getting the girl” (a misogynistic concept in itself; women are not “girls”, nor are they prizes to be won for being the most likeable man in a film)

Ironically, I’ve always considered Waitress to have the happiest ending of all, but then, y’know… There’s another blog post waiting to come out there.

But the idea a woman can live, outside of men’s involvement in her life, is one that baffles society. But surely, this attitude is one that ensures women are more likely to stay in an unhappy relationship? If we’re told men are essential for our own existence, the idea of life without men becomes terrifying. Intriguingly enough, if we look back to the ol’ Disney Princess clap trap, there’s a recurring theme with the female villains. Every single “witch” is just that… single, and living without the necessity of men in her life. And it comes as no surprise when you consider that, during the witch hunts in Tudor/Stuart led England, the women accused of being “witches” were usually those who were deemed the polar opposite of a “good wife”. (80% of accused “witches” in Suffolk, for example, were women, and the practise of “Witch Hunting”, was women-hating at it’s highest example). A typically accused witch was, during the height of the Witch-trials, a spinster or widow living on her own.

Sadly, it seems that the stigma that’s attached to single women hasn’t been lost quite yet. We keep trying to shake it off, but when single women are no longer represented as “witches” in the films I share with my son, or no longer asked why they’re still single at the ripe old age of 30, then maybe we’ll be a little closer.

Anyway. I’m now off to ask people why they’re married. Just to be slightly awkward. What else, really, would you expect from me?…

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Disney’s Wicked Witch Complex

I’ve spent most of today working on an essay, which has meant Mini-Dragon has been self-entertaining today. By self-entertaining, I mean asking for recorder lessons, countless questions of “Mummy, what you doing? Why? Can I have…”… You get the point. By lunchtime, it became apparent that self-entertaining wasn’t happening. But at some point around that time, Mini-Dragon dug out the Tangled playset. At some point during this role-play, Flynn Ryder goes hurling off the chair, with a shocked gasp from Mini-Dragon. “Mummy, Mother Gothel just hurt Flynn!”

*Cough* Yeah, about that Disney… What’s the obsession with evil women?

Think I’m bluffing?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Disney films as much as the next… erm… OK, that’s beside the point. But, yes, I have an unhealthy love-hate obsession with Disney. I know Tangled word for word. Likewise with The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. But one thing has always niggled away at my mind. Where the Disney Princess films are concerned, we’re seeing an alarming rate of Wicked Witches being shown to our children, all of whom are somehow overpowering a young, beautiful, heterosexual princess, who needs to be saved by an equally young, beautiful, heterosexual prince. Giving us the Wicked Witch Complex.

Now, I’ll only be looking at the Disney Princess films for this blog post; again, I know the Princess franchise is not the be all and end-all of the Disney Corporation, but, Mickey Mouse aside, they’re arguably the most recognisable characters, and one of the most profitable sectors of the company; the release of the Disney Princess line  saw sales in the company’s consumer products raise from $300 million in 2001, to $3 billion in 2006. That’s a ten fold increase over five years. Not bad, eh?

There are ten official Disney Princesses, spanning an impressive 80 decades. And with that 80 years of Disney Princesses, we see 80 years of villains; some of which aren’t as obvious as one may think. However, up  until 1991, none of the Disney Princess films, as they’re now known, featured a male villain. We’ve also seen a development of the complexity of Disney Villains over the past 80 years; from a 2 dimensional Evil Queen in Snow White, someone that I grew up fearing, to the more complex Mother Gothel, a character who I believe was possibly the most complex of Disney Villains of all time.

But what’s most telling about this is the fact that, whilst the male villains of the nineties and noughties brought the number of male and female villains to a level playing field, we saw less of  a deviation in the diversity of  female villains. Whilst connections to the supernatural were not entirely absent in male villains, only one female villain was devoid of any connection to the supernatural; Lady Tremaine of Cinderella. The issue of the Wicked Witch Complex isn’t resolved by having male villains connected to the supernatural; it’s resolved by refusing to separate women from the supernatural. Whilst women are still being hounded for apparent connections to Witchcraft, is it really justified for Disney to routinely portray a large number of its women characters as such?

But there’s another problem in portraying women as being just as, if not more, dangerous than men. It’s the echoes of the misogynists who attempt to derail talks about men’s violence against women, with cries of “Women are just as dangerous”. Actually, that’s not entirely true… Women aren’t killing 2 men or 2 other women a week; men are. Continually painting women as dangerous killers detracts from the reality that the biggest threat to women lies with men; but the patriarchy would rather pit women against us. Solidarity is harder when we believe every woman is a threat, and men are our saviours. Funnily enough, hailing men as our knights in shining armour also makes it a lot harder for women to escape the patriarchy.

We need Disney, along with other creators of other children’s films, to stop portraying women as dangerous villains, and men as the heroes and protectors. All it is doing is harming our women, and as a result, our children.

I’ll be writing on The Problem With Prince Charming next week; It’s a long one…

Beauty and the Beast: Now You Can Get Your Disney Misogyny In 3D *Spoiler Heavy*

So yesterday, after being let down by the babysitter and Mini Dragon missing nursery as a result, I ended up being dragged along to see Beauty and the Beast 3D. That’s right, you can now get your annual dose of misogyny in 3 fucking D. How awesome is that, eh?

Now, the very few of my readers that know me in real life know that, deep down, I love my fairy tales. Be it the Disney remakes, the Giambattista Basile collections, the Hans Anderson… yeah… You get the point. But what I love most about them is tearing them apart and analysing everything about them. References to the Devil in Rumplestiltskin? Check. References to rape in early versions of Sleeping Beauty? Check. A possible historical reference to Snow White…. yeah, you’re right. We need another blog post for these.

Anyway. Beauty and the Beast. I first got dragged along to the cinema aged 7, as part of a family outing to see the cinema. I’ll admit, being a naive seven year old, I loved the film; I still do to an extent. I’m just not too keen on the predicament the writers put Belle in… “Do I choose abusive arsewipe number one? Or abusive arsewipe number two?”

That’s right. Belle pretty much turns down one abuser, Gaston. And ends up with another. But, you know, we can excuse The Beast’s abusive behaviour because for the majority of the film, he’s not actually human. This…. isn’t really selling the story too well, is it?

Anyway. We’ll start at the beginning of this sorry story. Act 1, scene 1. Or the prologue. Whatever you want to call it. Soon-To-Be Beast is acting a misogynistic arsewipe, refusing to provide an old woman shelter from a storm. But of course, once he finds out she’s a “beautiful enchantress”, he changes his tune. And probably not because she’s an enchantress, either… Pay attention to the other verb. Anyway, seeing as women are eternally evil, and what not, she decides to turn the prince into a beastly beast, and all of his servants, seeing as women are evil, are also punished for the Beast’s areswipery. Cos women are evil like that.

Fast forward a couple of years (I assume), and we wind up in a province in France. It’s a little town. Or a quiet village. It seems Belle hasn’t made up her mind which, yet. And it’s full of “little people”. Well, aside from Gaston, who’s roughly the size of a barge. Anyway, Belle, it seems, is supposed to be a free thinker.  Emphasized by the fact that, aside from the book keeper, she seems to be the only person in the village who reads. Anyway. Gaston Le Barge has taken to pursuing Belle, who because she’s an intellect looks at him like a piece of dirt on her shoe. But, being good looking, abusive and dim, Gaston appears oblivious to this, pursuing her all over the town. “I’ll fooking well marry Belle, whether she wants it or not!”, he quotes at one point in the film. I may have got the wording slightly wrong. To say Gaston becomes obsessed with the idea of fucking… sorry, I mean… marrying Belle would be an understatement. I mean, what’s not to love about the guy who tries to blackmail you into marrying him? “You’ll marry me, or your father, who, just because he’s intelligent, is obviously insane will be sectioned.” What a catch, eh?

Luckily, Belle ends up with a lovely monstrosity of a man, who doesn’t imprison her father… Oh, wait… At least the relationship’s a bit more promising after that. I mean, rather than leaving her locked in a tower, he decides to leave her locked in a bedroom instead, and pretty much tells her she can never see her father again. We then see Beast dictate when Belle can and can’t eat, where she can and can’t go, and eventually, an explosive display of temper which sees Belle flee the castle. But, you know, after she nearly gets eaten by wolves, she tames the beast, and all is well, right?

Well, not quite… With Gaston Le Barge, as he shall be known in this household for the rest of eternity, Belle knew she’d be getting a consistent level of abuse to some degree… With the Beastly Beast, Belle would be entering what is known as the Cycle of Abuse.

Through imprisoning Belle’s father, it could be possible to describe this action as coercion; by doing this, the Beast eventually manages to lure Belle to the castle (although the film doesn’t show this as outwardly intended), thus, from the offset, Belle and Beast’s relationship is firmly in the “Tension Building” phase. However, the Beast’s progression into the “Explosion” phase is not linear. Leading up to the confrontation which sees Belle flee the castle in terror, we see the Beast toe the line between the two, with the explosion being the near assault, the smashing of objects in the forbidden part of the castle. After the Beast rescues Belle, we see the reconciliation of the two characters, in what’s known as the “Honeymoon period”; characterised by the “blame game” that takes place between Belle and the Beast whilst she tends his wounds, his decision to present her with the library, the overt romance, and the Beast’s final decision to allow Belle to return to rescue her father. Whereas the praise of the Beast, for allowing Belle to return to her father, is not uncommon, it is the only logical action for him to take, should he wish to “keep her”. The finale of the film is not actually a conclusion to the abuse, but instead a continuation of the abuse cycle; for the abuser to deploy “Prince Charming” tactics as a reward for desirable behaviour from his victim is not uncommon; it leaves the victim believing the abuse is over, and that her former abuser is now a changed man. This is rarely the case.

Whereas the Beast, whilst being “The Bad Guy” version of himself is supposed to be grotesquely ugly, Belle’s virtuous manner is, as per normal for Disney, is portrayed through “beauty” stereotypes. We’re sold a slender, petite heroine, with dainty movements and a beautiful singing voice. Admission to the Disney Princess academy relies on the female protagonist meeting these criteria. Belle, we’re told, doesn’t need to change herself. She just needs to change him, so he too can become beautiful like herself, and join the ranks of the Disney Princes. We’re sold the heroines who are apparently perfect, albeit oppressed, and their perfection is rewarded with  two things; beauty, and becoming a Princess. As a side note, I’m now wondering why Kida, the female protagonist of Atlantis, despite being a princess in the tale, never qualified as a “Disney Princess”.  Rumours have circulated that this is down to the fact she lacks a signature song. So, the defining characteristic of being  virtuous enough to be a Disney Princess is the ability to sing? Crikey.

We’re fed the idea that Belle gets her happy ending, and all is well in the land of evil women and misunderstood abusers. But in the real world, this doesn’t happen. The abuse doesn’t end with the honeymoon period, it continues, gradually circling back round to the explosion. But the real danger with this tale is that Disney, in selling this tale to a young market, are idolising abuse with the message to young girls, the predominant audience for the Disney Princess market, being “If you’re really good, you can change an abuser; after all, he only does it because he loves you.” Surely it’s time Disney stopped marketing abuse as love, and started telling our children what healthy relationships look like?

16 Days Of Action On Violence Against Women: A Bloghop