So I was reading something somewhere and I got routed over to Shadowdancer Studios and perused some of the entries, which included a fisking of some special snowflake’s short-bus “analysis” of Frozen, which I actually watched with J a few nights ago so that he’d get what’s happening in the current season of Once Upon A Time. (Got all that?)
One thing that jumped out to me, other than the weirdness of a feminist using logic (say whaaaaaaaat?) was that this particular feminist talks about Disney movies’ focus on “breeding pairs” as if it’s some kind of strange, not-quite-respectable thing. Now, sign me up for critiquing The Little Mermaid on the grounds that haring off after some hot dude you just met is a bad idea (I loved that part of Frozen: “No, you CAN’T marry him! You just met!”)
Particularly strange is the perspective that dismisses the actions of the Disney princesses with the comment that the solution to all their problems is to fall in love. This statement may well be accurate on some levels – “Regardless of what the princess wants at the beginning of the film, heteronormative love is generally the solution.” – but I think the author is dead wrong on this when it comes to Beauty and the Beast. Because the problem to which heteronormative love was the solution was NOT Belle’s – it was the Beast’s! Belle gets her adventure in the great wide somewhere when she rides off into the forest to find her father, sacrifices her freedom for his life, and explores a magical castle full of enchantment. The transformation of the Beast from a self-centered, immature, whiny brat (with big claws) into a young man who finally “gets” self-sacrificial love (sending Belle away to make her happy even though she is literally his only chance at ever regaining the humanity of the ENTIRE CASTLE’S POPULATION) is the main point – Belle herself does not “learn” the value of such love because she is shown to possess it from the beginning! She gets “more than this provincial life” from the moment she rides through the castle’s gates: the rest of the movie is about how her example of love and kindness transforms an angry, selfish young man. (What I want to know about that movie is where the heck are his parents this whole time?!) Romantic love is definitely not the solution to her problem.
And even in the Disney movies where romantic love is the magical solution, a more cynical perspective is that the princesses are using the romantic love of their male partners in order to gain something they desire. Cinderella is a particularly egregious example of this “young woman uses feminine wiles to charm man into giving her what she wants” trope – in this case, an escape from the drudgery of living with her (admittedly evil) stepmother. But Ariel is another example: she wants to live on land, and Prince Eric is really just a very convenient means for her to achieve this without losing her Privileged Princess status. No slaving away out in the sun all day for Ariel!
Note as well that “true love’s kiss” only works if the kisser possesses the quality of True Love. Whether or not Cinderella loves her prince with True Love is beside the point, especially since she’s in suspended animation at the time. Frozen hangs quite the lampshade on this by having Anna believe that she possesses True Love with Hans, only to discover that she’s been duped by a handsome cad and her icy sister was quite right in dismissing their plans for immediate matrimony.
As talented author John C. Wright says, “There are feminists who object to tales where knights and princes disguised as churls or shepherd boys rescue princesses chained to rocks from the leviathan in the sea, and carry her off on his white charger, or, better yet, carry her aloft in his winged shoes to a royal wedding. The feminist called such tales, where the princess is merely the prize to be won, examples of male chauvinism. Blind vipers! Were only their eyes opened, they would call this female chauvinism, because this is a type or a shadow of the rescue of all the soul of the Church by our beloved Bridegroom.”
Indeed, these romantic tales are not marketed towards young boys so that they may imagine themselves in the princes’ shoes – the princes do not usually have more than bit-parts to play in the tale! – they are marketed towards the little girls who dream of being, or becoming, royalty. The siren call of True Love is held out as an ideal that people strive for in a world where real marriages are hard work and fairy godmothers don’t magick up beautiful gem-studded dresses and crystal shoes for grand European balls. The development of Disney pushing “true love” as an act of familial love troubles me – because it indicates that such deep, familial love is become part of fantasy, the high horns of Elfland blowing in an ideal realm rather than in day-to-day life. Soul mates have always been fantasy. Sibling love and sacrificial parental love, on the other hand, used to be quite common, a bedrock and a safety net.
(I won’t go into The Princess and the Frog – on the whole that movie was just plain odd, which is about as much as I remember of it. If Disney wanted a dark-skinned princess, surely there must be tales of myth and legend out of Africa, filled with enchantment and danger and high drama, that would have suited. Setting such a tale in the modern day and making the princess an entrepreneur was just…. fail. And not even epic fail. Weird fail.)
And now on to the “breeding pairs” business.
The most important thing most young people will ever do in their entire lives is form a successful breeding pair. The most significant thing in the vast majority of all men and women’s lives is their choosing a mate and raising children. Very, very, very few people ever achieve a greater legacy than their offspring. Great inventors and explorers might; a few skilled authors whose work stands the test of time to become classics. Even the drama of real-life royalty is bound up with the extreme importance of choosing mates wisely and rearing children well to continue the royal line!
To discount the importance of the tale of the breeding pair is to discount the only real work of significance that most people will ever accomplish. Why shouldn’t young girls fill their daydreams with such romance? The world of the career woman is decidedly unromantic, filled with paperwork and HR departments, committee meetings and meaningless drudgery (the meaning of most work is that it nets you food and shelter and hopefully a bit of disposable income for entertainment, after all) that might be “important” at the moment (because otherwise you will be homeless and starving), but fifty years from now will be as utterly forgotten as the 501st time you washed your socks. Romanticizing careers makes just about as much sense as romanticizing doing the laundry by beating clothing against rocks in a river instead of having a delightful assortment of woodland creatures as helpers.
This week, my grandmother died at the age of 89. She and my grandfather recently celebrated their SIXTY-EIGHTH wedding anniversary. Nothing either of them ever did was as significant as their achievements as a breeding pair who became beloved elders of a large clan and an example for us all to aspire to; no career either of them ever held was as legacy-building as the way their love for each other has shaped the next three generations of our family.
Most of us mere humans aren’t brilliant geniuses or great inventors or talented artists or insightful writers whose works will endure and continue inspiring generations to come. My (currently-hypothetical) children won’t ever meet my grandmother, but the days I spent dwelling in her house and learning from her stories and singing along with her songs, learning to love little birds and play with my annoying younger siblings in forest and field and stream, hunting crawdads and newts and minnows – they’re part of who I am, and I’ll pass those down to little minds who will only ever know her as a picture or a video clip of their grandpa’s parents. Just as I know my grandmother’s mother, dimly, though her tales.
The jobs they worked and the challenges they faced – most of that is gone, now, totally irrelevant, a minor detail; ancient history. Their adventures in the great wide somewhere – and they did have adventures! – are notes that have faded, washed away by time – except where their children remember. And their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children will also hear the tales and sing the songs. Their legacy will live on – is already living on – through generations. Their generations, the children they raised and the grandchildren they helped mold and the great-grandchildren that will, perhaps, have dim memories of white-haired elders singing in their reclining chairs.
I may owe a debt to Henry Ford or Thomas Edison or George Washington, or any number of other significant figures whose contributions to humanity are enormous but have nothing to do with their reproduction. But I wouldn’t even be here to enjoy cars and electricity and democracy if not for the humble breeding pair who weathered the Depression and World War II and stuck it out through thick and thin for 68 years, raising a passel of boys and helping each of their sons out while they went on to form their own breeding pairs and produce grandchildren – most of whom, by the way, are also married.
Sorry, feminists: it’s breeding pairs all the way back and all the way down. And we like it that way. Do any of you have a dozen grandchildren? Somehow I doubt it!