Thursday, October 2, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 3

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. Here is the continuation:

I purchased the The Little Mermaid on Amazon when Toddles was just over two. It was cheap and I remembered liking it when I was little. He did like it, loved it even. He would watch it multiple times a day when we would let him. There were some immediate repercussions that were hilarious to me but at least slightly negative. He would say I was a mermaid, which was flattering, but he would be especially insistent about it when I had my top off. I discussed with him that I did indeed have some of the body parts the mermaids had, but what made them mermaids was their tails. It was just after this point that he had his brief enrollment in day care, and the teacher made sure I knew that on his very first day he had lifted the shirt on a Barbie to show the other children her 'boobies.'  I will take total responsibility for that wording. We've always been sure he knew how to refer to his penis, but I had not been so clinical about my own body parts. We have recently been updating his terminology to 'breasts.'
Agency: Ariel's agency is questionable at best: she seems compelled to chase Eric, even though I suppose it's technically a choice.  She does show agency, I suppose, in disobeying her father and going to see Ursula, but it is agency for such a two dimensional reason. It can also be argued she is only a puppet in a power struggle with Urusula the Sea Witch pulling the strings.  Also, it is Eric who defeats the villain, not our protagonist.  Eric convenietly makes that choice for her while she is a more or less passive spectator.
         Ursula the Sea Witch, by contrast, is the motivator in the movie.  She knows what she wants: "the sea and all it's spoils," and she spends time before and during the movie working towards that goal, playing both Ariel and King Triton.  Before, ya know, she's cleverly speared in the gut by a Bland-Peice-of-White-Bread-Prince steering a shipwreck.  

Backstory/Goals: Ariel's backstory consists of being a princess who sings well, but doesn't show up to rehearsal, and likes  all things humany.  This quickly revolves around exactly one human: Prince Eric.  Her interests involve hoarding and wearing bras in public. This changes not at all in two hours of "unda da seeee" adventures.
             Urusla wins the relevant race again.  Her back story is really the secret plot of the movie.  I have spent all my childhood and an embarassing amount of my adulthood wondering about this line. ( Look for it at 23 seconds in)

Ursula has goals, and realistically, she should have been able to complete them, except no one can defeat the terrible writing villain.

Traditional Gender Roles: Our female lead wants to land a man.  She is handed from her father to Eric by the end of the movie. She embodies traditional feminine roles like a paid endorser.  Ursula is less traditional, but still follows this trope to the letter. I think Disney can (and to some extent has) done better.

Relatability: Like Anna, Ariel begins the movie as a naive 16 year old red head in search of a boy.  Unlike Anna, every action in the film revolves around the boy.  Her reward she is given (she doesn't go get) is: boy.  While again, 16 year old me can relate, adult me is a little nauseous and leery.  
           As I've never had a serious desire to enslave everyone and rule over them as a terrifying  god ( I swear), it is  difficult to relate to Ursula.

               Our current feminist critique has been sharpened by Anita Sarkeesian's Vlog "Feminist Frequency" .   However, even before looking at it from deconstructionist-feminist point of view, when I watched the movie with Toddlesworth again, it was a Agency Eyesore (yup, just made that up) that Ariel is clearly not the hero in her own story.  Shes a POV supporting character in the Heroic and Studdly Badass Adventures of Prince Eric the Blandificent.  Toddles reaction, while flattering, still concerns me.  We watched this movie at a time, when, he still referred to every youngish male character as "daddy,"  so in his developing mind, I was Prince Eric: Hero.  Aside from this specifically boring one dimensional hero, this is as flattering as when he thought of me as Superman.   However, the reverse is also true: the disenfranchised female lead was "mommy".  His treatment, whether in part a result of the media or not, has been markedly different post age two.  He is far more likely to throw a fit at Lady Covington than myself.  I consider it as sacred of a duty as potty training to steer his thinking towards gender equality. 
          My current attitude on this film is overwhelmingly negative.
          I don't really know what else to say about this movie. The music is fun, the villain is unique, and it would fail the Bechdel test if there were 100 women in it, because Ariel would only speak on the subject of Prince Eric. Ariel had long been a fan of the human world, but it took an instant infatuation with the prince to catapult her into action.
I still haven't seen The Little Mermaid 2. It might be interesting to see how different the critique would be for the next generation.

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