Saturday, March 9, 2013

Geeks & Princesses

"Disney Heroes" -- If Disney Princesses were superheroines. Art by kreugan, AKA Melissa Erickson
This week on Big Bang Theory, Bernadette, Amy and Penny played hooky to go to Disneyland. Bernadette convinced the other two to get princess makeovers. Amy was willing right away, but Penny needed a little nudge to go along. Bernadette ferociously informed them they they could not all be Cinderella, and that she was calling dibs on Cindy. Ooookay...

The end of the episode shows Howard getting home and calling out to Bernadette, who's off camera, then muttering "Please be Cinderella, please be Cinderella," while he awaits her appearance. He rips his shirt off and pantomimes riding a horse over to her when she does appear. "M'lady." *roll eyes*

Leonard greets Penny in her apartment, with her made up as Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and she starts telling him about the day. The camera pans back to him, and he is furiously shedding his clothes, apparently overcome by her princessness. Oooookaaayyy...

Meanwhile, poor Amy (as Snow White) is lying on the couch in Leonard and Sheldon's apartment, trying to convince Sheldon to awaken her with a kiss. He seems to be the only one unmoved by all this Disney nonsense, but being Sheldon, I would expect no less.

So I'm a little confused. The girls are clearly sucked into the whole Disney Princess thing, which is not really surprising in general. But Amy especially, with her knowledge of neurobiology and human behavior, surprised me when she was taken in by it. Bernadette, too, seems level-headed and savvy enough not to be brainwashed. Penny is the sole "girly-girl" of the trio, and so I wasn't surprised when she was willing to be in on it, "I guess it would be fun to be Cinderella..." (Sorry, Penny.) What really surprised me was the guys' reactions. Well, 2/3rds of them, anyway. Howard and Leonard were clearly pleased to play the Prince to Bernadette and Penny's Princess. Have guys also been so brainwashed by Disney that women as princesses are irresistible?

But then I watched Anita Sarkeesian's first installment of her Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games: Damsels in Distress (Part 1), where she discusses the use of a damsel in distress as a common and pervasive theme in video games. Mario must rescue his Princess Peach, Link must rescue Princess Zelda, etc., etc., ad nauseum. So considering that these boys almost certainly grew up on Mario and Link, is it any surprise that, as men, they would still find the princess concept appealing? Granted, merely being dressed up as the princesses gave no indication of distress, a damsel in need of rescuing, but in each of those movies, Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the princesses were in fact "damsels in distress" who required a male protagonist to rescue them, just like in the video games that came later. As Sarkeesian points out, this plot device is ancient, with examples going back to Greek mythology, so it was definitely not invented by Walt Disney, or even the Brothers Grimm, and certainly not Shigeru Miyamoto. The princesses (or damsels) are acted upon, passive, while the heroes are actors, the ones making things happen.

Hypothesis: It seems that Disney imprints the idea of the damsel in distress on children when they are very small, then video games reinforce the idea in the young men (and women) who play them, recreating the stereotype of the weak female in each generation.

Remedy: Self-rescuing princesses, damsels in distress who are active in their own rescue, heroes who require rescuing by damsels, more leadership roles for women, and/or partnership between genders in both children's movies, video games, and in comic books, mainstream movies and television.

1 comment:

ShesFantastic said...

This is exactly why Mulan is my favorite Disney movie. Sure, a lot of the more recent Disney females show the bravery, cleverness, rationality, and heroics fitting for a title hero, but there's still always a trace of male dependency underneath. The classic Disney movies were ridiculous, but I'll give them credit for getting better over the years.