Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Prudent Advice

       Remember that most fairytales were written by men.
Some of the greatest writers of children’s fables were male: The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, even Walt Disney.
You are not a tiny princess awaiting rescue by a valiant man, a symbol of frailty and naïveté, or the punch line in a morality tale. The women in those stories were crafted by a different sex at a different time for a different audience; these days you slay the dragon yourself.
           from 500 Pieces of Prudent Advice for My Baby Daughter


  1. So very true! My daughter's princess obsession is pretty manageable (right now it's actually Jessie from Toy Story), but a while back she asked me who was my favourite princess. I thought about it and said Belle, because she's smart and brave and makes some decisions herself (at least in the Disney version).

    Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are the worst, but then the Disney films of those two were made so long ago... So glad we're over playing Sleeping Beauty.

  2. Lately, I've been watching the Japanese TV show Otomen, which is about a straight-identified high school boy who loves baking cakes, knitting, and doing "girly" things--and he's the captain of the kendo team! The ending of the show had some great lines about not waiting for your "prince" to come and doing things with your own strength. The girl he calls his "beloved princess" is not the uber girly girl but a girl who is terrible at baking and excellent at martial arts.

    But the story really upends the prince/princess dynamic--both of them are culturally gender queer but the roles are not completely reversed (read: male princess and female prince); they are actually equal, with both parties having agency, dreams, good points and bad points, developed characters (and martial arts skills.)

    I was so happy to see the show end on such a good note. I hope you can watch it sometime (I think the manga is in English now, and there are some subtitled versions on the internet.)

  3. I am 100% behind the idea of girls with agency, princesses who slay dragons themselves. In fact, I generally identify more with the standards-defying, independent, capable, strong-willed, intelligent princess than with the headstrong, misogynistic, macho prince, even though I'm a guy.

    This, I think, maybe, is a problem. With so many wonderful female role models out there, defying old stereotypes and proving they don't need a man, where does that leave the man? It seems like everywhere I turn, basically every male hero (read: potential role model) in some way perpetuates social constructions of macho-ness, and is, in short, not the kind of guy I actually want to look up to or be like.

    I don't have kids yet, but I wonder and worry what kinds of role models I'll have to help raise my son to not feel obligated to be macho, misogynistic/sexist, or homophobic...

  4. (To clarify, since there's apparently no edit button on comments. I just wanted to clarify that I don't think it's a problem that I might identify more with female characters than male characters. I'm not trying to say it's inherently a problem that I should feel an appeal to gender-bending or anything like this.

    I'm just saying that I don't really feel there are any great gender-bending male role model hero characters out there the way there are so many great female ones.)

  5. rivqa--I like how you dialogue with your daughter, esp. how you highlight Belle's strength and self-determination.

    odorunara--I'd love to watch Otomen, and am adding it to my list! I'd also like to add it to a list of resources that I'm putting together to post soon, recommendations for positive books and films.

    chaari---this is an interesting point. I haven't been exploring children's literature specifically for boys as heavily, but I hope some parents of boys will write in with recommendations. It seems to me that since so many western fairy tales have a female always tied to a male, the backlash is removing the male altogether, or making him laughable or pitiful or weak, decreasing his power so as to increase her power.
    Many old stories for boys aren't so heavily centered on having a female character in them, many are often stories of adventure with solely the male character, so it is hard to compare.
    There is a great need for boys to have role models that aren't based on machoism and aggression, since these are most often the "values" that are sold to boys at a young age.