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Still Displeased with Cinderella and the Whole Gang
By Lauren Wark
I usually discount all feminist rage over the Disney Princess movies when they cannot tell me who Boudicca is. White girls raving about Disney Princesses as a channel for expressing their feminist views exhaust me. They exhaust me as they explain their rebellion against chauvinism by woefully succumbing to it. As these white feminists combat their oppression with their perfect recitation of whatever Huffington Post, New York Times, or Buzzfeed article they read, I pity them.
They know nothing, because they generally do not know themselves. They identify as American and have little to no understanding of their European heritage. They usually end their heritage at when they came to America, rejecting all that came before it. Most of their identity revolves around capitalism and its value of materialism. Pop culture, thus, becomes its own marker of American identity and many girls become disillusioned with how their Disney Princess heritage betrayed them. They have no understanding of Europe’s indigenous cultures or how colonialism once raped them of their identity and spirituality long before their European ancestors would, in turn, rape all of America’s indigenous peoples.
They cannot tell you how the loss of indigenous culture always seems to follow the loss of feminine value. They will stare at the dots, but cannot connect them. Watching their eyes dart about like gnats around a lamppost is excruciating to any girl, like me, who has taken the time to connect her own dots, in turn to connect the others.
Looking at me, a blonde, blue-eyed girl, with skin so fair, it is translucent, you would most likely presume from my distaste of my feminist friends’ enlightened lectures that I do not support feminism. However, this is not true. What my golden hair and fair complexion hide is the full Houma blood of my maternal grandmother and Cherokee paternal great-great grandmother, whose stories and legacies would impact my identity in such a way that no Disney Princess could threaten it. No mythical character on a lunchbox could compete with the real characters that dwell within my very essence. No biddie in a fancy dress could compete with the female warriors who did as they pleased, even if they made mad money off their product line at Wal-mart.
I credit my early dismissal of the Disney Princess movies to two things: one being that Disney made the mistake of spoiling me with one option and left me wanting more options, two being that my Native American heritage allowed me to believe I was entitled to much more respect as a female.
I lucked out of choosing a Disney Princess to identify with by phenotypic default. I, the blessed blonde, had two Disney Princesses to choose between during my childhood: Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, ‘blonde princess or that other blonde princess.’
Disney Princess stories were mostly the same: some plot line about a young woman needing love and receiving it through a powerful man’s love for her beauty. There were no choices in this for the princesses, as it was merely the story of how they succumbed to their fate. Disney told the stories of the hot girl that was cute enough to be selectively chosen for the princess role. The coveted hot girl at the ball did have one choice, however, her dress. Fortunately, princes are not into the business of dress picking.
Thus, I, the lucky blondie with the options, can choose based on a slight curve of individualism within the Disney Princesses. Do I want scoop-neck, blue or v-neck, pink? Do I want the puff or the A-line?
The predominant portion of Disney princesses are white girls, representing the forlorn European pasts of their bastard American children and I, supreme white girl, fairest of them all, receiver of all genes recessive, am spoiled by the option of what Disney Princess I choose to identify with! The horrid result of this daunting choice is that as a child, it left me wanting more. Being given one choice is a slippery slope into wanting more choices, and eventually demanding autonomy.
In other words, Disney’s extraordinary legacy of brainwashing young girls into identifying with fantasies and succumbing to power tripping men backfired with my bratty needs for a princess more tailored to my liking. I like Aurora’s flowing hair, but I prefer blue like Cinderella. Cinderella’s before-the-ball outfit is not as cute as Aurora’s before-she-got-fancy outfit. Silly Disney gave me too many princesses and not enough princesses all at the same time. When Pocahontas came out in theaters, my feminist, bi-racial self would be fully realized as it fostered a myriad of uncomfortable, racist situations for my greedy five year old self. My slippery descent into demanding more options for princesses would bleed into areas of race and cultural identity.
I have a very clear memory of a very confusing day in kindergarten. It was playtime and all my fellow students took to their carpet territory. We had taken to discussing the film Pocahontas after the Flubber review had been exhausted (no one would ever understand Flubber’s magical properties or what his purpose was). Nevertheless, the Pocahontas critique would be entirely different in three ways. First, only the girls would discuss it. Second, all of those discussing the movie loved it and had no questions for its base. Third, all of the fangirls of the new Disney Princess were very interested in identifying with her race. “I am a direct descendant of Pocahontas,” one proclaimed. Then a surge of “me too”s would ensue, alienating me on the carpet.
I, unlike the newly formed ‘Pocahontas Heritage Club’ was not white, but merely white presenting. I was the only Native American girl on that carpet and I felt it. I felt the confusion hit me, as I recalled the features of my mother and how none of my classmate’s mothers looked like mine. I recalled the lessons my mom gave me on my heritage and how different they were than these girls’ confessions of Indian heritage on the carpet. I could hear my mother saying, “You are part Houma and it is important that you know and respect it, but you will never be Native American. I am raising you white and you are white.” As these girls recounted their parents’ recollections of far away Indian ancestors, I thought back to my full blood grandmother. How can they be more Indian than me with so much less? I thought. I am not allowed to proclaim that I am Native American, but all of these girls can?
Within the following years of that day in kindergarten, I would have two key experiences that would begin my education in mythical Indian heritage in how white people exploited both Native Americans and women. First was sitting next to Tori Dandridge on the bus and learning about the historical fallacies of Pocahontas. I sat next to Tori regularly on the bus rides to and from school.
One bus ride home from my first grade class while Summer was still lagging into Fall, Tori and I both placed our legs, bent at the knee on the bus seat in front of us, cradling ourselves for the ride. This practice was ordinary, but on this day it would incite one of my first conversations in reference to blood quantum, Native identity, and what it means to be “passing.” Tori brought up the very popular subject of being a direct descendant of Pocahontas, claiming that she was Native American. With her thighs next to mine, she began to explain that because her legs were more tan than my pale ones, she must be more Native American. I had nothing to respond with, but for the first time I felt Native rage as it pulsed through my Native body. My legs were pale white, but I was Houma, because I was my mother’s daughter.
By this time, the Virginia public school system had taught me who Pocahontas was and when she lived. Tori’s last supposed Native American relative died in 1617; my grandmother was still kicking. How could Tori think that she was more Indian than me? Is the quality of your tan what displays your degree of Indianness? I began to interrogate my mother on all things Native and report to her the strange accounts of the ‘Pocahontas Heritage Club.’ This coupled with Virginia history lessons would educate me the inaccuracy of the Pocahontas movie. Why weren’t her greatest-great grandchildren speaking out against the movie’s inaccuracies? Why were they not upset when they learned the real story in school? They were so happy and blissfully unaware to be Indian and I was so confused and agitated to be a white girl who was part Houma.
My childhood memories wove my resilience to the Disney Princess gaze. My experiences in school granted me more questions for my mother. The answers to my questions would give me something Disney Princesses could not: my Houma heritage. I was Rosalie Courteau’s great-great-great grand-daughter. She was a warrior whose battle skills and military strategy outweighed her male comrades. She would lead the Houma tribe to refuge and successfully defend them until her death, serving as the Chief of her matrilineal, matriarchal tribe. Houma women could sit at home, weave baskets, and tend to their children just as they could train in fighting and hunting. Most Houma women could perform both gender roles equally.
Despite my understanding of how cultural assimilation had changed what it means to be Houma, I tried my best to represent. So, I put butterfly clips in my hair and put on my favorite purple shirt for second grade and ruthlessly fought off boys who tried to bully the girls. I gained a reputation that would last throughout my grade school years. I was a prissy girl who was not to be messed with and did not care for any boy’s compliments on my looks, as I did for recognition of my strength.
My native identity allowed me to question how girls were treated in my white life. Why were stories about white women so different than native women? Why were native women inherently equal, while white women were the soft cushion for the man’s balancing act? My native identity encouraged me to ignore the processed histories that tasted something foul of a Twinkie in school and search for the histories that fought the American Public Relations agenda. I would read about Boudicca, Queen Elizabeth, the Trung sisters, Joan of Arc, and Lozen. I dared to say that there was no actual basis that men were more naturally suited for certain roles, when there were women in history that defied this notion. Famous women in history had beat the boys, so why was I the only one who knew?
Talking about making changes for girls by questioning how sexist the Disney Princesses are is important, however, not essential. Disney Princesses are watered down folklore that represent one window in time in European post-colonization by Roman invaders. The breadth of cultures and indigenous heritage in Europe became assimilated into a homogenous male-centered narrative that better met the Roman’s standards. While the folk tales do represent the ethnic heritages of Europe, they are not exempt from the destructive power of cultural assimilation. So if a girl, from Celtic tribes like me, asks about Cinderella, I will tell her about Elizabeth I and Boudicca. If a Native American girl tells me about Pocahontas, I will set her history straight and tell her about Lozen. I will give a girl a real role model that she can touch with the same nostalgia of heritage and cultural emergence.
I take issue with the concept of women just coming into their equality by recent epiphany or dogma. Equality is not restrained by time, it is inherent and unobstructed by any external factor. Equality is not just a thesis or a concept, but a tangible, living quality. Never in time or in physical form has a woman’s worth been any less than a man’s. Never has a woman been so different that she could not compete. I will teach my children to love and protect their heritage. I will teach them about the dangers of power and greed. I will teach them about the value of women in indigenous communities and how women can shape a culture, a government, an army for the better. Hopefully, Disney will continue to make movies like Brave and the Disney Princess entourage will receive a serious makeover. Hopefully, Americans can learn more about history as it happened, in order to better understand their own identities and struggles.
#Real #DisneyPrincesses #Feminism #Gender #Equality #Heritage #Folklore #Ethnicity #Truth #History
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