I was reading my sister’s blog the other day (http://parisianfeline.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/why-disney-princesses-are-good-for-feminism/) where she defends that Disney Princesses are good for feminism while going over a handful of the characters with each princess. I am a Disney loyalist, so I am not someone to get any sort of objective opinion about Disney films from, but it raised in interesting point in my mind. Outside of Beast who’s a beast and Captain Li Shang, the respective Prince Charming’s in each film are pretty much indistinguishable from one another as far as character goes. It doesn’t help that Beast turns into a garden variety Prince Charming at the end of the picture either, so we’re essentially left with just Captain Li Shang.
I know it may seem a bit reductive argument but pretty much all Disney Princesses’ princes are just good looking, adventure loving, open-minded men who will not hesitate to save their princess at any moment. The exception to this rule is Captain Li Shang in Mulan. He exists in a real world where gender roles/issues are actually real and not paid temporary lip service to, to get through a song. What I continue to find most interesting about this is that here we have an array of women in different times, cultures, and personalities all going after essentially the same guy. Granted, I can see how some may believe it’s problematic to suggest that all women want the same type of guy. I don’t think that’s the problem because they are as Prince Charming always is, a thinly described character with a handful of random universal positive characteristics. I think the problem comes in with guys who essentially see this as the only way to be a man. Which doesn’t help because there are in fact multiple ways and the fact that these aren’t really well defined characters to attempt to masquerade as in the first place.
Thinking outside of Disney to one of my favorite shows currently, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, female characters are allowed to exist without actively competition with one another or being told by the series creators who to root for. I’m sure you can think of a tv show or movie with a group of boys. Take a moment and actually try to get 5 or 6 or so in your head. Got it? Now, how many of them have clearly defined leaders? All of them right? I know what you’re thinking shows like The Powerpuff Girls or Sailor Moon also have leaders in their shows as well. You’re absolutely right with that observation. The difference, however is that even though there is in fact a leader, she isn’t automatically better than the rest of the females/girls/women in the group. They all exist as possible favorites and whom you’d like best outside of a missed opportunity by the writers to highlight a particular character as much as they highlight the others.
Go back to the male group, there is always a very clear hierarchy to group. The writers constantly tell you who the coolest character is and that you should try your best not only to root for him, but to also emulate them. Sure, there will always be the #1, the #2, fat one, the funny one, the smart one, the scaredy-cat and nowadays the token minority. But we always know which one we’re supposed to look towards to be. Everything revolving boys always goes into some Lord of the Flies thing on some level. The natural excuse for this is pretty much exclusively boys-will-be-boys/we are hyper-competitive.
Now, the reason I bring this up is because one of central problems with feminism (hell most social things that end with an -ism) that I constantly find is the fact that it only addresses one half of the problem. Contemporary, or mainstream is probably the better word, only wants to deal with feminism in how it relates to women. Which obviously is important to address, but unless you’re some sort separatist feminist who doesn’t plan and living near or working with men ever, this can’t be the solution. Improving men’s viewpoint of women is extremely important. The problem arises in that if we’re only being brought up to be the same exact men, we’re not going to be able to solve this or at least inch towards a better future.
I believe one of the solutions is fixing our media representations of masculinity and adolescence. We need our own version of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic without slipping into any absurd dichotomies like the intellectual vs the brute as in the Revenge of the Nerds franchise. I think guys are actually evolved enough that there doesn’t need to be that one cool kid that everyone else looks up to in the group and hero worships. We don’t need to get rid of the cool kid, and we shouldn’t because he’s FUCKING COOL guys, but contrary to popular belief popping up your collar and throwing out the NYY Derek Jeter charm isn’t the solution to all problems in life. And that cool motherfucker that we all idolize isn’t insecure enough that he constantly needs to be the certain of attention and can’t relay on his compatriots to help him out of a jam (and peanut butter).