May 16, 2014

Girl Archetypes in Entertainment by Sandra Turner

The feminist essay "Construction of the Female Self: Feminist Readings of the Disney Heroine" explores the makeup of the female self as portrayed in Disney films. The writers demand that Disney create female characters that are driven out of their comfort zones and find their own unique voices. They demand that the female characters develop a "sense of self in a culture other than the dominant Anglo culture" with a destiny that is not simply that of "heterosexual romantic fulfillment". As with many of my critiques of feminist literature, I believe that these issues exist with all types of people; furthermore, I believe that everyone has the right to define their own persona even if it is one that is not typically acceptable for their gender/race/class etc.

The essay purports that most classic Disney heroines are not very heroic; most needing to be rescued by a male love interest. The male characters typically have complex and numerous goals and aspirations; the female characters have a more simple goal of the "happy ending", which is typically marriage to the male. However, as "Construction of the Female Self" explores, Disney has been creating more complex and rewarding female characters in recent years. Even modern films have, however, fallen into the trap of creating narrow-minded, stereotypical characters. Although not a Disney film, "Brave" is a recent film that stars a young female heroine named Princess Merida. One of the complaints that I have personally heard is that she was rendered on film to be more pretty that she should have been. The character has complexity in that she defies a long standing (presumably male created) custom for the better of her kingdom. She must fight a curse with only her own physical prowess. However, the film studio still decided to make her into a fairly typical pretty girl (with red hair to mix it up).

One of the key issues, I think, is the influence that Disney has on the perceptions of young girls and the general public. I do not think that Disney has any special ethical or social obligation when creating its female characters in its films. Disney has been creating more complex characters because that is what the viewing audience wants to see. Disney simply reflects the general consensus of what a female should be. "Construction of the Female Self" does not explore the general template used for character other than female heroines. I am sure that a study done into the other characters would show that even the male heroes follow a set pattern. Most of the males are interested in restoring order and finding a woman to marry. If it is demanded that film makers should create complex female characters, it should also be demanded of them to create complex male characters (and, I suppose, we should add in non-binary sex types too).

Disney creates character archetypes that its young viewers see as models of people, behaviors and personalities. These archetypes are artificial reflections of reality. As a young girl I not only believed authentic the motivations of Disney heroines, I aspired to mimic their personalities and assimilate them into my persona. It is not, however, the case that all young girls will be greatly influenced by these characters. A young boy can choose to mimic the princess too. A young girl can choose to mimic the masculine hero. A feminine trait doesn't necessarily only appeal to females. The writers of "Construction of the Female Self" fear that girls will develop narrow-minded, Disney heroine ideologies; but I conclude that that is a narrow-minded fear. In society today, it is more acceptable for a girl to dress in a masculine manner (jeans, boots, shirts, short hair) than for a boy to dress in a feminine manner (long hair, make-up, skirts). This seems to suggest that young girls have the ability to adopt the personas of the male characters more easily than a young boy can adopt the personas of the female characters.

Females had over many centuries of male domination lost power both economically and politically. For this power to be restored females must make an active attempt at reclaiming it, and one of the first steps is to regain confidence in their own individual selves. Disney, in this age of movie watching, has inadvertently been giving a key role in the development of the female psyche. Young girls watching the films see what they can do with life. With the recent improvements in the female construction, I believe that this internal power can be applied to all genders. Currently everyone is trapped inside an androcentric society, but I believe the age of gender roles is coming to a close, and the future is one where the individual defines his own character and role in society without gender bias.

Sandra Turner
Adopting masculine traits in Vernon, BC
May 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment