Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wait, What's Wrong With Being a Girl, Again?

(Not officially a part of my series on feminism in animation, although it certainly applies. Just a quick rant.)

So, as most people who might care probably already know, Disney's changed the title of its upcoming movie Rapunzel to the more gender-neutral Tangled. In and of itself, I guess not that big a deal, it's got a certain catch to it, slightly more engaging to a modern audience since it's an adjective, not a noun. Whatever. But then why did they decide to change the content of the movie too? According to the interviews I've read, they're beefing up the role of the heroic prince guy and giving him lots more action scenes. Okay, I'm all for equal character development (which is not what "swashbuckling action" means, btw), but why are they changing so much so suddenly, and especially less than a year before the movie opens?

"We didn't want to be put in a box," according to Ed Catmull, president of Disney and Pixar's animation department (via the LA Times). "Some people might assume it's a fairy tale for girls when it's not. We make movies to be appreciated and loved by everybody."

Translation: "The Princess and the Frog underperformed (ie: only made ~$220 million worldwide) and like we always do, we're blaming something totally arbitrary on the failure instead of our story department and our marketing strategy."

Remember back when they announced they were closing their traditional animation studios in favor of switching to digital animation? Their reasoning there was that everyone else's CG-animated movies were making money and their traditional ones weren't, therefore it must be that traditional animation as a medium is dead and not that the movies themselves had issues. Only now, instead of blaming traditional animation for the "failure" of their blockbuster movie, they're blaming it on the fact that boys won't go see a movie with the word "princess" in the title.

Or, apparently, "Rapunzel". (Which the semantic in me must point out is a kind of leafy green plant people use in salads, not a fancy word for "princess".)

So now, instead of the method of animation at fault, it's the fact that it's about a girl. I keep forgetting that girls aren't regular people who can be easily identified with by people of either gender, like boys can. See, when you make a movie with a girl in the lead part, and it's about "girl" stuff like romance and magic (as 99% of lead-women movies are), it means it's a "chick flick" and the only acceptable guy audience members are the ones dragged there by their girlfriends and who spend every second of its run-time in sheer emotional anguish. Because everyone knows that girl things are silly and emasculating and real men only tolerate it for the sake of sex.

But when a movie comes out with a guy in the lead and it's about "guy" stuff like adventure and action, it's totally cool for girls to like that, too, because when we say "guy", we really mean "everybody". Because guy stuff is the default, "non-gendered" stuff, and "girl" stuff is for sissy, fluffies who like glitter and shoes. And in case you're confused by that, "glitter" and "shoes" and everything else associated with being feminine are less important, interesting, relevant, and acceptable to enjoy because they are silly and beneath all the relevant "boy" stuff like explosions and car chases.

Thank you, Disney, for reminding me that girls are silly and nobody wants to watch movies about them. It's a really good thing you remembered, too, before releasing another movie that will only make a few hundred million dollars because there wasn't enough boy-time and we all know that the only way to relate to a girl character is to be a girl yourself. I mean it's not like they're real people or anything.

(Just for the sake of clarification: I do not assume this of all males, and in fact I think it's pretty demeaning to assume they're all this shallow, but there's a lot of cultural pressure and influence out there that supports the "girls are silly and you shouldn't like anything aimed at them" mentality. I don't know which I find more insulting, the idea that all guys must think this way, or the fact that there are evidently so many who do. And they're not the only ones! There are loads of girls out there who feel the exact same way due to the same social stigma. I was one of them for a very long time. Hence the bitter.)

(Another clarification: I have big issues with the so-called "chick flicks", too, and the predominance of princesses in animated movies. Not because I think femininity in and of itself is demeaning, but because of how "appropriate" femininity is showcased in them, and the almost complete lack of anything else for female consumers. I'm of the opinion that people who genuinely like the glittery princess thing, rock on. But limiting the idea of "girl" to just that is... limiting. Girls can be foofy princesses, and they can be other things, too! We have LOADS of princesses already, maybe we can explore, I don't know, something else for a change?)


  1. Excellent post, Bevin! In so many ways.

  2. Thanks, Evie. I forgot to mention they cancelled the adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen" because they felt they had "too many" girl-heavy movies in their lineup, what with "The Bear and the Bow" coming out in a few years. Oh, yeah, and there are rumors that they're changing the title of that one, too! This girl-phobia shit is pissing me off, especially from Disney, who CREATED this foofy Princess niche in the first place!