Over the past few days, quite a number of my friends have shared this now well-traveled link.
In it, the artist renders a number of true heroines – Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malala, Anne Frank, and others – as if they were Disney princesses.
The diverging responses have been remarkable and I have tried to summarize them below:
1. Wow, this would be great if Disney really DID make movies about these awesome women.
2. Wow, this is a great way of showing how Disney turns awesome women into hour-glass figures, big breasts, and pretty smiles.
3. How dare this artist turn these awesome women into Disney cartoons!
Let’s take point 3 first. Here’s what the artist says:
“My experience of female role models both in culture and in life has
shown me that there is no mold for what makes someone a role model, and
the whole point of Merida was that she was a step in the right
direction, providing girls with an alternative kind of princess. Then
they took two steps back, and painted her with the same glossy brush as
the rest. So I decided to take 10 real-life female role models, from
diverse experiences and backgrounds, and filter them through the Disney
princess assembly line.
“The result was this cartoon, which earned equal parts praise and ire
from readers. Some didn’t get the joke, some disagreed with it, others
saw no harm in it at all and wanted to buy the doll versions of them… it
was a polarizing image, but I suppose that’s the point. The statement I
wanted to make was that it makes no sense to put these real-life women
into one limited template, so why then are we doing it to our fictitious
“Fiction is the lens through which young children first perceive role
models, so we have a responsibility to provide them with a diverse and
eclectic selection of female archetypes. Now, I’m not even saying that
girls shouldn’t have princesses in their lives, the archetype in and of
itself is not innately wrong, but there should be more options to choose
from. So that was my intent, to demonstrate how ridiculous it is to
paint an entire gender of heroes with one superficial brush.
“But that’s just me.” – David Trumble
But just because an artist says something doesn’t mean that we have to agree that it is true. If someone says (#1) “I think these images are a wonderful tribute to these women,” one can point out that this runs contrary to the artist’s intentions, but the artist’s intentions don’t invalidate contrary views per se. Medieval art historians rarely have such clear authorial statements, but even if we do, the use to which images are put by viewers is just as important as the goal of the artist.
So if you are offended that these exist at all (#3), know that wasn’t the author’s intent. If you think these images are awesome (#1), know that wasn’t the author’s intent. If you think this is a smart critique of princess culture (#2), then you are in line with the author. If you think these women aren’t heroines, then you and I are unlikely to get along.
I think the author has made a subtle but highly effective critique (#2). The images are gorgeous. They are all so beautiful. They sparkle and shine. Jane Goodall has awesome legs. They hit us as positive at first, at least they did to me, precisely because of the way that patriarchy shapes our sub-consciousness. They are the Disney equivalent of giving my daughter a “best-dressed” award because she’s so creative in her appearance.
These are awesome women. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are or were more or less conventionally attractive. And it totally doesn’t matter, because they are heroines for what they did not how they look. Disney always drives us back to the superficial, the pretty, the weak, the need for the man, the sublimation of self for the man, the power of the male gaze.
At least, that’s how I see it. But my perceptions don’t have to be right. If you had a positive reaction, then it was genuinely positive. The question follows, though, why did you react positively? Does Jane Goodall
really need to show all that leg? If you’re in the jungle, don’t want
you to protect your skin? Does Malala really need to show all her hair
when she explicitly talks about veiling as a positive (within limits)?
And really, the words, “Holocaust Princess” should have tipped you off
that there was something troubling here.
Here’s my final thought: Our patriarchal culture drives us to link a woman’s physical appearance to her capacity for accomplishment. This cartoon critiques that false link. But as all consume patriarchal messages all the time, from Disney on down, it’s too easy for us to make that link too.
Don’t do it.