Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Liberal feminist princess storybook not quite good enough

I bought my daughter a book from the Women's bookstore in Toronto called "Don't Kiss the Frog; Princess Stories with Attitude" figuring that it would be a feminist book about princesses (if one should ever exist). Overall, it is pretty good... the princess does not always end up with the prince, and takes a rather active role in most of the stories.

I feel like I'm being extremely picky here, all things considered, but one part of story entitled "The Princess and the P.E" really bothered me.

A frog, using a whistle, helped a princess who was worried about her athletic skills learn how to jump really high and run really fast (this appeared to all happen in the span of a few minutes, because we don't need to work hard to improve our athletic skills or anything, we just need someone to blow a whistle at just the right moment). Anyway, afterwards, he said

"I'll be your best friend... just kiss me"

and the story goes

So Wendy bent down and kissed the frog. She didn't really want to, but after all, he had been very kind to her -- and he didn't really have more warts on his face than princess Viola.

At which point the frog turned into a prince, offered to be her handsome prince, but he was wearing gym clothes and was all muddy, so when he went to hug her, she ran away.

I can't stand that this book had her kiss the frog when she didn't want to because he had been so nice to her. I am trying to read it in a more progressive way, like she realized that she shouldn't have kissed him and that's why she ran away or something or that this will teach girls not to kiss the boy if they don't want to, I don't know.

Still, boy is nice to girl, asks for a kiss, girl feels obligated to oblige even though she states that she doesn't want to. Not the message I want my child reading.

Also, would she have ran from the hug if he had been a handsome prince, instead of a smelly prince covered in mud and wearing gym clothes? Does that even matter?

Either way, it all reads so date-rape-y to me. As I was reading it, I was so disgusted by it that we paused twice to talk about enthusiastic consent and what the effects of having this storyline in a supposedly empowering book could be. I'm concerned that reading this uncritically will make it seem normal to my children... and I think that the media does a good enough job getting that message across.

Overall, the book is a very liberal feminist piece of work. The princesses do not need a prince to rescue them, because girls can defeat the dragon and win jousting competitions, and only sometimes end up falling in love with the prince. But, this happens just because they try hard enough - it seems like pure luck or something (or a frog blew a whistle).

Even the back cover of the book is very "modern liberated woman"
For the princesses in this book, the old rules no longer apply. They might still wear tiaras, but they do things their own way!
Take the role formerly had by the prince (wining sports trophies, saving people from dragons, etc), throw in a bit of you-are-still-not-as-good-as-men, (the previously described frog-kissing scene) and make sure to maintain the need to differentiate yourself from others by wearing your tiara, a symbol of femininity and class, and convince girls that everything is ok!

The message seems to be that girls can be independent and still attract a prince. And that as long as you continue to be strong and independent, you will have a happy ending... and maybe this is too much to ask for from a children's book, but at least some of the Disney-type princess stories seem to have evidence of structural barriers (Mulan, for example, cannot join the army because she is a girl). This book seems to send the message that everything is ok just the way things are. And if you don't get a happily ever after, maybe you just aren't independent enough.

Still, this is far better than most princess stories the kids have read, and this rather harsh critique feels like I'm being overly picky in a lot of ways, but these attitudes camouflaged as feminism scare me far more than overt sexism, as my 9 year old can describe the sexism or class issues in Disney, but the reviews for this book seem to suggest that pretty much everyone is reading it as empowering towards girls. I'm just not sure this liberal brand of empowerment is what we should be striving for.

1 comment:

  1. Its terrible that she kissed the frog because he was nice to her? Hes just a frog anyway. I don't think I will ever understand women, being "nice" to a guy who was nice tou you definitely seems to violate the girl code of this day and age. Its the guy whos the biggest jerk, the shallowest, the one who doesn't care about or listen to girls all the girls fall for these days. I consider myself a Marxist and I believe in equality and womens rights but I find an annoying notion amongsts a lot of femininsts that gender is most important. That men are always oppressors and women are always oppressed. I notice a lot of women seem to just view feminism as meism and walk around with some predetermined sense of superiority