Opinion | In Defense of the Princess

16 Jul

Today I saw the preview for Disney’s new animation The Princess and the Frog, a movie that is already all the buzz in cyberspace. Some writers and bloggers are discussing Disney’s first black Princess, either applauding a new role-model or critiquing Disney’s representation of race, ethnicity, and culture–not at all a new criticism of Disney films.

Others, however, are complaining about Princesses in general, arguing that Princesses, particularly Disney’s, promote a negative stereotype for young girls to look up to. It is this view of Princesses that I aim to address. While I understand such views, I feel the writers are overlooking something of utmost importance–Disney films are based on fairy-tales, a most ancient form of story-telling, and one which embodies universal archetypes and symbols.

The point of a fairy-tale is to provide a narrative by which to understand the world and what it means to be human. These narratives resonate with innate themes–the quest, transformation, conflict–and the characters serve as symbols of values held in high esteem–honor, justice, virtue. Passed down through generations, our fairy-tales share commonalities across cultures, languages, and time. Disney, then, has only adapted universal stories, themes, and archetypes.

A few of the articles I’ve read argue that Princesses within Disney movies promote negative qualities such as reliance upon a prince. True, in some films, particularly earlier ones, the Princess does await her Prince, but this is a classical script to illustrate a theme, such as the quest. All of the characters, not only the women, are flat and undeveloped because they are archetypes and symbols. In later films–Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid–characters, both male and female, are more developed, undergo transformations, and represent desirable or undesirable traits and values.

Regarding desirable values, Disney’s Princesses are not lacking. Jasmine is strong-willed, wanting only sincerity and humility over money and grandeur; Ariel is independent, taking control of what she wants; Belle is a kind, caring, and empathetic bookworm, not afraid of standing out from the crowd.

To suggest that Princesses are negative representations of women is to overlook these positive values. One writer worried because her young daughter wants to be a Princess when she grows up as opposed to a doctor or president. Another contemplated removing Disney films from his home to ensure his daughter grows up independent and successful. True, the characters within fairy-tales are not career women, but children have little concept of “careers” and to make a character a doctor or president would be to strip the fairy-tale of the imaginative qualities through which a young child can make sense of the world around her.

I do not have children nor do I know many. But I do know women who used to be children, all of whom watched Disney movies and read fairy-tales as young girls. These women did not grow up yearning for men to save them but rather became successful and independent lawyers, journalists, vice-presidents, teachers, and mothers with strong values and virtue. And their success continues regardless if they have found their “prince” or are still looking.

Rather than worry about a young girl wanting to be a Princess waiting for her prince, one might fare better aiming to raise a confident, balanced, and intelligent girl who can distinguish, for herself, the difference between myth and reality. In the meantime, leave the Princesses and fairy-tales alone and a child to her childhood.


Musings | Dreams for an Insomniac

1 Jul

I often listen to NPR and BBC when I sleep at night. As a result, the news streams often influence my dreams. Last night, for instance, I dreamt of Manderley Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I was his interior designer, and for the entire duration of the dream he was dressed in a maroon, velour Puma tracksuit.

I don’t know what Freud might say about such dreams, though I do know that no matter how far our economy might dive, I wouldn’t take that job in real life in a million years.

If subconscious desires came true, however, I’d love to sport a maroon, velour Puma tracksuit. Oh, how a girl dreams.

Entomology | The Itsy, Bitsy Spider and Other Darling Creatures

25 Jun

Not only do Texans have the luxury of a summer similar to Dante’s ninth circle of Hell, our summer also offers opportunity to meet rather dashing insects. While playing golf, my sister discovered this gentleman on the eighth hole:

Not only did she take a picture, she gathered “Spidey” in a Styrofoam cup and gave the Golf Pro quite a scare before releasing the eight-legged gent back onto the golf course. Perfect par for her fearless endeavor. I, on the other hand, would not have handled such a meeting with her admirable calm reserve.

On Tuesday evening, for example, as I was watching Flight of the Conchords, suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

Looking through the peephole, I was met only by darkness though the knocking continued. Thinking it a cat, or at worst a spirit, I slowly opened the door. Not a cat and worse than any ghostly apparition, the largest insect I have ever seen darted, stumbled, and fell into my home. A giant creature, it had huge wings and popping eyes. And it was screaming.

There was no time to take a picture, but suffice it to say my new friend was a Giant Cicada. While I enjoy the sounds of cicadas during the summer months, a Giant Cicada screaming in my living room is far from pleasant, and I reacted in a fashion similar to my guest, screaming back at him and running to my bedroom.

Luckily, my friend Mr Sunday trapped the uninvited beast in a cup and tossed him back into the wild. Hats off to Mr Sunday’s heroic bravery. Had he not come to my rescue, I would still be in my bedroom listening to the screaming insect from behind closed doors.

Musings | The Round Table

16 Jun

Sunday evening, I had the opportunity to host two international visitors in my home for dinner. I invited two friends, threw the linens on the table, and awaited the arrival of our guests.

Around 6 o’clock, three all-American girls sat at the dinner table with our two international guests. In one sense, our daily lives as young women could not be more different. Our guests live in an occupied territory where they teach children, some of whom live in refugee camps and all of whom are too familiar with the realities of war. We discussed the difficulties they endure, what our guests are doing to give the children the opportunities all children deserve, and their great hope for peace in their region.

Five girls cannot gather together, however, without the gift of gab, and our conversation moved rapidly from one topic to another. Obama, politics, and global issues. Marriage, fashion, and decorating. Full-time jobs, bad habits, and college studies. As we chatted, we consistently found ourselves noting how similar we are––as communities and as individuals. Several times we proclaimed, “Yes, yes. It’s the same.”

Herein is the power of conversation to strengthen human connections and foster understanding. Keeping abreast of CNN and BBC can only go so far in allotting the understanding of human experiences beyond one’s home country. Being able to sit together and share stories creates a bridge that no engineer can build, one that joins distances far greater than the Atlantic or Pacific. It was through our conversation on Sunday that our guests and we were not only able to better understand each others’ lives but also able to connect through the commonalities we share.

At one point, one of my guests noted how grateful she was to visit the States and meet American individuals, pointing out the importance of creating a dialogue, regardless of topic or opinions. The significance lies in mutual understanding and the realization that we truly are all the same. Across countries and continents, cultures and languages, we all have the same desires for peace, love, and happiness. It is a matter of getting our ideas on the table for discussion and establishing respect through dialogue.

As a graduate student, I studied the concept of “the other” in early-twentieth century Western literature, art, and film. While such academic pursuits are valuable in deconstructing such dangerous notions, one need not delve into literary theory. One need only to turn off CNN for a while and share dinner and stories with new friends from around the world.

Deltiology | Can’t (Ku)wait to Visit

10 May

I adore snail mail. No, not the bills or the letters  from alumni associations but rather the genuine, “How are   you, I’m good, please visit me soon” Crane & CO. snail mail, stamped and all.

It’s far and in between that I receive such tidings, so I was quite thrilled to receive, in my mailbox, two postcards from a friend in Kuwait. The first shows the popularity of falconry in the Middle East and the second showcases the famous Towers of Kuwait.

So, my strange quest continues.

One more country down.

More than 200 countries to go.

On Teaching | National Teacher’s Day

6 May

A holiday not celebrated enough is National Teacher’s Day. I actually teach but had no idea such a day existed until I drove through my local fast-food establishment and received a coupon that looked something like this:

In full anticipation, I wore my Sunday’s best to class, fully prepared for a few apples on my desk. No acknowledgment was made, however, and class continued as usual. Because Chick-fil-A seemed to be the the only means of appreciation, I drove through after class for my free 3-piece chicken meal. They didn’t even ask me for identification, which was completely disappointing. Either I look like a teacher or anyone could have gotten a free meal. I think I prefer the latter.

As I sat at home, enjoying a glass of wine and free Chick-fil-A, I started thinking about all the teachers I’ve had, among whom Mr. Haynes, my Honors English teacher stands out. He gave me a voice as a sophomore, encouraged me to write as a junior, and wrote my college letter-of-recommendation as a senior. When writing that letter, he asked what I wanted to major in.

“English Lit, of course,” was my reply and another classmate agreed. “Is there anything else worth studying?”

Mr. Haynes sighed. “All our best ending up as English teachers.”

“Oh, no.” I retorted. “I’m going to law school after undergrad.”

Mr. Haynes looked relieved. Little does he know, however, that here I sit, enjoying my Chick-fil-a on National Teacher’s Day, quite relived myself, that I’m not a lawyer and didn’t have to pose as a teacher to eat for free.

On Writing | Back in the Blogosphere

3 May

After a vacation from blogging, one which lasted much longer than I’d anticipated, I’ve decided to come out of retirement and make my mark, once again, in cyber-space.

Whether or not I have readers left, I know not. Whether or not I was missed, I cannot say. I can say, however, that I missed cyber-space. I missed reading my favorite blogs. I missed keeping up with the musings of my favorite bloggers. And most of all, I missed Writing.

Which brings me to a question often asked by my non-blogging friends. What is the point of a blog? For those who are not fans, a blog is a mirror for a Narcissist who thinks the world actually cares about the mundane events of her daily grind. Well, this is partially true, at least for me.

But in all actuality, I think people blog because they must. Many a writer has been quoted as saying “I write because I have to.” It’s not about money (there isn’t any), nor is it about publicity (most writers reach fame posthumously). It’s more so about the innate need to write. As a thirsty man reaches for a glass of water, a writer reaches for a pen.

I’ve been writing since I learned the alphabet. Every now and then, my mother comes across a poem or short story I wrote in first grade, fifth grade, or high school and sends it on my way. Looking over the unsophisticated prose of my juvenile musings, I sometimes cringe at my poor rhymes or hyperbolic metaphors, but overall I recognize an unrelenting quest for meaning whether through a poem about a junior high crush, a short story about a homeless man, or a satire about the students in my AP English class. And the quest continues.

I’ll not be the judge as to whether what I’ve written is worth reading, but regardless of readership, I can’t stop writing. And thus, this blog is back, and as for now, I’m not planning another vacation anytime soon.