Tuesday, May 6, 2014

RavenCon Panel 5 - Princess Culture

"What, Sir, would the people of the earth be without women?  They would be scarce, Sir, almighty scarce." - Mark Twain

"After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her." - Adam's Diary, by Mark Twain

And so, I roll down the tracks to the final destination.  Not that this is the last ride; oh, no, I hope to be a regular on and at RavenCon (and otherCon) panels for years to come.  But this RavenCon was a special one for me, and the string of panels I engaged on were some of the most enlightening and engaging ones I've ever attended (and that's even more surprising coming from a panelist).  This particular panel, though not the last one on which I served, was a special one for me as well, and that for several reasons. 

The topic of the panel was Princess Culture: Pros and Cons.  I viewed it with some trepidation, if you'll recall (and, if you don't, here is the evidence).  First, it was a rough time slot, competing as it did with my good friend Anita's baby, the Masquerade contest, as well as my from-a-distance mentor Allen Wold's writing workshop.  At the same time, I couldn't help but notice that I was the only male panelist on a topic that is fairly women-centric, and though that shouldn't have mattered, it kind of made me nervous that I might be setting myself up with a target on my chest.  Third, the whole authority thing came blazing through my subconscious ball of self-esteem; I'd asked to be part of it because I've now written novels in two series that have a fairly strong woman protagonist, and I feel good about having done that, but how much authority do I really have to speak on a core topic of womanhood?

Turns out, I needn't have worried.  It was the best panel of the weekend for me.

First, I was pleasantly surprised at how many people took the time away from the other splendiforous offerings the Programming Committee had laid out for that time block to come listen and interact.  I was especially pleased to see my sister-in-law, Sarah, in attendance.  It wasn't a huge audience, but it wasn't a tiny one either.  It was, I'd say, just about perfect.

Second, while the other panelists certainly had plenty to say, this was probably the most gracious panel I've ever attended, much less served on.  No targets were hung upon the token guy's chest; matter of fact, I felt like a valued participant in what was truly a multifaceted conversation the entire time.  It's easy to focus on the negatives surrounding Hollywood's (and Disney's, or anybody else's, really) portrayal of X portion of the population.  In this specific case, people have been ragging on Disney's princesses for years.  Now, with Frozen out and the tables turned a bit (but nope, no spoilers here, sorry), people on the other side of the argument have something to rag on Disney about. 

That said, please keep in mind that the rest of this blog contains my own thoughts on the matter and isn't necessarily tied to anything anybody else said, no matter how much better informed my thoughts are thanks to the panel.

I know, I know--Disney has this macho anti-feminist kind of thing going in its portrayal of the princess archetype.  In fact, we started with the "holy trinity" of Disney princesses: Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.  Turns out that none of them would've been worth writing, listening, or watching the story about if it hadn't been for the dashing (and very male) prince who did whatever the plot called for to rescue the poor little girl. 

Having been bashed for that, I suspect that Disney decided to take a little different path for their next set of women.  Thus, they succeeded in giving Belle, Jasmine, and Ariel personalities.  Problem is, "I don't want to marry any of those princes" and "oh, look, a library" and "I'd love to find out how to use a fork" aren't exactly signs of true inner strength.  Yay, Disney, you made 'em more likeable, but you left them still dependent on an Aladin to come save them. 

Then there's Mulan, who is arguably not a princess.  She is, however, a main character, and she does manage the strength to suffer through boot camp and then a military campaign with the Guy With Donny Osmond's Voice.  That, if nothing else, is impressive.  Let's leave this one as a good movement in the right direction, okay?  As is, I suppose, the Native American princess who instantaneously becomes fluent enough in English that she can sing a song condemning British commercialism (hey, at least she stays with her people in Disney's somewhat historically-challenged version). 

Then, there's Frozen.  You gotta go see that one.  Again, no spoilers here, but the end had some people in apoplexy that I suspect wouldn't have been present had it been two princes and a woman instead of two princesses and a guy.  Most (I think) of us, though, stood up and cheered at the end, not just for the princesses, but also for some writers at Disney who might just have finally figured it out.

So what is it that's wrong with the long-held Disney view of princesses?  To me, it's the role expectation that it puts in peoples' heads.  To me, that gender-specific role modeling is wrong; women aren't here to be dependent upon a Prince Charming coming to save them.  In my own relationship I've been lucky enough to find someone who agrees--we both wear pants, in fact, and we're both fine with that. 

(as are, probably, most of you--pants are a good thing)

That said, a story isn't a story if it doesn't have conflict.  You knew that, right?  The better the story, the more ripe the conflict with tension that makes you want to come out of your seat.  One thing the old view of princesses does do well, I think, is that it presents us with really good story fodder.  It's okay, at least sometimes, the stories tell us, to be at someone else's mercy.  The princesses of the holy trinity were all women that we cheered for when, in the end, they made it through the conflict and lived, well, um, yeah--H.E.A.

Hope you enjoyed!


PS: if you're wondering why I didn't bring up Tiana (The Princess and The Frog), it's because I still haven't figured out how I feel about that one.  That was a little--complex of a story, wrapped up in some good music. 

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