Monday, October 14, 2013



Cultural Monday will take a little look at how culture is used to mold consciousness, in this particular case, the consciousness of and about women...and starting with little girls.

We will be talking about the new Disney animation anticipated blockbuster Frozen.

Before we go there, I will ask you if you have ever noticed, as Feminist Fangirl points out that, 

...Disney, and most all media for that matter, makes stories about the same thin, wide eyed white women over and over again...

Back to Frozen which is an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's story, The Snow Queen.  The Snow Queen is a pretty feminist fairy tale.  

It tells the story of a young girl named Gerda who must embark on a journey to rescue her best friend, a boy named Kai, from both the clutches of the Snow Queen and the soul killing influence of a cursed shard of mirror that has become lodged in his heart.

 It is told in seven chapters:
  1. About the Mirror and its Pieces
  2. A Little Boy and a Little Girl (Kai and Gerda)
  3. The Flower Garden of the Woman Who Knew Magic
  4. The Prince and Princess
  5. The Little Robber Girl
  6. The Lapp Woman and the Finn Woman
  7. What Happened at the Snow Queen’s Palace and What happened Afterwards
Snow Queen has, as you can see just from the chapter title,  lots of heroic female figures and a formidable female villain, the Snow Queen herself, to boot. 

The Disney version goes another route entirely.  Disney cut out every single major female character save for Gerda, now called Anna, and the Snow Queen (who isn't).  Disney didn't just ditch the females, it replaced them with a cast of men.  Anna herself is stuck with a male sidekick.  That sidekick becomes the romantic interest of Anna. That sidekick helps to reproduce all the same nonsense about the weak little female in need of help from a big strong male.  Further,  In the original story Gerda felt a platonic love for her female friend...who isn't even in the Disney version.  Oh, by the way,  the Snow Queen is no longer a villain but a cursed sister. 

The original version is the opposite of a damsal in distress story.  The Disney version gives the female heroine far less credit...or as Bitch Media points out:

In the Disney version, the main character Anna goes on a journey to find her sister Elsa, who has covered the kingdom in eternal winter. But not only is she not rescuing a boy, she's accompanied on the journey by a mountain man named Kristoff.

Again from Fangirl,

That Disney feels it’s necessary to take a female driven, female dominated story and cut it down to one princess protagonist with a dashing male helper/love interest, is honestly disgusting and one of the most blatant examples of Hollywood’s lack of faith in women in recent memory.

It’s one of those clear examples in which everything that is wrong with our media’s approach to women and female agency is even more apparent, if only because we have a clear source to compare it to, and we can see what the studio chose to change.

A female protagonist who primarily goes it alone? Can’t have that. She needs a hot dude to be by her side so the audience doesn’t get bored by all the lady time, and also she needs someone to get with at the end. And on that note, let’s make her older and also a princess.

A bunch of women who, if expanded, could be diverse and original characters, friends, villains and comic relief? No way that would work. Let’s just replace them with some dudes and a talking snowman. We can’t have more than two women in a story. After all, every other fairy tale we’ve produced has only let women be a princess or a villain. Why break the pattern now? Why let girls know that they have inherent power no matter where they come from? Why let them know they have other options. And while we’re at it, we’ve got to make sure everyone is white.

There is more, of course.  Like virtually evey such animated film, especially those from Disney, all these female characters go beyond pretty.  They are impossibly "perfect."

The Christian Science Monitor asks,

 Would people go to see a princess who wasn't "pretty"? "Shrek" made a joke of this and succeeded. But what if there was no joke? What if the princess simply was ordinary? It would be a risk, if only because it has never been done. Just look at society – our local TV news anchors and gossip-page celebrities. Where are the un-"pretty" examples there? Disney is just reflecting society back at itself.

And then back at itself again.  Kinda dialectical, huh? 

Cogpunk Steamscibe tells us something else.

Disney has ‘white-washed’ the fairy tale. I always imagined the Little Robber Girl as being of a S├ími extraction (because of the reindeer, not because she was a bandit), but it looks like she is gone from the story, and of course the Lapp Woman and the Finn Woman are gone as well. 

These sorts of things don't just happen in a vacuum.  Again, our consciousness, our being is shaped by such things.  Consciousness doesn't just fall from the sky.  Cute little films like Frozen are part of the foundation of patriarchy and white supremacy...and patriarchy and white supremacy are part of the foundation of the consciousness of the creators of Frozen.

How do we change this.  Do we just magically change our and THEIR consciousness.  Marx doesn't think so.For Marx in "The German Ideology" it is reality which creates the mind, and not the other way around. For Marx in "The German Ideology" people's ideas and ideologies are conditioned by the historical formation of powers of production and relations of production.    Holly Graff writes, 

In the Poverty of Philosophy Marx writes that human beings are "both the authors and the actors of their own drama." (TPOP 115) Then in Capital Marx writes that human beings are "governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence." (C1 18) Engels attempts to resolve this seeming contradiction by putting forth a conception of reciprocal causality which stresses that while material conditions determine ideas, ideas in turn can change material conditions.

But the ideas to be found in any given society are not simply the result of material conditions in general, they are also a reflection of the interests of the dominant class.  Marx,

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas. 

This brings us to this quote from The German Ideology about the Materialist conception of history which I want to leave you with in regards to all this, just something to think about:

 It has not, like the idealistic view of history, in every period to look for a category, but remains constantly on the real ground of history; it does not explain practice from the idea but explains the formation of ideas from material practice; and accordingly it comes to the conclusion that all forms and products of consciousness cannot be dissolved by mental criticism, by resolution into “self-consciousness” or transformation into “apparitions,” “spectres,” “fancies,” etc. but only by the practical overthrow of the actual social relations which gave rise to this idealistic humbug; that not criticism but revolution is the driving force of history, also of religion, of philosophy and all other types of theory. It shows that history does not end by being resolved into “self-consciousness as spirit of the spirit,” but that in it at each stage there is found a material result: a sum of productive forces, an historically created relation of individuals to nature and to one another, which is handed down to each generation from its predecessor; a mass of productive forces, capital funds and conditions, which, on the one hand, is indeed modified by the new generation, but also on the other prescribes for it its conditions of life and gives it a definite development, a special character. It shows that circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances.


The following is from Jezebel.

Disney Undermines a Heroine in 4 Easy Steps

Ever heard of The Snow Queen? It’s a famous fairytale about a girl who rescues her brother from the powerful Snow Queen. Let’s see how Disney diminishes female power in 4 easy steps.

(1) Change the title. Once called The Snow Queen, the movie is now called Frozen. Using the same tactic as when Disney switched the title of Rapunzel to Tangled to hide the female star,it’s become extremely rare for a female to be referenced in the title of an animated movie for children.

(2) Change the story. In the original story, the girl rescues her brother. Now, she rescues her sister, keeping the trope of a damsel in distress and preventing a girl from saving a boy.

(3) Create a male co-star. Just as Flynn Ryder’s role was expanded to equal Rapunzel’s inTangled, Disney invented Kristoff, a mountain man, to share the screen with the heroine.

(4) Don’t let females dominate posters or previews The first look trailer for Frozen has no Snow Queen and no females at all. It's a funny bit between two male characters.

The early poster, tellingly, is a shadow of a female figure who you can barely see.

You know what really creeps me out? Thousands of years ago, conquering armies smashed the idols of their victims and stole their stories, an extremely effective tactic to destroy a community and steal its power. Christians did this to pagans, but of course, this act is all over history. Just like the goddess morphed into the Virgin, girls are going missing under the guise of celebration. Right now, in 2013, Disney is stealing and sanitizing stories. It’s an annihilation. How long before we all forget the original story? Will our children ever hear it?

Two female hero characters is not difficult, it’s only difficult if you’re using one basic type of female character.
They also could’ve made the sidekick reindeer, Sven female instead of male. Making the reindeer character female could bring in another type of female character in the movie. Most sidekick characters in Disney Princess movies, and other Disney movies for that matter, are male and having a female sidekick character would be change of pace for the company. The female characters who aren’t villains don’t all have to be pretty, sensitive, or passive.
Making the reindeer female would also make for an interesting female animal character. Human female characters are lacking in fictional media, but female animal characters are even more lacking in fictional media.
Making the reindeer female would also make him more accurate to the species because male reindeer begin to grow antlers in February and shed their antlers in November whereas female reindeer begin to grow antlers in May and keep their antlers until they shed them next May. The movie takes place in the winter months, so Sven should’ve been female.
The sidekick snowman, Olaf could’ve also been female-gendered. In other words, there would be a “snowoman” or “snowlady” instead.

Think Nebbie is off her rocker for suggesting so many female characters in Frozen? Look whatFeminist Fangirl writes about the original story:

There is the Snow Queen herself, a formidable villain who’s power is treated with respect. There is Kai’s grandmother, who provides an essential catalyst to Gerda’s journey. There is the old witch woman with the enchanted garden who functions as a threshold guardian for Gerda while being characterized in a respectful manner that serves as a good subversion of the old witch trope. There is a female crow who knows how to sneak into palaces, a helpful princess who heads a side plot in which she will only marry a prince as intelligent as her (!!!), a robber and her daughter, head of a band of robbers who kidnap Gerda. The daughter is a spunky, knife wielding girl who befriends Gerda and aids her on her way. And finally, there are two women, the latter of whom helps Gerda understand the inherent power she has always had within her, a power that will ultimately save her friend, and the world.

I got that link from Fem it Up! who, like Feminist Fangirl, is boycotting the movie. I will most likely see “Frozen” as I want to know, first hand, exactly what happens to this story. Also, you know what really sucks? I have 3 young daughters, and this movie probably shows more of a heroine than most of the rest in 2013. If you doubt me, check out Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013. Which is why, I suppose, Disney believes we all have nothing to complain and ought to be happy with these crumbs of feminism for our kids.

This post originally appeared on Reel Girl. Republished with permission.

Margot Magowan's blog Reel Girl is dedicated to imagining gender equality in the fantasy world.

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