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I am a mom of 2 very energetic but amazing kids, and a crafter after they are off to bed. That's my work over on the left, linked from my Etsy shop.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Princessophobia- is there a word for that?

So it looks like I wil average one post per month- better so far than any of the journals I tried to keep as a kid. But the Christmas season has passed, the tree is gone (but not quite the needles- I keep finding those in strange places), the ornaments are mostly back in their box for another year, and life is very slowly returning to normalish. So maybe I will find myself here a little more frequently. And maybe I haven't had sufficient coffee yet to really see the ridiculousness in that thought.

My son is back in school after the holiday break, and it is filled with all sorts of new toys and gadgets and things. When I think back to my childhood- so very long ago it seems, this morning- I know we had some weird things. Like Hugo, Man of 1000 Faces- this freaky plastic bust that came with different styles of hair (what kids doesn't want a closet of synthetic toupees for their dolls?), make-up, moles, and I don't know what all. I was so excited to receive this one year- and when I think of it now, it just creeps me out.
And do you know what scares me the most these days?

Disney princesses.
Simpering, demure, passive and oh so pretty, these lovely girls are everything that makes me cringe as a mom of a wee girl.
I was talking about the representation of women this past week- specifically about Titian's icon of feminine virtue, the Venus of Urbino, from 1538. This is Venus:

This painting is thought to commemorate a wedding in the della Rovere family. It is not a portrait of the bride- that would just be scandalous!- but it does give an allegory of love in marriage. There, in the background, her attendants scuffle about in the cassone; the little lap dog rests peacefully at her feet, and she holds a bundle of roses and myrtle. All symbols of love, fidelity, and the promise of a blissfull future.
And of course there is the promise of a little somethinsomethin going on with Venus here.

What strikes me most is her face. Historians will talk about the construction of gender roles in this work- that this representation sets the expectation for the behavior of women in 16th century Italy. They are passive, demure, beautiful. They are available to the male viewer's gaze, and present their bodies as objects of desire. They accept this role gracefully, as it is the proper role of women.

Now take a look again at those princesses. I am not posting a photo here (don't need the grief from Disney), but any image search will bring back hundreds of images of these lovely role models. They may have a little more clothing than sister Venus, but they have that face. That tilt of the head- down and turned so slightly to the side- that says "I am pretty- let me flutter my eyelashes at you."

These images of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella may have been first fashioned in the 50's, when the idea of women in trousers and working outside of the home were out of the norm. But shouldn't we be past that now? Haven't we arrived at a place where women can be doctors and politicians and scientists and homemakers if they choose to?

The value of our simpering little princesses is in their long lashes, tiny waists and perky features. Their salvation comes through their beauty and feminine allure- because what Prince would want to rescue a book worm? Why should he rescue her from a dismal fate if she is only going to run off and get a career? Really, now- who will see to his creature comforts? Who will gratify his ego? It is her responsibility to see to her rescuer and be just as cute and lovely as she can be. Besides, science is hard. Fashion is fun!

I would rather my daughter model herself after the Paper Bag Princess. Now there is a Princess! Dirty and dishevelled, she outwits a dragon, and rescues her Prince. And in the end, she realizes that she is more than a beautiful dress or a gentle smile. She leaves the bum of a prince behind, and saunters off into the sunset still dressed in her paper bag.

My kind of princess.