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Sofia the First: More of the Same from Princess Culture

Disney is unleashing a new Princess to better capitalize on one of their largest target audiences– preschool-aged girls. Sofia the First, who is set to get her own TV show and movie in 2012, looks just like all the other Disney princesses. She is pale-skinned and blue-eyed, with a tiny waist that is smaller than her head. She has a pale periwinkle gown and a tiara, a modern update on Cinderella’s iconic dress for the ball. In fact, it is interesting how much Sofia is merely an update on Cinderella. While she is a little girl rather than a young woman, both Cinderella and Sofia start out as “commoners” and become royal through marriage. The only difference is that while Cinderella gets whisked out of poverty and slavery by marrying the Prince herself, it is Sofia’s mother who marries into royalty, changing Sofia’s life for good.

Peggy Orenstein’s book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture , outlines the criticism of Princess culture. I highly encourage everyone to read this book to understand the details of the Princess issue, but I will talk about two main problems today. The first is that the Disney Princess industry promotes consumerism and only exists to sell things to young girls and their parents– $4 million worth of stuff every year. The second is that Princess culture is in the business of selling traditional gender roles.

Sofia’s target audience is girls under seven– precisely the age when many young girls become self-aware about their weight and how they look. To fight against the criticisms of the Princess industry, Disney emphasizes that Sofia may be white and pretty, but what she really teaches is that

“…the inner character of kindness, generosity, loyalty, honesty and grace make you special, not the dress you wear“.

A spokesperson for Disney has said,

“…although Sofia will have plenty of pretty dresses and sparkly shoes, our stories will show Sofia, and our viewers, that what makes a real princess is Continue reading

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Filed under children, feminism, gender, identity, princess, privilege, sexuality

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Fellow bibliophiles, I’m sure you can relate to the feeling of reading a book and wondering how you were even allowed to exist on this earth without having read that book already. Some books are good, some books are great, and some books are simply essential. The works of Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, and Frank McCourt all changed me profoundly. I last had this experience back in March when I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the first time. I look so fondly on the week in which I gobbled that book up– but afterward is always sadness. Where was that book when I was twelve? It might’ve given me some much-needed guidance. Why are there no other books this fabulous? I can’t even read anymore. I will just reread Francie Nolan’s story for the rest of my life and be content. I wonder if I can be a scholar of this particular book so that I can spend my life in leather armchairs getting interviewed about it for PBS documentaries…

That sort of thing.

Whenever I feel this way about a book I reflect back on this quote by the lovely Doris Lessing:

“There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag-and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vise versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you. ” 

I believe this is absolutely true. I read Jane Eyre at thirteen and I hated it. Despised it. I didn’t understand it. Finally, the new movie adaption that was released this past winter forced me to reconsider it. It was a glorious reread. How could I ever have hated Jane Eyre?

Most recently, this revolutionary book was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Continue reading

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Filed under cultural anthropology, feminism, human rights, religion

…well, is it a social construct?

I realize that in a ramble about a deluge of anthropological and sociological concepts, I never even answered the question that I posed last week: Is social justice a social construct?

I must’ve been around eight or ten years old when I learned what social justice was. I don’t remember the exact moment, but I can safely assume it was within some event or RE class in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in which I was brought up. Unitarian Universalism is founded upon social justice values, so they were introduced to me as a very integral part of the society I was entering as an inquisitive young woman. To someone that young, the want for social justice seems so obviously good. I think some of the first projects I took part in were Trick or Treat for Unicef and A Guest at Your Table, which both happen during the time of year that in American culture is very inspired by the idea of giving. These sorts of causes that I began to care about were the easy ones– nearly every person can agree that starving children should have food. Poverty, hunger, and children are sort of the gateway social justice issues. Continue reading

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Filed under cultural anthropology, human rights, social justice