Tikkun Olam Tuesday: In Defense of Princess Culture

My Saturday plans were slightly derailed by a marathon of – first – Animal Planet’s show Too Cute and – second – ABC Family’s screening of Enchanted and Tangled.

Some small background on me: my mother came from a big family, so she was accustomed to a lot of noise in her house. So when my siblings left home for College and I was the only child left in the house, the television was often on in the background just for the added noise. When I am home alone, I usually fall back on similar behavior, turning on a movie, television, YouTube, iTunes, a Podcast, TedTalks, or SOMETHING as background noise. I just operate better with some kind of white noise around me. But when that white noise involves Amy Adams and/or Rapunzel, I’m not as productive as I might otherwise be. All of that being said, here’s the point: I am an unabashed fan of the Disney Princesses. I really don’t know if this puts me in the majority or not. I get the sense that it does, but I also feel like I hear a lot of Disney Princess-bashing. Maybe it’s that I’m in a minority of people who love all the Disney Princesses and also self-identify as a feminist. I’m not entirely sure. In March, I read an article by Mayim Bialik (whom I also adore) about what’s wrong with Princess culture. I really love most of what Mayim has to say on her Kveller blog. But I take issue with the implication in her blog that science and Disney Princesses are mutually exclusive. That feminism and Disney Princess culture are mutually exclusive. That the Disney Princesses are teaching young girls the wrong thing. But in the midst of my taking offense, I also – like any good Jewish woman – have self-doubt and guilt. I doubt my conviction. By forsaking my Saturday afternoon for Enchanted and Tangled, am I a party to a culture that seeks to perpetuate gender stereotypes and oppress women. Do I need to re-examine my attitudes so that if I one day have a daughter, I don’t raise her with detrimental gender stereotypes unfitting a good feminist mother/role model?

This is not the first time that I have reflected on this issue and it is not the first time that I have decided that, not only do I not have any problems with the Disney Princess, but I also think that the Disney Princesses will be excellent role models for my daughters.

We could mince words about the how Princess culture has very little to with the Princesses themselves (very few of them actually wear pink). But I don’t want to just be defensive here. I want to talk about why I am an advocate for the Princesses.

The Princesses embody female individuality. The Princesses rebuff societal and familial expectations placed on them solely because they are women and daughters. While the Princesses are usually aware that others scorn their behavior, they always sing about wanting something more for themselves. These are not women that settle. They stay true to themselves. They dream. They hope. And they occasionally cry about dashed hopes, but they pick themselves back up and try again. They maintain a positive attitude. They are kind. They love their neighbor (although they usually don’t want to marry their neighbor). They are gracious. They fight for the ones they love. They are strong. And it doesn’t hurt that they have the cutest pets.

Yes, each Disney Princess is a damsel-in-distress. But while this complaint has some merit, what I think is most significant is that none of the princesses view themselves as damsels-in-distress. None of them embrace passivity. Even Sleeping Beauty, the consummate damsel-in-distress defies her foster mothers by going out into the forest and falling in love with a handsome stranger. She balks at the suggestion that she would leave her peasant life for royalty and an arranged marriage.

The Princess stories are filled with not only excellent female role models, but they are also filled with female villains. The Disney Universe is largely gendered female and I think that is positive for our daughters. If anything, my problem with the Disney Universe is not the representation of the Princesses, but rather the Disney representation of the Disney Princes. The Princes rarely talk! They have little to no personality. With rare exception, the Princes do little more than fight the villain and win the hand of the Princess. Which brings me to this TEDtalk: Colin Stokes: How Movies Teach Manhood. Colin does such an excellent job of making his point, I have little to add.

I will say that I understand why the Disney Princess are an easy target.

Flynn Rider

But in demonizing Sleeping Beauty in her pink (no, blue!) dress, we distract ourselves from the more insidious messaging being heaped upon our children. I’m cracking jokes in the middle trying to make a profound argument, because it’s hard for me to talk about uncomfortable topics. However, my little jokes are counter-productive, so I’ll defer back to Colin who makes the excellent case for why these cartoon representations matter.

I guess my Saturday afternoon wasn’t totally wasted.

PS. It is worth noting, also that the Disney Princess Universe struggles with addressing race. That’s not the intended focus of this post, but I thought it would be negligent not to acknowledge this other area of poor representation within the Disney Universe.

Lag B’Omer

Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, or the counting of 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. Lag B’Omer is a happy day of celebration on which Jewish people spend time outside- a Jewish “field day” with bonfires and archery.

Since Lag B’Omer fell on a Sunday this year, our Rabbi suggested that the Sunday School celebrate the holiday together. When it came up at the Education Committee meeting, we all stared at each other, confused as to how to proceed. Most of us at the table had never heard of Lag B’Omer, much less celebrated it. And a bonfire? How are we going to make that happen? Bows and arrows? Whaaaaaaaa?!

My heart yearns for the images I see on Pinterest of huge bonfires and epic field day games. However, in our small community, we have to think a little more creatively. So tonight we will be gathering around 3 fire pits, lent to us for the evening by Education Committee members. We’re going to roast marshmallows, play games (sadly, no archery), and just enjoy each others’ company. I will be making adorable Lag B’Omer cupcakes as seen on Pinterest. It should be a wonderful celebration. I really respect that our members provide the children in our community with a diverse and thorough Jewish experience despite our small size and isolation.

The Zionist interpretation of Lag B’omer celebrates the fighting Jewish spirit. You can’t tell me that our little community doesn’t have fighting Jewish spirit to spare 🙂

Pictures of cupcakes to come!

In which I adore Sarah Bessey

If you were to take a look at my (soon-to-be defunct, sob!) Google Reader, you would see that I am an avid follower of Kveller, The Sisterhood,  and the Velveteen Rabbi. However, I also closely follow the blogs of Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, and Glennon Doyle Melton. A quick scan of their blogs would tell you that these three women are Christians. They write about faith and spirituality. And while I may not see my own faith reflected in every single blog post, I adore them all. They are wonderful writers, women, and Christians. And I have been reading their blogs longer than I have been reading the women of Kveller. In fact, it was through Rachel Held Evan’s blog that I first found the Velveteen Rabbi.

It might initially seem strange or even problematic for a Jewish woman to find so much comfort in the writings of Christians. I tend to keep my love of these women and their excellent writing to myself. However, when I read this post by Sarah Bessey, I thought it was time to share my love of Sarah Bessey with you all.

Sarah writes about the evolution of her writing and says,

“The very nature of arguments require simplification. When we are arguing, we go to our base lines. We turn people into props, interactions to proving grounds, theology into theories, because we have a point to prove … These are my neighbours. These are my co-workers. I loved them. And when I loved them, I didn’t want to use them as props anymore.”

As a Jew in the South, I have been evangelized to more times than I can count. And if there is one thing that I could say to the (mostly) well-meaning evangelists, it would be this: I am not a prop, please don’t talk to me as if I am. Many of my dearest friends are Christians. We have had discussions – and even arguments – about faith (more discussions than arguments). I can discuss Judaism and faith until I am blue in the face. I have nothing against a discussion. I don’t even have anything against an argument about religion, faith, G-d, you name it! What bothers me is when I am a prop in the conversation.

And it was a Christian writer who gave me the words to make that distinction. And that is – among other reasons – why I am a thankful and loyal reader of Sarah Bessey’s blog.

Tikkun Olam Tuesday: Interfaith Cooperation

Let me preface this by saying that I have nothing against Interfaith gatherings, in theory. I am a little shy of these events, in practice, because I am so used to being the “token-Jew” at what is actual an Ecumenical event.

So that is why I might have rolled my eyes when I read the title of this article. But give me some credit, I read the article despite my hesitation. And I actually cheered at my desk when I got to the end of this article from the HuffPo, 3 Reasons Interfaith Efforts Matter More Than Ever. Again, I have no problem with the idea of an Interfaith memorial service. However, I do not see the desired long-term gains being accomplished by making a perfunctory gesture toward the inclusion of members of minority groups.

Eboo Patel hits the nail on the head when he writes:

“An interfaith prayer service is only one place to see multiple traditions coming together to heal a community. Imagine how much interfaith cooperation there was in the operating rooms of Boston hospitals last week, where medical professionals of all faiths were working together to save lives and limbs.

 

These times require all of us to be interfaith leaders, to signal clearly that the worst elements of every tradition represent nobody. The murderers of all communities belong only to one community: the community of murderers. We have to expand our knowledge base of the various contributions diverse communities make to our nation and world, to bring into mutually enriching discussion not just people from different backgrounds but diverse identities within individuals.”

That is not to say that, despite my cynicism, we can’t gain some ground by coming together for an Interfaith memorial service. However, I think that Interfaith cooperation that happens unintentionally, outside of a religious service and out of the context of a national tragedy, can do more to foster harmony and fight discrimination than we credit.

A Phone Call

This post falls into the category of Blog-Therapy for me. This is the modern-day corollary to Talk-Therapy and the concept that originally drew me to the idea of blogging. As I say on the About page of this blog, I receive a lot of phone calls every day. Many of these are the sort of conversations that end with me resting my forehead on my desk, while muttering questions to myself like, “Am I the only one who receives phone calls like this?” In an attempt to get an answer to that very question, I have a phone call to tell y’all about.

Well, in this case, it wasn’t a phone call, per se, but rather a voicemail.

Continue reading