Okay, still haven't seen The Princess And The Frog from Disney yet. It's obvious from the trailers that the people making it loved the old time Disney movies with song numbers, spooky paranormal villains, and all that. It's still just another princess fantasy, the kind I've seen before numerous times. The only difference is the princess is black instead of white. Oh, and the prince is a charming fun guy instead of stoic (read that: boring).
I'm doing some reading, and I come across an article on abusive relationships. It mentions that, psychologically, abusive relationships have three components, the abuser, the victim, and the rescuer. It's an interesting idea. I'm keeping to general terms -- after all, exceptions can be found for anything, so I'm sure there are abusive relationships missing one of these pieces. And it has to be said that almost anything we do can somehow be shaped into one of these attributes. So, where's the dividing line? At what point is this just human nature forced into through this psychological Play Doh Fun Factory (sometimes a cigar is just a cigar) and at what point is it actually unhealthy? It seems to be whether you are an equal partner or not. Now, it is blatantly obvious when the abuser becomes a problem. But the other roles?
How many of you are familiar with what they call "Munchausen by proxy?" If you saw The Sixth Sense or have heard of the Pillow Angel, you've seen it in action. Family has someone who is ill, which brings out people's natural sympathies, family likes receiving this attention and concern, and will try to keep the person ill in order to perpetuate it. Now, clearly the family are abusers here. But what if the victim figures this out? You know, hypochondria? "Oh, I'm sick. I'm in pain." They create their own victimhood and search for rescuers, even if all that is offered is a sympathetic ear.
Now, let's look at the rescuer. Helping people in need is a noble impulse, and one of the few things that prevents me from completely despairing for humanity. But what if people don't help because they want to or because it's the right thing to do, but to actually reinforce the victim's inferiority? To make the victim dependent on them? What if their help is to create a tiny little mythology with the rescuer as a god and the victim as a worshiper, "Oh, if it weren't for you, I'd be so miserable?" Through either indebtness ("I've done so much for you") or routine ("Here I come again"), they don't actually rescue someone from their situation, they just stave it off. The victim is still incapable of doing their own thing, but at least they are not doing this particular thing the rescuer is saving them from.
I bring this up because, when I look at the whole Disney princess thing, a frightening snapshot of this abusive connection appears. Belle is rescued, but without the prince, what would she do? It's still his castle. Sure, she'd inherit it, but everything there is his. His books, his staff, his interior decorating, his his his. And that assumes "'Til death do us part" -- if he decides he simply doesn't want her anymore and just kicks her out, what then? Where would she go? The town full of people she's acted like a stuck up bitch towards? (I stand by that. Give the lyrics of "Belle", the opening number, a real good listen. It's one of the most condescending songs ever made. Paul Dini used to do a dead-on impersonation of Cruella de Ville singing it, and it really puts the song in a different light.) Cinderella. Snow White. Ariel. If they weren't princesses anymore, they'd be screwed (especially Ariel, who knows dick about the human world). Jasmine is debatable -- she lacks street smarts, but is clearly a quick learner and adaptable. Meg from Hercules survived on her own before Herc showed up. But everyone else? Can you see Sleeping Beauty running a business? I sure can't.
I recognize that, in the era these things are set in, women just didn't get empowered roles. They were treated as and regarded as property. People will put up with magic and ghosts and witches and such, but an equal woman in Medieval times? THAT'S straining credibility! (It's odd what things you have problems with and what things you roll with. Remember, I'm a Sailor Moon fan. The idea of a bunch of girls in school uniforms using magic to save the universe doesn't strike me as the least bit absurd, but I went after the Transformers movies with everything I had.) But still, modern girls and modern women are swayed by this. Disney Princess merchandise flies off the shelves and is a multi-billion dollar empire, so someone's buying into this stuff. And it seems to be focused on presenting being rescued by a prince as the greatest thing a woman can aspire to.
Since there is so much focus on female characters in my projects, and women readers have said I have a knack for how I depict them, I consider mine. Starting with my favorite female creation, Holly Faraday in Stress Puppy. No princess fantasy there, she does her own thing and is defined by herself and is constantly finding ways to keep herself afloat (one strip, Raff connected all the things she does outside of work that bring in money and asks why she's still working at ITG. Her response? "Beer money"). And anyone that attempts to victimize her, either through direct effort or "rescuing", will get what for without hesitation. Holly and Raff don't date, have never dated, and WILL NEVER date. I want their friendship to be based on mutual respect, not romantic feelings. Amber in Head Above Water? Amber has no choice but to rebuild her life on her own -- she's too afraid of everyone else and what they might do to her when they realize she is completely vulnerable. Rhapsody in Sound Waves? She relies on her swim buddy Melody for help, but they are working together. It's still Rhapsody figuring things out and taking responsibility for her situation, she's not counting on Melody digging her out, doing the dirty work for her. Future issues feature Rhapsody actually in mortal danger and getting herself out or facing down situations far far bigger than herself.
I think about the day I might have kids. I would love to have a daughter. And if she ever looked at me and said, "Daddy, I wanna be a punk rocker when I grow up," it might be one of the happiest days of my life.