Posts Tagged With: Hegemonic Masculinity

Princess Odette: The Feminist Swan

Okay, so it’s very possible that my sisters and I were the only three children in 1994 who were singing along to Dreamworks’ obscure animated film, The Swan Princess, being that Odette was not as popular as everybody’s favorite Disney princesses. She was however, in my opinion, a feminist.

If you haven’t already seen the movie, in which (according to IMDb), “a power hungry sorcerer transforms a princess into a swan by day in this tale of everlasting love,” then I highly recommend you watch the following clip and see for yourself the provocative question Princess Odette asks Prince Derek when he appears to fall madly in love with only her beauty:

Derek’s response is a self contained question, or rather a rhetorical one: “what else is there?” One such utterance implicates to Odette that beyond beauty, nothing else matters. Of course, such meaningful things as personality, likes, dislikes, passions, fears, aspirations, etc. are all to be included within that arbitrary category of beyond. Those were the things Derek felt no compulsion to consider in his arrogant “proposal,” in which he spoke not to Odette, but rather for her:

“Arrange the marriage!”

I think it’s necessary to point out this critical turning point in the plot because it is something that is oftentimes overlooked in some of the more traditional fairytales of Walt Disney Pictures. In fact, there are many arguments surrounding the dangerous effects that the Disney industrial complex has on the self-esteems of young people everywhere. They instruct rather specific gender norms, which teach young girls that as long as they dream, (see: Cinderella‘s “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes“), their insecurities will magically be cured by a fairy God mother or a handsome prince, or both!

Animated Disney classics tend to repeat certain themes:

Men are brave, handsome saviors.

(Masculinities theorist, R. W. Connell, writes about hegemonic masculinity theory in his research on representations of ideal masculinity versus subordinate masculinities, along the lines of race, class, ability, sex, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion.)

Women are feminine, cisgender victims of external forces of violence- from which they require external saving.

Disney Princesses adhere to a strict size 2 body and dress code.

Beauty is defined in terms of, “fairness of skin,” and quality of hair.

(See: true classics blog post on, “Lips red as the rose. Hair black as ebony. Skin white as snow.”)

Disney villains are often distinguished according to bodily malformations, darkness of skin, advanced age and/or weight.

(Beauty and love are synonymous to lightness [of features], youth, and innocence in the wonderful world of Disney.)

But Walt Disney Pictures aren’t the only culprits in this neoconservative scheme to instruct traditional gender norms Take, for example, my girl Odette! The Swan Princess adheres to that same size 2 body and dress code, those same savior-damsel heteronormative codes of gendered behaviors and also that same racialized morality according to character’s skin pigmentation and appearance.

But instead of accepting her fate as the unthinking flower, Odette asked a critical question to Derek and to the viewing audience (i.e. ME!…& hundreds of thousands of impressionable children). She asked us to think about the intensified value we place on physical appearance versus what else there really is to a person.

Why hadn’t any other princess challenged her own occupation before? No wonder nobody has ever heard of Princess Odette.

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Masculinities and Deconstructing the Masculine Mystique

Who is this guy?

handsomemasculinemen.com/very-masculine/masculine-confidence, April 2012

You know him.  I know him.  He is the every man, or rather what Euro-American mass media will have you believe every man aught to emulate.  But if you take a Masculinity Studies course at Hunter College, then you will learn that the proper terminology for one such image is that of hegemonic masculinity.

Hegemonic masculinity reins supreme in our sociopolitical context.  He is born biologically male, his gender is then culturally assigned to him as boy – he grows up to be a man; moreover he is white, middle to upper-middle class, heterosexual, able bodied and more than likely identifies as Christian.  Normative masculinity such as this has been constructed and reconstructed over time and throughout national spaces, namely in the United States.  There is a shameful history of gendering races in America, that is to say that non-white masculinity has almost always been depicted as problematic.  The myth of the hyper-masculine African American was used as justification for nineteenth and twentieth century lynchings here in the United States.  Asian American men are often depicted in movies and television as asexual or uniformly effeminate.  Latino, Chicano and Hispanic men have also historically been constructed as inferior.  Take for example the writings of T.J. Farnham, an American patriot of the Mexican-American War.

“They Wait For Us.”

THE Spanish maid, with eye of fire, At balmy evening turns her lyre And, looking to the Eastern sky, Awaits our Yankee chivalry Whose purer blood and valiant arms, Are fit to clasp her budding charms. The man, her mate, is sunk in sloth— To love, his senseless heart is loth: The pipe and glass and tinkling lute; A sofa, and a dish of fruit; A nap, some dozen times by day; Sombre and sad, and never gay, He seems accursed for deeds of yore, When Mexico once smoked with gore: The blood of many a patriot band, Shed by invaders of their land, Who now, by quick avenging time, Are vanquished by the subtile clime, Which steals upon the manly mind As comes “miasma” on the wind. An army of reformers, we— March on to glorious victory; And on the highest peak of Ande, Unfurl our banners to the wind, Whose stars shall light the land anew, And shed rich blessings like the dew (http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401804742.html)

Racism is American as Apple Pie, from Google Images

>__^

But we aren’t simply talking about historical examples here. Many contemporary deployments of raced hegemony are made popular under the guise of… patriotism and [hegemonic] masculinity. An example of this might be that of burqa burning, which is not even spelled correctly in the link provided. One Women’s and Gender Studies Professor at Hunter described the idea behind both examples as white men saving brown women from brown men. Once it was articulated to me in this way, I began to see the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan a bit differently back in 2010 (i.e. bringing democracy and so-called-universal standards of human and women’s rights; as if the two are somehow different).

However, this gender axis by which men are typically blames is a false [or faulty] analysis for critique and discussion. It is necessary that we incorporate a theoretical framework that is simultaneously critical of racial constructions so that we may gauge a more accurate understanding. Because many Euro-American feminists aim to likewise ‘burn’ or eradicate the burqa, with limited understanding of its plural transnational contexts. Therefore, a Transnational Feminisms course at Hunter might further teach that white women aim to save brown women from brown men under that same guise of so-called-universal human rights [that are outlined by Euro-American voices within the international debates surrounding rights]. Before I get too off topic, let me suggest that the politics of saving women of the global south, or women of non-white racial ethnic groups is all around problematic to say the least. A saving complex reifies culturally constructed social hierarchies that are racially based as well as gendered.

We learn in Hons 201 that men suffer from patriarchal violence just as women do, only in different ways. Lived experiences vary according to complex intersections of social identity markers. Very few individuals fit that hegemonic mold of masculinity. Therefore a relatively young new branch of feminism (i.e. Masculinity Studies) is taking it’s rightful root in academia now, challenging previous conceptions of gender faced by self-identified men.

from Google Images

A great book to read [more on this topic] is titled, Men Speak Out, by Shira Tarrant: a collection of essays by self-identified men challenging and resisting social norms placed upon them as well as contemplating new meanings and [re]constructions of a pro-feminist masculinity.

Categories: Creative Blog Posts | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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