Monthly Archives: May 2015

Another Blast From the Past: Matriarchy in Barbie: Princess Charm School

Originally Posted on DW/LJ in 7/12, but still very relevant.

Some of you may know, I have done a 180 on my before-I-was-a-parent anti Barbie stance. There may still be issues, but I have come to believe that Barbie is a great role model, especially in her movies (Life In The Dreamhouse excepted, although I still enjoy it a great deal). If you’re a mom frustrated by the lack of movies about girls and women, Barbie is your girl. She may play princesses or long lost princesses ¾ of the time, and wear clothes that look like they belong in the 80;’, but her characters are movers and shakers, girls who long for adventure and don’t end up settling down with a prince or a pauper instead. They’re princesses who save the kingdom, who sacrifice to do what’s right, who are aided (or opposed) by other girls and women who also have agency and goals beyond marriage or boyfriends. Every movie passes the Bechdel Test with flair. If anything, there is a startling lack of men and boys, and those that are there are often perfunctory, there as background or as potential (often unrealized) for romance.

Ladies and gentlemen, Barbie is the anti-Pixar, which I think is demonstrated in this essay:

Matriarchies, Princesses, and Politics: The World of Princess Charm School.

Help me, folks. I think I’ve finally cracked. I find myself wanting to write a deep feminist analysis of Barbie: Princess Charm School.

Because really, I just cannot sort this out.

I mean, besides the weird politics (there’s a princess of Philadelphia. And you’re born a prince or princess but aren’t really one until you complete this course. It’s seriously weird.), there’s the usual near total absence of male characters – seriously, there are three male characters with speaking roles, and I think they have a dozen lines between them. Barbie movies are seriously like opposite planet.

And the country it’s set in seems to be a matriarchy, I think. Blair (Barbie’s character) is of course the long-lost daughter of the late Queen, and because she’s believed to be dead, the crown is passing to her cousin, Delancy. Who’s becoming a princess, not a Queen (although I think Delancy might become Queen later, if her aunt is any indication? Don’t ask me to explain this stuff.) Delancy’s mother, Dame Devon, is the villain of the piece, who not only recognizes Blair as the spitting image of the late queen, but who engineered the car crash that killed the royal family.

Again, in all of this, there is pretty much NO MENTION of men. There are no fathers anywhere. Blair’s adoptive mother is a single mother who adopted (in Blair’s case, found on the doorstep) two daughters. Her biological father is dead, but he’s really not talked about.) There’s no mention of Delancy’s father, even though I would assume he’s the reason she’s the heir, although Dame Devon could be the late king’s sister, which again makes it odd that he is mentioned all of once.

Because (and this is what set me off at 5:30AM) it’s made clear that her mother is only “special” because of Delancy’s status, not her own – she went to the school but failed to earn a spot after her own graduation from the school. This is said to make Blair feel better about Dame Devin always cutting her down. And they’re not outright saying that marrying into status is inferior than earning it through character as Blair (along with her royal lineage; character is mentioned a lot in this movie) and eventually Delancy do, but you know, it’s kind of implied whether they meant it or not.

See? I told you to talk me down. And did you? No.

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Lucky Me

Like some other posts, I wrote this a while back. But it hasn’t stopped being relevant, as articles like this post on the praise dads get for EVERYTHING demonstrate. I feel I should add that my own situation has changed dramatically. Now I’m told how lucky I am that my husband picks up the slack caused by my health.

About five different articles, events, discussions, and other things have coincided to prompt this.

If anyone ever tells you either that (a) we don’t need feminism anymore or (b) that motherhood is not a feminist concern, consider the following experiment:

Approach a mother whose child’s father is in any way willingly (or at least agreeably) involved in their child’s life. She may be a stay at home mother, or a working mother in a two-income household, or a single mother who shares physical custody or even just gets regular, reliable child support.

Ask her if anyone has ever told her how lucky she is. Because I bet she has. She’s been told she’s lucky that Dad takes the kids out on Saturday afternoon so she can nap (or even clean the house in peace). She’s lucky he changes diapers. She’s lucky he pays child support. She’s lucky he’s around at all. And if she has a medical situation that makes the physical tasks of parenting difficult, oh boy is she lucky if he picks up the slack or even if he just stays with her.

Approach the fathers in those same situations. Ask if anyone has ever told them how lucky they are that mom “helps out” so much. Changes diapers. Takes the kids out on Saturday so he can nap or watch the game or do chores in peace. Earns half (or even more) their household income.

I will eat my hat even a handful ever have.

It seems like such a little thing, doesn’t it? But it’s really not. It’s a fucking huge thing. It ripples out to workplaces and politics and the military and everything else. It’s why marriage and family are at worst neutral and at best a benefit to men in the workplace and politics, and a barrier for women.

And it irritates the crap out of me. The notion that I should be grateful to my child’s other parent (who does not believe this, btw) for changing a diaper, or that asking him to do so on a day when I haven’t been able to so much as pee without child following me into the bathroom is being unreasonably demanding (actual conversation with my mother) is seriously the straw on the camel’s back that is the Second Shift.

Am I lucky? Yes. Because my spouse is kind and compassionate and a good father, not because he parents at all. And you know what? He’s lucky, too. He’s lucky that my career not only provides half our income, but allows me to take daughter to doctors and other such things. He’s lucky that I push through a bad migraine to help daughter with math. He’s lucky to have me. I’m lucky to have him.

Funny how only one of us ever hears it.

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