Last week I spent a couple of days at Disneyland while everyone else was off at RWA (Romance Writers of America’s 2012 conference) just a block away from me. I’d considered going to the conference, but I’m not a member, and it was expensive, and I haven’t had a vacation that wasn’t book-related in…um…oh, since my trip three years ago (as a reward for finishing my first Arkhangel’sk trilogy)—to Disneyland.
So, if it isn’t obvious, I love Disneyland, and I love Disney stories. They are the original happily-ever-afters. But the wonderful worlds of Disney present a couple of problems for me, and I know I’m not alone.
In recent years, they’ve made an attempt at showing a more well-rounded heroine who doesn’t need rescuing, but most classic Disney heroines have a tendency to want nothing more from life than a handsome prince. And as I was watching the big Fantasmic water show that condensed several of the classic stories into a single narrative of good vs. evil, I was reminded that most Disney villains are female, and their evilness is depicted through their lack of conventional beauty and youth—and their lack of husbands.
Despite my discomfort with these tropes, I can’t quite bring myself to condemn these stories entirely. Somehow, they still make me happy. And little girls still seem to love them. I saw many at Disneyland dressed as Cinderella and Snow White, but I also saw a lot of Jasmines, Tianas, and Meridas. Girls have so many more options these days that maybe it’s possible for them to have a few Sleeping Beauties in the mix without getting the message that true happiness can only come from someone else who swoops in to save you from the big, bad world. I’m honestly not sure, and I remain torn about my love for these stories.
I have to admit that there’s something appealing, though, about the fantasy of being treated like a princess. And maybe that’s the key: it’s fantasy. Maybe we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about our fantasies, even when they’re not the most progressive. After all, the fantasy of being willingly submissive to a dominant male is finally going mainstream in fiction. Maybe we can claim our princess fantasies, too, without losing our feminist cards.
Or not. I don’t know. There’s still the problem of the demonized older, independent woman. Nope, Disney’s not perfect.
But I left there, as always, feeling like I’d been in a magic land where dreams could still come true. And in the end, that’s all I can ask of any story.