Like most little black girls growing up in abusive homes, I dreamed and sometimes daydreamed of being rescued from my reality. I wished I had a fairy godmother who would flick her magical wand singing, “Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. Put ’em together and what have you got bibbidi-bobbidi-boo,” changing my alcoholic father into benevolent king, transforming my wandering mother into a nurturing queen, and turning me into a princess who by design would have a happy ending. Yes, I was as my young mentees proclaim “thirsty” for Prince Charming to save me.
In retrospect what I needed growing up was not a prince to save me or magic to transform my reality, I needed to know that there were “liberating” realities for women of color a type of understanding and I would even use the word “magic” that I now find in feminist science fiction and feminist fantasy books. But before diving into why these genres are better suited for helping girls to think critically about gender and power, I want to spend sometime talking about Disney and its lascivious desire to make girls into naïve, gullible, desiring the “male gaze,” and always waiting to be saved—princesses.
Cinderella like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel the Mermaid, Belle of Beauty and the Beast, and Princess Jasmine are all creations of the Walt Disney Corporation. Just recently they have added Pocahontas and Mulan to the official Princess Collection (Multiculturalism and Kummbaya sales in Barack Obama’s land, but that’s another blog). In general, Disney has poured millions of dollars into marketing The Disney Princess Line. From television movies to Disney on Ice, the golden seven are prominently featured. Some are even fortunate to have Mattel dolls which as the years pass show more womanly physical features than the original prototypes.
Recently, Disney has decided to add yet another princess to its arsenal to keep all girls including little black girls thinking they need to be saved by a prince, Princess Tiana. Princess Tiana is the first and only African-American princess. She debuts in The Frog and the Princess which originally was called The Frog Princess. The story takes place in the French Quarter in New Orleans where Tiana is transformed into a Frog after kissing a charming Frog who wants to be human again. To put it lightly, the movie has sparked much controversy in blogsphere. Monique Fields writes in Enough with the Princess while Gina McCauley reports on how Disney consults African-American leaders on how to make sure their conception and marketing of Princess Tiana is “politically correct” meaning they hope their marketing is not racist.
Given all the controversy surrounding the new Disney Princess, Princess Tiana, and Disney’s long track record of undercutting feminist strides to empower girls, I think we should introduce our daughters, little sisters, transgendered girls, and little nieces to feminist science fiction and feminist fantasy books where their imaginations are not limited by the mechanics of physical reality or bound by our society’s patriarchal social norms. Trilogies like The Saga of the Renunciates, The Seven Water’s Trilogy, The Gate to Women’s Country, The Patternist Series, The Mist of Avalon, and The Godspeaker Series paint women as heroes not simply heroines. Magic is a way of life not something to behold on Las Vegas stages. Gender and sexuality become contested sites. Race takes on alien forms. Women stories take center stage. And there is always a journey to undertake with “risks” and lessons to be learned. I know many of you reading this blog may not be familiar with the books listed above, but you are familiar with blockbuster films like Harry Potter and Star Wars which feature male heroes saving the world with the “occasional” female sidekick.
The point is that feminist science fiction and fantasy provide a space for girls to see women and girls as warriors, sorcerers, emperors, heroes, fearless risk takers, god chosen speakers, women with boundaries, women as lovers of other women, and most importantly girls seeking out their own destinies. Can you imagine how empowering it would be if every girl chucked their plastic tiaras in the trash to lead a perilous, dangerous, and risky quest to save the world and in the process of doing this they learn who they are, their boundaries, their strengths, their weakness, and the importance of women relationships? I could not ask for better feminist consciousness raising activity where our daughters know the names of Octavia Butler, Sherri Tepper, Marion Zimmerman Bradley, Tananarive Due, and Juliet Marillier all who have labored to write books that foreground women as critical thinkers and as captains of their destinies.
Alice Walker once said that she writes books that she wanted to read growing up and perhaps my desire to get girls and African American girls in particular to read these genres is an outgrowth of my knowledge that traditional fairytales are limited and untrue for poor working class black girls like me. Prince Charming does not come. Mice do not become charioteers and happy endings are not promised especially when there is an intersection of various devalued social identities. So, given all of this and the liberating potential of feminist science fiction and fantasy stories, who wants to be a Disney Princess anyway?