Leaving your Hypothetical Husband

Jessica Valenti posted this on Twitter and it pissed me off.

If you’re not going to read the article, I’ll give you a run-down. The article indicates that “the vast majority” of “young people” (80% of females, 70% of males) (and I’m assuming by “young”, they mean college-aged), across demographics, hold as the ideal an egalitarian marriage, where both partners share the burdens of money-making and home-keeping and child-rearing equally.

When asked what their ideal fallback would be, however, if such egalitarian harmony were impossible, young men and women are exactly the opposite – most young men hope that their wives will take care of the home front and let their careers take a backseat to a greater or lesser extent, and most young women claim they’d rather divorce their husbands and raise their kids on their own while holding down their jobs than stay at home with their kids.

To which I say, hahaha hohoho heeheehee, kids. Have fun in that dream world where you can either feel totally egalitarian about all aspects of life with your husband all the time, OR you can just leave your husband and do it all on your own, no problem! (And, young men, have fun in the dream world where you make so much money that asking your wife to scale back to take care of the very expensive wee ones is a no-brainer!)

My response to this on Twitter, and on Facebook, if you missed it, was (and I’m not directly quoting because I’m going to use real English words instead of the ones 140 characters forces) “It is easy to leave one’s hypothetical husband to raise one’s hypothetical children on the money one earns from one’s hypothetical job.”

I had more or less the same problem, the problem of talking in hypotheticals, when I talked about domestic violence. It is easy to say of a hypothetical man about which you only know that a) he hits you, or b) he wants you to quit your job and stay home with your kids, “Oh, I’d leave that asshole but quick.” Obviously, it’s not the same thing, exactly. A man who hits you is dangerous and violent and you really should get out as soon as you are able to do so, if possible, even if you love him, even if he’s a total dreamboat or makes a lot of money or has helped you out of a number of jams or whatever it is that’s keeping you in, you should leave. Whereas a man who wants you to stay home with the kids while you don’t want to do that just has a different vision of family life than you do; he’s not, you know, dangerous. I mean, one way an abuser operates is to make you dependent on him, and staying at home with the kids makes you dependent on your husband, but it does not follow that all husbands of stay-at-home moms are abusive. Anyway. My only point is that in both of these cases, people who say, “Oh, I would leave the asshole” are operating with a hypothetical asshole in mind and of course that guy is an asshole; he hits you or does not respect your career goals! But no one is actually involved with a one-dimensional man who only hits or only asks you to stay home. And if you’ve gotten to the point with someone where you’ve married them AND made the decision to have a baby with them, chances are there is much that you love about that person and would not find it easy to leave. You can say whatever you want to say about a thing that you’ll do in a hypothetical situation; it’s what happens when it’s an actual thing that counts. Until they look into how these choices play out for realz, this is like asking a bunch of eight-year-olds if they’d rather live on a moon base or in an undersea palace.

There was some negative reaction to Jessica Valenti’s Twitter post. I, for instance, said my thing about hypothetical husbands, which as far as I know, she didn’t read. She did read the one where someone accused her of feeling that being a SAHM was inherently oppressive. She argued on Twitter that posting a thing is not the same as approving of the thing, and said, to that point, “Learn how the internet works.” (Okay, I added the capital L. I’m sorry; I’m always going to be a little old-fashioned about grammar. Do you know how long it took me to agree to only one space between sentences?)

Now, I do know how the Internet works, and I know that usually, posting something without commenting on it IS approving it. For instance, when she posted this (and yes, that will be the subject of my post next week), she wrote snarky commentary ending in “Ok, then,” which made it clear how she felt about it. The only way a no-comment would be interpreted as disapproval would be if  it’s well-known by your followers that you would never in a million years approve of that position. For instance, if Jessica Valenti had posted, without comment, an article with the headline, “New Study Shows Women Often Say No, Mean Yes,” I would assume she disapproved of it.

I do not assume she feels that way about SAHMs.

Jessica Valenti argued with the follower that she had never said being a SAHM is “oppressive” but I read her Why Have Kids? and you know what? She strongly implies that being a SAHM is oppressive. I mean, I agree with a lot of her points in that book about how this culture of mommy perfection is, in fact, oppressive, and ruinous to women and their children, not to mention marriages, society, and happiness. But Jessica Valenti also titles one of her chapters – in the “Truth” section – “Smart Women Don’t Have Kids,” and also in the “Truth” section , “Women Should Work”. In an earlier section, she says that the zealous helicopter parenting derided in much media is “just the understandable outcome of expecting smart, driven women to find satisfaction in spit-up. All of the energy that they could be – and maybe should be – spending in the public sphere is directed at their children because they have no other place to put it.”


“I’m also not arguing that women shouldn’t stay home with their children (well, not yet anyway).”

To conclude her chapter titled “Women Should Work,” she quotes Linda Hirshman extensively. Hirshman wrote Get to Work, a book about how “choice feminism” is bullshit and women should work both for their own benefit and for the benefit of all women everywhere. And also for the benefit of the world. Valenti says that she once was dismissive of Hirshman, because how could you dictate someone’s choice? She says, “while I was uncomfortable with the idea of mandating – or even suggesting – to women that there’s one better choice [between work and staying at home], I actually believe that there is.”

And it is?

“We need flexible work schedules, paid maternity leave (that lasts more than a few weeks or months), subsidized child care, and workplaces that are parent friendly. … I don’t think it’s a good idea to depend on someone else financially for an extended period of time.” She mentions the idea of the US providing a wage for housework and child care, as it is labor that contributes to the economy (and the overall productivity of the United States), but says, “that’s not the world we live in right now.”

Right. Neither is the world in which we have flexible work schedules, paid maternity leave, or subsidized child care. So in the mean time, women are going to try to make the best choices they can.

Jessica Valenti’s book is by no means unsupportive of the idea that everyone’s making the best decisions they can under current conditions, and she’s right to point out that current conditions suck, and suck in specifically anti-woman ways. I actually really liked Why Have Kids?, and I liked it specifically because I hate the idea that a woman’s “choice” to work or not work while having kids is made in a vacuum, and institutional support (or lack thereof) for those choices plays no part. I always want to look at systems, not individuals, and so does Valenti. Valenti also makes much of the culture of mommy perfection that’s driving everyone f-ing nuts, and that’s really important to discuss, too.

But it’s not out of left field to conclude that Jessica Valenti finds the idea of being a stay-at-home mom oppressive, as her Twitter follower suggested. And it’s not trolling to say so. (Now, maybe this follower did say and do more trollish things in private messages. I don’t know.)

And this is also why Twitter is a sucky forum for in-depth conversation.

Personal blogs are much better!

I will be honest here; I have had a rough time becoming a SAHM. It was not what I expected to do with my life and in some ways I feel like it’s due to some personal failures that it ended up being the best choice for me. I spent my post-college and pre-kid years in academic programs that had little hope of getting me a job outside academia, and then didn’t pursue them far enough to get a job inside academia, and, as most grown-ups know but as I refused to really acknowledge, “a job inside academia” is as much a fantasy as “the super-easy nature of divorcing the man you once loved enough to marry and make children with, and raise those children on your own with the money you will have no problem making as a single mom in a high-earning profession.” So that left me more or less unemployable anyway when I had a child, which made staying home with her the easy choice, especially considering that a) my husband wanted me to, and b) my husband could afford for me to. I still teach Hebrew school a few hours a week, and now I am trying to make a go of writing, but 85% of my time is spent being a SAHM.

And it’s not that there aren’t some aspects of it I love. I mean, I get to spend all this time with my kid. Woohoo! And I love being able to run errands and go shopping and do other things during hours where nobody else is there; I now get almost offended when I have to go to a mall on a weekend and OTHER PEOPLE are ALL OVER THE GODDAMNED PLACE. I’ve learned to cook really well and I have the opportunity to throw parties and dinners and welcome other people into my home to cook for them; I’ve been able to continue teaching Hebrew school, which I really love and which would be harder to do with a full-time job AND a family. I’m on two volunteer committees to host conferences that I think are going to be really cool and, again, I couldn’t have done that AND done adequate work at a full-time job AND taken care of my family. And, oh yeah, I have time to write. And blog. And I know that we are DAMNED lucky that my husband a) has a job that can support us, and b) has hours that let him spend lots of time with us, too. So that’s all a pretty good deal.

But I’m a feminist, and I read websites like Jessica Valenti’s feministing and Jezebel, and of all the things that make me struggle with my choice to stay home, this is the stuff that hurts the most. Well, no. Not making my own money hurts the most. And then there’s the disapproval from people I actually know and love. But there have been several instances lately of forum dwellers over at Jezebel calling SAHMs prostitutes because we allow our husbands to pay our bills and also we have sex with them. And there is a sit-commy joke in here about how married people with kids never have sex anyway so it’s the highest-paying per-sex-act prostitution job you can get, but . . . yeah.

Look, it hurts, is all I’m saying, to hear over and over again that while you’re doing the best thing you can think to do, the people you admire and respect, the people you consider yourself to be part of, at best pity you and at worst think you’re prostituting yourself by doing it. Especially since child care and housekeeping is work that needs to be done by someone, at some point. And child care, especially, is not work that gets any less time-consuming once your kids hit kindergarten. School hours are not the same as work hours, and now you can’t let the precious little ones so much as get on or off a bus on their own, so someone has to be in the home to deal with pick-up and drop-off, and it’s either going to be you or someone you pay. Or you can pay extra for an after-school program. If you can have a job that makes enough money to make that a worthwhile decision. Plus there’s extra-curriculars and monitoring the homework and participating in school projects, and most public schools basically run on the unpaid efforts of the stay-at-home moms who volunteer for shit like the PTA and fundraising and whatnot. And sure, you can opt out of doing it, but only because other parents are doing it instead of you. Schools where no parents can afford the time to distribute the flyers and organize the bake sales and hang streamers suffer for it.

I really would love to see more of an effort by feminists to understand how much of what SAHMs do IS work, and work that the world NEEDS done. I don’t believe I’ll ever get paid a wage for it, but operating on that understanding first, rather than the understanding that doing paid work would be better for women, would be an important first step. They’re always reporting on who’s happier, SAHMs or working mothers, and the results seem to show that working mothers have a slight edge but actually part-time working mothers beat both, but, even when these statistics are mentioned by feminists like Valenti, there’s no recognition that their own stance that being a SAHM is a lesser life (and don’t tell me you don’t think it is, Jessica Valenti!) is contributing to the unhappiness of SAHMs, the same way pressure from the non-feminist world is contributing to the unhappiness of the working mother.

(And yeah, I haven’t dealt at all with the concept of stay-at-home dads, or men trying to balance family and work, or non-heterosexual families, or non-nuclear family arrangements. Sorry. It’s just a blog post, not a book.)

I Have to go to Bat for the Disney Princesses Again?

No, Ricki. No, you don’t. You don’t have to do anything. You’re just going to.

So this is up over at nerve.com, which, last time I checked, basically had personals and dirty pictures and stories, but, you know, hipster-classy dirty pictures and stories. Then again, it’s been a while.

And of course there’s no way I’m not going to respond to it.

So I generally agree with the list as it’s presented. But I’m having a little trouble with the premise. In the beginning of the piece, Sonya Saraiya says, “Disney princesses for the most part, are not [feminist (in comparison with Merida, of Pixar’s new Brave]. Most need to be rescued by their male love interest; almost all Disney Princess movies end in marriage or engagement.” This is a popular way of posing questions about the feminist virtue of a particular text, and I don’t like it. And sure, I have a personal stake here – I write romances; I am a feminist; I think I can write feminist-friendly romance. But stake aside, I still think I’m right.

I mean, first of all, most of the world wants love. Feminists, non-feminists, men, women – it’s right there with food and shelter for most of us. Declaring that wanting love is un-feminist (if the object of your love is a man and you are a woman) is destructive to feminism.

And because most of the people who have ever lived in the world ever want love, we’ve been telling stories about wanting love forever. Lots of stories. I think if you compiled all the stories about love that have been told since the world began, and then all the stories about death, love would win. Especially since love has the powerhouse romance novel publishing sector backing it up.

Sure, it would be nice if Disney told more stories that were marketed for girls that didn’t feature love as a main theme. Woody and Buzz fall in love, but it’s not their main plot. Nemo doesnt fall in love, and neither does his dad. Remy the rat in Ratatouille doesn’t fall in love (although his human does). The Incredibles are already a family; there’s no love plot there. So yeah, it’d be nice to see stories with female main characters that had little to nothing to do with love. But I don’t think it’d be a problem to still have romances, if they were mixed with some other things.

Finally, it’s important to note that, when these stories end in marriage and/or engagement, a man is getting married or engaged, too. And while the princes of Cinderella and Snow White aren’t fully realized characters with fully realized facial features, the later movies have guys who are fully realized and also decided that the most important thing to them is the pursuit of love. So it’s not just the girls doing it.

So here’s her rankings and what I think of them.

10. Sleeping Beauty

She puts Sleeping Beauty last. I don’t have a big problem with this. Sleeping Beauty is one of the old-school ones, and Aurora does not have much agency, and mostly she dances in the forest with some dude and then falls asleep while he rescues her.


Saraiya is only ranking the princesses, sure, but as an overall movie, the people in this one with the most power, the most agency, the ones who do the most stuff to forward the plot, are the three good fairies. Prince Phillip can only come to the rescue and do stuff because they basically do it for him. They figure out that he’s the one whose kiss can wake her. They break him out of the evil fairy’s dungeon and then defend him against the evil fairy’s minions by turning all the evil minions’ weaponry into, like, flowers and stuff (because they can only use their magic to do nice things that bring happiness) so that he can run away safely. And then they create for him an unbeatable sword with which he defeats the dragon/evil fairy.

I mean, sure, the evil fairy is a woman, too, and she’s mean and has no seeming motivation (in the originals as well as the Disney version) other than “Didn’t get invited to party. Bitches gonna suffer.” Which sounds dumb except I totally know people like that.

But that means basically all of the people in this movie who act, who have agency, who forward goals and make plans and do stuff, are women. They’re just not the titular character. (They’re also old and/or asexual, which, again, is a whole other post. Or, I don’t know, dissertation. Which someone’s probably already written.)

9. Snow White

I hate this movie. I hate her voice. It grates on my nerves so much. Plus why does she look like a child? And then my daughter’s got this Snow White night(ing) gown/costume thing that looks like Snow White’s outfit, with a picture of Snow White on the chest, and that picture of Snow White is giving this seriously come-hither look, like, why, why, on a children’s item, is a woman making a face like that, and, umm . . . what were we talking about?

Oh, yeah, where ought it rank on the feminist scale?

I don’t care. I hate this movie. Put it right down at the bottom. It’s fine by me.

8. Cinderella

So this is your classic helpless-girl-rescued-by-wealthy-dude story. But for some reason, it doesn’t bother me that much. I mean, yeah, Cinderella’s principle characteristic is that she’s nice. And yeah, she marries a guy she danced with for five seconds because it’s true love.

But here’s the thing about that. I don’t mean to slam anyone’s generation or anything, but sometimes I hear stories or see things from, you know, back in the day (Cinderella came out in 1950; Sleeping Beauty was 1959) and I get the feeling that it would have seemed utterly reasonable to the writers and artists over at Disney, male and female, that you know, you meet someone, you dance with them, you’re attracted, so yeah, let’s get married! I mean, not all the time, obviously. But I think we’ve gotten a lot more obsessive and analytical, as a culture, about what love is and who we ought to be with and stuff. For better or worse.

Also, I’d like to note, that while yes, marriage to the prince means that Cinderella doesn’t have to be a servant to her nasty step-family anymore, the prince doesn’t, like, actively rescue her. He doesn’t even come over himself to find the girl who fits the shoe, which is always the oddest bit of storytelling to me (in all the versions of “Cinderella”), because seriously, wouldn’t it be best to have the prince, who’s stared at her face for at least one full waltz, to come on this mission? What if her feet had been swollen from dancing all night? What if some other chick had had the same shoe size?

But anyway, he’s not trying to rescue her through marriage. He just wants to marry her because they danced and she was pretty and it was romantic. The ones who really rescue Cinderella are the mice, because they’re the ones who get Cinderella the key when her stepmom locks her in the attic to prevent her from trying on the shoe. And, yeah, they’re male mice. But they are obviously not her love interest.

I’m not objecting to Cinderella’s placement on this list. Just making some points.

7. The Little Mermaid

Oy, here we go again.

There are many problems with Ariel. She’s way too young, and she’s immature and impulsive and kind of dumb sometimes. She’s rebelling against her dad. She’s fetishizing human-ness and falling in love with the first dude she meets who has legs.

But I don’t think she’s particularly un-feminist. Or, at least, I think the problems in this movie aren’t coming specifically from a lack of feminism.

Saraiya mentions that thing that always makes me nuts about mentions of this movie from a feminist angle, that she gives up her voice to land a man. I’ve made this point before, but I’ll make it again. I posit that a) she doesn’t give up her voice to land a man; she gives up her voice to get legs. She wants to be human. Before she meets Eric, she shows us how obsessed she is with humanity and how badly she wants to be “Part of Their World”. Then she only goes to the sea witch, not after meeting Eric, but after her daddy destroys all her human stuff. Being human, sticking it to her mean daddy, these are all much clearer and stronger motivations for her actions than wanting to land a man. Also, b) she doesn’t think she’s giving it up permanently. It’s for three days. I’d give up my voice for three days if doing so would allow me to fulfill a lifelong dream. Hell, I’d give up my voice for three days if it’d get me a table at Next. (And, when I was a child, I would definitely, definitely have given up my voice for three days in exchange for fins.) Finally, c) she gets the idea to give up her voice to land a man from the villain, who’s tricking her into it for her own nefarious purposes. The movie is not suggesting it’s a good idea to give up your voice to land a man. The movie is suggesting it’s an idiotic, impulsive idea, and then shows us that Eric is reluctant to acknowledge the feelings he’s developing for Ariel specifically because of her lack of voice.

Anyway, yeah, she gets rescued by Eric, who stabs the villain in the stomach with a broken piece of wood on his ship. Wow, I just realized how Freudian these things can get sometimes. Anyway, I guess that’s un-feminist. Ariel is sort of ineffectual in battle.

I just think there are other problems with this character that are not related to how feminist she is.

6. Beauty and the Beast

So the thing leveled at Belle most of the time is that she’s got Stockholm Syndrome, falling for her captor. And that’s legitimate to a point, but it’s worth noting that she doesn’t start falling for him until he shows her that he can be kind. She doesn’t think she can change him; she sees him change and then decides she might give him a chance.

There’s also the way Disney pumped this as a “We’re showing that you can love an ugly person, and that a pretty person can be evil, so it’s feminist!” movie, but the good ugly person and the bad pretty person were still dudes. You still have to be pretty if you’re a girl. So pretty that the most sought-after guy in town is determined to marry you no matter how much you offend him and how weird he thinks you are.

My mom has also complained that Belle declares her desire for “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” but then settles for life as a princess in a castle a few hours’ drive from that “poor, provincial town” she was so longing to get out of.

I posit that maybe falling in love with a beast in an enchanted castle counts as an adventure?

And we don’t really know what happened after the story ended? Maybe the Prince formerly known as Beast decided he, also, wanted to get the f out of the castle he’d been trapped in for ten years and they went on adventures together?

I’m ret-conning, I know. Sorry.

5. Aladdin

Saraiya likes Jasmine. So do I. I do want to point out, this isn’t her movie; she’s the secondary character. It’s Aladdin’s movie. But she’s got sass. She’s resisting her narrow choices, just like Belle was doing. And I personally love how quickly she picks up on Aladdin’s well-honed tricksterisms, either using them in tandem with him (like when she picks up super quick on how to fake her way out of the stealing-an-apple incident) or to catch him out in a lie (like when she pointedly trips him up with a question about Abu). Saraiya complains that her power, in the end, lies in her sexuality, because her big rescuing action is to pretend to seduce the bad guy for a minute there, but concedes that, hey, sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do with her God-given ridiculous waist-to-hip ratio and crazy thick hair. I also don’t like how she’s bad-ass right up to the moment she decides she loves Aladdin, and then she immediately becomes simpering when not silent. But, you know. It’s not her movie, it’s his. And he gets rescued from his life of poverty through marriage to a princess. So, you know.

4. Tangled

She is super naive and childlike, which can be grating. To me, anyway. Other than that, she’s not bad. She’s got a goal that does not have to do with getting married and she pursues it with as much sass and guile and strength and determination as one could wish. Along the way she falls in love, and really, who could blame her? Flynn Rider is adorbs. She wields a cast iron pan and her miles of hair with panache. I do find her to be excessively wide-eyed, but, you know. Not the worst crime a Disney princess could commit.

I also enjoy how, after watching Aurora and Ariel get married at sixteen, and Jasmine I think is supposed to be eighteen, though I have no evidence, they make a really big deal of the fact that Rapunzel, who turns eighteen in the course of the movie, does not actually marry the love interest for years. And years. And years.

3. The Princess and the Frog

See, now, in this movie, they both have to learn that love is worth pursuing, either in addition to (although possibly at the expense of) your dream career, in her case (and she has a dream career! That is exciting for a Disney princess!), or instead of pursuing a life of wasteful leisure, in his. I’m down with that.

She does, in the end, have her dream saved by his family’s wealth and her new alligator friend’s brawn. Actually, my favorite commentary on this movie comes from the folks over at The Editing Room, who have this to say:

Well, that’s a fine message to be sending to the kids: idealism and hard work is [sic] fine and all, but money and muscle win every time. (pause) Wait a minute, that’s actually an EXCELLENT lesson. Holy shit, I think Disney accidentally made their best movie ever!

2. Pocahantas

See, I think she’s giving this movie a pass because the girl doesn’t end up marrying the guy. I think Tangled and The Princess and the Frog should have been ranked higher than it. But possibly that’s because I think it’s a bad movie. By that I mean, it’s not very well-written or well-plotted; the history is god-awful; the whole noble-savage fetishization is uncomfortable; the music has its moments but is kind of dull; the characters are flat and boring, and one of them is voiced by Mel Gibson. So I don’t think the principle problems with this movie are feminist problems. But I also don’t think there’s anything especially feminist about it, beyond the nineties-standard doesn’t-want-the-life-her-father-planned, a trait shared by the much lower-ranked Belle and Ariel and Jasmine, unless you’re willing to count that she doesn’t marry the dude in the end, which, as I said above, in a rather long-winded way, you really shouldn’t be.

1. Mulan

Well, duh. I mean, Disney intended this to be their super-duper-feminist-pleaser. And one could argue about how she’s really doing this all for the honor of her father but, come on! She saves China! Twice!

It should be pointed out that neither Pocahantas nor Mulan are usually included in the Disney Princess stuff. There are two different sets of Disney Princess figurines; one of them has Mulan and one has Pocahantas. Both of them have all the others, except Rapunzel, because Tangled was still being marketed separately when those figurines came out. But they aren’t in the coloring books and I don’t think they have all the paraphernalia that the other princesses have. I mean, there are dolls and costumes but not, I think, cups and lunch boxes and whatnot.

Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I think as far as the actual Disney-brand merchandise, sold in the Disney stores, is concerned, Mulan and Pocahantas are Princesses, albeit less hyped ones. But when third-party licensed manufacturers are producing stuff for Target and Toys ‘R Us and the like, Mulan and Pocahantas are usually left out of the pantheon.

Also, while Pocahantas is legitimately a princess, being the daughter of a chief, Mulan is not. She neither marries a prince nor is the daughter of a king.

Great. Now I’m going to have “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” stuck in my head. At least it’s a good workout motivation song.

BTW, if you like it when I talk about this stuff, you should check her out.


Bear with me; this is half-baked, to say the least.

There’s this abstinence-only bit from a program called “Choosing the Best” wherein they tell a story about a princess in a tower with a dragon and the knight comes to slay the dragon and rescue her. The first time, this goes peachy, and the knight feels all manly and strong and well-disposed towards the princess. But then the next time there’s a dragon-slaying and princess-rescuing operation, she instructs him to use a noose. And the next time (why is this princess so prone to dragon capture?), she suggests poison. And, while these suggestions work, having them offered makes the knight feel all emasculated and sad. So he goes and finds a village maiden who, he makes sure, knows nothing about nooses and poisons and lives happily ever after. And then the “Choosing the Best” curriculum, wanting to leave nothing to chance, comes right out and says, “Moral of the story: Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.” That’s a direct quote. You know how you know it’s not my rephrasing? Because in my rephrasing, I would have corrected the noun/pronoun disagreement. “Suggestions and assistance” = “them”, not “it”.

What does this have to do with sex ed? Damned if I know. I guess if you’re going to have a semester of sex education in which you plan to avoid at all costs educating kids about sex, you have to fill the time with something, and this sexist, nonsensical drivel will have to do.

I mean, really. The knight’s ego is so fucking fragile that some useful suggestions – that worked! – in the middle of a fight with a dragon who would otherwise have killed him and the princess is too much for him to handle? And he’s going to somehow blame the princess for his lack? What a wilting flower. Man the fuck up, dude.

And I mean, if in crazy-town, “occasional” advice is okay, isn’t “dragon attack!” the perfect occasion?

But it got me thinking. I know more than one woman about my age who has complained about the dearth of manliness in the Y-chromosome-having persons of our generation. I mean, we’re feminists, we believe in equality, but we watch these old movies with Cary Grant or Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart and we go, “Where are our men like that?” And we know it’s stupid and we know that Cary and Clark and Humphrey weren’t really like their characters and there were plenty of men in 1940 who were immature dickwads. But it still seems like it’s different now. “Guys” rule pop culture; “men” are hardly anywhere to be found. And our male cohorts love the “guys.” And we believe in equality not constantly picking up the socks of man-children who are busy playing XBox. You know?

(Dear male person who is friends with me and/or married to me and reading this right now: Not you! You’re awesome! And so manly!)

(And, okay, all due respect to the man who is married to me – he was the unrivaled champion of the Great Spider Battle of 2005. He must have slayed 40 or 50 spiders – scary, poisonous ones that could kill a small child or a dog – that day, and they were coming at him from all sides – above, below, and all around, on our tiny little balcony 34 stories in the sky. But he defended our castle and kept the two princesses – me and our friend Kerri, who was staying with us for a few days – inside the castle safe. Huzzah!)

So is this what we’re asking for? Are we asking for knights who know how to slay dragons and keep us princesses safe? And are we, as feminists, fucking it up by making suggestions?

I know the people who wrote this curriculum would say, unabashedly, yes. That’s exactly what we’re doing.

But let’s be serious. The guys who wrote this curriculum are so delicate the merest whiff of a suggestion from a woman limps their dicks. So what do they know about manliness?

If you want to have this model of gender, wherein you’re the manly, manly knight who doesn’t need no help from no woman to slay the dragon that’s threatening her, you’d better be able to slay the dragon. No messing around, no coming in half-cocked, no thinking that beating the 20th level of Dragon Slayer IV on XBox qualifies you to do the real thing.

And the dragon is not your kindergarten teacher. The dragon does not give you an A just for showing up; the dragon does not reward points for effort; the dragon does not care that your mommy thinks you are the bestest dragon slayer ever. Either you will kill the dragon or the dragon will kill you. Are the guys writing and/or agreeing with this curricula prepared for this? Are they prepared to face the odds and maybe even lose?

(And listen, bub, the feminist movement was at least in part a bunch of princesses recognizing that, hey, the knight is going to lose some of the time – not because knights are worthless but because neither are dragons – and they better figure out how to rescue their own damn selves.)

Furthermore, if you want to be the big, masculine dragon-slaying hero who does it all on your own, you don’t get to turn around and be all, “And princesses are clearly stupid and undeserving because they don’t know how to slay dragons!”

And if a you don’t slay the dragon, you have to be prepared for the princess to deny you access to her . . . heart.  (You’ve all seen Robin Hood: Men in Tights, right? You know what I’m getting at?) No running around whining that women only like knights because knights can slay dragons and it’s no fair how you’re never getting laid; it’s just that women are stupid, shallow, superficial bitches.

But after all, I don’t think women – or feminists, or whatever we’re talking about here – envision as an ideal relationship one in which knights slay dragons according to the suggestions of otherwise helpless princesses. We envision considering the dragon-slaying to be a joint project we can accomplish together using our unique (not necessarily gender-based) abilities. And then we high-five each other, drink a congratulatory pint at the local pub, where we regale the patrons with tales of our mutual derring-do, and then we get a private room and . . . exchange hearts. We want knights who are man enough to be partners.

I don’t know why, exactly, that idea is antithetical to the kinds of people who wrote the “Choosing the Best” curriculum. I guess they are really, really committed to the Great Gender Divide, for some bizarre reason. Also, I guess their male egos are really, really fragile.

Hating Women – a Read-Along

I picked up Hating Women (2005) by Shmuley Boteach when I was at Tara and Gabrielle’s house. Shmuley Boteach, for those of you who don’t know, is an Orthodox rabbi who has gained some fame with best-sellers like Kosher Sex and a short-lived TV show on TLC called Shalom in the Home. And for an Orthodox rabbi, he’s sort of liberal. For instance, his views on homosexuality run something along the lines of, “‘Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman’ and ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ are commandments, and the first one is certainly being violated by gay men, and the second is sort of hard to fulfill for gay men and, to a lesser degree, gay women, but look, those are two commandments. Out of 613. Nobody can fulfill them all.”  He has also gained notoriety by being involved in some serious financial scandals, sadly.

The thing about him is that he wants to be, like, this super-progressive, pro-woman, pro-feminist kind of guy, but he just does not get it. So the premise of Hating Women is that American culture is going to hell in a hand-basket because we portray women as stupid, slutty, gold-digging whores whose only value lies in their fuckability (my word, not his) And as far as that goes, I agree with him. The way women are portrayed on reality TV, in scripted TV, in magazines, etc., is all damaging to women and to men and to people. And it’s important because, as I’ve said before, humans build culture through story and then live in that culture. So I agree with the premise of this book. But then he says shockingly clueless, asinine, nonsense things about women being, I don’t know, more pure and shit, and then I realize that fundamentally, we don’t agree about anything at all.

So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to read it. When I come to a passage that blows my mind, I will share it with you and share my reaction. So you get to, like, read the book in my head.

Wait, where are you going?

Okay, for those of you sticking around, here goes:

From television to the Internet, women are portrayed as stupid, shallow, parasitical bimbos who will do anything for money and fame – anything, from dating men solely for their money, to having sex with horses . . .

See, I’m with him . . . until the “having sex with horses.” I mean, I know that kind of porn exists but . . . it’s hardly mainstream. You have to be looking for that kind of thing to find it. And it’s always existed, and it’s always existed in a “wow, this is the sickest shit we can think of” kind of way. Not in a “all women are totally willing to bang horses” kind of way.

(Fun fact: Jason and I both had to read The Golden Ass in our respective Latin classes. It’s the only Latin novel to survive intact or something? It’s got sex with a donkey. Well, okay, the donkey is a person temporarily trapped in a donkey’s body. But neither the prostitute having sex with the donkey in front of a live audience nor the live audience know that.)

(Funner fact: We still have a copy of this book on our bookshelves. Look, it’s not all donkey sex, okay?)

It is often said that one of the most accurate measures of a society’s moral state is how it treats its most vulnerable members – its women and children.

See, he’s mad that the feminists don’t love him, but this is the fundamental thing he doesn’t get. Feminists don’t want to judge society on how well they treat women as their most vulnerable members. Where women are vulnerable, power is being wielded pretty much exclusively by men. Feminists want women to not be the most vulnerable members of society. We don’t want to be equated with children, Shmuely, even if that equation grants us some protections. We want to wield roughly half the power.

This is what he has to say about “Joe Millionaire”:

And yet, the show’s revolting premise wasn’t met with angry protests by the viewers. No feminist organization made a significant stink about it. Nope, there was no feminist picket line outside Fox studios. Instead, women watched the show by the millions and loved it.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, “Joe Millionaire” was a reality show on Fox in which several women were taken to a villa in Italy or some such thing and told that they were vying for the affection of the millionaire owner of the villa, one Evan Marriott. Only at the end of the series would they reveal that good old Evan was in fact a construction worker making less than $20,000 a year. Then the girl he’d chosen, “Bachelor” style, would have to decide if she wanted to stick with him anyway. It was obviously a big joke for Fox, an attempt to prove that women are, in fact, gold-digging whores, and apparently no one considered that a) reality television is not reality, and b) a woman could conceivably be aghast and offended by Evan Marriott’s participation in such a joke, rather than turned off by his lack of money. (I understand there was a second season, with someone else as Joe, but I don’t get why.) In any event, Shmuley seems to think there was no feminist reaction. There was plenty feminist reaction. Shmuley, for your reading pleasure, I offer you Jenn Pozner’s Reality Bites Back. I know it was published later than your book, but she’s been doing her work for years, and feminists like the ones at Bitch Magazine have been commenting on this stuff, like, as their main function. You’re just not paying attention.

[E]very day I receive about fifty junk e-mails with headlines like the following: ‘Teen whores and sluts who want their mouths stuffed with _____”; “Tear her Womanhood Apart,” “Dumb bitch blondes who are so stupid they only know how to ______”; or the especially inventive and disturbing, “This girl loves being ravaged by her horse.”

First of all, you guys, having typed that quote, I am going to get the weirdest shit in my search engine terms stats this week.

Second of all, “Womanhood”? Those e-mails aren’t using the term “womanhood.” You couldn’t use _____ for “pussy” and “cunt” the way you did for “cocks” and “suck cock”? (And if my search engine terms weren’t going to be awful before . . . )

And finally, Shmuley, what in the hell is going on with your e-mail? The usual dirty spam is more like, “Elongate your Dong!” and “Hot Asian Teens!” And even that is pretty easy to get rid of. You gotta get an e-mail client with a better spam filter, dude.

I know a less mature person would snicker and imply that you were only getting this e-mail because you were looking at some extremely dirty sites for your own personal pleasure. I do not believe that to be so. I just believe you are an old, old man with no clue how to use the Internet.

Comedy Central’s South Park [Hey, I thought TV shows got “”, not italics.] aired an episode about Paris Hilton in 2004. The name of the episode was “Stupid Spoiled Whore.” The highlight is where the Paris Hilton character puts a pineapple in her vagina to compete in a “Whore Off” with a gay sadomasochistic teacher from the local school. To top her stunt, he then puts the entire body of Paris Hilton into his anus. This edifying spectacle is follow by his speech about the horror of becoming a stupid spoiled whore. How could a national network get away with portraying women in such a negative light? Easily. They could say that Paris Hilton already portrayed herself this way. They’re just following her lead.

Oh, Shmuley. You really are an old man. “South Park” is a cartoon. The whole episode (which I saw, oddly, since I didn’t think I’d watched “South Park” since, uh, 1998, but apparently I have) is not about how awesome Paris Hilton is, or about how women are all like Paris Hilton. It’s about the exact same thing your book is about – that a culture that reveres women like Paris Hilton, you know, “stupid, spoiled whores,” is a culture that is terrible for women, for girls and for people in general. It’s a culture that honors the ridiculous and the disgusting – the Whore-Off. They are making their point with vulgarity and satire. You are making your point with old-man preachiness. But you are in fact making the exact same point.

Much more than men, when women behave in a sleazy fashion, they compromise something essential within. Sex without love for a woman offends her most innate sensibilities, even if she is not fully conscious of it. Lovemaking for a woman, unlike for a man, is an internal rather than external undertaking. It is literally opening oneself up for invasion . . .

Yeah, Shmuley, I don’t know why the feminists are so mean to you.

Listen, not for nothing, but if we’re going to do this sex-as-war thing, couldn’t one say that men are subjecting themselves to a siege? Being, uh, surrounded and all? I mean, I wouldn’t say that, because I don’t think of sex as war. But if one wants to come up with war-related sex metaphors, uh, why isn’t mine as good as yours?

In past ages, four noble attributes characterized a woman. She was deemed to be:

1. A creature of superior dignity and grace, interested in love over money, and in a rich inner life rather than a shallow outer life

2. A spiritual intimacy seeker, unwilling to surrender to a man who was not her soul mate

3. A strongly productive but nonaggressive team player

4. A nurturer and comforter, capable of uplifting man to heights of insight, nobility, and pleasure that he could otherwise scarcely comprehend

Hahahahaha! Shmuley, you kill me.

As we all know, The Past was one giant monolith. All points in The Past are the same as each other, and all people at any given point in The Past thought exactly the same way. And what they thought was, women should never have to surrender to anyone but their soul mate, because they are creatures of superior dignity and grace.


Okay, so after that one, he talks about the terrible archetypes promoted by reality TV of women – gold digger! bimbo! – and the resulting archetypes of men – crotch-scratcher! porn addict! – and then there’s this:

In the Middle East, the brutal belligerence of the once great Islamic world is a supreme example of the consequences for a society that denies women public roles and influence. Arab mothers regularly extol their suicide-bomber children as martyrs and one wonders how, in a culture where even the nurturers have become bloodthirsty, we will be able to bring civilization back from the brink.

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin with this incredibly offensive, short-sighted, narrow-minded, self-righteous, bloviated bit. I think I’ll just stick to criticizing you on your own terms and point out that the women who have suicide-bomber children don’t even watch “The Bachelor.”

In 2004, the biggest-selling relationships book in the United States was coauthored by a man and a woman, both of whom were screenwriters for Sex and the City. The book is called He’s Just Not That into You, and its premise is that a man who treats a woman poorly does not have a real character flaw, but rather “he’s just not that into her.” The book tells women to stop blaming men for being jerks, and just accept that they have a right not to like any specific woman that much: If he doesn’t like you, move on and enjoy life. Amazing, isn’t it? A book that says if men treat women like garbage, it is because, essentially, they are just not hot enough.

Look, I have my own problems with He’s Just Not That Into You. Maybe I’ll write about it sometime. But for the most part, it’s not about men treating women “poorly,” it’s about men not acting like they’re head over heels in love with you. Because they’re not. I don’t know about y’all, but I do actually think that men have a right not to like any specific woman that much. Just like women of grace and dignity should be permitted not to surrender to anyone who is not their soul mate. Right, Shmuley?

Three quarters of all divorces in America are initiated by wives. And unlike husbands who, when they leave their wives, are nearly always going to the arms of another woman, less than 10 percent of wives who leave their husbands are entering into another relationship. Indeed, the vast majority never remarry. But they would rather be alone than be with a husband who is seldom affectionate, rarely helps with the housework, and stares at other women’s cleavage to boot. Since the chances of divorced women remarrying are statistically remote, these women are prepared to be alone, perhaps for the rest of their lives, rather than continue to live with men who seem incapable of valuing them.

There is a good point buried somewhere in there. It is interesting that women initiate divorces more often given that they are less likely to remarry AND by some accounts are more likely to take the steeper financial hit.

BUT Shmuley is making a few big assumptions here:

1. People understand statistics and probability and apply them sensibly to their own lives.

2. People are good at predicting what’s going to make them happy.

3. It’s the men who’ve changed, and not women’s circumstances.

Look, I am really, really willing to bet that in that simplistic monolith known as The Past, men were just as likely to withhold affection, fail to do housework, stare at other women’s cleavage (or ankles, or whatever), and be as incapable of valuing women as they are now, if not moreso. But women didn’t used to initiate divorce as much, and in fact, divorces didn’t happen as much. But there are lots of reasons for that, depending on when “in the past” you’re talking about:

1. Divorce was either legally impossible or so outside the normal social order as to be unthinkable.

2. People didn’t expect marriage to be what we expect marriage to be in terms of emotional fulfillment, so the fact that their spouse was unappreciative or inactive was an annoyance, not a sign that you were in The Wrong Marriage.

3. People died earlier. You know, before they could get sick of each other.

4. People were more reliant on their spouses for economic viability (pre-Industrial Revolution).

5. Women were more reliant on men for their earning power (post-Industrial Revolution) and therefore couldn’t leave.

Obviously, this is a complicated issue and if you’re interested, I recommend HIGHLY Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage: A History, but I really think we need to give space to the idea that some of the rise in divorces in the last fifty years is a sign that people no longer have to stick with people who make them miserable.

And that people are really bad at predicting what will make them happy.

On his mother:

She gave her life to us, and she instilled within me veneration for women in general, and for women like her in particular. No sacrifice was beyond my mother.

Ah, yes. Jewish men and their mothers. There is no love like it.

I saw women as divine creatures who exhibited a unique nobility of spirit. I observed their consummate devotion to all that is precious in life, and I noted that they were garbed with a dignity that made them appear almost angelic.

Once again, Shmuley, I can’t imagine why feminists don’t cotton to you.

As is common for orthodox Jews, his schooling as a teenager took place in a same-sex environment, with a same-sex girls’ school nearby.

Distant and elusive, women became even more divine in my eyes.

See, that’s the problem. Women know perfectly well that maintaining this illusion of superior grace, dignity, purity, blah blah blah, requires distance and elusiveness. We want to participate in the actual world instead.

We looked at these girls as if they were seraphs of heaven whose gentility moved us even from a distance. I remember, too, that our gazing was devoid of lust. We weren’t looking at them like horny teenagers. Instead, we looked at them with a sense of jubilant wonder.

Yeah, sure, Sparky.

We knew that these heavenly creatures had emotional softness and comfort to offer that could take away our loneliness and pain. They could make us feel cherished and worthy.

Dude, you have a host of psychological issues you need to look into. But please, let me clue you in. Women don’t want to be your teddy bears any more than they want to be your blow-up dolls. Objectifying is objectifying; it doesn’t matter all that much which object you are.

So then these same girls get hollered at by a store owner on Ben Yehuda street.

I was in shock. How could a man raise his voice to young women? Did he realize to whom he was speaking? These were not men at whom he could yell. These were young ladies: beautiful, gentle young ladies who deserved reverence rather than chastisement. How could he be so blind to the aura they carried?

Shmuley, you say on the one hand that where women embody dignity, grace, etc., men are inspired to become gentlemen, and that’s the whole problem with the world, that women don’t act like ladies, so men act like brutal boars, and then on the other hand you observe that these dignified, graceful girls, these seraphs of heaven, failed to turn the shopkeeper into a gentleman. Are you not getting the point here?

Look, if a woman is complicit with a culture expects her to be compliant with male sexual demands, that her body be open to their eyes and their desires, that she act like she wants nothing more than to be the giggling bimbo bouncing on one of their legs, then when those same men violate her in some way – yell at her, attack her, whatever – she has little defense. She hasn’t learned to defy men; she’s learned to please them. Saying “No,” or “I don’t like that,” or “Get the fuck off of me, asswipe” becomes really incredibly difficult to the point of unthinkability.

But if a woman is complicit with a culture that expects her to be a gentle seraph of heaven, a repository for all of a man’s emotional needs, the means by which he becomes a gentleman, blah blah blah, then, likewise, she’s going to have a hard time saying “No” or “I don’t like that” or “Get the fuck off of me, asswipe,” too. Because both positions put her in a relationship with men that’s about them, not her.

And this delusion you have that men behave better to their teddy bears than to their blow-up dolls is just that – a delusion. Men “in the past” raped and abused and mistreated women. Men now in communities like yours, religious communities that hold up women as closer to God, rape and abuse and mistreat women, especially if those women reveal a chink in their angelic armor. Not all men, but enough that women do know, no matter how much you deny it, that the pedestal is no better a place for them than the gutter.

We don’t want to live in a world where it’s our responsibility to act so angelic that men are inspired to protect rather than mistreat us. Because absolutely everything is wrong with that world. It’s a world that expects women to be angels, not people. We are, in fact, people. It’s a world that expects men, at heart, to be animals, not people. You are, in fact, people. It’s a world that offers women no protections or defenses against men who choose to be animals. It’s a world where women are still dependent on the men around them to have a place and a purpose.

You want to be hailed as a feminist hero, an Abraham Lincoln leading the Negro out of slavery. (Yes, he really says that. No, seriously. He makes that comparison. I am not making this up.) But when the land you show us just has a different sort of cage, we’re not going to follow you. And you pout and you stomp and you insist that it’s only because we’re so blinded by our chains or we’re willfully misunderstanding your point and that’s why we won’t let you lead us but we’re not stupid. You can insist all you want that the pedestal is awesome, but we know. We’ve been there, and we know that sure, we can be cloaked in angelic grace, but the minute we show an ankle or fart, it’s over for us. (Not to mention that, at no point in The Past were all female persons granted equal access to a pedestal. Why not ask some of those actual female slaves you’re so comfortable using in metaphor about that?) We don’t want to be cloaked. We want to be people. And we don’t want to spend our lives hauling your asses out the muck.

You guys, I’m only on page 43. I don’t think I can go on.


And, in other news, something published in The New York Times has irritated me.

The feminist megastar Naomi Wolf has written a column in defense of little girls liking princesses, which is surprising to me given what I know of Naomi Wolf, which is maybe not much. And look, those of you who know me know that I have a little girl who f-ing loves princess, particularly the Disney variety, and while her extreme adoration of them and of all the glittery, girly, goofy products that come with them leave me feeling chagrinned, I don’t actively object. I liked the Disney movies growing up, too, and I don’t think there’s any real harm in her liking them.

But the column is a little goofy, a little discombobulated, and a little beside the point. (I know I can be all three of those things. But, you know, this is my personal blog. I do it for free and I am read by, I think, my aunt and my sister’s friends and maybe one or two of my friends. She’s Naomi Wolf and she’s being paid by the New York Freakin’ Times.)

She starts off with some fluffy nonsense about images of Kate Middleton and do we even need princesses as, like, a job description any more when the world is so grim? And I’m kind of going, well, until all countries that still have a royal family decide to dissolve that system, we’re going to have literal princess, i.e., daughters of kings and/or queens, or women who marry sons of kings and/or queens, so we’re probably also going to have images of those people. I mean, we don’t need the Kardashians, but they exist, and their claim to fame is even more tenuous than Kate Middleton’s. And the world has been grim and still had princesses before. Like during the Crusades. Or the Black Plague. So . . . what’s your point, exactly?

And yeah, I think for now, no matter how feminist a mommy you are, you’ve got a strong chance that your little girl will go gaga for princesses at some point or another. But then she says, “Little girls are obsessed with princesses for the same reason little boys are obsessed with action heroes. What other female role model can issue a sentence and have the world at her feet? What other female figure can command an army, break open a treasury . . .” And that’s something that needs a lot of unpacking. Like, first of all, why aren’t there more girls obsessed with action heroes instead? Why aren’t there more female role models that can issue sentences and have the world at their feet? Or command armies or break open treasuries? (I mean, there are, but for some reason she dismisses Hilary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice as being less powerful than princesses, and with less nice outfits. And hey, she’s got a point about the outfits. The minute I can order a grown-up sized, grown-up-looking green Tiana ball gown, the one that looks sort of like a water lily in dress form, I will do so.) And hey, if Zoe aspires to be powerful and commanding, great, but she could also aspire to be kind and loving, scholarly, inventive, creative – a host of other things. Why is power supposed to be the most alluring value to feminist-mommy me? And . . . what Disney movies are you watching, Naomi Wolf? I haven’t seen a princess do any of that shit.

Wolf talks for a long time in the column about Princess Di and Princess Kate (Can we talk for a moment about why does she spell Kate with a K when she’s Catherine with a C? Why isn’t she Cate? Am I the only one bothered by this? Yes. I guess I am.) and the British class system and how princesses are just like working moms these days, juggling their lives and whatnot. (. . . Sure.) But if this is an article about preschoolers who are obsessed with princesses, who cares about Princess Di and Princess Kate? My daughter has no idea who those people are. She saw pictures of Princess Kate around the wedding, while we were at the grocery store (When I explained who she was and that those were pictures of her wedding, Zoe demanded to see pictures of the kiss.) but Princess Kate definitely does not occupy the head space that Aurora, Belle, and all their cohorts occupy. The Disney girls; that’s who my daughter means when she says “princess.”

So what does Wolf have to say about those chicks? Not much. “They are busy being the heroines of their own lives. In a scary face-off, Anastasia kills off the evil Rasputin – and saves Russia. Mulan, in drag, helps defeat the conquering Huns – also saving her family and her country. Belle releases her enslaved beloved from the curse of his enchantment. . . . Even that slightly annoying Cinderella . . . is not so bad if we see that the glass slipper fits because she is nice to little creatures – and that it cannot fit her stepsisters not so much because they are ‘ugly’ as because they are unkind.”

Now, I do have an encyclopedic knowledge of these films, not so much because I love them but because in addition to currently having a three-year-old daughter, I had significantly younger siblings and thus spent a good portion of my teens as well as my own childhood watching them. So let’s start with the nerdy things. Anastasia is not a Disney movie. And yes, she defeats Rasputin, and yes, the face-off is scary, but at that point, in the narrative of the film, she’s not saving Russia, just herself. (And I guess 1920s Paris, which is important to save, but Rasputin didn’t have it in for Paris; he just didn’t care what else he destroyed in order to kill Anastasia.) And Mulan, while being the ass-kickiest, most feminist-friendly Disney heroine, is not, literally, a princess. She is often included in the Disney-Princess-marketed things, but she is neither is the daughter of a king nor does she marry a prince. She also saves her country both in drag and out of it; the first time, when she’s in drag, the villain doesn’t really die because it’s a movie and you can never trust the villain to be really dead the first time. The second time she’s in girl clothes.

And seriously? Cinderella’s glass slipper fits because she is kind? The stepsisters’ don’t fit because they’re unkind? No. I’ve seen the movie. Cinderella has tiny feet. The stepsisters have comically large feet. Much is made of their comically large feet and Cinderella’s dainty, beautiful ones. Yes, Cinderella is kind, although if one were to do some sort of psychological reading of the film, one might conclude that Cinderella reaches out to the mice and birds because she doesn’t have anyone else in the house to love. Okay, I’m being a grouch. She’s kind. But the Prince doesn’t really know that she’s kind, and neither does the slipper. She’s rewarded for being tiny and pretty.

Belle is a complicated one. I have read that Beauty and the Beast was sort of Disney’s apology for not making The Little Mermaid feminist enough. But for my money, The Little Mermaid is more feminist, if also more obnoxious. The Little Mermaid gets dinged for two things on the feminist front – that Ariel has to change in order to be with her man, and that she gives up her voice to get her man. On the first issue, Ariel starts the movie already wanting to be a human. We open on her searching for human stuff in a human shipwreck, and then singing an ode to all her human stuff in which she expresses her longing to be “part of that world.” It’s not even so much seeing Prince Eric that is her impetus for actively seeking ways to become human – it’s when her dad destroys all her human stuff. I think I’ve written this before, but in a way, Ariel is like those hipster boys who love anime and dating Asian girls – Ariel is sort of fetishizing Eric for the culture he belongs to, in which she already immerses herself. So she’s kind of obnoxious. But she’s not changing herself for a man; she’s changing herself because she wants to.

And the giving up her voice thing drives me the craziest, because it’s like those Christian groups who hate on Harry Potter and quote that line about, “There is no good or bad, only power” as an example of why Harry Potter has bad values even though the villain says that line. The villain in The Little Mermaid is the one who convinces Ariel to give up her voice, even though we can see that Prince Eric is totally in love specifically with her voice and forgoing it makes landing the man much, much harder. The movie is doing the exact opposite of advocating that girls give up their ability to speak to land a man.

Belle, on the other hand, does the Stockholm Syndrome thing. I mean, sure, she likes to read, which nerdy bookish girls like me love. And sure, she rejects the obnoxious, handsome, popular man who thinks girls shouldn’t read or think. And she can certainly stand up for herself when need be. And the movie is really good; the visuals are great and the songs are top-notch. I love watching this movie. But in terms of feminism? A pretty girl falls for a beastly guy who treats her bad but totally lurves her and is made better by the power of her kindness and beauty? Not so much. She sings about wanting “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” but apparently settles for one adventure, the adventure of being held prisoner in an enchanted castle a few hours away from her home village. She “releases” the Beast by doing nothing more pro-active than kissing him when she thinks he’s dying. It’s not an objectionable action, but it’s hardly the work of a feminist hero.

Other princesses are really not so bad. Jasmine may not be the main actor in the story, but I love the way she picks up on Aladdin’s trickster ways and masters them quickly. Rapunzel is a little excessively child-like and naive, but she’s also strong and sure of herself and resourceful. The Princess and the Frog is not a great movie – the pacing is weird and they spend too much time as frogs which I’m not so into, plus I can see why maybe the African-American community did not embrace the movie whole-heartedly – but Tiana pretty much kicks butt. (And the songs are good, too.)

And in terms of opening treasuries, leading armies, etc. – we never see that stuff from Disney princesses. Ever. They don’t function as political figures in any way, shape, or form. (Remember, Mulan is not a princess. And she doesn’t command an army; she just gets four guys to follow her lead. And yeah, she saves China, which kicks ass. But doesn’t come with any extra power as far as I can see, except the power to avoid a serious grounding from her father when she gets home.) The only instance I can remember of a Disney princess attempting to use her “I’m a princess” power is when Jasmine orders the palace guards not to take Aladdin into custody – and it doesn’t even work! Because Jafar, the palace advisor, outranks her! And yeah, at the end of Tangled, they talk about how happy the kingdom is to have Rapunzel back and how she’s a good and wise ruler and whatnot, which echoes the power that the British princesses apparently have to “simply bestow, with the power of [their] presence, a sense of magic, excitement, and healing” that Wolf talks about. But the movies aren’t really about politics. They’re really romantic comedies, usually with music, and animals who talk or at least have strong personalities. And that’s fine. Zoe can watch romantic comedies. I just don’t think I can buy into a statement like, “Don’t worry if your 5-year-old girl insists on a pink frilly princess dress. It doesn’t mean she wants to subside into froth; it just means, sensibly enough for her, that she wants to take over the world.”

The truth is, little girls do like princesses for the same reasons boys like action heroes – because they represent the extremes of gender identification at an age where identifying one’s gender is super-important. In other words, girls love princesses because they are figuring out how to be girls, and boys love action heroes because they are figuring out how to be boys. And I think the heart of the dilemma for feminist moms is that, first, many of us are not into gender essentialism and are sort of squicked out by the idea that our daughters are tying to figure out how to “be girls,” but also because the femininity that these princesses embody is imperfect. There is a lot of emphasis placed on being pretty, landing a man, etc. And it’s not that I object to romance as a reasonable life goal for women, obviously, but when all the Disney movies featuring girls as main characters are romances, whereas the ones featuring boys as main characters are frequently about something else, the cumulative effect is annoying.

I’m not really sure what Naomi Wolf is trying to do in this article. If she’s trying to justify the love some people have for seeing stuff about Kate Middleton, fine, but that’s got nothing to do with little girls. If she’s trying to justify the love little girls have for Disney princesses, she doesn’t write very much about that, give very good examples, or make any sense at all, really.