I haven't seen the
movie, and so I shouldn't overreact; but early reports indicate that the new
live-action remake of Disney's Aladdin
features a new-and-"improved" Princess Jasmine. This new Princess
Jasmine is interested in becoming the sultan herself. She's strong, and
capable, and empowered. She can do it!
For the moment,
let's set aside the fact that the original early-90s Princess Jasmine was not
exactly a swooning damsel in distress; she played an important role in
defeating Jafar and was quite headstrong throughout the movie, even going so
far as to run away from home rather than be forced to marry a man she didn't
choose herself. (Thus, why is making her even
more empowered even necessary?)
I have a question
for society in general: Is it okay to tell a story about a boy or a man who
saves a princess?
I mean, is that okay, or is that problematic? Can boys save
princesses, fictitiously speaking? Or does that reinforce the patriarchy?
Is it morally and
socially acceptable to tell a young boy a story in which the male protagonist
saves a woman who is in trouble, and falls in love with her, and marries her?
Or, does that set the boy up to believe that this
one story will define his every future interaction with the female sex?
If a girl happens to be told the same story, will she be able to suspend
disbelief and appreciate its value as a mere work of fiction, or will she, too,
be warped by it and conditioned into believing that she is weak, needs saving,
and that she must wait specifically for a boy to be the one to save her? Will
this one story define her every future interaction with the male sex?
Notice what I am not asking. I am not
asking whether every story we ever tell
should be constructed this way. I am not asking
that we eschew stories about strong girls who solve their own problems. I am not asking that we refuse to tell any stories
that shake up the gender roles a little bit and reflect modern values. I am not
asking any of those questions because I live in a world and a mindset in which
it is possible to tell many different kinds of
stories without having to replace one kind of story with another.
I'm just asking, is
it okay to tell a story about a boy named Aladdin, who saves a princess named
Jasmine? Is it okay to tell a story just about
a boy named Aladdin, without having to have some parallel plot arc
featuring a prominent girl character? Is it okay if the main girl character in just one story is in trouble, and needs
saving, and gets saved by a boy?
Is Super Mario Bros.
Here's a separate
but related question: Suppose it's not okay
to tell boys stories about princes who save princesses. Then, what do we
suppose boys are going to pretend they're doing when they play make-believe?