Wondering After Wonder Girl

Wonder Girl; Teen Titans

I was already not reading much DC when the New 52 launched and Teen Titans was the only title I followed in the new continuity. Because Cassie Sandsmark is my favorite Wonder and because Cassie and Tim Drake are my DCU One True Pairing. I wasn’t loving the story but I love Cassie and Tim so I kept on. Cassie’s origin story is told in issue 13:

She spent her childhood as a “dig-rat” following her archeologist mother to various dig sites all over the world (awesome). Something of a thrill seeker and wanting to catch her mom’s attention she became a bandit, stealing trinkets wherever they went (still awesome). One day she met Diesel and “not to go all Fifty Shades of Grey on you guys but it was lust at first sight” (starting to get less awesome). Cassie and Diesel spent a year or so together travelling around, still following the digs, still stealing, hitting dive bars, making connections with criminals, and hooking up. The sex and crime made Cassie feel alive.

a panel of Teen Titans 13

The oldest Cassie can be in this scene is 17 and the timeline makes more sense if she is no older than 17 now which makes her no older than 15 here.

Look, this could be awesome in a Romancing the Stone kind of way except for the part where Cassie is a teen girl. Anyway, Diesel gets taken over by evil power armor which leads to Cassie putting on her own evil power armor and voila, Wonder Girl.

So that happened. But it wasn’t my breaking point. Okay, a gross boyfriend had replaced Wonder Woman in Cassie’s backstory, I could still work with it. But then a few issues later Tim and Cassie have sex. It should have been adorable — she is wearing his shirt and nobody’s dead! I have been waiting for them to be a couple forever! They are my favorite! This was our moment! Except it happens a few pages after Tim randomly kisses someone else because Tim is not himself and not in control.

a panel from Teen Titans

Stepford Tim’s face says it all.

To be clear, romance drama is great. Tim and Cassie having a complex relationship that includes sex is everything I ever wanted. Tim and Cassie finally getting together and having sex while he is mind controlled by a supervillain is RAGE BLACKOUT. So I stopped reading Teen Titans.

But when I heard that it was starting up at #1 again I thought, well, maybe I’ll give them another chance. Cassie is still my favorite Wonder. Tim is still my favorite Robin. The Titans are still my favorite team. Maybe it will be different. Maybe it will be better. Maybe it will be okay.

Or maybe critiquing the cover featuring Wonder Girl’s breasts will spark a debate that results in rape threats.

a gif of Merida headdesking

(x)

It is becoming increasingly difficult to not give up. It’s like arriving at a meeting and there is no place for me at the table. It’s uncomfortable to stay but if I leave I’m taking myself out of the conversation entirely. If I complain I’m dissembling, if I ignore I’m complicit. It’s a no win scenario.

Luckily, I don’t believe in no win scenarios. Sometimes you just have to punch your way through.

an image of Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway

(x)

I don’t know when I’ll start reading Teen Titans again, but I’m not going to stop talking about Wonder Girl and how she deserves better as defined by me. Because MY Wonder Girl really does belong to me and I am allowed to care what DC does with her whether I support it or not. That’s part of what being a fan means to me.

Warner Brothers recently announced they have a number of DCU (DCCU?) films planned, none of which are Wonder Woman. But they are “warm” to the idea of someday maybe having a WW film, so chances have gone from nearly impossible to highly unlikely. Yay, progress! In the meantime, I’ve made up my own film treatment.

a panel of Wonder Girl in Teen Titans

Wonder
the origin story of Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Girl)

Cassie is the teen daughter of archeologist and amazon mythology expert, Helena Sandsmark. She grew up on digs and in libraries around the world. Helena is considered the foremost expert on the mythological island of Themyscira and the Amazonian society that lived there; however her research is not widely supported outside of academic circles. Cassie is bright and knowledgeable about Greco-Roman mythology, but she is more adventurous than studious. A young Lara Croft or Indiana Jones type. A discovery of ancient ruins, thought to be proof of Themyscira, is found in the Greek Islands. The Sandsmarks and their research group, including Diana Prince, a military liaison, set off to document the discovery.

My movie has a teenage girl as the protagonist and a supporting cast of women in positions of authority. It introduces Diana’s “complex” backstory and society in the simplest way possible: a literal history lesson. There are so many options for an antagonist it’s ridiculous: rival scientists who are really treasure hunters! Creatures out of the greco-roman mythology we all learned in seventh grade! Diesel the abusive and manipulative boyfriend! Whoever is the main bad guy in That Batman Movie Pretending to Be About People Who Are Not Batman Part 6! Point being: endless possibilities! Including the Endless! Ancient Mythos Crossover Teen Drama Action Flick FTW!

The chances of this film ever being made are less than zero. I guess all I can do is talk about it until we all wonder why.

Q&A #248: Recommend a book you think not enough people know about.

Q&A

In Q & A, a weekly feature of Fantastic Fangirls, we ask our staff to tackle a simple question — then open the floor to comments.

Recommend a book you think not enough people know about.


ALI

Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker is one of those books I’m a bit evangelical about. Part London gangster movie, part steampunk adventure, part espionage thriller, this book has all of the things. All of them. And my favorite thing about Harkaway as a writer, aside from his wonderful turn of phrase, is his ability to weave all of these disparate “genre” elements into a rich tapestry of a story.

The other thing I love about Angelmaker is the bevy of lady characters.

“If I must do this thing … then it is an act of greatness. I do not mean that I am great. Just that this choice is the great kind of choice. So then: let it be a matter between women of consequence. Between queens.”

“I’m… I’m sorry they sent me then. I’m not important.”

“Pfft. You have no rank, you mean. You are not Lady Edie or Duchess Edie.”

“No. Plain old Edie.”

“And yet here you are, on the far side of the world, with your King’s commission and soldiers to do your bidding. You have achieved things.”

There are not enough people who know about the awesomeness of Harakway and Angelmaker, and they all are missing out.


JENNIFER

One of the first articles I ever wrote for this site was a discussion of the connection between comics fans and fans of musical theater. If those two groups overlap as much as I believe they do, then this is the right audience for pitching Better Nate Than Ever, a middle grades novel about an 8th grade boy and his dreams of Broadway stardom. Written by Broadway actor Tim Federle, the book is equal parts charming, hilarious, moving, and heartwarming, as irrepressible Nate sneaks out of his house in suburban Pittsburgh and travels to NYC for an open casting call for ET: The Musical. The Broadway jokes are spot-on, but the real appeal is the joy, determination, and humor in Nate’s first-person voice as he traverses the unknown. The novel isn’t perfect, and it suffers from some first-novel problems (chiefly pacing), but it’s well worth reading, especially for those eager to find kids’ books with queer characters and themes. If you like it, be sure to pick up the sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate!


JESSICA

I started working at a children’s bookstore a few months ago, and was shocked to find when I tried to order it that Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede is out of print! Most people are more familiar with Wrede from her excellent Enchanted Forest Chronicles (which kicks off with Dealing with Dragons), but when I was younger I was much more in love with this book, which features Kim, a young woman disguised as a boy who becomes apprenticed to a street magician in order to steal a mysterious silver bowl from him. I want to tell you more but I can’t because it will spoil it, and I really don’t want to do that because it’s SO GOOD. It looks like the book and its sequel, The Magician’s Ward, were combined into an omnibus version called A Matter of Magic in 2010, so rejoice!


MARIE

The Boy Detective Fails by Chicago author Joe Meno is one of the most beautifully surreal novels I have ever read. If you’ve ever been a fan of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys or even Harriet the Spy series, you may be a fan of the heartbreaking adventure of Billy Argo and the mystery of solving his younger sister Caroline’s death. Meno takes the trope of the child prodigy and turns it on its head by following said child prodigy into adulthood, where his quick wits and innocent demeanor give him more setbacks than clues.


So what about you? Recommend a book you think not enough people know about.

Fear, Exhaustion, and My Voice

Sun Green from "Neil Young's Greendale."  The kind of activist I wish I could be.

This post is even more personal than I usually get, and since I’m basically an open book on the internet, that’s saying something. But these are thoughts that have been on my mind, and since they’re all about the things that normally make me too scared to write, I’m pushing past my fears in the hope that those who aren’t able to do the same might feel a sense of solidarity.

I want to be a better activist, but it is not an easy road.

I wrote in my last post about being a generally timid and quiet person, and it’s true. It’s not my natural tendency to rock the boat, to make my voice heard, to engage in arguments with others in an attempt to bring about change and make the world a better place. I’m a polite, placating person who tries to be nice to everyone; I want people to like me, and I hate confrontation. But natural tendencies can be modified. If that was all that was holding me back, and I truly wanted to do things differently, I could.

What really holds me back is a pair of twin demons named Fear and Exhaustion. And those are far, far more difficult to overcome.

The fear is not irrational. If it was, maybe I could ignore it. But seeing what Janelle Asselin has gone through in the past few weeks just because she criticized a comic book cover has driven home how ever-present the things I’m afraid of are. I have never been threatened with rape, violence, or death. I’ve never directly been sexually harassed. But the experiences of the people I admire, my activist role models, prove that these statements would be very likely to change if I were to become a louder voice in the community.

And it’s not like I’m ignorant of the indirect harassment I’ve received, even if it wasn’t sexual in nature. I made the mistake of looking, just once, at the comments on the YouTube copy of one of the many AR videos I made while I was working for Marvel. After that, I swore, for the sake of my mental health, that I would never look at the comments again, but I have no reason to believe the other videos contained anything different. If those were comments I received simply for being a woman who looks like I do and doing my job in front of a community full of men who believe women only deserve to exist if they’re considered masturbation fodder, what would I get if I was louder about my activism?

I’ve survived my tiny and ever-shifting position within the comics community relatively unscathed because I’ve kept my head down and my mouth shut at critical moments. Sure, I’ve written articles about feminism; in my days as a comics reviewer, I praised diversity and criticized the lack thereof. I’ve written, and will continue to write, papers for grad school, which might one day make their way to little-read scholarly journals. But I’ve never thrown myself into the center of the maelstrom; I’ve never done anything on a stage big enough that people would take notice. Starting a job at Marvel only made me quieter, though it did allow me to make activist interventions in small ways from inside the industry. In the time since I left Marvel, however, I’ve barely spoken up at all, for a number of reasons:

1.) Because I don’t want to be accused of having a conflict of interest, or of being a disgruntled ex-employee.
2.) Because, as a result of my NDA and/or my affection and respect for the people who still work at Marvel, there are certain things I’m legally or ethically unable to say.
3.) Because the above two reasons only amplify the fear I’ve always had, about the consequences of speaking up.

I realize that my ability to keep my head down and ignore things, my ability to do what I’ve done all this time, is a mark of privilege. I know others, particularly people whose identities cross more axes of oppression than mine does, haven’t had the luxury of avoiding the worst this community has to offer. I want to be a good ally to those people; I want to put my personal fears aside to focus on others, on the big picture. But that doesn’t make those fears any less legitimate, and being honest about them is important.

Then, on top of everything else, there’s the exhaustion. It’s hard to be a woman adjacent to the comics community and not feel ground down by the things that never seem to change, the problems that come up again and again. The harassment. The objectification. The dismissal. The constant messages, implicit and explicit, that you don’t matter, that you don’t count, that you shouldn’t even be there in the first place. I don’t know how it is for anyone else, but sometimes, an hour spent reading the latest comics news, or just my feminism-heavy twitter feed, is enough to make me want to crawl under a rock and hide from the whole world. Like many others in both the creative fields and academia, I suffer from clinical depression. When it’s difficult to even get out of bed in the morning, it seems dauntingly impossible to summon up the energy necessary to identify and combat the problems in the comic book industry, and then deal with the harassment that inevitably ensues, all for very small – or nonexistent – gains. Some days, I just don’t have the fortitude.

I still want to be an activist, because I know that, without strong voices fighting the good fight, the situation for women in comics (and anyone else outside of the “white, straight, able-bodied, cis male 18-49 with disposable income” demographic) will never get better. And I, personally, am still trying – I haven’t given up yet. If I was giving up, I wouldn’t have written this post, a post I’m honestly terrified to hit “publish” on. But I also can’t criticize anyone who, like me, has mostly kept their head down. Fear and exhaustion are legitimate reactions to the bullshit women have to go through in the comics community, and I can’t blame anyone who isn’t willing, or able, to push past them. I can’t get angry at women who are willing to “play the game” and keep quiet so they can enjoy their hobby, or advance their career, in peace — because I’ve been there, too. The same patriarchy that created this mess has made speaking up about the problems a war unto itself. And that’s not a war everyone can fight.

The Many Skills of the Warrior Princess

Xena1

I have spent the last few days going back and forth in my head – and with friends – about what princess I want to write about. I originally volunteered for Giselle or Mulan, but I hesitated. Giselle I love because I love her optimism and how even though she ends up with the guy, they don’t have to get married. And I love Mulan because she cares more about her family than gendered expectations, even if she ends up with the guy.

And one of the great things about National Princess Week is sharing the universality of the princess experience. But I am not feminine, and I will not end up with a guy, and it seems to me that I should spend my post sharing the universality of a princess who’s a teeny bit more like me:

A teeny bit. I’m not a sword-and-chakram-wielding warrior with a dark past, striving to atone for my life of war and plunder by traveling the world and righting wrongs. But I do have a problem with traditional gender roles, and I do think Gabrielle is pretty cute.

Super cute!

In the second season of the show, Xena goes undercover at, well… a beauty pageant. It’s a fond rip on Miss Congeniality, something the show does a lot (fond rips). There are two things that make this episode central to why Xena is the princess for me. First, she struggles with the “traditional” strappings of femininity. It’s something that happens throughout the show; Xena has to dress up in fancy clothes or “peasant” clothes, and she walks like she’s wearing ten tons of itchy cotton on her back. Second, a drag queen (played by Karen Dior, a transwoman) ends up winning the contest, with Xena’s help.

There’s a great exchange, where Miss Artiphys (GET IT?) talks to Xena about why she’s in the pageant, a pageant that Xena hates on principle:

“You really don’t get it, do you? I guess being born a
woman, you wouldn’t. This is a chance to use a part of me most
people usually laugh at– or worse. The part I usually have to
hide– only here that part works for me– you see?”

Sorry for the bad quality. Had to take a screencap on my phone.

I don’t think I realized at the time what it meant to have these different portrayals of what it means to be a woman. And that’s just one episode. There were six seasons of different kinds of women, and of women who grew over a period of years, and whose femininity and masculinity shifted. There wasn’t just one kind of woman, and there wasn’t just one kind of way to be a woman (or be female). Heck, Xena even had a baby at one point, and she wore leather pants and kicked ass the entire time she was pregnant.

And Gabrielle helped her raise the kid.

I’ve used this picture before. For reasons.

I’ve talked about Xena, and episodes of the show, a lot before here on the site. I talk about it on twitter regularly. I reblog stuff on tumblr several times a week. Over a decade after it ended, this show is still with me almost every day. And, yeah, I know that Xena is technically not a princess. She’s not the daughter of royalty, and she sure didn’t marry into any (nor did she marry at all, notably). She was an Empress in an alternate universe, but that’s as close as she technically got. It was really more of a professional title than a noble title, but I think everyone knows who you’re talking about when you say warrior princess.

I never grew up picturing myself as a princess. I loved the fairytales, but I didn’t see myself in a dress, at a ball, dancing with a handsome prince. I used to think it’s because I wanted to be the prince in those stories, riding around with my sword, rescuing people, kissing the princess, and being the hero. But then Xena came along and I saw a princess cut from a different cloth, whose story was different than anything I’d seen before. She didn’t have to be a prince to ride around and save people, or even to occasionally kiss the princess (though, you know, YMMV on that one). Xena was the prince of princesses.

And that’s why Xena’s my princess.

Being Cinderella

Cinderella4

I’m posting this essay on my 28th birthday, and there’s a pretty good chance that, at some point today, I will receive a piece of Cinderella merchandise – as I have for at least the past 25 birthdays. I don’t remember the first time I saw Cinderella, but I know there was a period during my toddler days when I would take the VHS out of its clamshell case and watch it several times a day, rewinding and replaying until both my parents could recite the film from memory. My father likes to remind me of the times I’d march around the house, repeatedly announcing the arrival of “the Graaaaaaaaaaaand Duke!” Ever since those early days, Cinderella has been my thing.

Cinderella is Disney’s flagship princess. She wasn’t the first, and she isn’t the most popular, but her fairy tale is the ur-fairy tale, the easiest to package and market. Her castle stands in the center of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and its silhouette is the major component of the logo shown before all Disney films. With every merchandise redesign, she gets blonder and more generic-looking; at this point she’s basically Barbie in a blue dress. Rags-to-riches “Cinderella stories” are an entire genre of entertainment (not to mention news media shorthand), and Cinderella herself has become the target of feminist rage against a culture that teaches little girls that finding Prince Charming and living Happily Ever After is the only goal they should strive for.

Cinderella's castle on Disney's logo

I acknowledge the problems with Cinderella’s marketing, especially her Barbification. I wholeheartedly agree that girls need to be provided with a more diverse set of narratives to influence their lives. But most of this has very little to do with the Cinderella I love, the character I’ve aligned myself with. The corporate and patriarchal corruption has little to do with the original film, and even less to do with the ways I’ve applied its messages to my own life.

I was an incredibly obedient child. I’m not saying this to brag, though I’m sure my parents were grateful. But I was obedient to a fault, and the lesson that Cinderella taught me – along with my other childhood favorite film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — was that if you were a good, kind, quiet child who did what you were told, you’d be rewarded. I didn’t understand disobedience. I didn’t like The Little Mermaid because I thought Ariel was selfish and impulsive and would be better off listening to her father, who was only trying to protect her. (I understand the power of her story now – especially for transfolks – but 4-year-olds don’t have a great grasp of metaphor.) I wanted to believe, with all my heart, that this was how the world really worked, and I clung to this faith in karmic balance for more than a decade –maybe closer to two.

I know now that the world is more complicated than that. I know that sometimes you have to break the rules to do what’s right, or what’s necessary. I know that “well-behaved women rarely make history.” But that quote isn’t just a celebration of unruly women, much as unruly women deserve celebration. It’s a way of rethinking how we look at history, an examination at the cultural structures that have kept women’s voices overlooked for centuries, and a call to reexamine those quiet, ordinary female lives for the historical value that they hold. Most women weren’t ruling countries or fighting wars, but that doesn’t mean their lives were devoid of meaning.

Cinderella scrubbing the floor while having an enriching inner life

I’m never going to be an Ariel – or a Jasmine, or a Merida. I’m not spunky; I don’t roar. However firm my political beliefs and dedication to my chosen causes, I’m never going to be a revolutionary. I’m timid, and shy, and I keep my head down more often than not. I’m a sidekick at best, not a hero. And Cinderella showed me that I could be that kind of person, and still be the protagonist of my own story. I could be dreamy and long-suffering and fight back only in my own quiet way (the metaphoric equivalent of saving mice and giving them tiny clothes), and I wasn’t less of a person for it.

Yet Cinderella, as a film, also taught me something else, something I’ve only recently come to understand. See, Cinderella isn’t really a film about obedience. Cinderella does everything she’s asked by her abusive stepmother and stepsisters, and she’s told –- she’s promised –- that, if she does, she’ll get to go to the ball. But they take back that promise. They move the goalposts at the last second, and leave Cinderella standing in the garden in rags, shell-shocked and heartbroken.

Follow the rules, the film tells us, if you can. But the people who make the rules are the people with power, and when they’re willing to move the goalposts willy-nilly, it means the rules weren’t necessarily worth following to begin with. That’s when you make a new path.

Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother in the garden

Part of my feminist education has been has been about unlearning the rules, realizing the hypocrisies and outright abuses of patriarchal society and socialization. It’s been a long road, and it’s hard, sometimes, to resist that ingrained sense of duty to the social order. But the same film that taught me obedience also taught me the necessity of disobedience. When Cinderella is visited, and assisted, by her Fairy Godmother -– an older woman, a feminist mentor, of sorts -– she decides to go to the ball anyway. She takes what was supposed to be hers, what was promised to her by a society that pretended to be just. And her ultimate reward (not the prince, but love and kindness and an escape from an abusive home) comes, not from her years of obedience, but from that one act of disobedience that she finally screwed up her courage to commit.

Activism takes courage. Self-care takes courage. There are many kinds of courage, and women aren’t lesser if they use that limited reserve of bravery for something other than completely overthrowing the world they know. And if they don’t yet have courage, even those quieter kinds, that’s ok, too. It’s not a character flaw. Some women, through nature or nurture, find courage earlier, or more easily, than others do. But there’s no shame in being the quieter, more timid type – and there’s no shame in being in the middle of your own narrative.

Cinderella is the story of a woman making the best she can of a bad situation. It’s about acknowledging the things that stand in the way of your happiness, and biding your time until you can change them, if that’s all you can do right now. It’s about the value of kindness. And yes, it’s also about Cinderella being prettier and more talented than her sisters and thus becoming the object of the prince’s interest – I’m not saying the film is completely unproblematic. But for a movie released in 1950 and set in an even earlier era, it provides a surprisingly nuanced portrait of a young woman coming into her own and leading her own story. Considering the paucity of female film protagonists even now, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Cinderella, ready for the ball

As a member of the Disney Princess Collection, Cinderella works for me as the one I can identify with, the one I can point to and say “That’s me!” – and that alone is valuable. But the same symbolic plasticity that has led to her use as a marketing juggernaut, media narrative shorthand, and rallying point for justified feminist ire has also allowed her to become my own symbol of feminist hope. My reading might not be Disney’s preferred reading, but it’s no less valid. Cinderella is my girl, and no amount of Barbie lips and unnecessary sparkles is going to take that away from me.

So I’ll probably get a card, or a hand mirror, or a little plastic dollar-store figurine of Cinderella today. If the merchandise is based on the most recent redesign, I’ll probably gnash my teeth a little. But I’ll also be grateful that the people who love me understand the character’s importance in my life, and the power I’ve found in her since I was too young to understand why.

Nobody’s Prize: Jasmine

Disney's Aladdin

Aladdin is, by far and away, my favorite Disney movie, but if you’d never seen it and only heard me describe it, you’d think the movie was misnamed. As far as I’m concerned, it ought to be titled Jasmine.

Jasmine is essentially everything I want in a character — especially in a teenage girl character. Let me count the ways: 1) she’s got agency; 2) she is clever as heck; 3) her relationship is a partnership above all else.

Disney's Aladdin

Our heroine Princess Jasmine.

1) Agency. It feels like a genre cliche to have a princess who just longs to marry for love…but while yes, that is the situation Jasmine is in, it also goes a bit deeper. It isn’t just that she doesn’t want to get married, it’s that she wants to dictate her own destiny. That’s where her rage comes from when she declares, “I am not a prize to be won!” and “How dare you? Standing around deciding my future?

She also knows what she wants and what she deserves. During the “Prince Ali” number, in which Aladdin shows off to impress her, she actively rolls her eyes and walks away. She was as unimpressed by him as she’d been by Prince Achmed, because money and power aren’t what she cares about. She wants respect and partnership.

But of course, wanting isn’t the same as doing, and that’s what agency is. Jasmine’s agency comes out repeatedly in the ways she affects the plot: she makes the decision to run away because she feels so stifled; she quite literally chooses Aladdin in the end; she distracts Jafar while Aladdin is sneaking in during the climax. Jasmine is not a character who could simply be lifted out without changing the plot. She may be sexy, but she’s no sexy lamp.

Disney's Aladdin

“What are you doing?”
“Just play along.”

2) Jasmine is smart. Jasmine is really smart. Yes, at the beginning she’s also naive — she gets herself into trouble as soon as she steps into the marketplace because she doesn’t know the rules. Aladdin has to jump in to save her…but the first thing he says directly to her is, “Just play along,” and she instantly figures out his plan, and does so. She says it herself a scene later: “I’m a fast learner.”

The great thing is, this isn’t an applied attribute — it’s not like we’re told she’s a fast learner but never see it in action. Jasmine demonstrates her smarts throughout, which includes tricking Aladdin himself twice. First, when she wants to see what he’s made of and tells him, “I’m rich, too, you know… A fine prize for any prince,” and when he agrees, tells him off. Later, she figures out that he’s the boy from the marketplace and tricks him into admitting it. Her indignant, “Did you think I was stupid? That I wouldn’t figure it out?” speaks volumes. This is a girl who has been objectified, and she’s sick of it, and not shy when it comes to letting people know.

Disney's Aladdin

Jasmine is getting pretty tired of your shit, Aladdin.

3) All of which leads into the romance. I’m not usually the shippiest person in the world, but man, Aladdin/Jasmine OTP 5eva. And it’s because of how much their relationship is a partnership. They are literally partners in crime — they do run a scam on that dude in the marketplace, after all — but here’s the thing. For all Aladdin initially notices her because she’s attractive, he also stares at her in awe when she leaps overhead after their escape.

Disney's Aladdin

“You don’t seem to realize how dangerous Agrabah can be.”
“I’m a fast learner.”

Thematically, the movie is about the importance of being yourself, and that’s what Aladdin has to learn to do — and through his journey, he also learns who Jasmine is. She’s nobody’s prize, she’s smart, and she stands up for herself. They work together because he gets that and stops thinking of her as the sultan’s rich, beautiful daughter — who he assumed would never love a street rat — and starts thinking of her as herself, Jasmine, who makes up her own mind about everything, including who she wants to marry.

There is a ton to love about Jasmine, but I also want to note that the movie isn’t perfect. Jasmine is sexualized way more than most Disney heroines — in fact, when it comes to textual sexiness rather than cuteness, it’s pretty much just Jasmine and Esmeralda, and it’s problematic that those are two of the few non-white leading Disney ladies. The movie overall doesn’t do particularly well when it comes to race; it’s definitely worth pointing out that Aladdin and Jasmine are both lighter-skinned than Jafar, the villain, and Jafar’s features are exaggerated to make him look more like an Arabic stereotype.

Disney's Aladdin

Blonde princesses never have to do this…

So yes, there are problems for sure, which I’ve noticed now that I’m an adult who knows enough to think critically. But when I was a kid, watching the movie over and over on VHS, all I ever thought was that Jasmine was so smart and funny and cool, that she got to run away and have an adventure, that in the end the law changes so she can have her dreamy boy. Out of all of the princesses and heroines in Disney canon, Jasmine was the one I wanted to be, and honestly? I still kind of do.

Becky Allen is a farmer’s daughter turned New Yorker, who works in HIV education by day and writes novels in the evening. You can follow her on twitter or tumblr. She even occasionally blogs.

Completely Ordinary Anna of Arendelle

Disney's Frozen

There are two Disney Princesses in Frozen and picking one over the other is an easy trap to fall into. Who do you like more: Gwen or Mary Jane? Sansa or Arya? Cosette or Eponine? Serena or Blair? Elsa or Anna?

My answer is almost always both and I don’t think I’m alone. But the discussion is everywhere and while it’s not confined to female characters (Edward or Jacob? Gale or Peeta? Thor or Loki?) it’s not unfair to say if there are two women in a story the conversation, by media and fans alike, pits them against each other. And in regards to Frozen, Elsa is winning. And fair enough: she gets the transformation, she gets the feminist manifesto, she doesn’t have a love interest, she is powerful and has power. Little girls everywhere belting out “Let It Go” from memory is a beautiful and wonderful and magical thing. Even people who don’t like Disney Princesses embrace Elsa: she’s a Queen!

But Anna is my favorite.

Disney's Frozen

“Hang in there, Joan.”

This is everything I need to know about Anna. Joan of Arc was a teenage heroine whose faith was her greatest strength and her greatest weakness.

Anna is naive. She trusts everyone immediately and implicitly: Hans, Elsa, Kristoff, she expects the best regardless of their history or lack thereof. She believes in True Love (™) and stubbornly ignores chemistry (and an entire song sung by hairy rocks) in favor of perceived destiny. She leaps without looking. She loves without pause. She makes a progression of more and more impulsive decisions but they all work out in the end because Disney.

Anna is imaginative. She has to be. Left alone in a castle with a hundred rooms and no one but servants (who aren’t allowed to say anything beyond their station) to talk to she has to make up friends and adventures for herself. It’s clear she has a relationship with each of the pictures in the gallery and likely all the armor in the hall. She has nothing to do but imagine how it might be if it was different. If the doors opened. If the rooms were full. If her sister would come out to play. After all these years Elsa is still her best friend, her only friend who talks back, or at least could.

Anna falls for Hans because he is exactly what she has always dreamed of. She falls for Kristoff because he sings a duet with his reindeer and voices both parts. Hans empathically understanding her (“We finish each other’s –” “Sandwiches!” “That’s what I was going to say!”) is an act. Kristoff gets her. He was also raised away from the village. He has conversations with things that can’t talk back. He thinks a talking snowman is normal because he’s friends with talking rocks.

Disney's Frozev

Hans underestimates Anna. He takes advantage of her loneliness but he mistakes her longing for desperation. Anna is neither desperate for love nor dumb for following Elsa.

Anna isn’t afraid of Elsa’s magic because Elsa is, and always has been, her hero. Alone and ignored Anna might have grown resentful of the shut door but she didn’t. She loves her sister. And that love manifests itself in faith.

“I knew you could do it,” Anna tells Elsa when she breaks the spell on the kingdom.

“You’re no match for Elsa,” she tells Hans when his betrayal is revealed.

“That’s okay, you can just unfreeze it,” she tells Elsa when she finds her ice palace and explains what’s happened to Arendelle.

“But it’ll be fine. Elsa will thaw it,” she tells Kristoff when he points out that everything everywhere is frozen.

“Elsa’s not dangerous. I’ll bring her back and I’ll make this right,” she tells the kingdom when she leaves on her quest for the queen.

“She’s my sister; she would never hurt me,” she tells Hans when he says he’s worried she shouldn’t go.

“Hang in there, Joan.” Joan of Arc was a young woman with magic powers who was shunned and hunted. Like Elsa.

Disney's Frozen

“Catch me!”

Anna is my favorite but Elsa is Anna’s favorite and to pit them against each other is to ignore the story. They are both heroines worthy of love and attention.

What I’m Reading Wednesday: 4/23/2014

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Hey everyone! No technical difficulties this week, which is great. Lots of comics, including some notable first issues. I’ll talk a little about Justice League United, and look for Carrie’s write up on the Elektra relaunch sometime later this week. There’s also Secret Origins out of DC, which… are they really secret anymore? At least with Batman and Superman, anyway. Though they changed up Wonder Woman, so who knows. Speaking of DC, I’m so confused by the timeline of events that it makes my brain explode trying to think of it. The First Contact event is still going on in this month’s Batman/Superman, despite finishing up already, and Supergirl is hanging out with the JLU even though she’s also spewing rage blood all over the galaxy.

Oh, comics.

In broader news, we’ve been celebrating National Princess Week here all week, so I highly encourage you to scroll through our main page and check out some of the awesome posts from both regulars and guests alike.

Okay, on to the comics!

Dark Horse Comics

Tomb Raider #3
Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Nicolás Daniel Selma, Juan Gedeon (inks), Michael Atiyeh (colors), Michael Heisler (letters), Ariel Olivetti (cover)

Ah, Lara Croft. This issue has a lot of action, as the Children of the Sun chase Lara and Co through the streets and pubs of Dublin. There are also some flashbacks to events that happened before the video game, mostly concerning Reyes. In that sense, this is sort of the Reyes issue, but not really because it’s still Lara. Anyway, the Damsel of the series, Sam, gets abducted again and it’s up to her Hero, Lara, to go rescue her.  Honestly, one of my favorite parts of the video game was the subversion of the Damsel in Distress trope by having the hero be another woman (I can’t decide if it’s more or less subversive if there’s also a romantic relationship), and it looks like we’re getting into that meat of that in the comics now. Of course, there was also a handsome, mysterious stranger introduces, so. I imagine he’ll get to kiss Lara before Sam does, but I’m digressing from my point which is that this story – and these characters –  in the hands of Gail Simone is a lot of fun and a great continuation of the story of the game. Now that we’re a few issues deep I feel pretty good about recommending this to any fan of the recent Tomb Raider game, or any fan of the character of Lara Croft in general.

Favorite panels:

Marvel Comics

Iron Patriot #2
Writer: Ales Kot
Artists: Garry Brown, Jim Charalampidis (colors), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letters)

This issue felt short. Maybe it’s because Tomb Raider was a longer book and I read it immediately before this one? Not sure. Anyway, there’s some sort of wide scale domestic terrorism thing happening, Iron Patriot (Captain Marvel’s boyfriend) is under the ocean, and his family is in danger. There is a lot happening in this book. The events, if not the plot, move forward rather quickly, which is fine, and we get the reveal of the villain, kind of (we still don’t know the exact identity). There’s also some other character whom we have yet to meet, because there was a question mark in the line up at the beginning of the book. Thanks for doing those line ups, Marvel. The art on this book, especially the coloring, is practically worth the price of admission alone.

Also on my radar: Lazarus #8, Mass Effect: Foundation #10, Midas Flesh #5, Batman/Superman #9

Favorite panel:

DC Comics

Justice League United #0
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artists: Mike McKone, Marcelo Maiolo (colors), Carlos M. Mangual (letters), McKone & Gabe Eltaeb (cover)

I stopped reading Justice League around the time of the Trinity of Sin event, and Justice League of America sort of lost me partway through. So I have no idea what the deal is with the various team makeups. There’s a bit of exposition about Villains United, but I don’t know what happened or why Stargirl is off the JLA or why Animal Man is around. But this is the probably-should-be-talked-about-more introduction of a new Cree superhero, so I figured… sure! To my surprise, it also has the new52 introduction of Adam Strange (whose girlfriend is human now, but okay), and then Lobo and Hawkman show up and… It gets a little cluttered. This is a five-part story, and I don’t know if it ends with the formation of JL: Canada, or if this is the only story of JL: Canada or what. But I can handle five issues, and the few pages that Miiyahbin got were pretty cool. She looks sort of like a Cree Shazam (in that she speaks a word and gets powers), and I look forward to seeing more of her. The rest of the team seems pretty cool too, even if I’m not entirely sold on caring about a plot dealing with Thanagar. Oh and Supergirl is also there, but not a Red Lantern, so WHO EVEN KNOWS.

Favorite panel:

Image Comics

The Fuse #3
Writer: Antony Johnston
Artists: Justin Greenwood, Shari Chankhamma (colors), Ed Brisson (letters)

Best issue yet. And I’m not just saying that because my letter got published (with a shout out to the site!) in the letters section. Johnston threw enough plot reveals to make the mystery deeper while satisfying Cop Procedural Tropes 101 (you know how in SVU the first guy they think is the perp is never the perp?), and we got some more background on the world of The Fuse, mostly about some crazy race riots that happened over two decades ago. Then, of course, things take a sharper turn at the end of the issue in a predictable-but-that’s-fine way. Because this is a cop procedural. In a space station. In space. Filled with an actual diverse group of people, much like the world of the future (and present, actually) will look. CoughJusticeLeague3000cough. Klem continues to be awesome, and we get a little more of Marlene (er, Ralph) on his own. I’m looking forward to more of his backstory. More of both, actually. This book fills in character gaps via the story, as any good procedural does. I’m definitely in this one for the long haul, and recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in science fiction, police procedurals, or well-populated worlds.

Favorite panel:

Also on my radar: Lazarus #8, Midas Flesh #5, Mass Effect: Foundation #10, Red Lanterns #30, DC: Secret Origins #1, Batman/Superman #9

The Triumph of Tiana

Disney's The Princess and the Frog

On the Disney Store website, on the page devoted to The Princess and the Frog, there’s a screencap of Tiana raising her arms to the heavens as she sings, a joyous smile on her face. It’s captioned “Ambitious and Determined.”

Ambitious and Determined. These aren’t values our culture traditionally prizes in women. Girls aren’t supposed to dream big, much less make those dreams come true. We’re supposed to quietly accept what we’re given and not shake things up too much. But man, even the consumerist patriarchy-upholding juggernaut that is the Disney Store (“Here, three-year-old! Buy this $60 pink tutu with Cinderella’s new face on it! We made her clip art skinnier to foster feelings of insecurity in children!”) has to use those words to define Tiana because look at her. She is nakedly ambitious and determined to a fault, despite the societal pressures of her time (and ours), and that’s freaking fantastic.

Disney's Princess and the Frog

Tiana’s drive and work ethic are clearly her defining qualities: She wants to open up her own restaurant, and she’s been working two jobs for years trying to save up enough to do it. She spends her few minutes of leisure time – her commute – reading cooking magazines and learning new recipes. She has no time for goofing off with friends or flirting with any useless ukulele-playing princes who happen to wander by. She’s got shit to do! Even when she’s turned into a frog it’s a momentary hiccup; she immediately puts together a plan not just to become human again, but get her restaurant even when some sleazy racists are trying to take it away from her.

And yeah, she’s a bit of a hardass because of it, but I love that about her. She has trouble relaxing, she judges people harshly, and she has very little insight into her own emotions. Women are supposed to be good at feelings, but Tiana’s kind of crap at them, and it’s both hilarious and refreshing. (“Yes! I do, Mama Odie! I need to dig a little deeper, and work even harder to get my restaurant.” *facepalm* Oh, Tiana.) And let’s face it, Naveen pretty much deserves to be judged harshly, since he’s a useless layabout who sings right to Tiana’s face about all the womanizing he’s planning on doing after promising to marry her dearest friend.

And having trouble relaxing isn’t the same thing as not knowing how to have fun. Tiana brings her playful optimism and musical timing to everything she does, whether it’s showering her irresistible beignets with powdered sugar or cleaning cobwebs out of a broken-down old mill. She may be a hardass, but she’s also a dreamer, and though she won’t take the night off to go dancing, she’ll Charleston while she works.

Disney's The Princess and the Frog

She’s also a loving daughter and, it should be noted, a good friend: though her dreams are very different from Charlotte’s and though she sees her friend’s foibles very clearly, she never judges Charlotte for wanting to marry a prince, and is in fact happy to grease the wheels of that particular romance, pre-frogging. In general she tends to support the dreams of everyone around her as well as her own, even impossible ones like a gator who wants to play jazz clubs or a firefly in love with a star. She also loves Naveen despite seeing his flaws; she’s clear-sighted about everyone but herself.

Oh, and did I mention that she gets to be the one to physically vanquish the movie’s villain? And she has the best wardrobe of all the princesses? (Her lilypad gown! Her RL wedding dress! So freaking fabulous, I can’t even.) And that her happily ever after isn’t just true love, but getting her restaurant (oh yeah, just a young black woman owning a wildly successful business and being a respected chef in New Orleans in 1921, no big deal)? And – let’s be honest – she gets the hottest prince, for real.

Disney's The Princess and the Frog

If that were all that was to say about Tiana, it would be enough, but of course there’s one major thing I haven’t touched on yet: she is the first, and to this day the only African-American woman in the Princess Collection. In fact, she’s the only black protagonist in the Disney animated film ever, Pixar stuff included. It’s downright shameful that it took so long for Disney to give us a black lead, and appalling that they’ve responded by backpedaling furiously and throwing four white princesses (three of them blonde, or at least blonde-ish) at us in the five years since.

But that doesn’t take away from Tiana’s importance. The fact that she’s the only black princess doesn’t make the moment when little girls of color get to meet her at the parks any less magical. (Side note: I have met Tiana at Disney World, and she is legit the most hilarious and charming princess there. And the Louisiana accent! I die!) It doesn’t change the fact that her existence shows them that they can be all the things that “princess” means in Disney-speak: Loved. Special. Beautiful. A protagonist.

Disney's Princess and the Frog

Official Disney Princess

If Tiana were only the first black princess, that would make her special on its own. If she were only a wonderful, three-dimensional, lovable character and a great, feminist role model for little girls, that would be aces too. The fact that she’s both is so, so important. Disney’s track record with POC characters may be a failure, but Tiana herself is a triumph. Now Disney just needs to bring us more characters like her. It may be a tall order, but hey – Tiana taught me to be ambitious and determined, didn’t she?

Disney's Princess and the Frog

Jessica probably loves Disney princesses too much for someone who isn’t five. She blogs about them, comics, and other pop culture-y stuff at Jess’s (Somewhat) Grown-Up Type Blog.

Tale as Old as Time: For a Good Reason

Beauty and the Beast

They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice before you can call yourself an expert at something. Well 10,000 hours seems like just the right amount of time I spent growing up watching Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. This was during the VHS era, so every morning before and after school, I would pop in the tape in my to watch Belle gentle the Beast over and over—from first grade to freshman year and beyond. I can recite the entire transcript at will. I know, I know. Obsessive, much? You bet. And I have no shame for still carrying a torch for one of my favorite childhood stories.

And hey, I’m not the only one whose life was touched by this wonderful gem of a Disney movie. The film was the first animated feature to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, which goes to show you how many lives Belle and the Beast were able to touch.

So in honor of National Princess Week, I would like to pay homage to one of my favorite animated heroines of all time. Although Belle is an official Disney princess, her roots are quite provincial (as she adorably sings in vehemence later on).

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

As a kid growing up in the relative safety of the suburbs, I too yearned for “adventure in the great wide somewhere.” So even at the tender age of six, I found Belle incredibly refreshing. She spends most of her time reading when she isn’t speaking her mind—qualities that make her the odd one out in her hometown.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Her neighbors find her beautiful but “odd” as though intelligence was some kind of deformity. I think this is particularly key in why she and the Beast to connect—despite the surface appearances, they are both outcast that yearn to be free of their loneliness.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Belle also has an incredibly kind and generous nature—something both complements and
tempers the Beast’s angry and bitter heart. Critics often deconstruct their relationship as
something akin to Stockholm Syndrome. But like many fans, I’d like to think of it as a story where love conquers all. In the original French novelization, Belle doesn’t even find out that the Beast is human until after their wedding night. This is how deeply she comes to care for him despite his appearance. In fact, appearances don’t seem to matter at her all: when the beast finally turns into a prince, she expresses doubt as to who he actually is. Ergo, her feelings are not just skin deep.

Glen Keane, the supervising animator of Beauty and the Beast described the Beast’s character as, “a twenty-one year-old guy who’s insecure, wants to be loved, wants to love, but has this ugly exterior and has to overcome this.” You can see evidence of Belle’s reform as the story progresses: the Beast’s ill manners and feral tendencies give way to gentleness and affection. Before the end, the Beast wears a full set of clothes and begins to walk more upright.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Producers of the show describe the Beast’s curse as psychological: if Belle had not appeared at his castle, he would have become an animal in both mind and body. This makes sense considering that when Belle first meets him, he has mostly forgotten how to read and eat with utensils.

I know that I’ve talked at length about the Beast’s transformation–he’s one of the few Disney princes that are as much of lead as their counterpart. But the Beast’s transformation was only possible because of Belle. That’s why she rocks as a princess.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

I argue that Belle knew that the Beast wasn’t bitter and cruel at heart. He is admittedly spoiled and angry–the curse has been said to have lasted ten years prior to the storyline, making the Beast at least eleven years old at the time the curse was cast. In short, he’s childish.

Belle, being the independent spirit that she is, also doesn’t take any guff from him. While most of his servants walk on eggshells, she challenges him–even after he saves her life when she runs away to the forest.

I could go on at length as to how much I looked up to Belle as a fictional role model. But I think I’ve covered the ground for current and future fans. Belle is more than just “a beauty or a funny girl”, she’s a refreshing heroine that existed before a time period where women like her could be honored and appreciated.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast