Monday, May 17, 2010

Feminism and Gender Roles in The Princess and The Frog

[Final Paper]
Over countless years, women have fought, sometimes to death, to be seen as equals to men. While there have been many improvements, this is an issue that is very much alive today. Women do not get equal pay and men continue to dominate certain professions. The feminist fight against the oppression of women is something that can be seen in movies, read about in books, and even heard in songs. Disney’s The Princess and the Frog is a movie that portrays feminism ideals and the disruption of society established gender roles through its characters.

The movie is the story of a young, African-American woman, named Tiana, who lives in New Orleans. Ever since she was a child, she’s dreamed about one day owning her own restaurant named Tiana’s Palace. Tiana works multiple jobs and saves money in cans in order to buy the old sugar mill in her neighborhood and turn it into her beloved restaurant. Tiana is filled with joy when she comes up with all the money she needs to purchase the sugar mill. Unfortunately, she is told that another gentleman has put in a higher bid and she is given only a couple more days to come up with extra money in order to outbid the unknown gentleman. Through a twist of events, the now depressed Tiana ends up kissing a talking frog that claims to be Prince Naveen, a young Prince who is turned into a frog by an evil voodoo man. Instead of turning the frog back into the Prince, Tiana is turned into a frog herself. The rest of the movie chronicles Tiana and Prince Naveen’s journey to visit a powerful voodoo woman in order to be transformed back into human beings.

At the beginning of the movie, Tiana is only a child of about six years of age. The viewer is introduced to her mother, Eudora, who works as a seamstress for a wealthy sugar mill owner named Eli “Big daddy” LaBouff. Eudora is described as the best “seamstress in New Orleans” (The Princess and the Frog) by Mr. LaBouff and is very successful in her job. Tiana’s father, James, is also introduced. While it is portrayed that her father works multiple jobs, the viewer is never told what exactly it is he does. However, what is apparent is his love for cooking. In the first scene in which he is involved, he is standing at the stove with Tiana cooking Gumbo while his wife sits at the table working and sewing. Tiana’s mother, on the other hand, is never shown doing any kind of domestic work. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan highlight an important aspect of gender roles that Feminists fought against, and that is the idea that “men work and women do domestic labor” (768). Here, the gender roles are completely reversed. Tiana’s father is shown performing the more feminine role and her mother, even though she is a seamstress, a woman’s job, is shown performing the more masculine role. It is also James who shares his passion for cooking and dream of owning a restaurant with Tiana. In other words, her father, the only important male in Tiana’s life at that point, is the one who inspires her and instills in her the dream of owning a luxurious restaurant.

Tiana’s feminist ideas are shown from a very early age. At six-years-old, Tiana shows her dislike for fairytales and stories where a man saves the woman. While working on a dress for Eli LaBouff’s daughter, Charlotte “Lottie” LaBouff, Eudora tells her daughter and Charlotte the story of a frog prince. Tiana is in complete shock when she hears that the princess has to kiss the frog in order to transform it into the prince and live happily ever after. She exclaims, “There is no way in this whole wide world I would ever, ever, ever, I mean, never kiss a frog. Yuck!” (The Princess and the Frog) In the story “The Frog Prince,” the frog is associated with a prince and the prince is associated with a happy ending for the princess. Through Tiana’s disgust and rejection of the “kissing a frog to get a prince” idea, she is also rejecting the idea of needing a prince to save her. She is a strong believer that she can reach a happily ever after through her own hard work and dedication.

Charlotte LaBouff, on the other hand, is shown as a young girl with the more traditional views of femininity and female roles. Charlotte falls in love with “The Frog Prince” story and finds it incredibly romantic. Unlike Tiana, who shows complete revulsion at kissing a frog, Charlotte exclaims excitedly, “I would do it, I would kiss a frog, I would kiss a hundred frogs if I could marry a prince and be a princess!” (The Princess and the Frog) Charlotte’s embracing of the story, demonstrates her acceptance that a man is necessary for a woman to have a happily ever after. It is apparent that even at six-years-old, she has internalized what society believes a woman must want: a marriage. This idea continues to be reinforced even when Charlotte is older.

When Tiana is older, her dream of owning her own restaurant stays her number one priority. In order to make this happen, she works two jobs, one at Cal’s and the other at Duke’s, as a waitress. Tiana is presented as a strong workingwoman, not a woman who stays at home taking care of a husband and family. In fact, a marriage and a family is the last thing on her mind. Her mother expresses that she wants Tiana to get married: “all I want for you, sweetheart, [is] to meet your Prince charming and dance off into your happily ever after.” (The Princess and the Frog) Tiana responds, “Mama! I don’t have time for dancing. That’s just going to have to wait a while.” (The Princess and the Frog) When Tiana states that she does not have “time for dancing,” she is equating dancing to a marriage. According to Kathleen Blee and Ann Tickamyer, “African American women and girls [are] more likely…to see paid employment as compatible with maternal and familial responsibilities” (22). Tiana sees her goal as important as some women see marriage. Tiana is demonstrating a very feminist idea that marriage is not something a woman has to do. She has a choice to marry or not and she should not be judged on her decision.

Tiana is also aware that society does not believe that she will succeed in owning her own restaurant. During one of the songs that Tiana sings, “Almost There,” she states, “People down here think I’m crazy but I don’t care.” (The Princess and the Frog) Buford, one of Tiana’s coworkers, tells her that she’ll never be able to buy her own place. In addition to this, when Tiana finds out that a gentleman has outbid her, the real estate agents, both male, try to comfort her by saying that “a little woman” (The Princess and the Frog) would have had her hands much too busy trying to run a business. In other words, she would not be able to succeed. Everyone around her sees her incapable of accomplishing her dream because she is only a woman. Her gender is used as a way to oppress her and keep her from trying to do something that is supposedly inherently male. In "The Traffic in Women," Gayle Rubin states, “Sex as we know it – gender identity, sexual desire and fantasy, concepts of childhood – is itself a social product” (774). Society defines what it means to be male and female, and the roles that men and women must carry out. The society in which Tiana lives in seems to reject the idea of Tiana owning her own place because she is female. The only people presented as owners in the movie are all male: Eli LaBouff, owner of many sugar mills, and the owners of the diners at which Tiana works at, Cal’s and Duke’s. Tiana, however, defies those societal views of women and continues to try to find a way to reach her goal.

Prince Naveen, the male protagonist, is a handsome, young man from Maldonia that young women find irresistible. From the moment that he arrives, young girls swoon at the sight of him. Tiana, however, does not pay him any particular attention and recognizes him for what he is, a spoiled, playboy. Even after she finds out that he is a Prince, she continues to think of him as annoying. His title is of no interest to her. When she meets Naveen as a frog, he convinces her to kiss him and turn him back into a prince using the excuse that he will give her money to buy the sugar mill. Unlike the princess in “The Frog Prince” story, Tiana does not kiss the frog because she wants to be a princess and marry him. She kisses him because she wants her restaurant. She does it for her benefit and not for the happily ever after that supposedly comes from marrying a prince.

Unlike Tiana, who is not enchanted by the handsome Prince Naveen, Charlotte is immediately attracted to him. As soon as she hears about his planned visit to New Orleans, she makes up her mind that she must marry him. It becomes an obsession and she does whatever she possibly can to marry him. In a conversation between Tiana and Naveen, Tiana makes Charlotte’s obsession clear. Naveen tells Tiana that he intends to marry Charlotte if she will have him. Tiana asks, “You a prince?" (The Princess and the Frog) To which Naveen responds, “Yes” (The Princess and the Frog) “Then she’ll have you,” Tiana states (The Princess and the Frog). Charlotte’s actions further emphasize Tiana’s feminist mentality.

It is important to note that Prince Naveen has been financially cut off by his parents. His two options are to “woo and marry a rich young lady, or get a job” (The Princess and the Frog). For that reason only, Prince Naveen agrees to marry Charlotte, who is extremely wealthy because of her father. Luce Irigaray, author of "Women on the Market," states, “As commodities, women are thus two things at once: utilitarian objects and bearers of value” (802). Because of her wealth, Charlotte is a commodity, she is a “[bearer] of value” for Prince Naveen. She is basically his ticket out of his financial problem.

While in frog form, Prince Naveen is constantly shown to be much weaker than Tiana. The gender roles are once again reversed. It is Tiana who saves Prince Naveen from being eaten by the alligators. It is Tiana who makes a raft for them to get down the river. It is also Tiana that rows the raft while Prince Naveen simply lies down and plays his ukulele. There also times when Tiana is shown to be in a position of power over Prince Naveen. In one of the scenes, Tiana, as a frog, decides to make Gumbo for dinner. She makes Prince Naveen mince mushrooms.

Tiana: “You got the makings of a decent mushroom mincer.”
Naveen: “Really?”
Tiana: “Keep practicing and I just might hire you.” (The Princess and the Frog)

In this conversation, Tiana is put in the position of boss and Naveen in the position of employee. The female, here, holds more power than the male, breaking the oppression that is put on women. Prince Naveen also shows pride in the fact that he is a “decent mushroom mincer.” Mincing is an activity associated with women. The fact that he shows excitement in being able to do that adds femininity to his character. “[Gender] identity,” Rubin states, “is the suppression of natural similarities. It requires repression: in men, of whatever is the local version of ‘feminine’ traits” (782). Through Prince Naveen and Tiana’s father, however, the movie highlights the idea that men and women are not as different as society expects them to be.

Another recurrent male character in the movie is the villain, Dr. Facilier, also known as the Shadow Man. The Shadow Man is a man who reads tarot cards, gives charms, spells, reads fortunes and practices voodoo. It is because of him that Prince Naveen and Tiana are turned into frogs. He is portrayed as a powerful, evil man with connections to spirits “on the other side” (The Princess and the Frog). Dr. Facilier is also responsible for creating the problem in the movie. In contrast, a “197-year-old blind lady” (The Princess and the Frog) named Mama Odie is the one who provides the solution to Tiana’s and Prince Naveen’s problem. This old woman is the Queen of the Bayou and Voodoo. She is capable of destroying the evil spirits that Dr. Facilier sends after Prince Naveen and of deactivating the spell that Dr. Facilier has put on the two protagonists. She is clearly much more powerful than the Shadow Man. Again, a female is put in a greater position of power over a male.

It is not only through Mama Odie and Dr. Facilier that the movie makes apparent that the women are the problem solvers and the men the problem causers. Prince Naveen (a male), for example, is the one who convinces Tiana to kiss him and, thus, involves Tiana in the problem. The only way that Prince Naveen and Tiana can become human again is if he kisses a princess (a female). Tiana is ultimately the solution for that.

The male characters are also portrayed as being less wise than the female characters. For example, the character of Louis, a friendly alligator who dreams of playing his trumpet in a jazz band, leads Tiana and Naveen in the wrong direction when they’re looking for Mama Odie’s home. Ray, a firefly, is in love with what he believes to be a bright firefly named Evangeline but is, in reality, the evening star, and Prince Naveen is not wise enough to know not to get involved with the Shadow Man.

Unlike previous Disney movies that present a damsel in distress, The Princess and the Frog presents women characters that are capable of success on their own. It can only be hoped that more children’s movies that portray strong, female characters be created. If women want to be treated equally in all aspects, what better way to accomplish this than to start educating the generations that will one day run the world?

Works Cited

Blee, Kathleen M., and Ann R. Tickamyer. "Racial Differences in Men's Attitude's About Women's Gender Roles." Journal of Marriage and Family. 57.1 (1995): 21-30. JSTOR. Web. 14 May 2010.

Irigaray, Luce. "Women on the Market." Literary Theory: an Anthology. By Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. 799-811. Print.

Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan. "Introduction: Feminist Paradigms." Literary Theory: an Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. 765-69. Print.

Rubin, Gayle. "The Traffic in Women." Literary Theory: an Anthology. By Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. 770-94. Print.

The Princess and the Frog. Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. 2009. DVD.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Orientalism Analysis

The Siamese Cat Song From Lady and the Tramp

Edward Said's book Orientalism highlights the idea that Western representations of the East portray a negative outlook. In this clip from Disney's Lady and the Tramp, the Siamese cats are no exception.

According to Said, orientals are cunning and suspicious. The cats move in incredibly sly ways and are painted to be very sneaky. They are also constantly scheming, which is also a characteristic that the West has attached to the East. The cats sing, for example, "Do you see that thing swimming round and round? Maybe we can reach on in and make it drown. If we sneaking up upon it carefully there will be head for yoou and a tail for me." They also sing: "Do you hear what I hear a baby cry, where we finding baby there'smilk nearby." All of their actions are calculated, selfish and negative. Said also said that Orientals are cruel to animals. In this video, the cats want to kill the bird and the fish. It is up to the Lady to save the poor animals.

I find it very interesting to see that from a very young age, Americans are taught these Western views of the East. When I think about that detail, I feel like it is then no wonder why these outlooks continue to be portrayed.


I have always been a huge fan of the television show Sex and the City. To see the show be incorporated into a class discussion made the discussion a lot more interesting to me.

In the clip that was presented, I thought it was very interesting that Miranda was confused for a lesbian. Miranda is extremely independent, does not feel the need to dress ultra-feminine and has a successful job as a lawyer. The firm in which she works in and the profession as a whole is dominated by men. Her male coworkers come to the conclusion that Miranda must be a lesbian. Why else would she be such a strong, independent, successful woman?

It is also interesting to note that Miranda had been trying to be promoted in her profession. It is only after her coworkers think of her as a lesbian that she is invited to work events and is given the hope of a promotion. That makes it clear that society today still believes that in male dominated situations the only way for women to succeed or be taken seriously is to identify them with men.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Phineas, Ferb and Foucault

In the show Phineas and Ferb, the future is transformed when a past event is altered. The world turns into a dystopia full of intense security and vigilance. I never would have imagined that this children’s show would incorporate the work of the great philosopher Michel Foucault.

Foucault explores the concept of the Panopticon. A Panopticon type world seeks to discipline people to one point of view and one way of acting. This is achieved through high security and reinforcement of the correct behavior. Foucault states that the “gaze is alert everywhere” (551) and that “the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the outline of the tall central tower from which he is spied on” (555).

In the dystopia depicted in Phineas and Ferb, all people must wear lab coats and everyone is named Joe. These are results of laws that Emperor Doofenschwartz has passed. The people living in this dystopia all monitor each other. When Candace, an outsider to the world, arrives she is immediately told that she must wear her lab coat. In that way, the townspeople continuously police each other.

There is also a statue of the Emperor through which he can keep watch over all of the citizens. Whenever he wants to communicate with the townspeople he simply does it through televised messages. He always has some kind of way to access and monitor the people.

I must admit that Phineas and Ferb have made the Panopticon concept a lot more interesting for me.

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. "Discipline and Punish." Literary Theory: an Anthology. By Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. 549-66. Print.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Marxism Presentation

I was part of the group that did the presentation on Marxism. I was really excited to see that the class responded well to our activities and that we actually had an on-going discussion.

In order to get our presentation ready, our group met during spring break and assigned sections of the chapters to each person. I was assigned the beginning of the chapter on Capital, Chapter 6. My section focused on commodities, use-value, and exchange-value. My job was to define each of these terms in a way that the class would be able to understand. I prepared my slides with the definitions that Marx gave of each term and then, during the presentation, gave examples so that it would be a lot clearer. It was really great to see that all of the students had a strong grasp on these terms.

I have to admit that before we gave our presentation I was extremely nervous. However, once we were all up there and the discussion began, it was actually really fun! Hearing students bounce ideas off each other was very enlightening. =]

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Heigh-Ho Marx!

Disney's Snow White presents a magical story of friendship, goodness, and love. However, even in the middle of these fantastic qualities, it is possible to uncover a few capitalist ideas.

The seven dwarfs spend their days mining for diamonds, rubies and other expensive stones. These stones can be seen as a commodity, which according to Karl Marx is "an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another" (Marx 665). Although it is not shown in the movie, it is safe to assume that these men then give the commodities produced to a person in a higher position who gives them some sort of wage. Judging by their patched clothes and the tiny cottage they live in, the dwarfs make just enough money to survive. The diamonds they dig up, however, are sold for incredibly high prices, none of which they receive. This is exactly what Marx declares makes a capitalist economic system: "the appropriation from workers of more value than they are paid for" (Marx 665).

In the clip above, another aspect of capitalism is portrayed. Marx states that "[in] production, men not only act on nature but also on one another. They produce only by cooperating in a certain way and mutually exchanging their activities. In order to produce, they enter into specific, determinate connections and relations with one another and only within these social connections and relations does their action on nature, does production, take place" (Marx 662). Each of the dwarfs has a specific role in the process of attaining the diamonds. Four of them are in charge of actually digging up the stones, while another one transports the discovered stones to be examined. The job of examining every diamond belongs to another dwarf, while the seventh, less-intelligent dwarf has the responsibility of throwing away the defective diamonds. In this manner, the workers have created their own "working" system that helps them achieve their final product. Without one of the dwarfs, the fluidity of the process would be interrupted, resulting in a slower production of the commodity.

Next time I watch this movie, this scene will no longer be just a catchy tune.

Works Cited

Marx, Karl. "Capital". Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Micheal. Blackwell Publishing 2004: 665-672. Print.

Marx, Karl. "Wage Labor and Capital". Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Micheal. Blackwell Publishing 2004: 559-664. Print.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Last class session, I was very intrigued by Lacan's explanation of a demand. According to Lacan, children make demands for things because they are trying to find a substitute for what they truly want: their mother. Getting to keep their mother for themselves, however, is an impossibility. It makes me wonder if that's the reason why human beings are never satisfied with anything. More is always wanted, and once they attain it, it is soon replaced by something else. Lacan's idea, then, makes me wonder if it was possible for human beings to get what they truly desired, then would we be in this economic depression? I know it sounds silly, but it is simply a thought that entered my head.