From Batgirl to Oracle

With the release of the newest DC animated movie Batman: The Killing Joke just around the corner, I’d like to share an essay I had published a few years back. The paper is all about Barbara Gordon – who she was before, during, and after the comic The Killing Joke. Once the movie of the same title is released, I’ll post here again with a brand new analysis, so keep an eye out.

This is the only one of my published works that has been unavailable to read online. Just the Way is available here on Sierra Dawn, Write On. And Pyramid is available in the archives for “The Write Place at the Write Time.” You can read my short stories online, but not my academic paper.

Until now.

Like the Brushfire (in which I had Just the Way published), the Stellaria does not have online archives. So I decided to do the same as I did with Just the Way, now with my Batgirl paper: post it here.


Stellaria cover

Cover art for the “Stellaria” issue that included my Barbara Gordon essay.

From Batgirl to Oracle

Barbara Gordon Fighting Crime in a (Bat)Man’s World

          The comic book genre of fiction is unlike any other. In most genres, we only know characters within limited plotlines. In comic books, however, one character can exist for half a century or more, encountering new storylines constantly.  And because the writers attempt to maintain continuity throughout all those decades, characters may change dramatically from the time of their conception until the present. 

            Barbara Gordon is one such character. Having first appeared in the late 1960s, she has now been in comics for almost fifty years. Her character has gone through many changes, the most life-altering of which being a sexist and violent attack resulting in her paralysis. After the attack, her superhero alias changed from Batgirl to Oracle. As Batgirl, Barbara was a character that conformed to rigid gender norms, perpetuating them in the process. However, as comic book continuity progressed, and Barbara became Oracle, she became a hero in her own name instead of simply a female version of her male counterpart. DC Comics writers took a misogynistic and tragic incident, and created a more feminist character through it.

Barbara Gordon as Batgirl

When she was first introduced in comic books, Barbara Gordon was a young, naïve college student dressing up as a female version of Batman for Halloween. She came across a kidnapping in progress, and helped stop it. She continued fighting crime after that, in the style of her trainer and mentor, Batman, while wearing a costume similar to his, and protected the helpless of Gotham as Batgirl.  Barbara was also the daughter of Commissioner of Police, James Gordon.  During those issues of comics, what made Barbara Gordon powerful and worth mentioning was directly related to men who were powerful before her.  Had her father not been commissioner, or had Batman not already created a name for himself, Barbara might never have become a superhero. Still, not every aspect of her character was as sexist as those of other female superheroes, even in her early years.

Barbara Gordon did not appear in comics until after World War II had ended. This resulted in a few positive aspects in her character regarding feminism. For instance, Barbara Gordon missed the propaganda that other female superheroes were subject to during the war. 1941 saw the first two female superheroes in comic book history, but both were depicted as “variations of the Betty Grable pin-up… thin, attractive, and… easily applied to the victim role in the manly cartoons of the day” (Scott, 328). While writers felt the need to come up with excuses for Clark Kent serving the war effort on the home front (so as to not raise child readers’ hopes for the easy victory America would have with Superman fighting overseas), there was no such reason given for female superheroes remaining at home. Instead it was simply considered a given: “The possibility of women in combat, even comic book ones, was difficult to grasp” (Scott, 333).

Having made her debut in 1967, Batgirl was instead a part of a new era of comics, commonly referred to as the Silver Age. During this time, comics were making a shift to a more adult audience, so there would be less of a need to censor themselves (Růžička, 48). Therefore, Barbara Gordon, aka: Batgirl, began as a more mature character and avoided many of the sexist attributes applied to other female superheroes of the time.

When her character first appeared, it was as Dr. Barbara Gordon, having gotten her Ph.D. in library science. However, her position as head librarian seemed to be merely a part of her secret identity – her career was less important to her character and more of a way to hide who she really was. And of course, her job as librarian, even one with a doctorate, was safely within the realms of femininity of the time.

Batgirl’s first appearance is an occurrence which at first seems to be a feminist one. For one thing, her Halloween costume borders on drag. She dresses up as a male superhero, without sacrificing her femininity to do so. She also successfully stops an attempted kidnapping. However, the person she saved from being kidnapped is actually Bruce Wayne. Although Barbara has no idea, the reader is well aware that Bruce Wayne is secretly Batman, and has the ability to quite easily escape from virtually any entanglement. Presumably the only reason he allows himself to be rescued is that he could not rescue himself while maintaining his secret identity. So while Barbara is able to congratulate herself on her successful heroism, the writers and readers of the comic understand that her actions are unnecessary. She is not the real hero.

This mentality of Batgirl’s usefulness (or lack thereof) continues throughout the first decade or so of her existence; Batgirl was merely something of a guest star within Batman’s comic books. During an interview, Mike Visser (a fan of comic books and a college graduate with a degree in English), explains Batgirl’s early role in the Batman comics: “Unlike Robin, Batgirl wasn’t recruited by Batman… she was an unwanted volunteer… a lot of it had to do with the fact that she was a woman” (Leeder, 2011). In most plots, Batgirl would come in to help Batman and Robin, “but then she’d end up causing more trouble for [them] and they would have to rescue her… in the first few stories she was just a nuisance” (Leeder, 2011).   

Barbara Gordon’s character in those early comics exemplifies what Lynn Peril describes in her book, Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons. According to Peril, “pink think” is the mentality built up over decades regarding how women in our society “should” act. In many cases, a woman’s success in her gender is linked to how well she does her make-up or catches a husband. For instance, in an article printed three years before Batgirl’s first appearance in comic books, women were advised “to stow a purse-sized mirror and lipstick near the front door (‘lifesavers when the bell rings unexpectedly’) and in the car (‘mighty handy when you have to rush to meet the 6:10’)” (Peril, 172). Since stashing secret make-up in one’s private space wouldn’t be enough, women of the time were also told to keep “‘a first-aid beauty kit in her bottom desk drawer or in the back of the filing cabinet’” (Peril, 172).

For most women, desks or filing cabinets would be reasonable places to hide make-up during work hours. For Barbara Gordon, however, there are no such convenient hiding places while fighting crime as Batgirl. But does that stop her from keeping her make-up fresh? 


Anderson, Murphy, and Carmine Infantino. “Showcase Presents Batgirl.” Comic book cover. Web. 18 April 2011.


In this early Batgirl Comics cover, we can see Batgirl verifying pink think. Even as Batman and Robin fight, clearly outnumbered, Batgirl is preoccupied with her make-up. This Barbara Gordon sends the message to young female readers: no matter what your job is, there is no excuse for not looking your best! After all, you never know when you might meet your potential future husband.

Barbara Gordon as a Plot Point

            The main cause of Barbara’s transformation into Oracle is tragic.  The Joker, arguably Batman’s most dangerous nemesis, goes to Barbara’s home and shoots her in an attempt to drive her father, Police Commissioner James Gordon, insane. Alan Moore, although highly respected as a comic book writer for his ability to make readers consider the intricacies of morality, was obviously not as aware of gender issues when he wrote The Killing Joke in 1988. Batgirl’s only purpose in this comic was to be an effect on her father’s sanity. And thus Batgirl continues the female superhero’s legacy as “the victim role” (Scott, 328) in the medium of comic books.

            In The Killing Joke, the Joker sets out to prove that just one bad day is enough to drive any person insane. He does so by first shooting Barbara in her home. He then strips James Gordon naked before binding him and putting him on an amusement park ride, where he is forced to see pictures of his daughter, paralyzed, bleeding, naked, and helpless.

“The Joker didn’t blink at shooting Barbara Gordon through her spine and stripping her bare. He wasn’t ‘out to get her.’ He simply had made up his mind that he wanted to prove a point, and she was a useful object to help him make that point, no more or less meaningful to him than the amusement ride he later used for the same purpose” (Robichaud, 73).

Since it is obviously a sociopathic serial killer who makes these judgments, it could be argued that the writer is making the point that only villains have such mentalities. The message, therefore, could be that the reader, if s/he is a good person, should not think of people in this way. However, what were Alan Moore’s reasons for this particular plot?

            According to Visser, Moore’s only reasons were in regards to the male characters of the comic: “When Alan Moore wrote The Killing Joke… he didn’t have any intentions for what to do with [Barbara] after that. He was just trying to put Jim Gordon through hell” (Leeder, 2011). The validity of this statement can be seen in the fact that Moore did not write any comics involving Barbara Gordon after The Killing Joke. Barbara Gordon continued to appear in comics only when Kim Yale (DC writer/editor) and John Ostrander (DC writer) realized that there was still potential in her character, even if she was paralyzed.  

            The plot of The Killing Joke contains an element which has been used in fiction for centuries: the damsel in distress. Sometimes the plot is as simple as the female character being in jeopardy, and the male hero having to prove his love and valor by rescuing her. In comic books, this element is extended so that super villains will not only capture a female character, but even kill her, leaving her body for the male hero to find. There are so many cases of women in comic books who are “killed, raped, depowered, crippled, turned evil, maimed, tortured, contracted a disease or [who] had other life-derailing tragedies” that Gail Simone (another one of the few female DC Comics writers) has created a website listing them (Simone, 1999). (There are men in comic books who have the above tragedies inflicted on them, though not nearly as many as women.) On the list are at least 110 women, and Simone admits that she may have missed a few.

            Barbara Gordon is, of course, one of the women on the list. She, like so many other female superheroes, was used purely for the effect she would have on the male hero of the story. However, out of the tragic and misogynistic events that paralyzed her, Barbara Gordon became a new hero.

Barbara Gordon as Oracle

The Joker’s bullet wound did not kill Barbara, but in a way killed Batgirl by paralyzing Barbara. At a time when it seemed that she would never be able to fight crime again, she created a new identity. As Oracle, Barbara used her vast knowledge of science and math as tech support for Batman as well as other superheroes. She even became the leader of an all-female group of superheroes called the Birds of Prey. Barbara’s transformation into Oracle is especially significant because she does so in a world where a body in peak condition can be one’s most valuable asset.

In mainstream comics, the depiction of superheroes’ bodies is an exaggerated form of society’s perception of what a body should look like – men have broad shoulders, narrow hips, and extensive and chiseled muscles; women have slim waists, and large chests and hips. 


March, Guillem. “Oracle: The Cure.” Comic book cover. Web. 18 April 2011.

In this the Birds of Prey cover featuring Oracle, Barbara Gordon is certainly in a position much more suited for fighting crime than she was in her previous Batgirl cover image. Here, Oracle holds her weapons at the ready, her facial expression is one of determination – she appears to be a competent superhero that is ready to throw down. However, even in her obvious battle-ready position, there is unnecessary focus on her chest.

While the exaggeration of male superheroes’ bodies aid them in their crime fighting (with their overly-toned muscles they are stronger and have an advantage in combat), the exaggeration of female superheroes’ bodies does not aid them in crime fighting. Although the female superhero’s thin waist could be justified with her need to stay in shape in order to hold her own during battle, her overly well-endowed chest does not give her any advantage. Quite the contrary, her chest would actually make crime-fighting more difficult. In reality, if a female superhero did happen to have disproportionately large breasts in comparison to her waist, she would bind them while in costume in order to keep them out of her way. (This would have the bonus result of further concealing her secret identity!)

This depiction of bodies can be seen in our society’s values as well. Men and women both have rigid expectations for what their bodies should look like. The expectations are especially prevalent for women, since our society also perceives women to be their bodies, and nothing else. In her article, “Woman as Body: Ancient and Contemporary Views,” Elizabeth V. Spelman examines the effects of Plato’s philosophy on our modern society. According to Plato, the distinction between the body and the soul is synonymous with the distinction between rationality and irrationality (Spelman, 36). Women, then, correspond with the body, while men correspond with the soul: “[t]o have more concern for your body than your soul is to act just like a woman” (Spelman, 37).

Kristen Lindgren also writes about Plato’s philosophy on women’s bodies in her essay, “Bodies in Trouble: Identity, Embodiement, and Disability.” While Plato views the body “as a tomb… a grave or prison… or as barnacles or rocks holding down the soul” (Spelman, 36), he views a disabled body as even worse than an abled one: “If the healthy body, with its unruly needs and appetites, inevitably distracts the philosopher from the pursuit of knowledge, then the diseased body, even more unpredictable and unruly, must surely halt the project of philosophy altogether” (Lindgren, 145).

As women are believed to be “more embodied than men” (Lindgren, 147), it follows that disabled women are even more stigmatized than disabled men. As is the case for Barbara Gordon, “[w]hen a body is both female and diseased or impaired, it can be viewed, and experienced, as doubly corporeal, doubly devalued, and… doubly shameful” (Lindgren, 147). This concept continues in our society today due to the respect we hold for Plato, and, as a result, women are viewed in regards to their bodies. While this perception is not specific to comic books, it is exaggerated in them.

Barbara Gordon exists not only in our world, which perceives women to be their bodies and disabled bodies as “shameful,” but also in a world of superheroes in which anyone of consequence has an “ideal” body. The loss of the use of her legs should have excluded her as a character, or at least as a superhero. Instead, Barbara redefines what it means to be a superhero. She defies Plato’s philosophy, and our society’s gender norms that came from it, by not allowing herself to be restricted by her “dis”ability.

In her book, Take Up Thy Bed and Walk: Death, Disability and Cure in Classic Fiction for Girls, Lois Keith examines the extensive works of fiction containing disabled characters during the last 150 years. What appears to be overlooked by most scholars is that overcoming disability is a widely established (as well as harmful) theme in classic literature designed for young girls. Since the mid nineteenth century, “there were only two possible ways for writers to resolve the problem of their characters’ inability to walk: cure or death” (Keith, 5). The cure option always requires the disabled character to change something about her/himself, which tends to be a trait which is not among traditionally “feminine” qualities (Keith, 5-7).

For Barbara Gordon, cure would be a relatively easy route to take. Many of the superheroes she knows (such as Dr. Fate, Dr. Mid-Nite, or Zatanna) would be able to heal her spine with the use of magic or medical miracles. Curing Barbara Gordon would certainly make more sense than Katy Carr curing herself by simply “learn[ing] to be less boisterous and more womanly” (Keith, 6). Still, DC writers chose to have Barbara remain in a wheelchair. The message sent by Barbara Gordon as Oracle is the first step in a battle against the message sent by classic literature for little girls. Girls’ literature sends a message that says,

“there is nothing good about being disabled… disabled people have to learn the same qualities of submissive behavior that women have always had to learn… impairment can be a punishment for bad behavior… disabled people should be pitied rather than punished, [but] never accepted… [i]f you want to enough, if you love yourself enough (but not more than others), if you believe in God enough, you will be cured” (Keith, 7).

Oracle’s story sends a message that says the complete opposite. Girls reading Oracle’s comics will see that cure is not the only way for a happy and fulfilled life.


As Batgirl, Barbara Gordon was as feminist a character as one can be when she carries a man’s name. Although she fought against certain gender norms by even being a superhero, as a concept she could never have existed without her male counterpart. As a character she first created more problems for the “real” superheroes of her comics, then became nothing more than a plot point. But it was because of that plot point that Oracle was able to emerge.

Without the bullet wound that resulted in her paralysis, Barbara Gordon might never have shed the name of the male superhero that came before her. By remaining in her wheelchair, while still not relinquishing her desire to fight crime, she became an inspiration. DC writers have taken the opportunity that the comic book genre affords them and allowed a character to evolve with the rest of the world and become something more than how she began. Barbara Gordon now sends the message to readers that being paralyzed does not mean being inferior, that no person is just her/his legs, that no woman is just her body.




Works Cited

Anderson, Murphy, and Carmine Infantino. “Showcase Presents Batgirl.” Comic book cover. Web. 18 April 2011.

Keith, Lois. Take Up Thy Bed and Walk: Death, Disability and Cure in Classic Fiction for GirlsNew York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Leeder, Sierra. “Barbara Gordon Interview.” Message to/Personal Interview with Mike Visser. 19 April 2011. Combination Email and Personal Interview.

Lindgren, Kristin. “Bodies in Trouble: Identity, Embodiment, and Disability.” Gendering Disability. Ed. Beth Hutchison & Bonnie G. Smith. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004. 145-165. Print.

March, Guillem. “Oracle: The Cure.” Comic book cover. Web. 18 April 2011.

Peril, Lynn. Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002. Print.

Robichaud, Christopher. “The Joker’s Wild: Can We Hold the Clown Prince Morally Responsible?” Batman and Philosophy. Ed. Mark D. White & Robert Arp. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008. 70-81. Print.

Růžička, Jiří. “American Superheroes and the Politics of Good and Evil.” New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs 14.2 (2010): 46-48. Web. 21 March 2011.

Scott, Cord. “Written in Red, White, and Blue: A Comparison of Comic Book Propaganda from World War II and September 11.” The Journal of Popular Culture 40.2 (2007): 325-343. Web. 21 March 2011.

Simone, Gail. Women in Refrigerators. March 1999. Web. 3 May 2011.

Spelman, Elizabeth. “Woman as Body: Ancient and Contemporary Views.” Feminist Theory and the Body. Ed. Janet Price & Margrit Shildrick. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press & New York: Routledge, 1999. 32-41. Electronic Book.




How to Teach Consent with Beauty & the Beast

As Inga Muscio states in her brilliant Declaration of Independence, rape’s best friend is silence (144).

So no more silence. Starting here. Today, we’re going to discuss rape culture and the value of consent.

Brock Turner was twenty years old when he became a sex offender. He was a grown man, making his own decisions. The way his parents raised him can no longer be an excuse.

But they sure could have given him better odds for not committing sexual assault.

Reading Dan Turner’s letter to the judge sentencing his son, it is clear that Brock Turner never learned the right lessons about consent or accountability.

20 minutes of action (2)

Dan Turner’s letter is what a parenting fail looks like. I can think of no better way to respond than with a quote by Inga Muscio.

If you have children, please make sure they know what consent is.



As a parent, I wish my son would never need to learn what rape is. But in the society we live in, I know that conversation will need to happen someday. Because the only way to end rape is to end the silence that surrounds rape.

The conversation will be different depending on the age of your kids. But the fundamental concern you cover should be consent.


This does not need to be a heavy or awkward conversation. In fact, you can teach your children about consent while watching Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

That’s right. It’s right there in the movie, just waiting for you to point it out to your kids.

Plenty of people claim that Beauty and the Beast is basically a Stockholm Syndrome love story.


And this is an important point to bring up with kids. (“Do you think the Beast was wrong to put Belle’s father in the dungeon?” “The Beast is being mean, isn’t he? Do you think he’ll learn to be good?”)

But I like to point out that Belle did not fall in love with the Beast until he changed. She specifically says she wants nothing to do with him. In fact, she escapes on her first night in the castle. The Beast saves her from a pack of hungry wolves, then collapses, and Belle has the chance to get away. She almost takes that chance – we can see it in her expression as she gazes at her horse’s saddle. But now the Beast has saved her life, and she’s too morally upright to let him die alone in the snowy forest.

Their conversation upon arriving back at the castle is what shows Belle’s true character. The Beast yells at her, and she yells right back. She takes none of his shit. This is not an example of an abusive relationship – this is an example of an argument, which all couples have.

It is only after this exchange that Belle and the Beast begin to develop a relationship. Their falling-in-love song is all about the fact that the Beast is changing, for crying out loud!

Still, Belle does not love the Beast until after he has let her go. At the beginning of the movie, the Beast did not understand consent. He used Belle’s father as blackmail to entrap her. (This was unintentional, as the Beast did not even know that Maurice had a daughter. Nevertheless, he should not have imprisoned an old man simply for seeking shelter from a storm.) But through the movie, he changes. And part of this change is his understanding of consent. He releases Belle because he now knows how wrong it is to keep her against her will. It is only after the Beast learns this lesson and puts it to use that Belle is able to love him.

Now, think of the theme Beauty and the Beast shares with The Hunchback of Notre Dam: What makes a monster and what makes a man? Let’s ignore for a moment that Belle straight up answers this question at the end of the movie (“He’s no monster, Gaston, you are!”), and that when we’re introduced to Gaston even the Bimbettes who are lusting after him call him a “handsome brute.”

Ignore those statements and look at Gaston’s actions.

When he proposes to Belle, Gaston completely disregards her body language. He barges into her house uninvited, convinced that he’s about to give her exactly what she’s always wanted. He closes in on her personal space, even pinning her back to the wall.


Her only way out is to fumble for the doorknob and duck away as he tumbles through the now-open door, which she promptly slams shut.

The whole scene could’ve been exactly the same and still so much darker if it were not a children’s movie.

Kids watching this scene know that Gaston is the bad guy. They should also be made aware of what Gaston does wrong: He blatantly ignores the fact that Belle’s body language is screaming, “No!”

Later in the movie, the Beast asks Belle if she’s happy with him. When she answers, “Yes,” the Beast smiles to himself, and the audience knows he’s preparing to declare his love for her.

beauty-and-the-beast-on balcony

But when he looks back at her, he sees her sadness. And he responds to it.

Her words gave consent, but her body language did not, and he responded to the body language.

This is what we must teach our children to do.

Consent comes in many forms, and we must be absolutely certain they will know what is and is not consent when they see it.

Not the Gunman

Years ago, in the midst of a hypothetical debate regarding religion and homosexuality, I was asked, “Why are you getting so emotional?” I didn’t have an answer right away. After all, the conversation was not about me, or anyone I knew. It was all safely within the realm of generality.

About a week later I was able to put into words what was so upseting to me: Even if the people I was talking to were not extremists, they were on the same side of the issue as people who have caused countless deaths – both murders and suicides – within the LGBT community.

Now, I’ve finally found someone who put it eloquently:


Photo credit: William Hubbard on Facebook. Thank you to Louis Niebur, a former college professor of mine, for sharing it.

If you’re reading this from a place of misunderstanding and disrespect for LGBT rights, it may seem harsh to you. But it is so important. People are dying. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be part of the solution. You can join the side of history that says, “All humans deserve human rights!” You can stop perpetuating hate and start spreading love. You can.


Photo credit: ElephantJournal on Instagram.

Keeping a Deadline Despite a Busy Life

How does anyone manage to write regularly when they have a family and a full-time job?

No, seriously. How?

Hopefully you didn’t come here to find out, because if I knew I wouldn’t be writing this apology post three months after my most recent one.

At the beginning of this year I set myself the goal of posting at least once per month. I was working on call, so the only thing hindering my ability to post was the fact that I was living with depression while parenting a two-year-old. I posted in January and February but, like most New Year’s resolutions, progress stalled after that. I got a full-time job in March, and I haven’t posted since.

Well, that’s about to change. Unlike most New Year’s resolutions, I’m jumping back on the horse!

There’s a writing tip, if that’s what you came here for: Don’t give up. Even when you feel like you’ve fallen short. Even when you’ve taken an unintentional break and your brain is rusty. When you fall off the horse, you get back on.

I said I was going to write a feminist blog series on Disney Princesses, and that’s what I’m going to do.

Coming soon: a feminist take on Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

I can’t wait!

True Love Conquers All

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the February installment of my Feminists’ Guide to Disney is all about


But not romantic love. Because isn’t there already enough focus on that in Disney Princess movies?

Today we’re going to look at the love between Princess Anna and Queen Elsa.

One reason why Frozen is amazing – not only for opening up a conversation about feminism with your kids, but also just in general – is the way it turns our expectations on their heads. (This has been a common theme for Disney Princess movies ever since Enchanted. Keep checking in, and maybe I’ll post about Giselle.) There are three specific princess tropes we have come to expect from Disney that are tossed to the side in Frozen. The first is that a princess is always beautiful, and the second and third are different aspects of the importance of romantic love.


1)Fairest of Them All

Beauty was one of the only characteristics of early Disney Princesses. Somehow it is always something that side characters bring up when they’re meeting the princess for the first time.

appearance vs accomplishments

image courtesy of Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, via the Washington Post

In fact, when linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer studied the complements that characters give Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, they found that 55% of those complements were based on the princesses’ appearance, while only 11% were based on “skills or accomplishments.”


During the Disney Renaissance, characters complemented princesses on their appearance about 38% of the time, and on their abilities or actions about 23% of the time.

In the New Age of Disney films, finally, princesses receive only 22% of their complements on their appearance, and 40% on their skills.


But the moment in Frozen when the trope is truly turned upside down is when guests are making their way to the newly opened gates for Elsa’s coronation. One of the men walking in states how excited he is to see the princesses, because they must be lovely.

And his companion says, “I’ll bet they are beautiful!”

Cut to:

bed head Anna

This is a fleeting moment, which at first glance seems to be purely for humor’s sake. But it is so much more. To a little girl watching the movie, a little girl who longs to be a princess with perfect clothes and perfect hair and a perfect body, this moment is a small victory. To that little girl, this moment says, “Princesses are not always beautiful.”

When it comes to portraying the wide range of beauty present in humanity, Disney has a long way to go. But this moment is a small step in the right direction.


2) So This is Love

Ugh, love at first sight.

I’ve always hated the notion of love at first sight. Even as an idealistic little girl. Even as a boy-crazy teen. I always thought the very idea of love at first sight was an insult to what love truly is. Because true love is about so much more than what you can see in one instant. True love comes from learning who a person is. And people are complicated. Learning who someone is takes time.

So imagine my delight when I first watched Frozen in theaters and saw what Disney had done with the old “Hey, I just met you – and this is crazy – but I love you so let’s get married and also subject an entire kingdom to the consequences of our impulsive whims, why not?”

Anna and Hans meet one afternoon, sing a duet about finding their other half in each other that same evening, and are engaged to be married before the night is over.

Hans & Anna.jpg

But Elsa, apparently unaware that she’s in a Disney movie, will not give her blessing for their union because they’ve known each other less than a day and Elsa is a sane human being. Later, we find out that Hans was playing Anna for a sap the whole time, and goes so far as to call her “desperate.”

I was briefly worried the movie would still have a let’s-rush-into-love couple, when Anna and Kristoff (whom she’s also known for about a day) start to run to each other for true love’s kiss. Fortunately, even that trope kicked the bucket in this movie…

3) True Love Conquers All

True love’s kiss has been a staple of fairy tales since they were nothing more than oral traditions. So naturally, when Elsa freezes Anna’s heart by mistake and only an act of true love will save her, the characters immediately jump to the conclusion that Anna needs true love’s kiss.

They rush to the castle so she can kiss Hans. And when that turns out to be a bust, Anna rushes out of the castle so she can kiss Kristoff.

But it’s not Anna’s love for a man that saves her. It’s her love for Elsa. By sacrificing herself, Anna not only saves her sister, but she also saves herself.

So true love does conquer all. It’s just not the same kind of love you were expecting.

Anna & Elsa

Not a Prize to be Won

As the first month of this new year draws to a close, I begin my Disney blog series with its first installment: a feminist exploration of Princess Jasmine.


Aladdin was the first Disney movie to feature a non-Caucasian princess. Finally, little girls with darker skin and hair could see themselves in a Disney Princess.

But how well did Aladdin portray Jasmine’s nationality and culture?

The movie takes place in the fictional Middle Eastern kingdom of Agrabah. The narrator is our first impression of this land, and one of the first lines in his opening song is: “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” This sense of barbarity continues later on in the movie when a marketplace vendor nearly chops off Jasmine’s hand for stealing an apple. Not exactly painting a positive cultural image.

Although they are Middle Eastern characters, both Aladdin and Jasmine have typically Caucasian features, other than their hair and skin color. Which characters do have the stereotypical Middle Eastern features? Jafar, Gazeem (the “humble thief” who gets eaten by the Cave of Wonders in the beginning of the movie), the palace guards, the narrator, & various background characters. In other words: villains and side characters.

Also be aware that almost every name is mispronounced. I grew up pronouncing Allah incorrectly, which in certain company can be upsetting and offensive. I didn’t even know that Aladdin and Jasmine had their name pronunciations butchered until I watched the movie with a friend of mine who speaks Hindi as her first language.

In short, if someone tells you Disney doesn’t whitewash, because they didn’t make Jasmine into Jessica, you can show them the realistic depictions of the princess whose name should be pronounced “Jaz-meen.”

historically accurate Jasmine - model

image courtesy of

historically accurate Jasmine - drawing

historically accurate Jasmine courtesy of deviantart user Wickfield

Of course, Jasmine’s role in the movie is what you’ll want to focus on when discussing Aladdin with your kids. And Jasmine’s role and experiences would have been very different had the creators chosen to follow realistic cultural values. We’ll assume the movie takes place around the beginning of Islam because they reference Allah, and Jasmine is allowed a say in who she marries – just a bit later in history her consent would not have been required for her marriage. Suitors come to her, and she has the power to tell her father that she will not marry them. When Jafar suggests to the Sultan that he should choose for his daughter, the Sultan argues that she didn’t like any of those suitors and he can’t pick someone she doesn’t like.

But this time period also means that Jasmine would most likely be one of four wives. Depending on her husband’s opinion of her, she might still be considered a “queen,” but probably not one with much power.

Instead, Jasmine is the heir to the throne in her own right. Her husband will become Sultan through her. She is the one with the power.

Jasmine is well aware of this power she has. We see this when she tells Jafar that the one good thing that will come of her being forced to marry is that “when [she] is queen, [she] will have the power to get rid of” him.

Yet when Jasmine overhears her father, Jafar, and Aladdin talking behind her back about who she will marry, she tells them off. She is indignant, and she is not afraid to let them know it. And rather than berating her for speaking in their presence, the men are actually ashamed of their behavior when she calls them on it. (Well, not Jafar, but he’s the bad guy! I mean, Jafar also says that being speechless is “a fine quality in a wife.” Make sure to point out to your kids that there’s a reason it’s the bad guy saying that!)

Jasmine’s reaction in this scene is what to emphasize with your children when you watch Aladdin together – not just your daughters either. Jasmine’s expectation of how she deserves to be treated is how all children should learn to treat people. And the crazy thing is, the words Jasmine uses directly contradict what a realistic society of the time would not question: “I am not a prize to be won.”

Honesty is an Editor’s Best Policy

With the new Star Wars coming out next week, some friends and I decided to do a marathon. Starting with The Phantom Menace and ending with Return of the Jedi, we’ve been watching one movie per week until The Force Awakens.


We were all ecstatic when we completed the most difficult part of this marathon: the prequel trilogy. Phew! It was all downhill from there!


Watching those prequels got my husband and I to wondering, How? How in the world did those movies get made? How did those special effects pass for acceptable? Better yet, how did the scripts even make it through the editing process in the first place?


My husband had a great insight into the answer to these questions: The Star Wars prequels are simply a demonstration of what happens when nobody tells the writer, “No.”


Before The Phantom Menace, George Lucas could do no wrong in the eyes of many of his fans. (In hindsight, the rerelease of the original trilogy with “upgraded” special effects should’ve tipped us off.) People were actually excited for the new trilogy.


No one wanted to tell George Lucas he should hire someone else to write the romance between Padmé and Anakin. No one wanted to tell him he was going overboard with the special effects. No one wanted to tell him Jar Jar Binks was a terrible idea.


That is, until The Phantom Menace came out. Then, suddenly, they couldn’t wait to tear George Lucas to shreds. Even his most devout fans have lost faith in the once-great George Lucas, and they rejoice in the fact that he no longer has control over the franchise.


Of course, this (often not-so-constructive) criticism came far too late. As much as we would like to pretend they never happened at all, we must now live in a world in which the Star Wars prequel trilogy exists.


Therefore, the lesson to be learned from the catastrophe that is Episodes I, II, and III, is the extreme importance of editing and getting honest feedback before signing off on a completed work. Whether you’re a rookie author writing your first short story or a big time Hollywood director expanding your pet nerd-verse, you’re going to need to revise your drafts multiple times. Get over it.


So when your newest project is fresh off the printer, don’t rely on your best friend, significant other, or mother to give you constructive criticism. Get an unbiased opinion. Hire a professional editor (I’m available, btw) who won’t treat you like a diva. You don’t need to be babied – you need to become better at your artform.


Once you have that editor, don’t take their critiques personally. They’re not trying to hurt your feelings. They’re trying to strengthen your writing. Remember that when you’re mourning the Story That Was. Know when to keep your own voice, and when to make changes.


And for goodness sakes, know when to cut that annoying, racist, poorly-CGI’d character out of the story entirely!