Forget Moana. There Are Better Costumes.
The Moana costume lacks the romance of traditional fairytale heroines.
It’s almost Halloween, and it just wouldn’t be 2017 if there weren’t a related controversy: the Moana costume. Moana, who appears to be a Samoan princess, was the star of this year’s biggest Disney release.
Fellow Iron Lady Georgi Boorman has a great summary of the kerfuffle. First, progressive mothers objected to white girls wearing the dress because that would constitute cultural appropriation, which is most puzzling because the Disney heroine is not wearing an authentic Samoan costume to begin with (nor should she - Disney is not making a documentary).
Next, Bethany Mandel disapproved on the grounds that the costume is too revealing. It’s definitely skimpier than other princess get ups. Boorman doesn’t find the costume inappropriate, and I tend to agree with her. With minor caveats, I don’t have a problem with the outfit, which is basically a glorified swimsuit cover-up, showing too much because there isn’t (yet) anything to show. My sole objection to it is that it lacks romance.
Feminists on the socialist realism end of the feminist spectrum have been waging wars on princess movies for near half a century: princesses are too passive, princes are too charming, princesses are too nurturing (see animal friends), etc., etc. One of these “etc.’s” is the complaint that the gowns are too girly.
I remember reading an article by one dame who complained that the princesses are always represented in their ballgowns. Even the fierce Mulan, she pointed out, is inevitably pictured in her gown instead of in her armor. In short, there need to be more images of girls “doing things” because otherwise our daughters are in danger of growing up to be passive victims of patriarchy. This is a very literal reading, and the one that assumes that kids don’t have any imaginative depth.
Fairy tales and folk tales describe the journey of the hero or heroine from adolescence to marriage. In traditional male tales, the kinds that men tell to each other, young lads typically fight the male villains and get beautiful girls as their rewards. We no longer see a whole lot of that type of fairy tale on the big screen.
In female stories, transmitted from one woman to another, a lass usually fights a wicked witch or a stepmother and is rewarded with a Prince Charming. In recent decades, Disney has gone to town with the idea of the “active” female protagonist.
I suppose it’s a safe bet on their part, because who’s against an assertive girl, right? Of course in the process they removed incentives for boys to come along to watch cartoons with their sisters, but oh well, boys have their own movies.
Another unfortunate tendency of contemporary Disney is to strip films of romance. Traditionally, tales are soaked in the symbolism of romance. Sleeping Beauty brought back to life by a kiss is a metaphor for her falling in love for the first time, and her one true love is a knight in shining armor. We can’t have that anymore, apparently. Instead, princesses inexplicably fall for lovable buffoons — or are not ready for relationships (the last one is Pixar’s Brave). They get to prevail against the forces of darkness, but for what? Why is it necessary to de-emphasize the centrality of love in life?
There is a good reason why princesses wear sumptuous gowns, and it’s not because our society wants little girls to grow up to be submissive and superficial. Like a wedding dress, a princess’s gown represents the triumph of her romance, the completion of her rite of passage. Her final triumph over evil.
Our society is geared to teach little girls to be strong, grooming them to break through that glass ceiling of the claims adjustment industry. To not be waylaid by romance while achieving full salary parity. These goals are not exactly the stuff of fairy tales.
I haven’t seen the movie, but it appears to be based on a myth or legend, rather than a traditional fairytale. The departure from the marriage-friendly genre of fairytale is an interesting sign.
Our public education system, which is designed to foster cooperation in place of individualism, is antithetical to the heroism of myth and legend. Our daughters are predestined for managerial positions in corporations and non-profits.
When I look at Moana’s dress, I see a yuppie on vacation. There is no flight of fancy, no romance, no glory. Can we use more flowers, maybe? Add a few layers to her skirt? Make the length a bit more imposing?
If my daughter wished to dress as Moana, I wouldn’t object. I’d just feel sad, and I would wonder what I can do to show her that family is the most important thing in the world.