Enchanted, directed by Kevin Lima, is a Disney Princess movie for a post-feminist generation, in which the little girls still love their princesses but mom and dad want positive female role models for their daughters. What is an international multimedia conglomerate to do? “It's only a movie!” they say. “it's just for fun, so sit back and enjoy the ride!” But setting aside the fact that there may potentially be an Enchanted ride in Disney's future, there's something sticking in one’s craw about the movie. This paper, by referring to Kevin Lima’s Enchanted along with Karlyn Khors Campbell’s Book Series Man Cannot Speak For Her and Barbara Findlen’s modern views on feminism, analyzes the representation of womanhood in these works as argued by the feminists and women-supporters of the contemporary era.
Yes, it's kind of entertaining in its way, with the wide-eyed charm of Amy Adams and lively supporting work from James Marsden and the ever-reliable Timothy Spall. But in an attempt to appeal to the princess-loving girls and appease their parents, the message at the heart of Enchanted becomes so muddled that it's hard not to doubt its sincerity. The filmmakers are at great pains to paint Princess Giselle as a strong young woman, even picking up a sword at the end to help save the day and ensure a happy ending, but the truth is that this is still the story of a girl who just wants to find true love and falls (1) at the drop of a hat for a prince that just so happens to catch her as she falls from a tree, and (2) for the first guy in New York City who shows any kindness whatsoever, who just happens to be a single dad played by hunky Patrick Dempsey.
On top of that, there's an dangerous undercurrent of little-girl wish fulfillment here, in which problems can be solved by singing a happy song, or worse, by stealing daddy's credit card and shopping until you drop. There's an early scene in the film in which Dempsey gives a book about accomplished women throughout history to his clearly uninterested daughter- the same little girl who falls for Giselle soon thereafter. The camera lingers on the photographs in the book- Rosa Parks, Marie Curie- clearly underlining how old and plain-looking they are. Is Disney trying to teach children that the only women worth admiring are young and pretty? Also, the evil queen Narissa spends almost all her time decked out in a black getup- when she isn't disguised as an old hag or transformed into a dragon.
To continue, as illustrated by the work of Campbell, Man Cannot Speak For Her other women were beginning to come to the same conclusion as Stanton – the feminist and women rights activist – because almost two-thirds of all divorces were granted to women in 1860, and the proportion began to rise. However, regardless of the widespread evidence of many women’s desire for easier divorce, legislative change was slow. As Elizabeth Pleck, a historian of family violence points out, the more radical the feminists’ critique of the family underlying their specific legislative proposals, the lower was the chance of passing them (23-26).
Throughout the pages of the proceedings of the woman’s rights conventions are numerous stories of abuses of women in marriage, their having their children stolen from them, losing their wages and property, and suffering violence at the hands of their husbands (Campbell 45-48).
Stanton argued with those who believed that legal divorce should be possible under some few conditions, but moral divorce could never occur. Such people, as illustrated in Man Cannot Speak For Her set forth quasi-religious views of what moral behavior in marriage should be (Campbell 71, 74, 77). Stanton argued with those who believed that marriage was an indissoluble union entailing lifelong moral obligations. Stanton wanted to hold men to a more rigid responsibility in marriage for women’s benefit (Pleck 45-47).
Stanton grounded her views in individualism. She claimed that her awareness of the problem of abusive marriages stemmed from the sufferings of a friend of her girlhood. Her own discontent had come from the burdens of increased housework and child care. Her lack of power over her reproductive life increased her sense of subordination and contributed to the centrality of the birth control message in her feminist theory (Campbell 90). Stanton continued her campaign for easier divorce by addressing the New York Senate Judiciary Committee in support of pending divorce legislation, but the slavery question drowned out other concerns. In 1871 she gave a speech on marriage and motherhood in San Francisco and urged that a woman must be at all times sovereign of her own body. Stanton took pains to reassure an uncertain public that easier divorce and abolition of a double sexual standard would not, ultimately, destabilize society but would strengthen it
Through a marriage of equals both men and women would benefit. Stanton stated that because of the sacredness and responsibility of motherhood, women must be educated, have political rights, and be in control of their own destinies (Campbell 94). Although Stanton pressed for radical changes, most of the early feminists did not challenge the institution of marriage itself, but they were concerned with other family issues like property rights and child custody (Pleck 45-47). Most nineteenth-century women apparently were content to exert their power covertly within the home or felt that they had few alternatives. Within the family sphere men’s legal, traditional authority was vulnerable to psychological warfare and could be subverted by the men’s affection or by their wives’ clever manipulation. Ultimately, Stanton, just like the other early feminists, was dissatisfied with manipulation and weakness as sources of power. She argued for openness between the sexes and a balance of power for men and women. In order to achieve this more balanced relationship, she promoted the study of physiological science and spoke frankly about the body itself.
One should note that third wave feminism’s detachment from girls operates by assuming that feminists are formed in the experiences of women rather than girls. Feminism’s investment in its own maintenance remains antagonistic to transformations that do not promise to reproduce it, and the desire to reproduce the same within feminism remains a block on an active feminist politics.
Consequent to this antagonism, third wave feminism not only often alienates young women but also helps to confine feminine adolescence to a chronological period limited by various utilitarian criteria. In this context it is crucial to also consider the particularity of girls in forms of popular feminism that are distinguished from and sometimes opposed to feminist theory defined by academic practices.
Paradoxically, this position is available to many feminist writers, including for example Barbara Findlen’s collection Listen Up. Findlen’s Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation, a collection of essays by young feminists that is also sponsored by a wider feminist community through Ms. magazine, addresses feminine adolescence as the autobiographical context for the development of feminist consciousness and dominantly maps that development as becoming unlike average girls. Several of the essays stress the importance of communicating with non-feminist women and girls, but even these stories stress the young feminist’s difference from other girls. While these voices outline debates within feminism, notably over race and sexuality, they are, as the introduction states, “not ‘daughters’ belling against the old-style politics of their mothers,” but young feminists who “cite the writings and actions of older feminists as an integral part of their own development and beliefs” (Findlen xv). All the stories are narratives of developing independence, not only toward feminism but, mostly, away from being a girl.
Once, Abra Fortune Chernik writes in Listen Up, she had “dismissed feminist alternatives as foreign and offensive” as she had “insisted on the title of ‘girl’ ” rather than woman (Qtd in Findlen 76). Girls are assumed to be mainstream, and if the feminist revolution is not evident there, as another girl in Listen Up writes, that might be “a good sign. As soon as mainstream culture picks up on it, they’ll try to co-opt it” (Findlen 86). While there are suggestions here that feminism does not have all the answers— telling a girl to “throw away her tight jeans” might be neither astute nor successful (Findlen 118), for example—becoming feminist remains the project of all these girls, which is why they are included at all.
The gulf presumed to lie between girls and feminism is equally apparent in the much debated field of post-feminist publishing. Writers such as Roiphe want to derail certain versions of feminism by addressing girls before they become feminists—once they are feminists (of the wrong kind) they are lost to a more progressive position by the all-encompassing blindness of the bad versions of feminism.
Famous post-third wave feminist Rene Denfeld’s version of this method includes two types of feminists. The first is obsessed with sex, through either a desire to censor it (i.e., anti-porn/sex academics) or an attempt to focus feminism on it (i.e., lesbian separatists), while the second type focuses on what she sees as the real work of gender equality. These modern feminists—reformists, liberals, equity feminists—are opposed to the first group, whom she calls “the New Victorians” (Denfeld 34). Modern feminists support riot girl groups, as an example of the independent, assertive, and empowering attitude of many young women who are not only entering previously male-dominated fields (and rock music was certainly one), but are completely convinced they have every right to do so. Modern viewers see the riot girl as a sign of feminist action, if not a feminist movement. Riot girls, as well as young women’s participation in abortion-rights marches, show we are not apathetic (Denfeld 56).
Returning to Lima’s Enchanted, it seems destined to charm any young girl's heart with a potent elixir of princes and princesses, single dads and fun new moms, gold cards on Fifth Avenue and production numbers in Central Park. But for parents, at least, nothing preemptively breaks the spell like reading in a recent Wall Street Journal article of the pressure the company faces to keep its $4 billion princess franchise growing.
The princess thing is a rite of passage for every young girl, and for the moms and dads who must endure it. Poofy dresses, wands and tiaras are only the beginning; princess-making involves a plunge into retrograde role-play to make Simone de Beauvoir turn in her grave and send even the most indulgent of parents scrambling for a cootie shot. Granted, although the term “princessing” is relatively recent, the phenomenon itself is hardly new; little girls have demanded royal treatment since time immemorial. But the past few years have seen a dramatic increase in the bared-arms race with a full-bore marketing push by one of the world's most powerful entertainment brands, the very definition of asymmetrical warfare against those who would prefer more empowered role models for their daughters.
Into this dismal and distressing setting steps Giselle (Amy Adams), sweeter than honey and certified feminism-free. Cast as a mild send-up of the Disney classics, the animated opening of Enchanted is no Shrek; the saccharine singing and cuddly woodland creatures may have been dialed up from 10 to 11, but to an adult's cynical eye, what's more striking is how close the parodic apple has fallen to the tree (and yes, there will be poisoned apples in this one, too). At the same time, the characters are undeniably appealing — Giselle's suitor, the dashingly slow-witted Prince Edward (James Marsden); his duplicitous squire Nathaniel (Timothy Spall); Pip the chipmunk; not to mention Giselle herself. In fact, in the early going, quality of execution is much in the film's favor to belay a rush to judgment, if it's not already too late.
As a fantasy worthy of the mightiest think tank, Enchanted is both a full-dress Prince Charming fairy tale and a love letter to New York City. Thus, Giselle and Edward's newly minted love is quickly thwarted by evil stepmother Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who banishes the bride to a place with no happily-ever-afters: a gritty, live-action Times Square.
Battered by rudeness and rain, she stumbles through the night, the farthest from water a fish has been since Daryl Hannah in Splash, until finally and literally tumbling into the arms of Robert (Patrick Dempsy), a divorced divorce attorney who has dedicated his life to the eradication of romantic ideals from his own life and from the mind of his six-year-old daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey).
It's hardly a spoiler to reveal that the balance of the evening will be spent watching these two fall in love, with Prince Edward and Nathaniel bumbling in close pursuit, Queen Narissa cackling evilly and Pip and various other animals providing comic relief. What's more surprising is how well it all works, from the chemistry among the principals to numerous startling and funny sight gags to the dilemma posed by Robert's long-waiting girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel), whose fate to be left hanging seems incompatible with the promised happy ending. If Sarandon's climactic dragon turn is less Fantasia than perfunctory, there's still no denying the romance of the costumed ball atop the gothic Woolworth Building or the chills of the clock striking twelve.
Perfectly embodied by Adams, Giselle's otherworldly na?vet? and charm cast such a spell on those around her — New Yorkers, beasts and insects alike — that Robert, at her side in the center of the maelstrom, is increasingly displaced from his own thoroughly magic-free worldview. Functioning as a stand-in for every grumpy dad in the darkened seats, his resistance is irreparably undermined by an extended song-and-dance set piece in Central Park that sends the movie into delirious overdrive and rivals anything old Walt could have produced in his prime. Giselle's dogged romanticism breathes new life into every relationship she touches, from Robert's most acrimonious divorce case to his own stale partnership with Nancy to bench-sitting old men and women (and perhaps a few over-parented pairs in the theater as well).
So far, so sappy — but there's more to Enchanted than encomiums on the power of love. At the same time Giselle is reanimating Robert's damaged heart, her own is slowly growing in sophistication. Sparring in his Upper West Side apartment, she discovers that even a damsel in distress has both the right and the power to be assertive about her beliefs. As the two come together, she discovers that falling in love doesn't mean giving yourself over to the first guy with sapphire eyes who rides up the forest path. In a darker moment, she also begins to sense that not every fairy tale romance is destined for a happily ever after. Ultimately, Giselle discovers, as do we, that she may be a sap, but she's nobody's fool.
Yes, Enchanted is as princess-like as they come; the film even includes a shameless product placement for the kind of full-service princess boutique now offered at Disney World. But by the time the lights come up, the question must be asked: How evil a spell is this, really? Given the awesome marketing firepower directed at today's little consumers by brands from Barbie to Bratz, you could do worse than having your daughter indoctrinated to emulate Giselle.