Monday, July 13, 2009

The big questions

Today I was asked, by my boss of all people, where I wanted to be in five years' time. My response was "you sound like my Mum." Not the most mature, but a standard act of deflection.

Still, he persisted. I didn't honestly have an answer. I realise that the most suave response might well have been to rattle off a description of ambitious yet realistic achievements describing the perfect mid-thirties existence, as described by Sunday Life (don't even get me started on the new format: "how to: get a flat stomach, how to: iron a shirt - Blergh!) but just couldn't visualise it.

My mother, an otherwise resoundingly pragmatic woman, is unfortunately a big believer in 'positive energy' and 'visualising goals' blah blah blah. Admittedly she is mega-successful, but I attribute that more to her 5am starts than the Deepak Chopra cassettes she keeps in the car. She has rabbited on to me in the past about how I need to be able to articulate the future I want for myself - apparently then it will just magically happen.

I, however, have a different strategy. My strategy is all journey, no destination, admittedly. I figure that as long as I make decisions that are the best thing for me at that point in time (not in a ridiculous, not-factoring-in-consequences way) then wherever I end up is where I'm meant to be. So, decisions like: go back to uni, take this job, go out with him, go on that holiday, all get made simply by asking: "Is this the best/right thing for me to be doing?". And if the answer is yes, then so be it. So I can't possibly know where they'll lead me. Let's face it, the best laid plans of mice and men and so on don't guarantee anything. And if you ask me next year where I want to be in 5 years time, you'll probably get a different answer to the one I'd give you today.

My mother has observed me with a not-so-well-hidden skepticism as I've doggedly meandered through my 20s in this fashion, every so often coming out with "but surely working in a cafe isn't the best thing you could be doing" and "the magazine is doing very well but what about your degrees?" and so on. And it was with some equally ill-contained pleasure that I pointed out to her a few months ago that my mazy path has lead me to somewhere I'm happy to be (and she is equally pleased about), AND I've managed to be content pretty much every step of the way.

In some ways this will seem contradictory, because I am regularly accused of being and over-planner. My response to this would be that I like to over-plan on the short-term, and thus anticipate that the long-term will just take care of itself. My long-term plan is made up of my short-term plans. Rather than my short-term plans being decided by my long-term plans. Rightly or wrongly. All means, no end. In case you hadn't worked it out yet, I have basically no assets. But I do drink nice wine.

So, no, I don't know where I'll be in five years' time. I don't know where I'll be in one year's time. I do, however, know what I'll have for breakfast tomorrow. I worked that out on Sunday when I spent my last $20 for the week. And that's a good start.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Disney Princesses: A half-arsed feminist analyis

So, the other night, I was unable to sleep, and so I did that which I'd been lamely threatening to do for some time: I sat up and watched Beauty and the Beast on YouTube. Someone has kindly uploaded the film in nine chapters (and chapter nine is just final credits).

It was awesome. The only downside was that it was 1am and I felt it would be unneighbourly to my aurally long-suffering housemates to sing along to the Gaston song with all the gusto it assuredly deserves. I just mouthed the words and grinned and slapped my thigh a lot. And I pretended that cartoon Gaston was real life Hugh Jackman. Which is a totally normal thing to do by the way.

And, I also cried - not least because I was too stressed out to sleep. But also because of how awesome Belle is, and how her love prevailed against the odds. The odds being the beastliness of her paramour, ostracism from her entire world and some pretty severe past wrongs done to her by Mr Beasty.

Anyhoo, all of this is tangential to what I actually wanted to write about, which is how the Disney Princesses of the 1990s - particularly The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, all offer at least one glimmer of positive role-modelness for little girls. And by little girls, I mean me as a little girl, mostly.

You see, I was never especially girly. I always dirty, shouty, and quick to resist any hint of gender inequality. Anything boys could do I could do better, or at least do without having to wear a ridiculous dress. So it's interesting that I loved these movies so much when they came out.

Admittedly, I am one for a bit of a song and dance. But I would still loathe the dancers if they were in any way weak or pathetic (I give you exhibit A - Sandy from Grease). And admittedly, Disney princesses all end up with their men, who save them dramatically at least once a film. So let's not get carried away with the whole Disney as advocate for women's rights or anything.

But, let's recall that watching these movies I was a young and extremely curious and restless child living in the suburban no-mans-land which is Heathmont. That's the Heathmont that's between Ringwood and Bayswater. Heathmont, where your schoolmates grow to marry your other schoolmates and progenate young because they all belong to the happy-clappy church and they purchase houses a few streets from their parents house and the whole thing goes on again.

The thing that resonated most for me with these doe-eyed protagonists was that each of them wanted to escape! Escape the expectations of their family, or community or peers. And they wanted to escape beyond the horizons of their current world to discover new opportunities for themselves.

The development of this idea throughout the three movies is quite interesting to me as well. Ariel simply wants to be away from what she knows, and is inspired by her love for a handsome man from the world beyond the ocean. She finds her fulfilment by stepping into the shoes of a beautiful princess, and it is very much her beauty that gets her there (given that she essentially woos the Prince without her voice).

Belle more actively rejects the future proffered by life in a provincial town, where she would be expected to abandon her intellectual pursuits in order to find fulfilment as the wife of a brutish oaf, the ridiculously bulbous Gaston. Despite an eccentric father, Belle feels constrained by the world at large, and finds her happiness through a prince, yes, but not a handsome one. Belle is easily my favourite of the three because the catalyst of her adventure and ultimate happiness is not her beauty, but her bravery, kindness and character. It is these traits that pave the way for her to wind up in a fairytale castle with the finally handsome prince.

Princess Jasmine has the slightly different predicament of being trapped inside the palace - and she simply longs to get beyond the palace walls where she perceives a greater freedom (although the price of that freedom is poverty). Rather than leaving her world to run off and become a pauper's wife in order to keep her happiness with her beloved (I would LOVE to see Disney sell that one!) she manages to change her world in order to enable her happiness within it. Good work Jasmine!

So anyhoo, that is a small insight into why I love Disney movies. That and the songs.