Compare and Contrast: Elsa and Cinderella

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Cinderella gets a really bad rap nowadays. I think a lot of it is due to how she’s marketed, where there’s more of a focus on her being pretty and feminine over any actual personality or talent she has. When people, particularly feminists, bring up everything wrong with Disney, she is usually the character they refer to.

When people bring up a Disney princess who they think is ‘feminist’, for the longest time they turned to Elsa from Frozen (and I’m guessing they still do, since Moana hasn’t nearly gotten the amount of praise Elsa has).

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I think it’s getting to the point where Elsa might be ousting Cinderella’s place as the most iconic Disney Princess. To a lot of people, Elsa is the modern woman, whereas Cinderella is the outdated doormat.

After looking at more analyses of Cinderella’s character, I can’t help but want to compare/contrast the two. In some ways, Elsa feels like a reboot of Cinderella, down to the similar palette and glitter. But, for me at least, it doesn’t work out too well.

So, with all that said, let’s take a look.

THE CHARACTER AND COSTUME DESIGN

Take a closer look at the above designs. You can tell that Cinderella is a young woman, but also physically mature. She has a face and body appropriate for a woman in her late teens or early twenties. She may be skinny, sure, but for the most part she’s realistically proportioned (her eyes don’t take up half of her face).

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And this is Elsa:

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Does this look like someone who’s 21 to you? Let alone a character who’s supposed to have the title of Queen? The body is about right, but the huge eyes and large, rounded face make her look really babyish.

Why does this matter? Well, at each point in their movies, Cinderella and Elsa get to wear their iconic dresses that represent their freedoms.

When Cinderella puts on her dress, she looks well and truly like a princess: stunning, serene, elegant, mature, respectable. Her outfit flatters her shape without being too sexualized, which is appropriate, since Cinderella is not very sexual. When she wears this outfit, it shows that Cinderella now looks and feels beautiful and important. It’s also appropriate for the occasion: she’s going to a royal ball where she’ll meet her true love. She has the appearance of a mature woman who is finally going to have a good time.

Now take a look at Elsa’s ice dress. Does that really look like the dress a youthful looking 21 year old who has been depressed all her life, is not sexual, and never really indicated that she liked the queenly life would wear if she wanted to be totally free and live in the mountains? That outfit looks more like something an older woman would wear at a very formal event, given how narrow and impractical it is. I get you want to show that Elsa is now a Snow Queen instead of an Arendelle Queen, but wouldn’t loose, flowing robes and bare feet make more sense? Show that she’s now comfortable and free? It’s pretty obvious the dress was designed more for audience appeal than to show Elsa’s character development.

HOW THEY BOTH HANDLE ABUSE AND ISOLATION

Both characters suffer from this. Cinderella’s parents died at an early age, and she was forced to live under the control of her Evil Stepmother, and only had animals for help and companionship. Elsa was raised to be scared of her powers (and herself) by her parents. They’re both pretty much cut off from the outside world. This is where most feminists would claim that Elsa is more feminist because while Elsa seeks to change her situation, Cinderella “waits around for a man to save her” (their words, not mine). But…that’s not accurate.

See, Cinderella is cut off because she’s a young, unmarried woman with no real status and no money. If she tried to run away…where do you think she’s going to go? Beg on the streets? Work as a maid somewhere else? Sure, Elsa runs away, but she ends up going all the way to the mountains, with no food or resources (and the movie shows that if someone wants to go after her, they can and will). For all the praise Elsa gets for being Strong and Independent, she spends most of the movie scared and crying. Which…yeah, is a valid reaction after being isolated for so long, but the problem is that she really makes no means to save herself or try to be a better person. She freezes her sister’s heart and makes no attempt to help her or ask if she’s okay, doesn’t even try to unfreeze the kingdom, and ends up deferring to her sister (who pushed her to run away in the first place).

Like, I wouldn’t mind if people were saying that Elsa proves it’s okay for people to need help, but people are saying Elsa is oh so badass and powerful and strong but she’s really not.

Oh, but you say, how is Cinderella any better?

Well, the thing about Cinderella is that even though she’s abused and alone, she does her best to not let it get to her. She may be sassy and sarcastic, but she’s never mean and doesn’t hurt people or animals, not even those that may wrong her. She is soft, kind hearted and optimistic, knowing that she will be free from her abusive situation (NOT that a man will come save her) if her patience and goodness pays off. She ultimately gets rewarded this with a trip to the ball. She has her moments of weakness, but at the end, she is able to save herself: she works together with her animal friends to escape the locked room and proves she is the girl the Prince danced with by showing the other glass slipper. She PERSEVERES despite all odds. Whereas Elsa melts down at the slightest form of adversity.

For those who still need convincing, please watch this excellent and informative video by ScreenPrism below:

CONCLUSION

At the risk of gaining the ire at other feminists, I would much rather have little girls look up to Cinderella than to Elsa. Cinderella is better designed, is a kinder person, and shows girls that they can make it through even the worst situations and that they’re not totally helpless. While Elsa, on the surface, looks like she’s meant to correct Cinderella’s supposed wrongs by being more active, she ends up being less strong because she gives up easily, ends up putting all her support on her sister, and ends up (intentionally or not) hurting others without properly making up for it.

While I admit that I’m not a HUGE fan of Cinderella, she really is so much better than people give her credit for. She’s not perfect, of course, but for people to dismiss her as a weak doormat while turning around to praise Elsa even though she can also be weak is unfair.

Is there a Disney Princess that is perfectly feminist? No, of course not. But just because Cinderella has a Prince Charming and no fighting skills doesn’t make her any lesser than someone who gets a lot of hype mostly for being single.

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Compare and Contrast: The Judas Contract and Child Sexual Abuse

TRIGGER WARNING

One of the most famous (and infamous) DC comics storyline is The Judas Contract, originally published in 1984 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez for the New Teen Titans. The arc goes into the backstory of Deathstroke the Terminator (Slade) and the introduction to new characters. The most notable addition includes Terra, a teenage girl with incredible Earth powers who ends up betraying the other Titans…and being in a sexual relationship with Slade. At the time, her being in this relationship cemented her status as being unlikable and a villain.

Since standards have changed significantly since the 1980’s, but Terra’s relationship with Slade is a crucial part of her character, how do you portray it in modern times? Well, there are two ways to do it, as demonstrated in the Teen Titans 2003 animated series and the recent direct to DVD Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.

In the former, the relationship between Slade and Terra is strongly implied, but not shown. It will fly over most kids heads, but adults (and people who have read the original comic) will know that Slade is indeed sexually abusing her in addition to physically and emotionally so. It’s clear that he sees her more than just a tool: he wants her to be his and his alone (and all that implies). But the show explicitly CONDEMNS this relationship. Whenever the two characters are onscreen it is made to be creepy, unnerving, and repulsive.

What makes this work is that Terra herself is a nuanced character. While she’s not exactly my fave character, we know that she’s scared, confused, and lost, and Slade took advantage of her. You see that she genuinely likes the Titans and does want to do the right thing, but Slade led her astray. Ultimately, she’s able to fight back against her abuser and saves the day. Of course this ending is brought into question in the very last episode, but the point is, this version of The Judas Contract expertly and respectfully handles this controversial subject matter.

The new 2017 movie does…not.

What struck me out when I watched this movie was just how…unlikable Terra was. Like she makes it really apparent that she has no respect for the heroes that took her in. It’s only when they throw her a surprise party when she suddenly starts caring for them and having second thoughts. Slade (her abuser) is given more sympathy since he talks about how hard he had it young and had to fight to get where he is now and is shown saving Terra’s life. Even the ending, when she finally fights back against him, portrays him in a tragic light.

But what really horrified me was a particularly lurid scene where Terra gets dolled up and dressed down into lingerie, walks seductively, and cuddles up to him.

The comments are even worse. Some people rightfully point out that this is pedophilic, but then there are people in the comments who are defending this, saying that SHE’S the one who’s trying to initiate the sexual relationship, that she’s a slut, that this is supposed to look like a student/teacher crush, that Slade is not taking advantage of her…like, no???? Why are they literally SEXUALIZING a fucking MINOR in an abusive relationship?

The problem with sexualizing Terra like this is because these types of representations can lead to young girls getting sexually assaulted and raped in real life. Sometimes abusers will use sexualized pictures and art of young girls (such as cartoon characters or even photoshopped pictures of real celebrities) to groom their victims. Where do you think the mentality of “she asked for it/she wanted it” when a young girl gets raped and no one takes her seriously comes from? Maybe this would’ve been fine if Slade specifically said “no, Terra, it’s not going to be like that, now go put your clothes back on”, but even if he doesn’t take advantage of her now, he’s still leading her on. It’s gross and it’s not right.

What makes this so jarring is that the relationship between Dick (Nightwing) and Kory (Starfire), a healthy relationship, is handled naturally, realistically, and beautifully. Yet the writers turn around and make a minor in an abusive relationship unlikable and sexualized?

If you’re going to show a relationship like this, you need to do it with tact and grace, because otherwise you can send the wrong message. And in our current world where young girls are sexualized, women are infantilized, and sexual assault is often blamed on the victim, maybe you’re sending a bad message when your audience thinks the sexualized minor is the one in the wrong here.

Compare and Contrast: DC Animated Sex Scenes

While we’re all fighting over how good or bad the live action DC Extended Universe are, I would like to take a moment to remind people that a DC animated movie series exists.

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These are direct-to-video, hand drawn animated films, usually based on popular comic storylines, and they tend to vary in quality. Some of them are really great, others…not so much. And I think right now two animated movies are very relevant: Batman: The Killing Joke (the newest offering) and Batman: Assault on Arkham (which is basically the ORIGINAL Suicide Squad movie).

Batman: Assault on Arkham is amazing. It’s just as good–if not better–than most Hollywood blockbusters out right now. It’s genuinely exciting and compelling, with a plot that’s layered but not too complicated, characters you actually like and feel sorry for, and it’s graphic without being overly gratuitous. Batman: The Killing Joke is…pretty bad. The main reason for this is because it chooses to have a long prologue dedicated to Barbara Gordon, which makes her out to be an insecure, sexually frustrated young woman who loses more than she wins, and does make her own choice to retire…only to get shot, paralyzed, and assaulted later.

But I think the main thing that illustrates what makes Arkham great and Killing Joke not is how they deal with the sex scenes regarding the main female characters, Barbara and Harley Quinn.

This is the sex scene between Batgirl and…Batman. You know, the man who is much older than her and is supposed to be a father figure. And who she’s never had a real romantic or sexual relationship with in the comics (she had one with the first Robin). Throughout the scene, she is extremely angry at him, and he makes it clear that he doesn’t see her as an equal. She fights him and pins him down in anger…and awkwardly kisses him. They embrace, and she takes her clothes off and we get an offscreen sex scene. On a public rooftop. Where someone could see them. Oh yeah. *Insert erotic music here*

(Image via Time.com)

It doesn’t look like either character is truly enjoying it. It also feels like it comes out of nowhere. Why are these two having sex? Why don’t they look like they’re into it? Apparently it’s to make us feel more sorry for Barbara when she gets shot, but it just makes the situation infinitely worse, especially since their relationship only gets more awkward from there.

See, The Killing Joke is an INTENSELY misogynistic story (to the point where Alan Moore, the original writer, disowned it). Not only is the Joker’s main reason for going insane the (offscreen) death of his wife and unborn child (yay for fridging women!), but the treatment of Barbara is disgusting. She only appears two times: once, when she’s at home and shot (and there’s even a pause between when she sees Joker and when she gets shot, she doesn’t even fight back) and again when she’s in the hospital, frightened and paralyzed. And we never see her again. The movie tries to remedy this by giving her an extended role, but rather than humanizing Barbara by expanding on her relationship with her father (which would’ve made her paralyzation actually tragic), the movie focuses almost entirely on her sexuality, having her lust after characters and characters lusting after her (which causes her to nearly go over the edge and kill someone, after which she decides to retire), thus making what happens to her all the more insulting. It reinforces Barbara as a body, not a person, and as a plot device, not a character. Course, that might have to to with the fact that the writers and producers are literally ALL MEN, but hey, the glass ceiling is thick.

Honestly? If the movie wanted to be respectful to Barbara, they should’ve written her out entirely. You don’t have to add any of this. Just have Joker kidnap Commission Gordon and try to drive him insane with all the horrors of the world. Focus more on the dynamics of Batman and the Joker. You don’t need to bring Barbara into this mess.

By contrast, here’s a sex scene between Harley Quinn and Deadshot in Arkham:

Look how into it they both are. Harley has found someone to move on from the Joker, and Deadshot has found a companion. It’s also very quick and contained. Both partners are willing and enthusiastic. And later, you see them have a steady relationship, where they both look out for one another and work together. And Harley Quinn isn’t objectified one bit; here, she owns her sexuality, and has her own character, and is important throughout the movie (and we don’t need to have her defiled)! She even helps save the day in the end! And it’s important to note that there are also two other women (Killer Frost and Amanda Waller) who have their own character development and role in the story (unlike Barbara, who was the only woman in her movie and had a lot to bear).

In short, how a female character expresses herself sexually can tell a great deal of what her character is like and how the narrative treats her. And considering how a lot of superhero movies are struggling with how they represent their female characters, these two movies can be used as lessons on what to do and what NOT to do in handling them.