Friday, April 25, 2014

Tinker Bell and I: How the "feminist" label has constricted me more severely than a corset

Perusing the Disney Store at Downtown Disney, Anaheim, I could not understand why there were so many Tinker Bell items. Infamously known as a die-hard Disney fan, I have never sympathized with Tink. A hot-headed, green-eyed, dainty pixie, she represented all of the things I loved, however she was just so irritating and vile. My mother, like most Disney lovers, adored Tink. For the past week, "the making" and "behind-the-scenes" videos of various Disney classics have streamed through my YouTube playlist. After quite some time, I finally reached one on Peter Pan. 

Just a sidekick? I don't think so.

Instead of putting the spotlight on Peter, the movie focused on Tink, as this strong modern woman. Apparently, she forayed a new series of leading ladies, from curious Ariel and intelligent Belle. Living in Never-never Land, a realm without rules or social norms on how to be a woman, allowed Tink to flourish into a feminist symbol. She, herself, might just be a feminist. Despite her tiny figure and harmless exterior, Tink is an independent and outspoken character. Following the success of Peter Pan, she went on to become the "gatekeeper" of Disney's legacy and consequently, a mascot for all things magical.

As someone who has been classified as a feminist by her nearest and dearest, but has yet to officially taken on such identity, I wonder why I have never warmed up to Tink. Whilst watching the making of Pixar's Brave, I instantly fell in love with its protagonist, Merida. Unlike Tink, Merida struggled to express her feminism. She fought with her mother and even had to win her own hand in marriage. Tink, on the other hand, lived in a world where, perhaps, many feminists would dream of, a world without societal structures on gender performativity. 

If Merida won't oblige, Maleficent might do, as well

Maybe, everything has to do with the one emotion that Tink has never been able to hide: jealousy. I have been envious of Tink for her home is one that contrasts mine. Although, my surrounding isn't as bad as Merida's, it's still pretty constrictive. I have to fight for my rights, debate almost every lad I meet and bear with the conflicting label of "feminism", which my friends have taken the liberty to plaster me with. In the movie and the play, Tink was not prosecuted for her tendency to break social expectations of femininity. She is, in actuality, feminine in nature. Furthermore, her "mighty pretty" looks seems to conceal her feistiness. 

In contrast, Merida was compelled to change her looks and play the part of a woman. In Brave, she was caged in and forced to follow social rules. The wit that got her out of these social catastrophes might not help her find a husband or build a family that support her brazen nature. Thankfully, she does not seem to want a husband or children, at least not within the time frame of the film. 

As I end this article, one that was supposed to commemorate one year of, I feel rather morally puzzled. What makes a woman? Why am I so turned off by the word "feminism"? How has Disney and other parts of Pop culture shaped our ideas of gender? And how do we play a role in molding future characters and symbols? Your comment has never been more important than ever, please scroll down and leave a comment or two. 

P.S. Thank you for the support that you have provided for Without it this would just be a less meaningful scratch on the surface of the Internet. Terima kasih.

*All photos were supplied by the writer


  1. i'm interested in how feminism is a conflicting label for you. if feminism seeks political, economic, and social equality for women, why is it a turn off? since women around the world are still seeking such things, why on earth would being labeled a feminist be problematic and why would you not embrace such a label regardless of gender! if you're concerned with the negative connotations 'feminism' has (which i believe are generated by rather ignorant people) - maybe you should examine further the people promoting any prejudice against feminism and what it says about their values instead. just a thought! feminism, to me, is pro-women/pro-women's rights... and then of course there are different strands that try to achieve their goals in different ways.

    1. Thank you for your comment. First of all, I believe that feminism should be a self chosen label. Each individual has the right to choose the labels that are placed on them. I have been playing with the idea of calling myself a feminist and taking on characteristics of a feminist for the past year.

      What I am speaking about in the article above is how other people, primarily my friends in Indonesia, are labeling me a feminist. The very nature of imposing a stamp on other people goes against the grain of feminism. It allows others, especially amongst my friends and social group in Jakarta, Indonesia, to ignore my arguments, be it on gender equality or gender performativity. Basically, by granting others the privilege to define me, I am giving them the ability to undermine my thoughts and contributions.

      As you have said, feminism comes in many forms. Where I come from, feminists are seen as brash, uneducated women who blame men. Feminists are perceived to lack little or zero sympathy with stay at home mothers. More severely, feminists are expected to only champion female world domination and not gender equality.

      The context and the aim of the article above are pertinent elements to understand my experience. I hope that helps clarify some questions that you may have. Thank you for reading the article and commenting. Best wishes.

  2. As the above commenter mentioned, perhaps you need to look closer at the people who think feminists are "brash, uneducated women who blame men. Feminists are perceived to lack little or zero sympathy with stay at home mothers." Perhaps the problem isn't feminism, but rather that these people are threatened by a woman who asserts herself and does not want to perform the version of femininity that is seen as the norm.

    I like the perspective you've given on Tink. But I think that while Never-never land is in some ways free of societal rules, it does reinforce gender roles of the adult/real world. Wendy performs the traditional gender role of ideal femininity/motherhood and is the one that Peter picks. Tink and Tiger Lily the two other female characters who subvert the socially accepted gender roles (and one of whom happens to be non-white) are not seen as desirable as Peter's mate.

    1. Yes, I agree that there is a personal need for me to examine these "people" that we are currently speaking of. In addition to their own insecurities, I think that the very idea of feminism is often misrepresented in Indonesia. Perhaps, that is why many have a skewed idea of what feminists are and what the feminist movement stands for.

      With regards to your second point, I would argue that Peter is not the center of Never-never land. He is the protagonist in the play and a strong character in Never-never land, itself. However, it is popularly believed that Never-never land has little or no rules, that is why it is an ideal place. Again, no rules does not actually mean no rules.

      Based on the assumption that Tink places Peter at the center of her world, I agree with you. In order to get what she wants, which is Peter, she struggles to show her true colors or she needs to modify her behavior to fit Peter's desires, as well. This shows that gender performativity relies on our goals and the parameters that we stay within.