Karista’s Feminist Analysis of “Pocahontas”

I thought I would go ahead and continue Tyson’s discussion of how the “Disney Princess” movies fall under the category of being able to be discussed by a feminist critic. I do not really consider Pocahontas a Disney princess, but the movie falls in the same category as the others, like Cinderella, Snow White, etc. I thought the Pocahontas film showed even more characteristics of feminism than the traditional Disney princess movies.

I want to begin with discussing the degree of patriarchy in the film. First of all, Pocahontas is clearly oppressed because not only is she the “savage” (which I could relate to Postcolonial criticism, but staying on topic), but she is also seen as less educated and uncivilized to John Smith. She is also dressed in very revealing clothing compared to John Smith or any of the other colonizers. Not only is Pocahontas oppressed by the colonizers, but also her father and other men of her tribe. She is considered ignorant and naïve when she asks her father to listen to John Smith about not wanting to harm them. Do you really think that if Pocahontas had been a man that he would have been overlooked like that? Well, I think the outcome would have been different. Also, when Pocahontas’s father was worried for her safety she was not allowed to leave outside of their village unless another man was to accompany her.

In this film, gender roles of masculinity and femininity are very prevalent in the Indians and the colonizers. Women in the tribe, including Pocahontas, are supposed to collect corn, stay in the village, and remain quiet when men are speaking. Men on the other hand are allowed to give their opinions, hunt outside of the village, and have all the power. The chief of the tribe, Pocahontas’s father, is a man and Pocahontas’s mother is not even in the film at all. On the colonizer’s side there are only men, not women. Only men were allowed to discover the “new land”, women had to stay home to look after the children and hold down the house.

I was able to critique Pocahontas more with materialist feminism because I saw Pocahontas oppressed more physically and economically in the film, then I did psychoanalytically. Pocahontas wears very revealing clothing throughout the movie like I mentioned earlier. She is in a tube top that reveals her stomach, and wears a very short skirt that reveals all of her legs. It is not only Pocahontas, but all of the women in this movie are dressed provocatively. Whereas the men in the tribe do not have shirts on, but it shows their muscle line and makes them look more tough and hard. The men in the colonizers are fully clothed, but also have distinct muscle definition. Also, Pocahontas is told by her father that she will marry one of the warriors of the tribe whether she wants to or not because it would be the smart decision for her. This shows the power of a man being able to decide who a woman should marry and her not having a say on the matter. But, like I said earlier I found it difficult to critique this film with a psychoanalytical feminist view because Pocahontas does not fall into the oppression from the men in the movie. She keeps to her heart and stays bold. She constantly questions her father, whether it be about the marriage or the colonizers. Up until the very end of the movie when she throws herself over John Smith to save him she does not let her father’s dominance interfere with her heart. She is not programmed to act the way women were supposed to act at this time.

Reading Feminist criticism makes me view not only this film, but most of the Disney movies in a completely different way. I was really able to look past the ending of the movie and see how women were actually portrayed. They were oppressed by many men, and some of them fought this oppression while others did not. It was interesting to me to realize how these once small things to me are not so small anymore.


Mary’s Psychoanalysis of a Song: Suspender Man by Steam Powered Giraffe

Time for a longer than expected post that’s not about Gatsby!

Some background: The most basic description of Steam Powered Giraffe is this: they’re a musical group trained in pantomime, and half of them are professionally costumed as steampunk-ish robots. (Check out their youtube videos if you want to see them in action!)

“Suspender Man” was written by one of the group’s main performers: Bunny Bennett, who plays the male robot character of Rabbit. She is openly MTF trans, and has explicitly stated in an interview that she has planted a lot of symbolism and supposedly blatant references to her female identity in this song. I’ll analyze what those might be and how they relate to the recent things she’s told blog readers about herself. Due to copyright reasons, I cannot post the song’s mp3 here, but here’s a link to the lyrics. I will gladly play it for us in class sometime if anybody’s interested.

The song starts off with the Suspendered Man appearing out of nowhere in the bayou. It’s apparently a very strange night since “the gators were all drinking tea in a dreamy pantsless glee” when Bunny’s robot character, Rabbit, discovers the Suspendered Man. The gators defy the concept of gender by being naked during their tea party and show right away that Bunny isn’t comfortable with society’s expectations. This idea of freedom is portrayed as feminine due to the tea party the ‘gators are participating in; tea parties are considered a female activity.

The Suspendered Man himself is dripping with male imagery: “the biggest red suspenders I ever did see” and a banjo “holstered” in his hand. Banjos are an obvious phallic image, and suspenders prove to be a symbol of conformity throughout. The Suspendered Man is the epitome of maleness and initially draws Rabbit in with saying how his “banjo has shown [him] the promised land”, implying that maleness is “Right”. To get him to start playing, Rabbit flips a coin into the Suspendered Man’s tip pot, which in itself is a yonic symbol in need of other analysis. This indicates how Rabbit currently subscribes to inherent male symbolism and how Bunny used to for years. The Suspendered Man then starts the music in a masculine, wild manner: “He plucked those strings and belched a giggle/He tapped his foot, howled like a hound/Igniting up the unholy sound.” 

The chorus verses start with how Rabbit has “never never…ever heard anything so great” as the masculine symbol of the Suspendered Man playing his phallic banjo. (That was not a sentence I expected to write…) The chorus insists that everyone wants suspenders and a banjo because of how awesome this mysterious bog-man is. An entire crowd “swarmed the swamp and was tossing in coin after coin” when they heard him play. The crowd is subscribing to the idea of standard heteronormativity; not only are they all abusing the poor tip jar, they all want more suspenders to keep their own identities literally suspended and hidden from others (symbolized here by pants), and a Freudian analysis would say that everyone wants a banjo due to an improper development during the phallic stage, leading to penis envy.

Near the end, the Suspendered Man disappears, leaving behind just his suspenders and banjo. The band says “that’s what he gets for selling his soul to the bog”, where the bog is a metaphor for the  mire of mixed genders/identities in the real world. He died for the social ideas of normativity to appeal to others, but it changed who he was until he faded completely away. The same concept could apply for Bunny: she has since stated that she made herself completely miserable by trying to convince herself to identify as male for years because it was “easier”.

The last few lines end up meaning that trying to change one’s true identity is like trying to do gypsy magic: it just won’t work. One of the very last lines is also a sign that Bunny has made a decision about herself: “You could wear a dress, and have no need [for identity suspension]!” She has concluded that being comfortable is just as important as fitting in, but sometimes you cannot do both. The background vocals even state that “the alligators had it right/wearing pants, it sure does bite,” going back to the idea of freedom and nonconformity being a release, but not ideal for every day use.
Freud would have a field day with Bunny herself, but I’m not going to do that here since I don’t know enough about her life to be able to say “x is probably because of y during stage z” in his style of analysis.



A statue represenging “yoni”

In class today, we were talking about the origins of the phrase “yonic symbol.” Dr. Scanlon mentioned the roots of the word were to be found in  Hinduism. I did some research and discovered that “yoni” isn’t a goddess; It is literally the Hindi word for “vagina.” It’s connotations are a little more complex, however, and in line with the type of symbolism we look for when we label objects in books as yonic symbols. It can mean “source,” “spring,” “home,” “lair,” “nest,” “fountain,” “origin,” “birth place,” or “place of rest.” The yoni is the origin of life, and is therefore fundamentally connected to birth and rebirth, as well as the creative forces of Hinduism, Shakti and Devi. It is  linked to fertility of agriculture, and is used commonly to describe yoga poses, art, and architecture, as well. I thought these correlations in the language and religion were interesting and rich enough to be shared, as they provide another layer of meaning to yonic symbols we might find in the texts we read.


The Great Gatsby- Mistresses and Innocence

Honestly, I hated reading The Great Gatsby in high school and for this class. I just really hate the book. I hate almost all of the characters except for two. George Wilson and Tom Buchanan were very straight forward and consistent in my opinion. Wilson was a simple man that just wanted a happy life for him and his wife. Tom was a “complex” man that just wanted happiness for himself and, maybe afterwards, for Daisy too. Both men were cheated on but in the end Tom got to keep his wife, of whom he was not deserving. Which brings up a question that I think is important for this book; Why is it that innocence and purity get trampled on and used? Wilson was a good and innocent man and he was used by his wife and Tom and in the end he was alone and empty. Tom was used to get over a former love and used to escape a stagnant marriage. And although he seemed like a jerk, he still had feelings and cared for both women in his life, both of which used him. This book makes me sad but at the same time a little happy. The men are the ones really getting hurt and the women are the ones doing the hurting, which is a role not usually seen in literature. I like that women can be seen as something other than the damsel in distress or the naive virgin. They can be the mistress and the murderer. These are women with power over men that have power. These are women that can do the dirty work and feel no shame afterward. But I still hate this book.