It all started with a Disney movie and a now infamous toast. During dinner with a friend at Red Lobster after a year particularly filled with death my friend and I were greeted by a far too eager waiter. He asked us what we were celebrating as I was already elbow-deep into a glass of Moscato and we simply raised our glasses as I proclaimed: “We’re the ones that lived.”. In that simple statement, we had achieved something other than just horrifying a Red Lobster waiter that so many in our lives didn’t: we survived. We had made it to another day and instead of buckling under the pressure and weight of grief and sadness, we stood there triumphant ready to gorge on cheddar bay biscuits and overpriced bottles of cheap white wine. So with that being said: let’s talk about feminism, ambition and what it means to succeed.
I grew up as a Disney kid and ergo had for the most part Disney morals. I looked up to Ariel, Jasmine and Esmeralda (for better or worse). And to say that those films weren’t formative to me is a bit of an oversight. I absolutely remember them being important to me but not in a way that later on anime or comic books would be. But there’s a certain type of personality that Disney princesses/leading ladies have. They’re all ambitious, outgoing and want more than whatever it is that is their current world or life. Jasmine didn’t want to be a princess. Ariel wanted to have legs for some reason despite living in a bomb as hell undersea kingdom. And Pocahontas wanted someone who wasn’t so “serious”.
But what’s wrong with serious? The film Pocahontas features an entire song where the titular princess complains about how much she wants adventure and something new and rails against the absolute horrors of routine, stability and security. In any other world, this is a Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre-level of First World Problems. What’s wrong with sturdy walls and sturdy houses? What’s wrong with staying close to home? What’s wrong with tradition? And what’s worse is that Pocahontas’ friend who rather likes her more serious suitor is somehow vilified and considered to be less than worthy of happiness because she is content with sturdy handsome walls and a sturdy handsome husband.
What’s important to remember about this was that it was Disney’s attempts to re-write some of the wrongs of past princesses. Many early Disney princesses like Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora got a lot of hate for being good for goodness sake and endlessly praised and rewarded for doing very little. The 90s era Disney princesses had to be go-getters. Mulan had to save all of China. Ariel had to rebel against her father. Jasmine had to flee to escape the horrors of being a princess. And to be fair, that’s great. That’s very motivating to some girls who want to save all of China and find out what’s around the river-bend. But what about the rest of us?
As a child who was raised by parents who worked hard but never achieved home ownership and struggled with issues of moving around, instability and insecurities about money; I rather like sturdy steady walls. I like routine. I like working. I look forward to one day settling down and being a pretty sturdy partner to an equally sturdy partner. I don’t see a woman who is married, chooses to be a stay-at-home mom or one that strives to find a relationship as any lesser of a woman for wanting those things. I am from the camp of feminism that states as long as it is her choice, it’s okay. If a woman wants to be married, then let her. She should never feel obligated to marry. That’s what feminism is. And to say that I am any less of a woman, a person or a feminist because I wouldn’t mind being married, I wouldn’t mind a home and I’m willing to accept stability and that I am somehow less ambitious for appreciating the little things is insulting and toxic.
Pocahontas, you get to run around and parkour off of waterfalls because of the men and women who strive to build sturdy houses and walls. Mulan, you can go off and save China because of the sacrifices made by your father and the rest of your family to ensure you had all the tools needed for you to succeed. Ariel is only allowed to sign evil contracts to gain legs for some reason because of the walls and empire built for her. Ambition like that is a luxury and one that many women still simply don’t have as an option for them. And even I am speaking from a place of privilege in that regard. Because of my father’s desire to build a stable home no matter how many apartments we lived in and my mom’s desire to keep a nuclear family, I am allowed to sit here and discuss with you all, my readers, the shades of ambition, success and what it means to be a good, well, anything.
There’s something to be said about accepting success in any form. As a writer, I have many other writer friends. Many of us are published in varying fashions but I never see myself as any lesser than them just because my writing doesn’t always include a by-line or because sometimes I’m more known for my poetry and blog posts than I am for novels, short stories or serious journalistic efforts. That suddenly doesn’t mean I didn’t work just as hard or that I am any less worthy of praise than they are for self-publishing or publishing under a book deal or even for blogging.
And even how we measure success is something highly subjective. I’ve gone on record a number of times saying that paneling is the most rewarding thing I have ever done and that’s true. That doesn’t overshadow my work and writing achievements; it’s just something I’m proud of. And to say that “oh, well it’s just an anime convention” as a means to diminish the power of being accepted as a panelist to a con is frankly rather childish. It’s something I enjoy and am proud of: isn’t that a measure enough of success? And that can also extend to finishing an anime, a book series, a video game, a costume or just a particularly difficult passage in a novel or story you’re working on. In addition, for those of us struggling with mental illness like depression and anxiety; measuring worth and success is a tricky metric. Sometimes, the best thing achieved in a day is getting out of bed: and there’s even bonus points for showering and getting dressed.
Be proud of attainable goals both big and small and never let a single person take that from you.
Follow your dreams and reach for the stars; and hey, if you don’t reach a star: that’s okay. Most stars are hollow bloated dying shells of their former selves anyways.