June 18, 2011

Down with Pirate Princesses!

I am a connoisseur of all things piratey, and have been since I was a kid. Nothing new to readers of this blog. Of course, pirates weren’t trendy, so I had to work extra hard to get my hands on books about pirates. Nowawdays, pirates are everywhere- even in kid’s television.

The boys love Disney Junior’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates, which is a fun kid’s show building on the world from Peter Pan. Captain Hook’s the bad guy (but a bit more of a buffoon than in the movie). There’s a girl pirate, and I haven’t had a single problem with how they portray her. She and the boys search for treasures while doing the right thing, and more often than not, she’s the one who comes up with the plan. It’s a good message for everyone.

Enter the Pirate Princess, who had been put under a spell by an evil sea witch. Izzy (the girl pirate) saves her, and her ship is magically restored. It’s gold, with a rainbow wave around it, and she has a heart shaped anchor. Oh and it has pink sails. In the second episode, she has her own island with a castle on it, that is (you guessed it) pink. She also has a magic wand that lets her make rainbows, instead of a sword. It actually has a guard over the grip, making it look just like a sword. Oh – I found a picture.

I probably wouldn’t have cared about the rainbow wand if she didn’t live in a pink palace and have the girliest ship that ever sailed the Never Seas. (Her palace looks like it was designed by Mermaid Barbie)

Of course, I’m not surprised by this one bit. Since the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Disney has sold a “Pirate Princess” line of merchandise at their theme parks. Crossed scepters with hearts at the end! Pink skulls! I’d hoped that they would have gone with the accepted term for a successful female pirate, pirate queen, but with their world build around princesses it did make sense. I do have a pair of earrings from one of their lines, which featured a couple of cartoon female pirates – a redhead and a brunette with a bob (wonder why I liked her so much). But at the end of the day, I can forgive all that pink and whatnot at Disneyland. It’s just silly little merchandise.

Jake’s Pirate Princess on the other hand? She has a ridiculous ship. When trouble arrives, it’s the kids who save the day- she does absolutely nothing but stand there. What sort of a message does that send to little girls? Disney’s actual princesses might be pretty darn plucky and capable these days, but this Pirate Princess needs to lose her crown. She might say she’s smart, strong and brave- but in both parts of the episode, she did nothing to show that she was.

I grew up knowing that real women took to the seas, that some sailed openly as merchant sailors, but that some women from the Elizabethan era onward were notable pirates. Women who carved out their own futures, and did most of the saving themselves. Mary Read and Anne Bonney? When Jack Rackham’s ship was being attacked by a privateer ship, it was Bonney and Read (and another man) who did most of the defending- the rest of the ship, including the captain were too drunk to do much. Bonney’s last words to Jack Rackham were said to have been that she was “sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang’d like a Dog.”

Grace O’ Malley was a chieftain of an Irish clan, led raids against the English in an attempt to secure Irish independence. While she wasn’t successful in securing that, her raids were successful enough that she secured a meeting with Queen Elizabeth in which they discussed terms. Some were met, at least temporarily- and when things went back to the way they’d been returned, O’Malley returned to piracy.

If you start to look up known pirates, you’ll find a lot more female names, too. They weren’t extremely well known, but they were there. Women who found life at sea much more liberating. Who were referred to as Pirate Queens, because they ruled the seas.

Obviously I’m not suggesting that a kids show have a pirate do anything in the way of what a real pirate would do- but it would have been nice to see that the Pirate Princess could actually do something. Especially since my kids love the show, and I’ve already seen this episode four times. (Besides, who wants to be a princess? They have no power. Queen is definitely the title to have)

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