Researcher and Assistant
I first watched the film The Tale of Despereaux while en route to fieldwork as an assistant to a beautiful blond woman whose nickname means “princess” in the local language. Incidentally, my local nicknames were something along the lines of “carrot-top” and “submissive-daughter-in-law-who-serves-everyone-around-her.” I did not relish the latter.
Princess and Servant
So it was a bit upsetting to sit beside my affluent, Kindle-reading boss while watching this particular movie, which features rodents, a ‘virtuous’ frail blond princess who mopes helplessly, and (the only human with real chutzpah) an ‘evil’ broad-faced redheaded servant girl, Miggery Sow, whose name rhymes suspiciously with Piggery.
Mig, it seems, was sold — along with some pigs — into slavery and ended up a castle servant. She’s a bit unhappy, and understandably so. But since she is has a piggish face, and is underclassed and oversized, she must be stupid and have an ugly character as well. So Mig is recruited by a rat to plot against the innocent princess — and Mig agrees because she is both a) inhumanly stupid, b) unloved by her father, and c) mindlessly resents the princess and her mouse friend:
These are surely the only reasons a disrespected and underpaid woman would try to take the crown from an incompetent princess, right? And her resentment of her indentured servitude is totally uncalled-for, amiright?
So Mig and the rat aim to steal the throne, the male rat double-crosses her and she ends up in the dungeon. Finally, the male hero mouse, Despereaux crosses his family and community, in classic American movie fashion, to independently save the day and rescue the incompetent women and impotent old men that can’t save themselves.
And don’t worry — everything is resolved. Mig’s peasant father finds her, kisses her, takes her home and puts her back in the pigsty to live happily ever after with “her own kind.”
…So this is supposed to be a good story? I sat there thinking. For children? In which she finds love after all, from her father, even though no man would obviously ever want her?
And, more to the point, what’s with the portrayal of the fat redheaded woman as a perpetually piggish child? Of course, as a rather plump redhead, I found this rather dehumanizing. I told my friends how it was deeply problematic on about ten levels — and they looked at me like I was crazy. When I looked for reviews, all I saw was how much of an innocent and lighthearted romp this movie is for children. No mention at all of the classism, sexism, and lookism intrinsic to the story.
Piggery in the U.S.A.
Browsing online for more info, the only non-screenshot pic I found online was a direct comparison of Mig to a lower-income U.S. redhead, who presumably has the same traits.
But I couldn’t find anything else. So I set it all aside, figuring that I was over-reacting. But then today, via Sociological Images, I saw this cartoon in the context of a discussion of how the English portrayed the Irish as less than human:
And it’s the same dynamic! The delicate blond lady can’t control her stout servant. How brutish these people are, how impulsive their tempers!
I often hear that ‘everyone loves redheads,’ and I guess it’s true. But when people assume that all redheads are sexy, I think they forget about the ones who don’t fit our mental Amy Adams image, the ones who, by virtue of age, class, size, or origin get seen, at least partially, as pigs, trolls, and apes.
…At least we’ve got plump, red-headed Fiona, whom I adore:
She’s also umm… unhuman, imaginary, and a troll, but at least she’s a heroine. Right? But more on her later…