For those of us who grew up with the Disney characters, artist Saint Hoax’s “Princest Diaries” series might be extremely off-putting. In an effort to create sexual assault awareness (or else, to re-write history based on visual lies), the Middle Eastern artist shows Disney’s princesses being forced to kiss their fathers. The disturbing images use the corruption of a somewhat common childhood fantasy—being a princess—to bring light to the true horror of domestic sexual abuse: a majority of child victims are assaulted by family members.
Hoax might be well intentioned, but assuming that young girls will feel more comfortable reporting sexual assault if they know (through these posters) that their heroes suffered is also unrealistic. As Jessica Goldstein puts it in “Striking Posters Depict Disney Princesses As Victims Of Incest“:
The posters just tell you to “report” the crime, but there’s no information on how exactly to do that, or what “reporting” even entails. [Then, quoting Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), she adds:] “Younger kids need simple messages, . . . Usually, the messages to really young kids are more along the lines of ‘if someone did something to you, tell an adult you trust.’ Because they’re not going to understand what reporting is, or what’s involved with that. My guess is that this would appeal most to older folks or adults who were abused as children; it plays on that nostalgia for the characters. . . . For young kids, you really need to simplify the message. I think it’s a fairly sophisticated message that requires some thought and some reasoning ability.”
In this sense, Hoax’s so-called campaign is hardly the best way to help kids. In fact, the images come across more as an imperialistic critique (a critique of Disney’s kingdom) than a campaign to help minors. And what about male victims? Shouldn’t the posters also feature the princes? Goldstein takes a feminist (if limited) perspective to reveal some of the underlying messages in fairy tales, but she also reminds us that there are limitations to Hoax’s artwork:
Saint Hoax’s incest awareness campaign takes these princesses, who could and so often are seen as disenfranchised, disempowered, passive and hopelessly regressive—Sleeping Beauty, who in her original telling is raped in her sleep; Ariel, who trades away her body, her family and her home in exchange for a stranger who only falls for her when she can’t talk—and turns them into a source of identification and, by extension, strength.
The immediate revulsion inspired by these images relies on a shared understanding: you have to know the guy with the beard is Ariel’s dad, not her (much) older paramour. And you have to care about Ariel for the visual to register. The people to whom these posters are speaking know and care for these characters; maybe that will be what helps these victims know and care for themselves. (. . .) Incest takes something that should be happy and wholesome—family—and disfigures it into something terrible and cruel. In a way, that’s exactly what Saint Hoax’s posters do, too.
Goldstein makes it clear that Hoax’s posters are not for young girls. Their real audience are the adult members of a generation that grew up with Disney’s princesses. But if Princest Diaries could change the way in which sexual assault victims think about themselves, what would it do to the children who do not share such harsh realities? I get the feeling that they could affect the way non-victims experience family life and a common childhood fantasy.
—Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Managing Editor
To read more posts in the fields of children and childhood by Alexia Raynal, visit her ZiR page here.
To read more about feminist perspectives, visit Alexia’s coworker’s ZiR page here: Caterina Gironda.
For artist Saint Hoax’s full “Princest Diaries” series, click here.