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An effeminate allegory

I remember Munro Leaf’s book The Story of Ferdinand fondly, but through the foggy memory of childhood. Revisiting is now as an adult I am struck by how charmingly subversive it is. The simple children’s story is about a bull who prefers to sit under a cork tree smelling the flowers than playing or fighting like the other bulls. Fostering pacifism and skewering the ideas of violent and thoughtless masculinity, it’s a wonderful story about acceptance of non-conformity. Above that, it takes an all-too-rare stab at traditional gender roles. It would be heartening to see more books like this appear in children’s literature today.

Salon: The 1937 Oscar-winning short “Ferdinand the Bull” depicts an effeminate bull who is content to smell the flowers rather than chase more masculine pursuits. You cheer the story line as one among many that champion “outsiders,” one of the ongoing themes that speak to gay sensibilities. I would have thought such a stereotypical portrait would produce outrage.

Author Sean Griffin: Because it’s animals instead of human beings, there’s a cushion there. It’s played as sort of gently comic, so he’s not looked on as some inordinate hero for standing up to things; he’s not like some gay teen trying to get through high school. While he’s content to be lazy and sit there and smell the flowers and not be out playing sports, there’s no scene of him mooning over some other bull. That might have made it OK and possibly kept most audiences from being upset.

Excerpted from an article about Griffin’s book, “Tinker Belles and Evil Queens: The Walt Disney Company from the Inside Out,” about Disney and portrayals of homosexual characters, primarily covertly, and sometimes unintentionally. Read the rest of the article, The Fabulous Kingdom, The author of a history of gays and Disney discusses the secret meanings of Mickey Mouse.
– Jeff Truesdell

Disney’s film of the story, made in 1937:

Posted in Arts and Literature.


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