Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happily ever after?

Recently I have become  hooked to the new show 'Once Upon A Time'. It's brilliant - if you have not seen it, do so. It tells the story of the queen who casts a spell to get revenge over Snow White. The spell forces all the fairytale characters to live captured in our world until eternity.
The show includes a lot of the basic story-lines from original fairy-tales, and then changes them around to fit the script. Now, my issue lies in the plot of the fairy-tales, and the representation of women. Before I continue I want to say that I do understand that these were written centuries ago, when society encountered great sexism, and oppression of women, but keep in mind that these are still being read to children, and remade by Disney. Furthermore, I also understand that children most likely do not pick up on my following points, but maybe these subliminal messages are subconsciously sinking into their brains.

Let me start with 'Beauty and the Beast'.

You are probably all familiar with the Disney adaptation of 'Beauty and the Beast'. Now, firstly, let's look at Belle. She, in all honesty, is nearly my dream woman. She is beautiful, intelligent, loves reading, is nurturing, she can even sing. This is where her qualities seem to end. She has no self-respect, or self- worth. The obvious moral of 'Beauty and the Beast' is don't judge a book by its cover. The problem with this for me, is that the beast's character isn't pleasant until Belle has been with him for sometime. She takes being locked up in a dungeon, and physically and mentally abused, yet she still sticks around trying to find the good in him. Whether it's a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome or not (I personally think it is), it does not present a good example of intelligent women to young girls.


I do understand how some women (and men) allow themselves to be abused, often due to their childhood, the way they have learnt to cope, and their lack of self-worth, but fairy-tales should show girls what they can do to get themselves out of abusive situations. They should give female characters a sense of empowerment. Sure, if someone has no self worth and psychological issues they may submit themselves to that behaviour without the courage to speak up, but kids should know that they can speak up, and not accept that kind of treatment. 


The following is a good clip that explains some of these ideas in further depth.
                            
and a more humourous outlook on it -
                            

Why should Belle try to find the beauty in a man that treats her deplorably, captures her, and enslaves her? If you are meant to look beyond someone's appearance, shouldn't they have a beautiful soul to begin with, rather than it being revealed only after they have treated you terribly? An intelligent woman would see that the beast clearly has anger, and no-one could ever love me issues, but she would still hold onto her self respect, and not allow anyone to treat her like that. Just because she understands how the beast acts, it should not excuse his behaviour. She was given the option to leave, but she chose to stick around. You would think with all the reading she does, she would know better. I suppose to her anyone is better than narcissistic Gaston, but she needs to learn to love herself. It is not a woman's job to tame a beast, especially if he treats her how he does. It is a good moral to teach about how the Beast changes, and learns that he can take ownership over his behaviour, but Belle should not have to put up with his treatment of her while he does that. Don't judge a book by its cover, is about someone having a beautiful soul, not an ugly person with anger issues, who need to abuse someone to change.

Now let's look at Cinderella.


Cinderella is a beautiful blonde, with sparkling blue eyes, and the figure of Barbie, so why does it take a fairy Godmother and a glass slipper to show her that she is wanted by men? Let's go back to earlier in the story. Cinderella is clearly oppressed by her stepmother and stepsisters. She appears to not be able to fight against them, and stays as their maid doing everything they say. The only positive I can find to this so far, is that she is not taking orders from a male, yet, it is a male that needs to save her. If I were to rewrite 'Cinderella' she would quit working for her treacherous stepmother, and go look for work and somewhere to stay. She would take ownership over her own life, and not need someone else to rescue her. My girlfriend believes that Cinderella, and many other oppressed Disney females, are very reflective of real life. That as some women gain independence they often end up in a situation where they are made to feel worthless, so they lose a sense of who they are and their strength to fight against it. I can see how this may resemble real life, but I would prefer they show the women finding their own strength, and not becoming accustomed to abuse and slavery, thus needing a knight in shining armour to find their escape. Classic Disney fairy-tales always seem to involve a woman needing to be rescued by a man. Do the following ring a bell?

                        

Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Rapunzel (there are plenty more, these are the one's I thought of first) needed a man to save them from their life of eternal slumber or pain, inflicted by evil, yes you guessed it, women.

 

Are we noticing a pattern here? Something along the lines of women being evil, then hurting other women, then needing a man to take them out of their submissive existence, to then be submissive to a man, who expects her to instantly be his wife and care for his children? And, what is it the men sacrifice? Sure, they battle the dragon, but do they sacrifice what they love? Ariel surely did.


Ariel is a very stunning redhead; she gives Kate Winslet a run for her money, so why on earth is she sacrificing her family and voice for love? She enters the marriage with no voice to speak. Does this therefore mean, that when a woman marries a man, she can no longer speak for herself? Does she therefore lose her sense of freedom, and will to fight? I understand the tail being lost could represent someone at that stage in life where they leave their home nest, and have to 'walk on new legs' so to speak, but why is it once again the female that has to sacrifice? What does Eric have to sacrifice on his end of the bargain? At least in other fairy-tales some of the men give as well as take.

                         

I imagine by now you are probably thinking I am a pessimist, and read too much into things, but anyone that really uses their brains and insight while watching Disney (note I say Disney, originals of fairy-tales are quite different at times to Disney adaptations), would pick up on some of this. I'm not saying kids should not be shown fairy-tales - they are great reading and viewing material. I just believe it is important to teach them the values of what is right and wrong while watching them. I mean, Beauty and the Beast was one of my favourite movie's as a kid, and I have grown up to be an independent person, but I can't imagine all are like me. I didn't take on the desire of being a princess when I grew up. I imagine I wanted to be the prince, but some little girls do create the fantasy of being a princess. Great role models they have in Disney princesses (sarcasm).
I do believe in true love, in that it is what is right for you at that time in your life. I'm not sure if I believe in happily ever after, but even if I did, fairy-tales would not be my basis of it. Love should not involve being rescued, or putting up with abuse. It should involve someone allowing you to express who you are, to support you, and to not expect you to sacrifice things you love dearly. I know how you can feel like your heart is enslaved, and that you are a prisoner to love, but if abuse of any kind is involved children need to learn that sometimes love is not enough. It's frustrating, we encourage our children to read and watch these stories, but the second there is a gay relationship on a sitcom there is uproar
. People need to be more aware of what fairy-tales may teach children also. If I have a child I think I will introduce them to 'The Notebook' for a love story. There is an independent, strong woman, who never needed to be rescued by a man.
 Or I will show them a woman that can kick some serious ass, and get them into shows and novels like -'The Hunger Games' (Katniss)
   'Buffy'
                           
        and 'Harry Potter' (Hermione)
I will avoid 'Twilight' though, Bella is a damsel in distress who can't survive without attention from men. 
                                   
Thanks God for the rise of feminism making the Bella's in media harder and harder to find. I will leave you with a clip of a song that touches on these ideas. 
                                       
Feel free to comment, disagree, give more examples, like it, share it, and subscribe to my blog.
*Thanks to Janaha, Heidi, and Jen for contributing to some of the ideas in this entry. 

6 comments:

  1. You speak for me, and many other women as well, I'm sure. I like the Little Mermaid, and had not realized the spin - it's true, she has to give up everything.

    As for The Notebook, I agree that it portrays a strong woman, who made her own (well-thought-out) choices and formed a true partnership with her mate.

    There's an old movie that I love, from the 80s, called "Rich and Famous". It follows the story of two women who were friends in college, and both became famous writers (one got literary recognition, the other great success as an author of 'trashy' novels), starring Candy Bergen & Jacqueline Bisset. It's a bit campy at times, and is loads of serious fun, directed by the great Sidney Lumet.

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  2. Oh I haven't seen it. I will check it out. My friend mentioned the spin on the Little Mermaid to me last night. I hadn't really thought about it all too much either, but it made perfect sense to me when she said it.

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  3. Love your writings Em, keep up the great work. :-)

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  4. Thanks Geoff, appreciate it.

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  5. I totally agree! I have been trying to share this view of our society's anti-feminist propaganda for years. Here are the lyrics for "I Don't Wanna be Like Cinderella" by the band Cheetah Girls.

    When I was just a little girl
    My momma used to tuck me into bed
    And she read me a story
    It always was about princess in distress
    And how a guy would save her and end up with the glory
    I'd lie in my bed and think about the person I that I want to be
    Then one day I realized that the fairy tale life wasn't for me
    I don't wanna be like Cinderella
    Sitting in a dark old dusty cellar
    Waiting for somebody, to come and set me free
    I don't wanna be like Snow White waiting
    For a handsome prince to come and save me
    On a horse of white, unless we're riding side by side
    Don't want to depend on no one else
    I'd rather rescue myself
    Someday I'm gonna find someone who wants my soul, heart, and mind
    Who's not afraid to show that he loves me
    Somebody who will understand I'm happy just the way I am
    Don't need nobody taking care of me
    (I will be there)I will be there for him just as strong as he,
    will be there for me
    When I give myself then it has got to be an equal thing
    I dont wanna be like Cinderella
    Sitting in a dark old dusty cellar
    Waiting for somebody to come and set me free
    I don't wanna be like Snow White waiting
    For a handsome prince to come and save me
    On a horse of white unless we're riding side by side
    Don't want to depend on no one else
    I'd rater rescue myself
    I can slay my own dragons
    I can dream my own dreams(my own dreams)
    My knight in shining armor is me
    So I'm gonna set me free
    I dont wanna be like Cinderella(ohhh no)
    Sitting in a dark old dusty cellar
    Waiting for somebody to come and set me free
    I don't wanna be like Snow White waiting
    For a handsome prince to come and save me(come and save me...)
    On a horse of white unless we're riding side by side
    Don't want to depend on no one else
    I'd rater rescue myself
    I dont wanna be like Cinderella
    Sitting in a dark old dusty cellar
    Waiting for somebody to come and set me free
    I don't wanna be like Snow White waiting
    For a handsome prince to come and save me
    On a horse of white unless we're riding side by side
    Don't want to depend on no one else
    I'd rater rescue myself
    I dont wanna be like Cinderella
    Sitting in a dark old dusty cellar
    Waiting for somebody to come and set me free
    I don't wanna be like Snow White waiting
    For a handsome prince to come and save me
    On a horse of white unless we're riding side by side
    Don't want to depend on no one else
    I'd rater rescue myself

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  6. Thanks for the lyrics and for showing me the clip. Did you see you got a mention?

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