Friday, October 30, 2009

Girl power

I don't often think of myself as a feminist- I have my opinions about gender (in)equality, the role of women in society, and stereotypes and glass ceilings that have to be shattered, but I don't necessary feel the need to have to advocate vociferously about them. But maybe it has to do with living too long in a country where women are more likely to be raised to be independent and strong-willed, or it comes with being mother to a daughter, but lately, the issue of gender roles is being thrown into sharper relief for me. Particularly with regards to fairy tales (I know- stay with me, here...)

As many of you know, we've been reading to Sophie since she was a couple of weeks old- she doesn't always look at us or listen to us intently when we read but it's all about exposure and not so much comprehension at this point. Which is why I really shouldn't be bothered by this, but I am. After weeks of Make Way for Ducklings, Fish Is Fish, I Love You Through and Through, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, I decided to move on to a book of fairy-tales that we got at one of our showers, namely Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Frog Prince, and The Ugly Duckling. So there I was, reading Sleeping Beauty merrily along to Sophie, changing the princess' name to Sophie to make it fun for her, until I got to the end of the story:

"The king was so grateful to the prince for waking them all, that when the prince asked to marry Aurora, the king agreed happily. Aurora and the prince lived happily ever after."

OK- am I the only one who thinks there's something not quite right with this? It was instinctual almost, that when I started reading this line, I actually felt kind of offended. Is this what I want my daughter to be internalizing? That she can be presented as a reward to the most worthy contender? That she is pliant, willing, and submissive, subject to the decisions of the men around her? Snow White and The Frog Prince aren't any better- Snow White is rescued from certain death by a prince, and the princess in The Frog Prince only marries him after she kisses him and turns him back into a prince. So much for valuing inner beauty- ribbit... I know what you're thinking- these are just fairy tales, Mom, take a chill pill. But no, they're not just fairy tales. Stories send messages and I'm not sure if this is a message I want Sophie to take away with her. I don't want her growing up haunted by the Princess Syndrome (see here for tongue-in-cheek, though not wholly inaccurate deconstruction of the Disney princesses), waiting eternally for her Prince Charming to come save her from her dull and dreary life, sweep her off her feet, and believe that they will live happily ever after. We want her to have a mind of her own (she already does actually), be strong in spirit, and have faith in her own sense of self that she doesn't need another person to validate.

I read these stories when I was growing up and you can say that I'm none the worse for wear because of them. But that's also because I had enlightened parents who didn't necessary indulge these fantasies. And Sophie will be the same- she'll read her fairy tales and watch her Disney movies-- we're not going to deprive her-- but she'll also be taught to know them and know that they're just stories, not a manual for how to live her life.

1 comment:

the terrible child said...

did u read the article on nyt- the motherlode article on fairytales? apparently snow white is the no1 top story parents do not read to their kids these days!