by Kelly O’Connor Salomon
There I was, happily eating my yogurt and going through the fliers in the Sunday paper. Then, as I was looking through the Target flier, I saw that it was Princess Week. I nearly swallowed my tongue. I was raised on Disney movies; let me say that up front. However, as I have learned how to read and analyze texts over the years, my opinion of them has changed, especially when it comes to the Princess movies.
We have been showing them to our daughter slowly, waiting until her critical thinking skills were a bit stronger. Recently, we watched Snow White, where the message at the end is “die a virgin and you can marry God/Christ.” It had been a long time since I had seen that movie, and the end had me turning to my husband in open-mouthed horror. I asked him if I misinterpreted something. He said no, and he is much stronger in Religion Studies than I am, so I take his word for it. Nevermind dear Snow shacking up with a bunch of men she doesn’t know, not listening to anyone. Fortunately, my daughter was not impressed. She prefers her heroines with more brains and a kick-ass attitude.
Yes, many of these films were made in the 1950s or earlier, so they reflect attitudes of the time, when women weren’t expected to do much. However, these out-dated opinions are being encouraged in young girls who watch these films over and over. Even the newer princesses aren’t much better–as long as you have a nice body, it doesn’t matter if you can talk. Rebel against your family, but Daddy will give you what you want in the end anyway. With love and affection, any monster can become a prince. Go out, be independent, and save the world–as long as you come home and get married. Is this really what we want the future women of the world thinking?
And they do. These girls have grown into young women who adore Bella Swan, who, while smart, loves a man who stalks her, threatens to kill her, and talks down to her constantly. When he dumps her, she goes into a coma. And they think it is fabulous and romantic. These same young women can’t see how ads destroy female self-image, and when they are shown, they deny it is there. If we want to do a better job teaching our women, we need to start with our children–the younger the better.
Are there strong women out there? Sure, though it is tough to find them for younger girls–and I have looked. Even Dora has become a princess. Why? We never watched her show, but she seemed OK. Every girl doesn’t get to become a princess; just like not everyone wins or gets a trophy. But that is what we are teaching–directly or indirectly. I have a whole list of TV women I want to show my daughter, and that I do often show in class–Sydney Bristow, Buffy, Dana Scully, the women of Eureka. These women are doctors, scientists, spies, ex-Special Forces, and slayers, and they can take care of themselves–and even rescue the men. Are they beautiful? Of course. Are there problems with them? Sure, but popular culture isn’t going to change overnight. I find it interesting that many of these women are presented in a science fiction or fantasy context, like they can’t happen in the real world.
As for my daughter, she finds her pop culture role models in books, which is fine by me. Hermione Granger is her favorite, and she is smart, pretty, and can throw a punch. And she also has real world role models, of course, and I hope I am one of them.