Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Article: "Passive and Dumb" Heroines?
The New York Post recently printed an article about how Snow White went from being "passive and dumb" in the older interpretations to a girl-power icon in the three recent incarnations of the fairest of them all (Full Article).
I always kind of cringe at the "passive and dumb" interpretation. It is always assumed that Snow White was duped three times by the same woman in disguise, selling a comb, a corset, and then an apple. Fool me once, am I right? No one ever thinks of mitigating factors, like perhaps she was left alone in the house all day, and not allowed to talk to anyone. The other times she is surrounded by men. Maybe she desperately needed someone to talk to. Speculation, yes. Or, she was SEVEN YEARS OLD, and we should cut her some slack. I think perhaps my favorite interpretation comes from the mini-series 10th Kingdom (which I will post separately on later). Snow White tells an incredibly faithful re-telling of her story to Virginia, the heroine, and adds a little bit of the "why" at the end in a way that tugs at my heart every time.
Embedding has been disabled, so here is the link: The 10th Kingdom: Virginia Meets Snow White.
Everyone always rails about the anti-feminist message of fairy tales: Snow White was docile, stupid and domestic, and then looked good dead. Sleeping Beauty was conned into pricking her finger and then was asleep for most of the story. Cinderella cried when she was abused, and had her fairy godmother do everything for her. Very rarely do we talk about the good qualities of these characters, or allow them to have normal human frailties.
Snow White was thrown out of her home at a young age, hunted, managed to convince the huntsman not to kill her, and had to survive in the forest until she found the dwarves. She had to live with the shadow of "going to be murdered" while cooking and cleaning, and being left alone all day. (And btw, cooking and cleaning, not a bad thing. People always thing those are the sign of the evil patriarchy, but I quite enjoy doing them.) Snow White earned her keep. She learned the value of work, after living her life as a princess. Each time the evil queen came, Snow White grew more clever with how to handle strangers. At first, she doesn't suspect the woman with the ribbons. The woman with the comb, she refuses to let in to the house at first. Finally, she watches the woman with the apples eat a bite of the apple first before she takes a bit. Seems pretty shrewd for a 7 year old.
Sleeping Beauty was naturally curious. She explored the castle, and when confronted with an activity that she did not know, she asked to be taught. A great quality, in my opinion. She just suffered from her parents'mistakes.
Cinderella is the most remarkable of all. She was horribly abused by her stepmother and stepsisters, and yet managed to be true to her kind and good self. An amazing feat. When you are confronted by evil every day, it is hard not to turn evil and bitter to protect yourself. And crying is not a weakness. It is a natural human reaction in the face of despair. When given the opportunity to change her stars, she doesn't hesitate, and grasps it with both hands.
While I love the more active heroines, like the girls from East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Donkeyskin, or Wild Swans, I think we shouldn't discount the more traditional princesses from being positive role models just because they don't swing a sword, or go off adventuring.