Friday, March 9, 2012

Articles: The "Empowerment" of Snow White

Mirror Mirror gallery

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the two adaptations of Snow White, and how they both give her a sword. Some are thrilled at this continuing trend to transform traditionally docile heroines into fighters and warriors. Others are concerned that it is a cop out, making "strong female character" equal "stoic, masculine woman." Personally, I am totally cool with kickass females fighting with swords and not giving a fuck, but I do agree that we have to be careful not to say that strong female characters are just women who exhibit traditionally masculine traits.

From Io9's article "It’s Snow White’s moment. What’s she going to do with it?" (January 18th, 2012):
"Girl power isn't really anything new these days, and if Sucker Punch taught us anything, it's that handing the protagonist a sword does not empowerment make. And it's not salvation-by-prince that's the most retrograde element of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves; today, what's most troubling is the sharp distinction between the Queen, fighting to preserve her worldly power, and Snow White, the passive domestic angel content to sweep the floor and whistle at passing songbirds." (Full article)

From FuckYeahFairytales:

"I wouldn’t have a problem with Snow White fighting back her stepmother, at all. But when you put a character like that, that is traditionally helpless, in armor, you are saying that she has to resort to masculine features to solve her problems, like war and brute force. She either is helpless or she has to become masculine - there is no middle ground at all. And there should be.
I think it’s too much of a stretch for a character like Snow White. Once I took a psychology class where the instructor explained how Snow White was a story that showed metaphorically the maturing of a girl into womanhood. If you change that and put so many masculine features into such a feminine character, what are you telling young girls? That there is no place to be a woman and find your space in the world — in order to do that, you have to be more like a man." (Full text

I think my favorite is a response to FuckYeahFairytales' concerns (esp since they reference Song of the Lioness:
 "In the times when the fairy tale was written, Snow White embodied feminine ideals like patience and a passive outlook, making the best of a difficult situation until something came that could help her out. 
While those are still good qualities to have, nowadays women have decided take a more active role in our own fates, going out and getting a prince instead of waiting for him to come to us.
One of the purposes of fairy tales was to perpetuate cultural mores, i.e. this is how the ideal girl should act and she will be rewarded with a prince, so in a modern re-imagining of the fairy tale it makes sense that we’re going to adjust things to better suit our current cultural mores.
While being strong, brave, and proactive were for a long time seen as purely masculine traits, I’m sure you’ll agree that every woman should feel free to claim those traits for herself as much as she wants. Equally, while the idea of the armored warrior is traditionally seen as a masculine role, isn’t it an improvement to see a woman who’s not afraid or bound by gender stereotypes enough to pick up a set of armor and fight her own battles? 
I’d like to argue that things like armor, war, and fighting, are only males roles so much as we let them be so, and that any woman can feel free to own such a role if that’s something she feels comfortable with. (Tangentially related, have you, perchance, read the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce? The main character is a girl who wants to become a knight and poses as a boy to be accepted into training, but although she’s forced to act a very masculine role, she is still an undeniably female character, and one of my favorite heroines. Even when her gender is revealed, she retains her knighthood and continues to be a kickass female knight in shining armor.) 
I can see how you would have doubts about this, as more than one author has badly tried to write empowered female characters who are essentially boys with boobs because they don’t know how to equate strength with female, and I agree that we’ll have to wait and see how the movie handles it to know whether it will be successful or not, but I don’t think that putting her in armor and thus the role of a warrior automatically means they’re forcing masculinity onto a beloved female character." (Full response)

This is not just an issue in fairy tale movies either. Check out this fascinating article from  Io9  called "The Truth about Strong Female Characters". They make some excellent points.

What do you think? Female Empowerment, or Masculinizing Women?  

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