It seems like every once in a while someone will his or her ruffles in a tangle over the latest Disney or Pixar creation and my eyes started rolling well when 7 Reasons I Won’t Take My Daughter to Cinderella hit my Facebook’s Newsfeed. Honestly it won’t be a butterfly in my hurricane if someone chooses to not take her child to see Cinderella or not, but I do feel it is unfair to target Cinderella.
First, did this lady not pay attention in any English class? As in, not one in any year of school? Disney films are almost always blamed for killing off a parent while victimizing the main character with an evil stepparent at the same time, and this parent perpetuates this ideology. I taught English and Language Arts for 15 years; I know archetypes are a commonly covered curriculum. However, let’s review what they are anyway. Briefly, an archetype is a character, setting, theme, or even a situation that can represent a universal pattern of human nature. They are universal because they can be found in every culture, religious denomination, geographic place, or time in history. They can also be a symbol (like a snake and apple) or a setting (an untouched Eden-like garden). Carl Jung theorized archetypes made up the collective unconscious — experiences shared by all races and cultures (birth, death, life cycles, love, trials, struggles, etc.). Present in art and literature are archetypal characters: The Hero, The Mentor, The Mother Figure and Innocent Youth, and The Villain, etc. There are also archetypal story lines: The Journey, The Fall, and? The Rags to Riches.
Disney did not “invent” killing off the parents and bringing in an evil stepmother. Stop blaming Disney. Frankly, that’s stupid. This has been an archetypal element in our collective unconscious since the beginning of time and will continue. We can find it everywhere, not just with Cinderella and not just in Disney movies. Start looking for it and you won’t be able to stop. In Phantom of the Opera, where is Christine’s father? Oh, he’s dead. Hamlet’s daddy? Dead. Harry Potter? Both of his folks are dead. Oh man, Star Wars… Luke and Leia’s mom is dead.
Mandy Burgan, the mother who wrote the seven reasons why she won’t let her daughter see Cinderella says she doesn’t want her daughter to get the wrong idea about stepparents especially as there are so many blended family today. I don’t want to minimize that real concern of hers. She went on to say that she herself has a great stepmother and I am confident that her daughter knows that because certainly her mother’s stepmother would be her grandmother. However, just as Burgan does say that there are so many blended families today her daughter will grow up to recognize that blended families are the “normal” and Cinderella’s stepfamily is not. And our children should be able to see and recognize that difference because Cinderella’s stepfamily is so blatantly not normal. It is abusive. Burgan says one reason she won’t let her daughter see it is because of “Mean Girl Behavior”. I admit, the scene in the Disney animated classic when the step-bitches (as I call the stepsisters) tear apart Cinderella’s dress is one where I begin to tear up. It’s also a scene when I openly talk to my 3-year-old daughter about how mean it is for them to do that because sisters and friends should help each other feel good about themselves. Instead of hiding it from her, I practice with her. We practice what to say if kids are mean to us or our friends. We pretend and play “Coulda-Woulda” which is when we say “If I coulda been there I woulda…” and fill in the blank.
The sad truth is, if we don’t identify abusive behavior for our children and tell them what it looks like and sounds like, they will often accept it as being normal behavior. Cinderella’s stepfamily is rotten to the core. It is abusive, demeaning and spiritually vacant. I don’t mean spiritually vacant in a religious sense, but in the way where it would rob a child of her entire feeling of self-worth. And it is okay to point that out to our child and say, “That is wrong of them to do that and that’s why it is important for us to love others.”
Burgan goes on the criticize the unrealistic nature of the fairy tale. Let me repeat that. She criticizes a fairy tale for being unrealistic. I’m not sure what I can add to that without sounding snarky so I’ll let the italics do the job there. I recognize that as mothers we want to make sure our daughters feel confident about themselves, to be happy and to understand what a “real” woman’s body looks like. Cinderella’s waistline doesn’t look like mine. I don’t feel bad about that. My waist used to be that small and it was awesome. I would like it to be that small again but there’s a whole chocolate cream pie in my fridge right now and that’s why it won’t be that small anytime soon. Something about willpower and no fairy godmother. This movie is also set during the 19th century when women were stuffed into corsets. Burgan mentions other period movies that showed women being squeezed into their bindings so we, the audience, knew they had help. Really? I am more concerned with the everyday messages the media is sending my daughter with photoshopped images — you know, the ones that we never see “being helped” — than one movie with one character that probably has a corset. My 3-year-old daughter also measures time as “yesterday last year” no matter what the time span is, so this mother who is fretting over her daughter legitimately believing she will fall in love and be married in one day is absurd.
Lastly, is criticizing Cinderella for being “The Passive Princess” which, to me, is pretty much a jerk move. Burgan accuses Cinderella for waiting around on her ass waiting to be rescued and not wanting her daughter to grow up doing the same. Who is the one who went to the ball to find the prince in the first place, lady? Cinder-freakin-ella, that’s who. Cinderella is a bad ass, and this is why:
Somewhere along the way, either in becoming “liberated women” or just becoming ass clowns, we have all internalized the message that needing help is the same as being weak. Some of us have also bought into the message that being patient, kind, and humble are all signs of passivity. Of being a doormat. Of “needing to be rescued”. It takes courage to be wait for the right opportunity. It takes strength to wake up each morning and work hard at what feels like a hopeless cause. And it takes fortitude to fight the battles worth fighting because you know when the war breaks out you’ll need the energy to save yourself. Asking for help is what we encourage people with addictions to do, we ask people who self-harm to reach out for, we beg people with depression to do, and yet we still manage to blame people in abusive environments when they don’t. A fairy godmother and even a prince can be anyone or anything — a teacher, a doctor, a neighbor, a friend — who is there at the right time with the right resource to help a woman improve, move ahead, plant a seed, or even just encourage her in her current situation. And these are all positive things that should not be sneered at but celebrated. Cinderella took the hand held out to her and she went out to her own damn opportunity because as she says herself in the Disney Classic, “They can’t order me to stop dreaming.”
If someone doesn’t want to take a child to see Cinderella, then don’t go see the movie. I’ll watch it twice to make up for it simply because if we are going to genuinely teach our daughters that their choices matter and make a difference, then we need to believe that all choices matter — even if it means choosing to ask for help.