Sunday, December 17, 2017

Snow White

Last week my six year old granddaughter Nava and I spent a day in Manhattan.  We took some time to look at the display windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, which were beautifully decorated with animated scenes from Snow White.  Each window was intricately detailed and delightful to observe.  I was very surprised to learn however that Nava had never heard of Snow White!  I grew up on fairy tales, and certainly passed the stories on to my own children.  I wondered if her ignorance was intentional or unintentional.  Many of the fairy tales I enjoyed as a child became outmoded with the feminist movement.   Waiting for Prince Charming to come to a woman's rescue became a sign of weakness and chauvinism.  It turned out however that my daughter did not intentionally shield Nava from the Snow White story.  Instead, newer Disney princesses and heroines have taken her place.

As we waited for the train home, I told Nava the story of Snow White.  When we got to my house, I played the Disney video (yes, we still have a VCR).  Some fresh ideas about feminism and role models for young girls came to mind as I revisited this childhood classic.  The first new impression was of Snow White's admirable character traits and the definition of beauty.  Her stepmother had forced her to work as a housemaid, cleaning and scrubbing and dressed in rags.  But Snow White appeared content with her lot.  She worked without complaint, singing and dreaming of a better future.  Her kind and gentle nature attracted innocent woodland creatures and birds, who became her friends. And it was this gracious demeanor that made her even more beautiful than the Queen.

When the huntsman brought Snow White to the forest and urged her to run away, she appeared frightened and helpless.  The shadowy woods seemed to be threatening her, with branches snatching at her cloak and spooky eyes peering out from the darkness.  She tripped several times in her fear until she finally fell down and succumbed to sleep.   She woke up surrounded by curious woodland creatures and told them something I found amazing:  "... you don't know what I've been through.  And all because I was afraid.  I'm so ashamed.".  Snow White understands that only fear can make one truly helpless.  A  brave woman is in control and able to make smart choices.

The little animals led Snow White to the house of the Seven Dwarfs.  They worked at her side to clean and de-clutter the house, and Snow White cooked a big pot of soup. She brought order and a sense of well-being to the lives of the Seven Dwarfs.  She made them wash before dinner, and they sang and danced afterward.  The dancing scene was full of love, happiness and security, feelings associated with home.  In making a home for the Seven Dwarfs, Snow White filled the traditional role of a woman, a role which seems to have lost its value in our modern society.  Political correctness blurs the differences between the sexes and calls for men and women to share in the housekeeping as well as the breadwinning.  But keeping house is not the same as making a home.  I think it's a naturally feminine trait to nurture.  Many men help, but most women tend to remain in control of the home.  

The goal of the feminist movement was to give women choices, to eliminate the restrictions of what might be possible in a girl's life.  Women have made enormous strides in the workplace over the years, and we continue to advance.  At the same time, I think we should appreciate the choice that some women make to stay at home with their young children, and accept that their work is just as important as earning a salary.  Every woman I know works hard and gives her all to everything she does.

Our daughters need adult role models in real life, story books, and history to show them the many possibilities open to them.  Girls should know that they can make choices as they grow up, and control the course of their lives.  We can attend to our daughters' interests and natural inclinations and find ways to help them grow up to be who they want to be.  They can learn that there are many ways to be feminine, strong, successful, kind, and happy.  Like Snow White, the only obstacle is their own fear.

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