And they were married and lived happily ever after. Yeah. Right.
My interpretation of the most popular of these stories–Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White was “if you’re a good girl (stupidly naive), and you wait long enough (while keeping your tormentor’s house clean), he will come.”
The other variation is Beauty and the Beast, in which taming the beast is the task: “If you love him enough, he’ll change.”
They didn’t have a 50% divorce rate in those days because people just didn’t get divorced. Of course I’m a two-time loser at the marriage game, so maybe I’m just not sanguine.
How many women continue to wait for some man to complete their lives instead of building their own life, which ironically would be likely to attract a man that they would like and that would be worthy of them? How many women go back again and again to a beast, believing that he will change, that they have not loved enough?
Why would we want to teach our daughters this kind of story? After all, it’s just a fairy tale.
One answer is that the older fairy tales were not so focused on love’s first kiss (sexual initiation) as these are. The versions of these stories we know well were written by Charles Perrault in the late 1700s, based on stories made up by upper class women whose fantasy involved meeting and marrying someone for love, not for family influence and monetary gain.
Most marriages in society at that time were arranged, with little or no input from the girl–sometimes as young as twelve years of age. Shakespeare’s Juliet at thirteen is already older than her mother was when Juliet was born. The father plans to marry Juliet to Paris, who is twenty. To marry in the first days of teenage infatuation is not only a fantasy, but too tragically true in its results. Their only path to security was marriage, preferably to a strong, rich and upper class man, the eventual ruler of the kingdom, and if they managed to fall in love, that was okay too. Just not required. Even in cultures where arranged marriages are no longer mandated, marrying for love is seen as lower class or simply foolish.
And the other is that we girls would really like to be the princess, with the tiara and the taffeta dress, and never have to clean house again.
Where are the stories to teach us how to make good choices, to grow our own potential, and even to attract the kind of prince with whom we could build a life? Barbie?
Looks like I need to write some.