Tag Archives: gender roles

Snow White and Mary Poppins: A Lazy Critical Analysis

My daughter hasn’t seen very many movies, Disney or otherwise, but she has seen a few. I felt like we were going chronologically there for awhile. The first one she ever saw was Fantasia, then, Mary Poppins, but then back to Pinocchio, Alice and Wonderland, Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp, Winnie the Pooh, and Snow White. It’s clear her two favorites, at the moment, are Mary Poppins and Snow White. She listens to the “Poppsie” soundtrack All. The. Time. Omg.

I mean, Julie Andrews is basically a magical treasure, but even I have my limits. I think my husband and I have heard “Feed the Birds” about 800 times in the last few months and I’m not even exaggerating. She wakes up in the dead of night and asks us to put on “Poppsie.”

Snow White is a more recent favorite, mostly because Snow White is better branded. She sees Snow White when we are out in the city on toys, books at the bookstore, stickers, and the like. She likes the little critters in it and the dwarves, but I think something about Snow White’s child-like face appeals to her. The music isn’t remarkable, but it doesn’t make me want to kill myself.

However, I have some problems with Snow White’s plot. Take the Wicked Queen, she’s supposed to have all these magical powers yet she fails to kill Snow White? I totally understand assigning her huntsman to do it at the beginning. Seems pretty standard to delegate that, even if it poses risks to one’s popularity should the dirty deed ever go public. Seems like she would have wanted no accomplices. But whatever, she doesn’t like getting her hands dirty. But after she finds out the huntsman tricked her, she has to adopt a disguise, concoct a poison apple recipe that has a catch, go down there herself and hope that all works out? I mean, Snow White is a naive teenager (13 in some stories), basically if you get in range, you could just run her through with a sword. She let the “witch” into the house for the love of god. Why not make this simple? It’s the classic villain “sharks with freaking lasers on their heads” mistake.

The theme of Snow White seems to be: if you are a very sweet and pretty girl who is good at housework, things will probably work out for you.

On the other hand Mary Poppins offers much richer fare: it has a message of the importance of childhood, imagination, spontaneity, civil disobedience, responsibility, financial planning, family togetherness, good health, manners, humor, equitation, job satisfaction, impermanence, and women’s suffrage. Feel free to tell me if I’m missing something. It’s just such an interesting movie. And the songs are pretty great. Sure Dick van Dyke really should have been sent a different dialect coach, but he’s a fantastic dancer and really knows his physical comedy.

I know it’s a popular academic exercise to disparage the Disney Princess role. Even when they try to have a “girl power” character like Merida in “Brave” (yes, I know, Pixar) there are still issues with how their choices are portrayed (see this very interesting post by Rebecca Heins, who is a Media Studies professor with a fantastic blog). But it bears repeating that most of the Disney princesses don’t have stories of complex depth and redeeming personal growth. Are there lessons to be learned from them, sure. Some good ones, some useless ones, and some bad ones. The persistant vilification of people with bumps in their nose did not make me feel particularly great when I was young. It’s not all Disney’s fault, some of these movies are based on centuries old stories and some of them were made into films almost 50 years ago. Snow White was made in 1937, Mary Poppins in 1964 (but based on a story that takes place in 1910), it’s a bit of an unfair competition.

Still, if Disney is going to put all these princesses in a “club” like a box of assorted truffles, I’m going to have to choose. And I’ll take Mary Poppins over any girl they have in a tiara. Besides, Julie Andrews can out-sing them all.

For Mothers of Daughters, 20 Ideas

Simone de Beauvoir writes at the beginning of “The Second Sex: The Formative Years,” that “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature.”

This is a complicated time to be a girl. Gender norms are falling in so many ways, yet some weird, mutant form of sexism keeps hanging on. Women enjoy greater freedom now than ever before, but we are a mere 3 or 4 generations away from not being able to vote. In the span of human history, that’s just a flicker.

There is a very challenging balancing act facing our daughters; how do they live unconstrained by their sex, in a world that hopes to be post-gender while still stumbling, but still celebrate their femininity in whatever way they feel most comfortable? How do we best prepare them for this? I’m not sure I know how I’m going to do this, but I have been thinking about it quite a bit and here’s what I’ve come up with. I hope you’ll appreciate these suggestions, created mainly for myself, and maybe with hopes that they’ll help you, too.

20 Ideas For Mothers of Daughters:

1. Provide her with a wide selection of toys and activities, not just girl-centric once and not just gender-neutral ones either. Being progressive about gender roles means being open to more, not selecting less.

2. Show her movies that meet the Bechdel Test (film has at least 2 named women in it, who talk to each other, about something other than a man). You’d be surprised how few movies pass this test.

3. Teach her manners that are less about being a little “lady” and more about being a considerate person.

4. Give her books and stories about women who achieved remarkable things, not just things that are/were impressive simply because a woman did them, but accomplishments that stand on their own.

5. Share your makeup tips, hair care tricks, play with nailpolish, etc. But don’t push her into using beauty products nor bar her from them entirely. Makeup is a creative outlet, a way to convey a message, a tool to highlight your features, but it’s not the point of life and shouldn’t get in the way of living and creating.

6. Don’t make fun of her body, criticize her features, or tell her her looks are a limitation.

7. Be honest about periods. Don’t get too precious or too dramatic about them. They are neither a big deal nor a shameful secret.

8. Get excited about the good things she’s exited about, even if they aren’t things you have ever been interested in or all that comfortable with.

9. Stand up to sexual discrimination and sexism wherever and whenever you see it. Make sure that she knows that unfairness doesn’t ever have to be tolerated.

10. If beauty is more than looks, reflect that position in your actions and words.

11. Compliment her for her perseverance, her creativity, her intelligence more often than you do her appearance.

12. Don’t fight over hair styles, hair accessories, all the time. Unless it’s picture day, if her hair is clean and does not actually look like a rat-nest, let it go.

13. For the love of everything that is holy, remember to vote. Take her with you and vote, if you can. Promote women in politics. Take issues that affect women seriously and stay involved. Talk about them when she’s able to understand.

14. Take her for a fun and extremely helpful bra fitting when that day comes. Too many women are spending too many years in the wrong bras. It’s madness.

15. Talk about what matters in a boyfriend, girlfriend, or any friend.

16. Share embarrassing stories of your youth. It helps to not feel like you’re the only weird one.

17. Know that she is not you. Her life is not yours to control, to live vicariously through, or to correct your own mistakes.

18. Never believe that insane logic that “if she hates you, you are doing it right.” Even when she’s a teenager. Give her more credit than that.

19. Get into math! I know this probably seems weird, but mathematics is such a fundamental part of education and to do well in it relies so much on confidence. Far too often, girls are allowed to slip slowly behind and it’s so damaging to their self-image. Start early, be vigilant, and have fun with the subject, even if you hated it.

20. Keep other women around that make her stronger, smarter, and more loved. The ones that don’t, beat them off with pointy sticks.

Momma FTW

I am trying to think of a delicate way to put this, but I can’t.

Being the mom is harder.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was brought up in the generation that was FINALLY supposed to get this right. I married a guy who is really into gender equality. He’s evolved enough to know that were he to come home and expect dinner, a nice rest, and a glass of port or something, I’d probably kill him in his sleep (no frozen legs of lamb around here…).

And yet, I find myself cleaning more, organizing more, planning more, worrying more, being needed by the baby more. Even if he’s watching our daughter, I have to be “on call” for pretty much the entire time. I know that it was technically a “choice” to breastfeed, so many of my mom-duties really boil down to the fact that nursing, for both feeding and comfort have shaped how my daughter relates to me and her dad. Translation: I am number 1. Add to this that she was seemingly born with a high mommy-cling factor and you can imagine I am in pretty high demand.

As an extension of this, I am always the one to put this little difficult sleeper to bed. Advanced baby-to-bed skills are required. Mostly it’s that she just wants to nurse for a really long time. Beyond the saintly patience this requires, there are ninja-like maneuvers to put her in her crib and get the hell out of there. Am I tired of always having to conduct my own holy ninja operation every night? Oh yes I am.

It’s a little insane. I sometimes feel like I’m just a body, a mommy robot, counting down the minutes until a nap or bed on a bad day or at best, trying to juggle a few things at once so that I can feel more like my own person and get stuff done around here.

Which brings me to another point, what is it about being a guy make it so that clutter, dirt, and messes go undetected? And when these things are pointed out, that they don’t get cleaned up 100%? I think I speak for ALL women when I say what we REALLY hate is that we have to ask for these things to get cleaned up.

It seems like the mom has to keep a mental list of all these household things, not to mention all the lists of things that the baby needs for whatever stage she’s entering (clothes, books, toys, foods) as well as an ongoing assessment of her well-being, what she’s eaten in the last few days, how well and how much she’s slept, and her rotation of activities.

It’s not that dad’s not capable of doing all these things, it’s just that he doesn’t. Even charged with a simple task, I feel like I always have to check up on every stage of progress or things go awry. I’m sure there are some primary-caretaker dads out there who are maybe an exception to these generalizations.

Oh, and I should throw in something here about being pregnant and having a baby. Quite the head start in the race of who has it harder, if not in and of itself a victory. And I know what you dads are probably thinking, “stop using this as your trump card, we don’t have any choice in the matter over who biologically has to give birth.” Well, neither do we. And until you’ve done it, you can’t imagine the hurricane of an experience it is for your head, your body, and your life for a year or more.

Out in public, in the world, I also feel like how my daughter is perceived is directly attributed to me and only me. If she’s wearing something that doesn’t fit, isn’t clean, looks ugly, it reflects on me. If she behaves badly, has a meltdown, it’s more my fault that her dad’s. People might be more likely to give unsolicited advice to a dad (some hilarious stories there…) but they are more likely to just assume that a mom is “bad” at parenting if they see any missteps. Is this sexist and unfair? Yes. Does it happen pretty much all the time? Yes. There is a general assumption out there, even among fairly enlightened people that the momma is the standard bearer of childcare: she who decides what peanut butter or laundry soap is right for her brood, what is the best for her baby’s skin, what nurturing activity at the Community center to enroll her offspring.

Should I have just had lower expectations? Should I just be glad that I’m not a single mom? Should I assume that I’m a mentally-damaged control freak? (You can stop nodding now.)

I know I’m kind of ranting… and I probably just need a break. I’m 13 months in and I have only been away from my kid for 2 hours, on only about 5 occasions. Conveniently forgetting I was finally supposed to go to a “mom’s night out,” my husband strolled in too late a few nights ago for me to get ready, get the baby’s dinner ready, and go. So, I don’t think that break is going to happen if I have to count on him.

I just wanted to put it out there that I know so many tired, drained, frazzled mommas who feel like their baby-daddies don’t get it. I could probably write a post that sympathizes with those dads having to deal with the drama-mamas, but at the end of the day, sorry dads, Momma For The Win. Hand over the brownie.