Sunday, June 05, 2011

Not a Fairy Tale

My life has never been like a fairy tale.  

My father was neither an idiot nor henpecked.

My stepmother was not evil.

No one who claimed to love me was ever secretly out to do me harm.

In fact, I've never been in any real danger at all.

I've never fled for my life.

I've never made a terrible promise that I regretted having to keep.

I've never hung my hopes and dreams on the talents of another person.

And I absolutely, most assuredly have not ever, not even once, sung a joyful song about housework

Maybe that's why I've never understood fairy tales.

Why are the dads such whiny buffoons?  Why are the moms always dead and the stepmoms always witches in poor disguise?  Why are those dang girls always willing to do anything for princely love?  I mean, you guys...they are willing to live in little shacks in the forest and sing songs about cleaning whilst waiting...waiting...for their valiant saviors to swoop in and take them to a better life.  Waiting!  Singing about cleaning!  Going off with some dude they don't know anything about!  It drives me dagum crazy, I tell ya what.

Maybe I could have a more fairy tale life if I sat around and waited for someone else to fix my problems.  Maybe if I clung to the illusion of a life of perfection waiting for me immediately following the announcement of happily ever after.  Yes, that's it.  All I need to do now is to make friends with some woodland creatures, and voila!  I can have every bit of the dysfunction and sadness woven into all those treasured fairy tales.

No, my life is not at all like a fairy tale.  Thank God.

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  1. So many of those stories give women a bad wrap...I don't like the idea that girls grow up thinking about princes. Sheesh, in The Little Mermaid, she leaves everyone she loves in the ocean to become a human for the love of a man.

    What else I don't like? The way teachers are portrayed in movies and TV shows. We're either idiots who fall for every prank or Hitler like. So much for respecting the profession...

  2. Tom has pointed out that Hollywood/Fairytale dads are always incompetent or buffoons or deadbeats. It's sad, really. They should be showcasing AWESOME dads and husbands (like ours) so that boys know how to behave when they grow up.

  3. Y'all are making me drag out the "amens" this morning. Neens did it, too! But alas, can I get an "amen"? AMEN! I agree completely...and while I appreciate the romanticism of a fairy tale from time to time, if I think about it for even a moment, I get all cynical and disgusted.

    I know you said you struggled with this prompt, Dweej, but I really love how your response turned out. It reflects your true feelings and really puts the idea of a fairy tale out on its tale.

    Nice job! And thanks for linking up!

  4. Awesome!!! Now that my daughter is 4 and we are constatly reading about the princesses and renting the DVDs, I actually realized how absurd they all are!! I wondered the same thing about the dead mothers and evil step-mothers.....why??

  5. Hey, let's not forget about Jasmine who wouldn't marry a prince by her next birthday just because it was law, and Mulan who kicked some major behind with the guys!

  6. That's true! I just wish Jasmine's dad didn't do the buffoon thing. He didn't notice that his daughter was being tormented? Makes me sad when the father figures are portrayed that way, and I never really noticed until I had children and imagined how sad it would be if my own husband treated our kids or was treated by our kids in that manner.

    And Mulan is cool...but isn't a traditional fairy tale, which I think proves my point even further. That people, understandably, yearn for something better. Healthier :)

  7. I really like this Dwija! I have taught my daughter to have her own dreams and live in her own house and build her own life! Oh don't get me wrong I love a good man, got one right here, but the fairytale thing is a load of crapola if you ask me! Think for yourself, isn't that what all the women before us fought for for heaven sakes!

    Not to sit in some dumpy cottage and wait to be rescued, get out there and learn to do it for ourselves, stand along side that man and cut the wood, hammer in hand! Get going girls! I am lucky cause my husband pretty much thinks girls can do what guys can do and supports our daughter 100% and me too for that matter! He does not have the sterotypical images of women, thank God!

    Have a great Sunday!

  8. Yes! I got a good one too! Why are they never portrayed in these movies? I don't like the "dads are bumbling idiots" bit. No wonder so many girls disrespect their fathers and turn to boys their own age for "fulfillment".

  9. Why don't you sing while doing housework? It's joyful.

    I never thought much about all the fairytales because my boys haven't been interested in even the most gender neutral of these types of stories so they haven't been around. But, since having a little girl and I feel bombarded by princess oriented everything and shirts that proclaim she is royalty of some kind and deserving all sorts of kisses and treats....I feel angry about them.

    We aren't even watching them yet and I feel like I don't want any of them to see how everything goes down in one of these stories. I know she'll watch Snow White, Cinderella, etc. but I hope that we can balance things here with a better dream of normal, healthy, things that make her feel good about her...not like she needs to wait for someone else to give her good feelings.

  10. What do you mean you don't sing while cleaning the can? How do you get through the day?

    Princesses...I hate the way that modern representations take the sexism and weakness to an even higher level. Darn you Disney and those movies made in the height of America's quest to reassert the woman's role as mother. Ick. Princes movies made post-war and into the early sixties really speak of the mindset of the era.

    That said, my father was kind of bad, my mother was checked out and I spent vast periods of time with my friends, the farm animals. Fairy Tales were my escape. Thankfully, I saw the forest through the trees and taught myself strength and self-reliance. I hope to do the same with my little girls.

  11. Y'all...they sing songs ABOUT cleaning! I happily sing WHILE I'm cleaning...or rather, let Beyonce sing TO me. And I sing to her sometimes too :)

  12. Oh Dweej, you are too funny! I like your take on the prompt...mine was opposite of yours, though. I still love fairy tales...I know, I'm a little nuts!

  13. I LOVE how you detailed all the aspects of a fairy tale to back up your argument! Instead of just saying "I didn't just sit on my tush, wait for Mr. Perfect, and then all was fine and dandy," you also pointed out all the other strangely similar traits most fairy tales share. Reminded me that Disney isn't the only culprit here, we've also got the Brothers Grimm!

  14. *thunderous applause*

    I just let the woodland creatures do the cleaning for me. I mean if they can sew dresses they can certainly do some dishes!

  15. @No. 7- I'm always interested in your take on things so I you see the standard fairy tale as glorifying the lame father/absent mother stereotype implying that in order to have the happily ever after, you have to have a poor or nonexistent relationship with your parents? It seems the message is birth family vs. handsome have to shun one to have the other. Surely *sometimes* that's the case in real life, but it seems to be some sort of ideal put forth in these stories, a message that subconsciously infiltrates boys AND girls.

    What are your thoughts?

  16. Okay Dwija, you know I love you, but this post and subsequent discussion has got my feathers a teensy bit ruffled. Are the things you described (buffoon dad, waiting for a man to fix everything, and housework completed by forest creatures) aspects of a fantasy that can have a negative effect? Absolutely.

    Are these messages I would want my theoretical children exposed to?

    Are they aspects of real fairy tales?
    Not exactly.

    What your describing is Disney, which, I would argue, is a departure from the spirit of actual fairy tales.

    Don't assume that the intention of a fairy tale is to be a model for behavior.

    Fairy tales are dark, earthy, secret things that speak to our souls on a very deep, ancient level. They describe how things are, not how they should be. They should be read more as a dream than as a linear story. The prince isn't really a prince, he's a dynamic present within the heroine, a dynamic she must access in order to save herself.

    At some point fairy tales were transformed (maybe by an evil witch in disguise) into these sweet romantic vehicles for escapism, fantasy, and problems solved by others.

    Amen! Put the smack down on Disney all you like, just don't blame the genre, okay?

    P.S. I recommend any books by Joseph Campbell or Clarissa Pinkola Estes on the subject for anyone who is interested in delving further into the topic.

  17. You're totally right, Claire. This was absolutely about the Disney interpretation of fairy tales.

    I much prefer The Little Mermaid, the real story, as a cautionary tale (you will turn into a bit of foam and die) than as a celebratory story a la Disney (everything will turn out great and even your fellow mermaids will be happy for you).

    I didn't grow up reading or watching traditional fairy tales. My only experience of them is through the eyes of a mother with children, so that's the lense you have to evoke when you read anything I have to say. A non-conventional childhood of only old Indian myths followed by having two daughters watching Disney's Beauty & the Beast.

    I should definitely have made that more clear.

  18. I have thought about that a lot, if I were (when I become?) a mother, would I let my children watch Disney cartoons?

  19. It's a more difficult decision than it seems, really. As for me, I don't want our children to be misfits carte blanche, and if they feel out of the loop or awkward because they are forbidden from participating in something that others view as 'so normal' they might be odd enough to be labeled as such. On the other hand, parenting from the everyone-else-is-doing-it-so-why-can't-we perspective is a mistake as well. My older girls did watch those videos when they were younger, and guess who it affected most? Me. I was the one getting all irrate. Not because I don't like femininity or pretty dresses (quite the contrary) I didn't like the message of family division followed by everything working out swimmingly for the rebellious girl. Parents realizing they were wrong. Some kind of magical love that only exists in some plane of non-reality where there's no frustration or dirty laundry.

    Anyway, that's my rambling introduction to saying this: They can have the "stuff" and seem just as "normal" without ever actually watching the videos. Or just watch the ones YOU like. 'Cause last time I checked, you was da boss!

    But then that leads me into the crazy commercialism that makes my skin crawl...but that's a whole different topic altogether :)

  20. GOTTA jump on this bandwagon!

    I think all of us [conscientious] moms have faced the dichotomy of helping our children feel comfortable in society, while at the same time instilling in them the unique values we want them to possess. It is an incredibly delicate balancing act, at best, and for each of us it is very personal and can be fraught with emotion.

    Ever since my daughter was practically born, she has had to go back and forth between mom's house and dad's, and let me tell you, we have VERY. DIFFERENT. Values. Very different. At first I struggled and kicked, writhed and cringed, cursed the day he was born.

    But then when I realized there was nothing I could do to change what she saw/heard/did/got away with over there, I changed what I could: My perspective.

    I took a step back and realized that, within reason, I will calmly allow my children to be exposed (edited to age and emotional maturity when possible) to the world, but only on the condition that they understand without a doubt what the truth [what I consider the truth, of course] is. We have an open dialog and they know they can ask me any question, no matter how "weird" or tough they may be.

    I encourage them to check it out and then process it, and then let me know what they think. I remind them whenever we sit down to a dorky Disney plot (not all of them are dorky, of course... just the dorky ones) that it is only for entertainment, and not a pattern to follow or dream for. When SpongeBob is on, I remind them that beating each other over the head with a jellyfish net is not the way to solve problems, and then I ask them to tell me some better ways. ;D You know, stuff like that.

  21. "Whilst" ... one of my favorite words ever :)

    Love this bit of writing. Love it. I did have all that bad crap... but I still was not content to sit in a hut in the woods and clean whilst singing. I still don't sing (well) nor do I clean (much) ;-)

  22. Thank you for coming back, Eden! We can't change others, we can only change ourselves. A crucial thing to remember.

    I have never been of the strict prohibition school of parenting. From experience as a fiery child myself, such things, if not backed up by reason, are just fuel for the rebellious fire. Plus, that would make all of our lives super hard, and who wants that?

    Knowing what they're seeing, watching it with them and discussing how it is or isn't healthy is an excellent strategy.

    Thank you!

  23. Written like a woman who knows her fairy tales even if she doesn't live them. I must admit, I never really stopped to think that it must totally SUCK to be a princess! Why am I encouraging me daughters to dress up like little princesses?

    Thanks for a great post! I love reading your blog. Always very entertaining and real.

    Hope you have a great week!


  24. Don't forget, though, that children learn much more from the real-life examples to which they are exposed on a daily level, than they do from any story they read or watch.

    That said, it always good to temper fantasy with talks about how it compares to "real life". Even really young kids have some interesting insights, if prompted.

    Also good to remember is that we do, as Dwija said, tend to view these things from an adult point of view. Children really do have a much simpler, less "sexualized" and "genderized" way of looking at these stories. They are mostly just entertainment, and it's up to the adults to let them enjoy some amount of make-believe while still using good example and real-life stories to show the difference.

    Love the post!

  25. Ahhh, well said Dweej. Well said! It was a hard lesson to learn but I thank God I did. Otherwise I'd be in a straighjacket by now!!!

  26. Oops. Straightjacket with a "t". :)

  27. I LOVE this post. "My life is not at all like a fairy tale. Thank God." Great!

    About the step mother thing:

    I took a class on Feminism and Fairy tales in college (best class ever!). One of the theories behind the step mom thing was that psychologically, children feel like they can't be mad at their moms. So they create a "fake mom" to be mad at. (Have your kids ever yelled: "you're not my real mom!!" at you? I know I did when I was mad, and then pretend that I was really a princess who had been adopted). So stories use "step-moms" to fill the evil mother role since its unsettling to have an actual evil mother.

    There are sexist undertones to many fairy tales. Beauty and the Beast? "Marry a guy if he's rich even if he's a beast." And I'm not kidding...that tale was popularized by a woman who ran a boarding school for girls as a way to convince them to marry old ugly men.

    But Mulan kicks ass. And Belle is smart. Cinderella works hard. Just because they get married at the end doesn't mean they are a silly bimbo. (not saying that you are saying that). I want to teach my kids that these women didn't getting married isn't the way out of a bad situation. I want to teach them that if you are your own person in a good place in life and ready to commit, then marriage is awesome. I think it's a fine line in the fairy tales. Is marriage the rescue from a bad situation, or the result of leaving it?

  28. Visiting from Catholic Mothers Online. you had me at "I like my Sacraments Catholic and my beer cold"!

  29. @Jakie- thank you for your well thought-out response! I really appreciate your background and experience on this topic.

    I definitely am a PROPONENT of marriage. Clearly! I'm celebrating my 31st birthday and my 11 year anniversary this month. It hasn't been a "fairy tale" but it's been so good and so worth it. Perhaps that's my concern. I value and appreciate the real institution of marriage so much that I think the ideals put forth in these stories make a bit of a mockery of what ought to be.

    Certainly there are good qualities to be found in all of the characters in those stories. Sometimes it's just hard for me to get past the parent-bashing (particularly the father bashing) :)

  30. I really like this and I've thought the same thing! I REALLY wish Disney would cut it with the buffoon kinda drives me nuts!

  31. Haha, I feel the same way. Why are mother's always dead? I love the whole "wake-up-and-get-over-yourself attitude. And where the heck is my woodland creatures when the bathroom needs cleaning, eh? :D

  32. Kat, you know we are kindred spirits, right?

  33. As a stepmother who totally adores her stepdaughter, I HATE fairy tales! I also HATE that whole "step" thing...

  34. I'm sure a lot of step mothers feel the way you do. As if parenting a mixed family isn't hard enough, right?

    You are such a fantastic mom, Daenel. I know she feels lucky to have you!

  35. Charlotte's THAT'S my kind of fairy tale! Fern was an in your face, get it done little girl, and Charlotte...well, what a spider!

    Who needs princesses when you can have Fern and Charlotte to look up to!

  36. You're brilliant! I love this! Disney movies (though I am a HUGE Disney fan) have such a distorted approach to their story lines.

  37. @Paula- yes! that's the spirit! Ann of Green Gables. She was my 'princess' growing up :)

  38. Here's an idea: Write some new "fairy tales" for children that are more reality than "fairy tale." I suppose then it wouldn't be a fairy tale, huh?

  39. I think C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein have already done an amazing job of that! I do love things that are magical, I just like for them to point in the right direction :)

  40. Omgosh great example, Dweej! SO true! Yes C.S. Lewis is one of my very, very favorites. Have you ever read the Screwtape Letters? Creepily awesome.

  41. EDEN! The Screwtape Letters is literally my favorite book of all time. Literally. I could read it once a week for the rest of my life and only feel like a better person each time.

    See? Now THAT is a story.

  42. Wow, this was a great post. I'm not a big fan of the whole "poor little princess" franchise. In fact, my husband and I want to actively discourage our daughter about the helpless fairy tale women. But then again, we just bought the book Cinderella and I love reading it to her!

  43. Bra-VO! So well done Dweej! What a great perspective you have...

  44. No. Way! Me too!!! That is awesome. The Screwtape Letters takes God's plan, the devil's plan, and our fallible human nature, and irons out the whole thing in an enthralling storyline. Even if Lewis hadn't used letters as the format it STILL would have been the best ever. Love it, love it, love it. You ROCK, Dweej! :D

  45. @ Jackie-- That is probably one of the most amazing mis-readings of Beauty and The Beast I have ever seen.

    G.K. Chesterton said, in his book Orthodoxy, that the lesson of Beauty and the Beast (I paraphrase) is that a thing must first be loved before it becomes lovable.

    But even regardless of the Chesterton quote (which I love) a simple reading of the story shows that Belle has no intention of marrying the Beast for his money (she refuses his proposals at first), and her father had no intention of giving her to the Beast despite his serious poverty. To further argue against your (or your professor's interpretation) is the author's contrast of Belle's selflessness against her sisters' selfishness. Finally, in the end it is revealed that the Beast truly loves Belle, for herself, and that she truly loves the Beast for himself, and that her love transforms his outer appearance to reflect his inner beauty.

    Much scarier than fairy tales are the interpretations of fairy tales by feminist "scholars."

    I don't mean to be rude, and I realize that many people have been swayed by these kind of professors, but this kind of mis-reading really irritates me.

    I have two young daughters and I would be happy if they turned out to have Belle's selfless love of others, and her strength of will that would not allow her to marry a Beast simply for his money, but a will that could be tamed by true love.


  46. Two more points:
    1.) A good alternate view on Fairy Tales would be the Chapter in G.k> Chesterton's book "Orthodoxy" called "The Ethics of Elfland." I realize that this post was more a critique of Disneyfied Fairy Tales though.

    2.) And not to harp on Beauty and the Beast, but Belle's father is portrayed as a good man, who, through no fault of his own, happens to be down on his luck financially. He is neither absent, nor stupid.


  47. I appreciate your thoughtful comments, Marc. It's even more apparent now thaT I should have specified, as you say, Disneyfied fairy tales!

    Because these are the versions that the majority of parents and their children are watching, maybe even sometimes reading, I wrongly focused my attention there without being clear about the viewpoint.

    Also, I hope it's obvious that I am not a feminist by any stretch of the modern imagination. I believe so strongly in the sacrament of marriage as well as the holiness of family that the Disneyfied versions of these stories (again, the ones that are most popular in our society today) tend to promote an attitude contrary to the values I seek to uphold.

  48. Hi,

    I think you made your position on the type of Fairy Tales you were talking about clear, and I was never under the impression that you are a feminist, whatever that means...

    I have no problem with feminism rightly understood. Simcha Fisher has a good article on her blog about that.

    I was arguing against the modern university's tendency to take things that are timeless and good, and bend them to fit their own ideological vision.

    I have been reading your blog for a long time, and as a young father of three in California I find it absolutely inspiring!



  49. Thank you so much for reading, Marc. Glad to know my perspective was clear :)


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