In the Swagger community, we’ve been discussing why it can be difficult for women to say “no” in situations where, by societal pressures, we feel obligated to say “yes.” We also talked about why Disney Princesses are getting stronger, and yet maintain the unattainable symbols of beauty and success our children cannot possibly attain. Much as I appreciate Disney’s latest attempt to make its princesses appear to be self-sufficient andstronger, I was a bit shocked when viewing the latest of Disney’s princess movies, Rapunzel.
My girls, ages 4 and 6, went to the movie with their Dad, and came home wide-eyed and breathless, as any good child would after seeing aDisney movie. Immediately, though, I could sense something major happened. My eldest said, “Mommy – you are not going to believe what happened in the movie!” My youngest, “Mommy – you would not like what happened in this movie.” I was amused and thought some dragon had been slayed or some prince spurned. “Mommy – Flynn Rider cut off Rapunzel’s hair!”
I didn’t get to see the movie for a few more months, but gathered from family and friends’ descriptions that Flynn had cut Rapunzel’s hair off for some reason. When I saw the movie, my feminist alarm started to ding loudly when it came time to view the act. I don’t want to spoil this for you, so if you haven’t seen the movie, fair warning – the next paragraphs contain spoilers.
Here’s what happens: I assume you know the story of the girl with long hair who is locked in a tower and uses her hair for magical acts – oh, and lifting people into the tower. Rapunzel has just made a deal with her ‘stepmother’ that the stepmother will stay with her forever and continue to use her magical hair to maintain the evil woman’s youth. In other words, she would stay locked up in a tower for all time, serving her captor. The catch was that she first wanted to use her magical hair to heal Flynn Rider (the male of interest in this story) of a mortal wound. Rapunzel then approaches Flynn Rider, who is on the floor dying, to heal him with her hair. What she doesn’t know is that Flynn, in the first selfless act of his lifetime, has decided that Rapunzel should go free from the woman who kept her captive all her life, and therefore uses his sword to cut off her hair before she can heal him.
OK, so this is the part of the movie where tears are supposed to flow and you’re supposed to sniff, “What a wonderful man!” I myself was not impressed.
After watching the movie, I sat down with the girls to talk about what we had seen. I found it so endearing that they knew exactly which scene would have me concerned, though of course, they didn’t really know why. You might be asking the same question.
Rapunzel made a decision. She had her reasons, some of which Flynn Rider didn’t know. In spite of making her decision clear, Flynn over rode her and cut off her magical hair, her prized possession, and the one thing she felt gave her strength and character above all others. He sacrificed something that belonged to her out of some altruistic notion that he was saving her.
What I explained to my girls is this: Under no circumstances is anyone allowed to override a decision a woman has made. One of the most selfish acts of any person on this earth is to question a decision a woman has made and/or override it for her perceived benefit. I can still hear ringing in my ears the words, “Are you sure you want to do that?”
Note that I use the term “woman” here, but I have done my very best to allow my girls to make their own decisions about things like foodand clothing, toys, art supplies, books, etc. – those things that are important to kids their age. I do this, even if I think they are making a mistake or costing me money, to encourage the development of self-confidence and the ability to evaluate, after-the-fact, the decision they made.
Would I let them run out into the street or buy a copy of Cosmopolitan Magazine? No. But, I will explain why some things are out of bounds and give them the age at which certain things are appropriate, which establishes boundaries that children need. I also explain the value of one thing over another, but at no time do I sigh or raise my eyebrows or otherwise give them a reason to doubt their decision.
You might be wondering if I allow my children to see Disney Princess movies, and the answer is yes. The fact is kids at a young age need a certain amount of safe fantasy to help them build their imaginations and create their own sets of dreams. I do talk to them ask them questions like, “Do you think that could really happen?” and give them the rhetoric I think may help them in the future, even if they don’t understand or believe it right now. You could say I’m creating future“ah-ha” moments.
Finally, I realize that Disney has to tell stories somewhat within the boundaries of the fairytale genre, however, it belies common sense to me that they have begun making princesses into strong, intelligent, self-sufficient women, and still manage to give power to the man in the end, undermining that message and giving our girls the sense that we really can’t make good decision, or say no, without a man laying claim to the better path. I’ll forage for myself, thanks.