My Life, as told by Disney

My all time favorite Disney movie is Tangled. When I first watched it, I cried and cried. I couldn’t understand how anyone could produce a movie like this without knowing about the stay at home daughter movement, because in my eyes, that’s what this movie was about.

Rapunzel has grown up in a tower, secluded from the world. She has now about to turn 18. The movie begins with Rapunzel’s routine housework, which sounds exactly like the life of a stay at home daughter, minus the caring for younger siblings. So yes, this whole song felt eerily familiar.

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Rapunzel wants to leave her tower on her eighteenth birthday. She wants to see what is beyond her window. Her mother will not allow her, and why? For the exact same reason stay at home daughters are kept home: the world is a big and scary place, and they need protection! Again, so very familiar…

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Just before her birthday, Rapunzel secretly leaves her tower without her mother’s knowledge. She is torn between joy for her freedom and the new things she is discovering and fear and guilt for leaving. Again, so familiar…I’ve been there too.

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Next Rapunzel visits a tavern full of scary characters and initially finds her mother’s predictions true. But then, she realized that they are all really no different than she is inside. They’re just people, with hopes and dreams and families. I had this realization too, and it was just as dramatic.

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On her travels, Rapunzel falls in love with her male traveling companion. After following her for a while, her mother finds her, but rather than taking her back to her tower by force, she employs emotional manipulation, telling Rapunzel that there is no way the young man she loves cares anything about her, that she’s too naive, that all he wants is “her tiara,” which she has promised to give to him at the end of their journey. Once he has the tiara, Rapunzel’s mother tells her, he will leave her without a thought. For tiara read “sex,” and I heard this spiel many a time, almost word for word.

This is why you never should have left. Dear, this whole romance that you’ve invented just proves you’re too naive to be here.

This [holding up tiara] is why he’s here, don’t let him deceive you, give it to him watch you’ll see! Trust me my dear, [snaps] that’s how fast he’ll leave you, I won’t say I told you so!

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Rapunzel ignores her mother’s advice and continues on to the kingdom’s capital. She arrives in the middle of a festival with throngs of people, and her arrival there is very representative of my college experience. Notice that at first she is completely out of place, until four little girls braid her hair up for her so that she doesn’t stick out so much. Those little girls were the evangelical friends I made in college.

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That night, Rapunzel watches the lanterns, something she had wanted to do her entire life. This song made me cry. I have been there. This was me.

The world has somehow shifted. All at once, everything looks different.

All those years, living in a blur. All that time, never truly seeing things the way the were.

At last I see the light, and it’s like the fog has lifted.

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Finally, there is the clip where Rapunzel realizes that she’s been lied to, that her mother is an impostor and that she, Rapunzel, is the lost princess. On her journey, Rapunzel had picked up a small flag bearing a star, the symbol of the princess. Then, back at home with her mother, Rapunzel looks up at the ceiling of her room and suddenly realizes that the star is painted all over it, but that she was unable to see it before. That moment of realization, when she suddenly sees what she was before unable to see and realizes that she’s been lied to – I’ve been there too.

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One last parallel to draw. Many, but not all, daughters of Christian Patriarchy escape with the help of young men we’ve met. Like Rapunzel, though, having a young man to give the impetus for escape does not mean depending on that young man to do everything for us or not thinking for ourselves. Rapunzel knew there was something wrong with her life in the tower and wanted out – Flynn just happened to be there and be a handy guide to the outside world. His presence made it so that she dared to leave. While our young men are generally not liars and thieves like Flynn, they do give us an extra ounce of courage and support, and they also have WTF moments just like Flynn did when he first realized that Rapunzel’s hair glowed – though rather than repeating “her hair glows?! Why does her hair glow?” over and over, it’s generally more like “you were taught what?!” Start the following clip at 1:20:

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I love Tangled. It’s my story. To be perfectly honest, if someone wanted to understand my journey in a nutshell, I would recommend this movie. This is me, and I have watched it so many times.

I’m not the only one to notice these connections. Indeed, Ladies Against Feminism posted a whole article called Mangled: Stay at Home Daughters on the Silver Screen. In response, No Longer Quivering posted an article called That Evil Feminist Movie, “Tangled.”

Tangled isn’t the only movie that makes me cry because of its parallels to my own life. Fiddler on the Roof does that too. I think if someone wanted to understand my life, I’d have them watch both Tangled and Fiddler on the Roof (and maybe Cheaper by the Dozen too).

Start this clip at 3:00 and you will see why I find Fiddler on the Roof so hard to watch (Tevye’s daughter Chava has just married the man she loved, a man who happened to be outside of her family’s faith). I literally can’t watch this movie with company, I just can’t handle it.

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Do you have any movies that speak to your life and experiences in this way?

Fifty Shades of Evangelical Justifications for Patriarchy
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
When Marriage Looks Like the Only Escape
A Matter of Patriarchy
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Anonymous

    Since leaving fundamentalism I feel awash in movies that speak to me in various ways now that I actually watch them, so I can't really pick a particular one out, but I agree that Tangled makes me cry. My parents watched it and I really, really hope it helps them understand a little more.

  • Young Mom

    Goodness, I LOVE Tangled. I so understand. The song where her mother mocks her "You're SO grown up now" is like a replica of anytime I dared to express any idea other than my parent's. I love every scene that you linked here. Another one of my favorites is when she finally realizes that she's been lied to, and then she sees the sun symbol all over her artwork, the evidence was everywhere, you just can't see it when you are so trapped.

  • Jendi

    "Tangled" is my life story too – funny thing is, we were not religious, my mom simply has issues from her own abused childhood that made her unable to let me go. My husband and I were elbowing each other throughout the whole film and whispering "Triggering!" I love reading your blog because I see how these fundamentals of narcissistic and abusive parenting cut across all ideologies. It helps me separate out the good parts of the Christian tradition from the unnecessary distortions. (Speaking only for myself – I respect your reasons for being an atheist.)

  • Enigma

    Tangled made me cry too. I love the part where she realized that the men in the bar are just people with hopes and dreams like hers. Also, that LAF article is completely crazy. Its so strange now to look back at the movement and see how completely wrong they are. I can't help but feel sorry for all those people still willingly chained in their ideological towers.

  • Libby Anne

    Young Mom – I liked that clip too, and for the same reason. But I looked for it to put it in but couldn't find it. So I just found it (in French but the word part isn't what matters) and added it. Thanks for the push on that one! My post is more complete for it.

  • Anonymous

    If you like Tangled, you should read Rapunzel's Revenge (and its companion book, Calamity Jack), another take on the Rapunzel story.

  • Young Mom

    I put an english one that I found in the end of my last comment, I just wasn't sure how to make it link. Really the only problem I have with the movie was when he cut off her hair, I think it would have been even better if she'd cut off her own hair. But then, I guess he had to cut it off to demonstrate that he wasn't interested in her only for her hair. : )

  • Wendy

    My background is not fundy, it's more poverty/matriarchy/abuse; but this movie gave me a few goosebumps, too. Her joy/fear at leaving the tower was haunting to me. But I think my favorite moment is when she moves her hand away from the cupboard and chooses not to tell her mom about Flynn. THAT'S when everything really changed, I think. (I remember some of those moments; when I realized my joy or pride has to be protected from She Who Must Not Be Named.)

  • Kat

    …"Zel" by Donna Jo Nappoli is excellent too (it's a young adult/teen book, but I read it at 25 and loved it–it's easily one of my top 5 favorite books of all time!)I'm mildly obsessed with "Maiden in The Tower" folk/fairy tales and stories, and was a little nervous about "Tangled" (being Disney and CGI and all) but ended up loving it–it's actually now one of my favorite adaptions of the Rapunzel story–I totally noticed the Christian Patriarchy/Stay at Home Daughter connection right away too, which was almost disconcerting, because (being obsessed as I am) I've been working on a novel (for way too long!) that explores the connection between the contemporary Quiverfull/patriarchy movement and the Maiden in a Tower genre. The connection is definitely no accident though, as I understand it "Persinette" (an earlier incarnation–though not the earliest–of "Rapunzel") was written as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek response to certain patriarchal attitudes and social constructs in the late 17th century.

  • rainyday

    "This is why you never should have left. Dear, this whole romance that you've invented just proves you're too naive to be here."That may be a movie, but I've heard this said by mothers.If they did what really needs to be done – PREPARE their children for the cruel, outside world, the children then wouldn't be so 'naive'. Le derp. I call that; fail parenting.Thanks for posting this :D It's helped me see things a little differently and answered a few more questions.

  • rainyday

    movie quote*

  • Kayla

    I love that you wrote this! That movie really struck a chord with me, too, in so many other ways. I watched this for the second time with my three little charges that I babysit. I loved it even more.That link to LAF was SCARY! She equated real parents = indulgence and the abuser = strict, upright one. REALLY?! Holy crap. That was soooo over-reaching that I shook my head in disbelief.Thanks for posting this.

  • Anonymous

    Kat, another Maid in the Tower fairy tale is Maid Maleen, wonderfully rewritten as Book of a Thousand Days. Gosh, I love that book.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Wow, I think I'm going to have to watch this movie now! I remember it got discussed a lot by feminists when it came out, with mixed reactions. And with a few notable exceptions, I don't generally expect Disney movies to be very feminist-friendly so I pretty much dismissed it. But seeing how much it resonated with you and others here (not to mention, see how much the LAF are clutching their pearls over it) definitely makes me want to take a look.And one of those notable Disney exceptions…Beauty and the Beast! That is MY favorite Disney movie and I can't tell you how much I related to it as a child. I was always bookish and intellectual and opinionated, even when I was a little girl, and I was lucky to have parents that encouraged that. But school was another story. I think it took until about the second day of kindergarten for most of the kids to conclude I was a total weirdo (and not a proper girl to boot since girls aren't supposed to be smart, obviously) and either write me off or be downright awful to me. So…"Look there she goes the girl who's so peculiar/I wonder if she's feeling well/With a dreamy far off look/And her nose stuck in a book/What a puzzle to the rest of us is Belle." It was chicken soup to my soul. Belle understood what it was like!

  • Sierra

    Tangled is totally my story, too. I thought the swinging on a tree ecstatic moment followed by the face down in the dirt moment was the most insightful part of this movie. Hardly anybody ever explores that dynamic. "I'm freeeeee! … I am a despicable human being." Both my partner and I have watched Tangled and cried on several occasions.Unfortunately, I have history with Fiddler on the Roof and can't watch it. My fundie best friend/would-have-been-boyfriend's family loved it. They used to sing the "TRADITION" song unironically. I despised that movie because they were actively trying to weed me out of their son's life and choose a different spouse for him at the same time they were inviting me over to watch the movie… talk about turning its meaning on its head!So glad I didn't end up with that guy or those in-laws, but it still hurts to remember the betrayal.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Also, interesting to read that Cheaper By the Dozen and Fiddler on the Roof touched you too. I loved CBTD when I was a kid but in the back of my mind, I did always wonder if life at the Gilbreth home was really as non-stop crazy fun as the book made it out to be. What was it like for Lillian Gilbreth to go through all those pregnancies while still trying to have a career? What was it like for Ernestine Gilbreth to be older sister to 9 other children? What was it like to live with a father who was obviously very authoritarian and probably kinda scary sometimes (he certainly didn't respond well to his daughters' budding sexuality when they hit their teens and was very controlling of their dating lives.) It did always seem to paint a very rosy portrait–going so far as to completely gloss right over the fact that one of the children died in childhood of diptheria. I'd be interested to hear more about what your take on that book/movie is.I loved Fiddler on the Roof too as a kid and I also related to it, although for different reasons. One note on it–although I certainly don't want to impugn the connection you felt with it, because I certainly see where that comes from. But Tevye's reasons for rejecting Chava's marriage are a lot more understandable in my mind. It's not just that her husband "happens to be of a different faith," it's that he belongs to a majority that has Tevye and his village living with the constant threat of violence. He recedes into tradition because, as the song says, it's a way to "keep our balance" in a world that isn't safe for them. The persecution complex seems to be an integral part of ultra-conservative American Christian culture, but for Tevye, that persecution is actually real, not imagined. His short-sightedness and fear prevent him from seeing that Fyedke is different, but I still find him a lot more easy to sympathize with than American Christian patriarchs.Although, of course, the fact that there is a more genuine basis for his "us vs. them" mentality doesn't mean that Chava suffers any less for this rejection of her. I always cry at that part too.

  • Anonymous

    "All my life you have told me that the world is a dark, cruel place. But now I see that the only thing dark and cruel about it is people like you!" Quasimodo to Frollo, Hunchback of Notre Dame (also a Disney movie). I love Tangled and I love HoND. Both protagonists were manipulated and lied to into complying with their parental figure.

  • Libby Anne

    PP – Given that you're Jewish, I see why you would point that out. :-) It's true, Tevye faced real violence from "the others" in Anatevka. But besides that aspect, the feeling is the same – my father refused to approve of my marriage because my young man was outside of his faith. Like Tevye, my father's beliefs are incredibly important to him, and like Tevye loved Chava, my father loved me. I know that what happened ate him up inside, and actually watching Tevye helps me understand how my father must have felt. But yes, the question of a real and physical threat is different, though the spiritual threat is the same.

  • quietpanther

    My wife and I love Tangled. We saw it in the theater, and it hit a lot harder than expected (I completely broke down crying during At Last I See The Light). We bought it the day it was released and have watched it countless times since.Has anybody else noticed that Gothel strongly resembles Stacy McDonald? XDI don't know whether Tangled was intended to be a beautifully symmetric analogy for SAHDs exiting cultic/patriarchal/fundie/isolationist environments … but I do know that Glen Keane played a very major role in its production…• Co-executive producer• Animation director• Animation supervisor• Originally slated to be director; had to step down due to family/life issuesGlen Keane (son of Bil Keane, Family Circus cartoonist) is an outspoken Christian who has had a huge amount of influence in Disney for a long time; his résumé includes animating characters such as Ariel, Tarzan, the Beast, the Hunchback, Pocahontas, and many more. I haven't yet been able to find evidence to support the notion that Tangled is intended to portray an exiting SAHD … but it wouldn't surprise me in the least.

  • quietpanther

    Amendment: Keane didn't animate the Hunchback; blame my faulty memory for that one.

  • Anonymous

    Now I NEED to see Tangled. (I usually wait to see movies until our library has them.)Fiddler on the roof made me sob the first time I saw it. In so many ways it is my story, too. Plus, with the whole homesteading thing that I grew up with, there are so many little details, right down to the purple cabbage, that made it resonate all the more with me. kateri @

  • Merbie

    I noticed the Tangled parallels too. I showed the "Best Day Ever" scene to my non-believing friend to help him understand the up and down emotions I go through as I "cross over".Another Disney movie that I've shared is The Little Mermaid, particularly the scene where Ariel first has her legs. Sebastian says, "Maybe there's still time. If we could get that witch to give you back your voice, you could go home with all the normal fish, and just be . . . just be . . . just be miserable for the rest of your life."I feel like I'm finally getting my legs, but some people want me to go home with all the "normal" fish and be miserable for the rest of my life.I've appreciated your blog–just started reading a couple days ago and am still catching up. It's so nice to find people who have been on the same journey. I love the internet!

  • Libby Anne

    I just added one more thing to the post: One last parallel to draw. Many, but not all, daughters of Christian Patriarchy escape with the help of young men we've met. Like Rapunzel, though, having a young man to give the impetus for escape does not mean depending on that young man to do everything for us or not thinking for ourselves. Rapunzel knew there was something wrong with her life in the tower and wanted out – Flynn just happened to be there and be a handy guide to the outside world. His presence made it so that she dared to leave. While our young men are generally not liars and thieves like Flynn, they do give us an extra ounce of courage and support, and they also have WTF moments just like Flynn did when he first realized that Rapunzel's hair glowed – though rather than repeating "her hair glows?! Why does her hair glow?" over and over, it's generally more like "you were taught what?!" Start the following clip at 1:20:

  • Darcy

    I love Tangled. Even though it's almost TOO life-like.

  • Monk

    You're right about this. The parallels are very obvious. So much so that I felt very uncomfortable watching the movie (I first watched it during the last gasps of my faith). Disney dabbled in deeper waters than they normally do with this one, but I'm proud of them for it. You can say so many things and reach so many people (and make them see how horrible some things are) with allegory like this. Good post and good for Disney on this one!

  • Jesse

    I'm catching up on posts due to being sick, and just had to throw in my two cents on this one…I didn't grow up in a Quiverfull home, but in a very conservative Latter-Day Saint household, with parents who had less then ideal homes as children.I sat in the theater and bawled through the first half of Tangled…then when she ran away…then at the end all over again. Oddly enough, though, it wasn't my relationship with my mother it reminded me of…but my father. One thing that particularly stuck out for me was the way she constantly undercut Rapunzel's self esteem, then said she was "just joking", or blamed Rapunzel ("Always with the mumbling…"). My father was the one we always defended growing up…he'd had a horrible childhood, and was just doing his best. Up until this past year I never realized just how emotionally abusive that was…to see that aspect of my childhood in the movie really made it hit home that I wasn't just too thin-skinned.

  • Hillary

    I think I was the last person I knew to see this movie and it totally made me cry.

  • Anonymous

    I saw Tangled as a pararrel to me leaving Christianity. :)

  • Anonymous

    I thought the message presented by Tangled was amazingly accurate of anyone who is leaving an abusive or "Trauma Bonded" situation. What I didn't like, as you pointed out Flynn was a liar and a thief and had very poor character displayed, was the presentation again by Disney that a nice young woman can "change" a man's character once he "finds the woman he REALLY loves". Really tired of that message, and I think its just as dangerous to young girls and women as any twisted and warped religious extreme perspective.Beauty and the Beast is another one that gives the message that an abusive, cruel, tyrannical man can be changed from a monster to a wonderful man once he meets the wonderful woman destined to him.anyways-I digress, but I do really appreciate the very accurate picture Tangled presents of what it looks like to leave an unhealthy and abusive relationship, or any family relationship or romantic relationship in which "Trauma bonding" has taken place. (I believe physical violence like spankings and emotional abuse techniques create trauma bonds even when the parents had the best intentions and not abusive intentions)

  • Kat

    That LAF article is absolutely insipid. Talk about missing the point entirely – apparently parental rebellion is inexcusable even if the parent is horribly controlling, emotionally/physically abusive, and… not even your real parent? The angle they try to argue it from is indefensible even from a Biblical point of view – parents are not to provoke their children to wrath, after all.Considering how nasty Gothel was Rapunzel's attitude towards her still managed to be quite gracious and merciful. Sounds pretty pro-Christian to me… but then again, what do I know? I'm an evil Christian feminist! Everyone knows the only good/real/faithful Christians are patriarchal sexists who wouldn't understand proper hermeneutics if it smacked them in the face.Also, ladies, Rapunzel is not a homemaker. SHE IS AN ABUSED, VULNERABLE CHILD FORCED INTO ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. This movie is not making a mockery of stay-at-home moms/wives in any way whatsoever. Sorry anti-feminists, but no amount of willful misreading of the film's narrative themes will support your ignorant viewpoints.

  • Anonymous

    So, what is your new dream?

  • Anonymous

    I'm felt connected to the movie too . My mom was always over-protective and wanted me to do things her way . She too would throw insults at me with a ' just kidding dear ' . She wouldn't let me get creative or even treat me like a person . She wouldn't even let me have a proper relationship with my friends . But she Does love me . All parents do . They just don't know how to bring up their kids . They think its for the best . If I were in Rapunzel's place I'd never have left . I'd be seriously breaking her heart if I did . That's a most ruthless , heartless things to do . Offcourse , Gothel's not Rapunzel's mom , but she doesn't know that and also loved her . So I cured my mom instead . I talked to her and made others talk to her . It took time , but she changed when she realized she was doing more harm than good for me . They are this way because of their life issues . Blaming them and abandoning them will be like parents abandoning their kids just because they have dyslexia or some other handicap .

  • Vivi

    Haven't seen "Tangled", but going by what you liked about it, you might want to check out the new TV movie "The Borrowers" that just aired in the UK. It's basically the same story, except that the over-sheltering parents are the heroine's real parents and aren't depicted as evil or maliciously manipulative, just scared. It's more about the dad/daughter relationship, though, the mother is actually on her side, but unfortunately resigned to going with her husband's decisions, no matter how much she disagrees. I especially liked how the movie subtly managed to convey the hypocrisy in the father's desperate need to keep his family sheltered even against their wishes, while at the same time he's totally getting a kick out of the danger when he's alone. It also doesn't hurt that Eccleston channelled a lot of the goofy mannerisms and gentle speech patterns of the Ninth Doctor into this role (who had similar issues with an internal conflict between being a possibly suicidal adrenaline junkie and having a pathological need to keep his young, female Companion safe – a need that did not extend to his male Companions) and that the love the character feels for his daugther is palpable, which keeps him likeable despite his patriarchal, controlling attitude. Come to think of it, the overprotectiveness and need for control of both these characters is even based in the same kind of trauma, if in this movie on a much smaller scale (no pun intended).The heroine herself unfortunately isn't quite as nuanced as Rapunzel (no guilty concience about disobeying, for example), and her young man is a hormonal, wannabe-macho waste of space, but I guess you can't have everything.Oh, trigger warnings for sexual harrassment, though. Yes, in a Christmas family movie. The way the scientists treat the captured borrowers is really quite disturbing.(attempted forcible undressing of a man)

  • Cindy

    it made me cry when they seen the flying lantern.

    After all these year, after I became christine, I finally realise there is a God in the world, since I was born, he loves me all the way through and waiting all the time for me to return home.

  • Doyel

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  • simon

    I hate to point out the obvious, but the “mom” was right. The world out there WAS dangerous…the fact that she, in fact, was the danger is irrelevant. Let’s not overplay the phallist crud here, okay?