Here’s an enlightening though spoilerific commentary on the new Disney princess movie, Frozen. Gina Dalfonzo liked the movie well enough (not everyone did), but thought the denouement of Prince Hans was unnecessarily cynical and harsh. She says (REMEMBER, I SAID SPOLERS):
The naïve and lonely Anna has fallen in love with and become engaged to Hans in the course of just one day. As her other love interest, Kristoff, tells her, this is not exactly indicative of good judgment.
However, there is something uniquely horrifying about finding out that a person—even a fictional person—who’s won you over is, in fact, rotten to the core. And it’s that much more traumatizing when you’re six or seven years old. Children will, in their lifetimes, necessarily learn that not everyone who looks or seems trustworthy is trustworthy—but Frozen’s big twist is a needlessly upsetting way to teach that lesson.
I haven’t seen the movie, but this article caught my interest because it’s about something that niggles at me: how to tell lovely, romantic stories to the kids, without giving them dangerously stupid ideas about love?
Disney is doing penance for decades of promoting the idea that a kiss between a strange man and a vacant, helpless young woman can signify true love — and that is a worthy effort. Maybe once upon a time, it was okay to show a princess who liked being macked on by strangers in her sleep, because everyone knew it was just a story, la di dah.
But today? Listen, I’m no “rape here, rape there, rapey-rapey everywhere” anti-princess zealot, but people today are so clueless, so utterly innocent of a basic understanding of virtue, that we have to be really careful. We can’t assume that mom and dad are teaching kids what love and marriage are really about. I recently read an article by a teacher after the Steubenville rape. She said that her students had learned that you’re not supposed to have sex with someone who says “no.” But a sleeping girl isn’t saying no. To them, this was a dilemma. How are they supposed to know if she consents or not, if she’s not even conscious? No one had told them (probably out of fear of imposing outmoded standards of morality) why it was important to gain consent. Consent, to them, was just a secret password to gain sex, and in its absence, that had no idea what they were supposed to think.
Anyway, you read enough things like this, and you can’t quite bring yourself to tell your four-year-old that a stranger and a sleeping girl just enjoyed “true love’s kiss.”
But I think it’s stupid to tell girls, “Prettiness is slavery! Romance is for suckers! Love will always let you down! Don’t you dare put on a sparkly crown!” So I tell my daughters stories about beauty and love and caroling birds and shimmering gowns — but I tweak them. Here is how I adjusted Sleeping Beauty:
The bad fairy, the curse, the spinning wheel, the 100 year’s sleep, blah blah blah.
Here’s the part where I started to improvise: the prince is wandering around in the woods because all the princesses in his territory are boring, and just want to talk about shoes and hair and parties. He sees the castle overgrown with roses, with no sound but the humming of bees, and hacks his way through out of sheer curiosity. When he makes his way through the sleeping castle, he finds the princess at its center, fast asleep, and she is lovely.
Worn out from all that hacking, he sits down, and before he knows it, he starts to talk. He talks and talks and talks, about all the things that he’s interested in, but nobody in his kingdom wants to hear about. He pours his heart out to her, because he know she’s not going to spill the beans, because she’s asleep. Then he goes back outside and, unable to make himself go home quite yet, he camps in the courtyard.
The next morning, he comes back, and talks some more. At first, he was just thrilled to talk to someone who didn’t laugh at him or interrupt. But gradually, he begins to wish with all his heart that she could answer back. Her face is so intersting, even in sleep, that he wants to know what she thinks.
That night, when he lies down in the courtyard again, he dreams that she is awake, and tells him everything on her mind — and it is marvelous. The next day, he comes back again, and so on and so on.
After a few weeks of this, he shakes himself and decides he can’t pursue this fantasy any longer. Back to real life; time to face the petty and puerile girls in his own kingdom, and settle for one of them so he can further the royal line. Facts are facts: better a third-rate reality than a gorgeous fantasy. So he goes back one last time to say goodbye to her. He leans over to take one final look at her lovely face, and her breath smells so nice that he can’t help himself: he plants a chaste little kiss on her rosy lips.
And she wakes up. And says, “Oh, were you going somewhere? We were having such a nice conversation!” Bafflement ensues, and gradually it turns out that, just as he has been dreaming of her, she has been dreaming of him. His words found their way past the enchantment and into her subconscious mind, and, in her dream, she answered him back. They feel like they know each other, and they do — because they are so perfectly suited for each other that their dreams conversations were identical.
So then they get married. The princess wears a shimmering wedding gown, and then they have eleven children. The end.
Now, I realize this is more or less the naked fantasy of a 38-year-old woman: True love is someone who will sit there and listen to me talk! So sue me. I still think it’s better than “And as soon as their eyes met, they knew they were in love, and got married the next day.” Bah. I fell in love like that once, and it took me two years to realize that the guy just found me convenient, and treated me like poo. I like my version because there is a romantic dream that really does come true — but they have to work their way up to it. It preserves the idea that the kiss is a magical turning point, but the fellow has to earn it, and she has to have some reason to return his affections.
So, to sum up, I don’t shriek and turn blue at the very mention of the word “princess,” and I am so done with the edgy new takes on princess culture.
I think little girls need to hear about silvery ballgowns and falling in love while birds sing overhead, especially when the world tells them that you can either be pretty like this:
or accomplished like this:
but nothing in between. But I can’t quite swallow the “strangers–>kiss–>happily ever after” line, either.
How do you handle it in your house? Does the whole princess thing bother you? Do you make it work somehow? Or what?