The Value of Problematic Things

The Value of Problematic Things December 12, 2018


When my daughter was very young, she loved Disney’s Snow White. I really didn’t love Snow White, for a plethora of reasons, not least of which was that the entire premise is based on a) deadly competition between women, and b) the uselessness of a woman’s life without a man (or dwarves) to serve.

So I said no, she couldn’t watch Snow White.

She was so very sad. She’d been allowed to watch it somewhere at some point and she really really wanted to watch it again.

For whatever reason, I acquiesced. We watched Snow White.

And when SW’s stepmother was so jealous of SW, we talked about how useless it is to compare oneself with others. And when the Huntsman took SW to the woods and set her free, we talked about how it’s sometimes appropriate to choose kindness over duty. When SW came upon the dwarves, we talked about how uncomfortable it would be if one was expected to be sleepy, or dopey, or sneezy all the time.

We talked about whether it is ever okay to kiss someone when they are sleeping. Whether it’s okay for a girl to choose to live by herself rather than by serving others. Whether it’s okay to really want to cook and clean as one’s primary path of service.

In terms a 4-year-old could understand, of course.

We did this with Cinderella, too:

We talked about how sad it must have made Cinderella that her mother had died. And when her father married a woman with two daughters, we talked about how cool that would have been had they been able to be friends. And when C’s father died and her stepmother forced C to serve the stepfamily, we talked about how unfortunate it was that SM couldn’t be a good mom to all the girls.

And so on.

When my daughter got a little older, she said, “Mom, I get it! Let’s stop picking things apart!” And I let some things go, since I knew that she really was getting the message.

Basically, those movies provided a foil for me to share with my daughter the culture of our family, by demonstrating the places where popular culture fell short. Between that and providing media that showed empowered young women (Ever After, Matilda, 10 Things I Hate About You), together we learned about all the ways girls could be strong and capable.

(Hey, I grew up in a traditional-mom-stays-home-and-dad-works household so I had plenty to learn, too.)

For the past few years, there’s been conflict about the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. The first time I ever heard this song was on Glee, when 2 boys sang it together, and it was *clearly* a game of flirtation. Later, I heard that it was coercive and inappropriate (which the original scene from the movie Neptune’s Daughter bears out). Even later, I heard that it was actually not coercive and inappropriate, but relied on a sensibility which was alive and well at the time the song came was released, where a woman would have to make up all sorts of excuses so she could, at least “say that I tried” before deciding to stay with a man.

Problematic, in any case.

The point I’m trying to make is, we don’t have to agree with the ‘message’ of a thing to enjoy it. We don’t have to build a lifestyle around it. We can take the time to consider a thing in the context in which it was created and gain a deeper understanding about what brought us here, the ways people thought and acted in the past that now we see the challenge in.  We can talk about it and possibly even become more skillful today because of how things were yesterday.

I think we’re missing out on some kind of subtlety when we dismiss things out of hand because they appear problematic. The world is a cathedral and a playground and a school. We can learn from anything. Allowing things/situations/events to reach us means that we have greater opportunities for learning more helpful ways of being.

My daughter, as a grown woman, gets that Snow White is a problematic movie for all the reasons listed above, but she still loves it. I recognize that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” could be interpreted as a woman in a dangerous situation, but I see that as more about the singer than the song. I have fun singing it with my loved ones.

In a nutshell, thoughtful engagement with media is valuable, yes, and so is the joy we feel when we can hold these two truths at once: this is problematic, and I love it.

(Important to note: There are all kinds of problematic things. Not all truths are applicable in all situations. I speak only for myself here and I’m sure others have different viewpoints. Awesome! We’re all learning and growing in our own ways! That being said, I’ll thank you to keep comments constructive, or at least entertaining.)


All images courtesy of Pixabay





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