dawn_metcalf (dawn_metcalf) wrote,
dawn_metcalf
dawn_metcalf

Xena, Barbie, SuperMom & A Happily Ever After

Strong heroines are certainly nothing new -- from Wonder Woman to Xena to the Powerpuff Girls, the image of the strong, feminine gal who can also kick some tushie is certainly a central theme to promoting positive self-esteem. That "Can Do" attitude which we, as strong feminists, writers, readers, moms, etc., wish to bequeath onto the next generation of young ladies is reflected in our YA literature; covers resplendent with beautiful women in tight, black clothing wielding stakes and guns, or tight corsets and strange powers, pretty horses and big swords, or flowing robes and sharp knives. These ladies can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and can fork out some serious damage with it, too.*

And yet...note how not-so-deep-down the average female reader has a marked tendency to like nothing more than to be swept away on waves of silk and taffeta lace, bent half-way out of her dress under a diamond-lit sky in the arms of some strapping, powerful male who knows her so well that he can fulfill her fondest secret wishes with the subliminal mental powers of a truly symbiotic love. Ah, l'amour!

Okay, yes, I jest; but only a little. In fact, there is a real issue in the "real world" where highly educated, intelligent, career-minded women still live under the fantasy that if their S.O. really loved them/knew them/cared enough/etc., then he would magically know what she wants and what she means without having to be told anything (because that would be cheating). I have no idea who came up with this brilliant idea (although I have my Usual Suspects) but my mind works in such a warped and snarky way that I thought this might be a fun topic to poke with a pointy, pink stick.

Mmm...Not so much.


So what if, instead of the intelligent, capable, feminist princess there was an intelligent, capable, single-minded princess who wanted nothing more than to find a prince, be rescued, and live happily ever after? It wouldn't matter that she had the freedom to rule all by herself, it wouldn't matter that she was under no peril nor obligation to marry, it wouldn't matter if she was strong or smart or good with a weapon or had good math skills -- all this young woman wants is to be rescued by a handsome prince (or knight in shining armor) and thus, as decreed by the rules of fairy tales everywhere, live the requisite Happily Ever After. [P.S. Just to be fair, this was before Shrek.]

This would not even ascribe to the passive ideal -- (I'm sorry, but even though I adore The Princess Bride in both its written and film versions, I have to point out that Buttercup does not actively do one thing to improve her situation other than make herself pretty and declare her unflagging devotion) -- but rather, this princess hunts down peril and grabs it by the throat. She needs to be in proper peril to tempt a rescue, after all, and is not going to miss the opportunity for her happy ending by standing idly by. This is not some plastic prop in a castle, but an active pursuer of her (admittedly fairy tale) dreams!

I was pretty proud of this idea. I mean, that's what was happening now, in our world, right? Where stay-at-home mothers have higher degrees and SuperMoms juggle family and career while desperately wanting/needing a hero? Young women (myself included) couldn't possibly miss this dichotomy on the horizon and had to think once or twice about where they might stand in lieu of their power walk into the sunset. Wouldn't this strike some sort of funny, self-deprecating, morally ironic chord?

No.

While there have been editors and agents who've loved this adorable manny, they agree it's tough to get behind this idea for a YA. I've had critique partners and beta readers balk at the notion. What kind of princess is this? Who would want their daughters reading that? We want spunky princesses and strong, feminist protagonists! We can't have a girl be all that and then throw herself away for just a silly idea of Prince Charming! We, as modern women, rail against this princess -- how can we support her? It's not realistic! What motivates her? How does she think? Why can't she see that she is just fine the way she is?

Here's my answer: "Exactly. Why can't girls get this? If the parade of great heroines showing them that they are capable in and of themselves isn't working, why not turn the trope on its head? Show how silly this looks when it's played-out on the stage? On the screen? Come on! We need to get beyond the fallacy of 'Prince + Rescue = Happily Ever After.' (And frantically 'Lather. Rinse. Repeat.' when it doesn't work...the definition of insanity, anyone?) So, like Munsch, why not have fun with it? Laugh a little?"

Ha ha...ha? Bueller?

Hmm. Maybe this strikes too close to a nerve? Life is unexpected and many of us may not have anticipated being home with our children full-time, leaving behind careers and professional contacts, as the research suggests. Our fear of living the 1950's nightmare looms large -- a ghost of suffrage past. Wasn't this what our mothers and their mothers struggled against? What kind of feminist are we to be vacuuming while holding a baby on one hip and another tugging a leg? Shouldn't we be doing something other than this with our brains? Does this undermine our stand to future girls/young women/adults that they can do anything and, therefore, we should provide heroines who can magically do kung-fu throughout all periods of history? (Odd genre pet peeve -- sorry, I digress.)

Truthfully, I think about this sometimes during my own struggle and decisions with my family and career, but I take to heart the wise words of the women on the Renaissance panel whom I had the honor and pleasure to experience first-hand: "Life is long. And while it's true a woman can do anything, that does not mean she has to do everything and certainly not try to do everything all at once. There is time for stages in life. You can have a second career, but your children only take their first step once."

I made my decision and know that, had it not been for the opportunity to take this time for myself and my kids, I would not have gotten the incredible chance to make a lifetime dream come true. I know I don't want my daughter to take the deferential path of the pretty, pretty princess, but I have just enough black humor in me to see the funny side of the road once-most-traveled. Don't you?


* By the way, all these tagged books are phenomenal! There is plenty of room on the shelves for some deep sighs, fluttering fans, handsome princes, kicking tush, and a little bit of laughter, besides.


Sure, it stings when I hold a magic mirror up to my aforementioned princess -- as well Xena, Barbie, SuperMom, and myself -- but it stings a lot less when I'm laughing! And I hope that I can someday share this story with other young girls who think this is wonderfully ridiculous, too.

(I guess it's no wonder that my favorite Free To Be You And Me clips are this and this!)
Tags: gender, theories
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