Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fairy Tales

The whole election year rhetoric has gotten me thinking quite a bit lately. Not about politics, as the ad makers would have liked, but about women's rights and fairy tales. Yes, you read that correctly, fairy tales. Hear me out, I do have a connection.

It really pisses me off when I hear someone talking about empowering women. Mostly because I feel so powerless some days I guess, but also because I really think we (women) just allow our power to be taken away from us at a very early age. We willingly give it up, and then spend the rest of our lives fighting tooth and nail to get it back. And this is where the fairy tales come in.

I loved Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella, all of those fairy tale princesses as a girl. I loved the idea of falling in love, and suffering for that love, and being rescued by the handsome prince and living happily ever after. What little girl doesn't love those stories? The romance, the intrigue, all of it custom designed to make your heart beat a little faster, your breath catch, your eyes brim with tears when Prince Charming finally realizes his love and rescues his princess and they drift off the the castle to live happily ever after. My daughter grew up with the Disney movies, and was a different princess every year for Halloween.

For me, the fairy tales implied that if I just found the right guy, and put everything in his hands, all would be well. It wasn't an outright message, but as I look back, it was the absolute undercurrent. No matter how hard the princess fought against the evil queen, she would inevitably fail, and have to wait for the dashing prince to come rescue her. And as subliminal messages go, this one is still hard at work in our society today.

August 26, 1920, women received the right to vote in this country, and almost 100 years later, we still aren't deemed intelligent enough to decide what to do with our own bodies, make the same wage as a man doing the same job, or be treated as equals on a day to day basis. Women are looked down upon for staying home and raising our children, but a women who goes to work to support her family is looked down upon for letting someone else raise her kids. It's a vicious cycle of doubt and discrimination, and makes me both angry and so very utterly sad.

Young girls are so caught up in the romance of the fairy tales we've been fed our entire lives, and we are looking for that Prince Charming, that happily ever after. And so no matter that our parents have taught us that we are just as good as men, we do everything in our power to live up to that helpless princess awaiting rescue. We dress the way we are told, we act the way we think the man we are attracted to wants us to behave, we await the rescue, have the dream wedding, and begin to live happily ever after.

It works for a bit, it really does. And then reality begins to creep in, bills must be paid, children must be raised, and we slowly realize that while he may still be the man of our dreams, he isn't the total sum of our existence, and we have to stand up for ourselves and become responsible for our own happiness. We must begin to fight again for those rights that we so willingly laid aside in the pursuit of love.

Before you get me wrong, I'm not blaming the men here. They've been fed the same stories we girls received, but their role was Prince Charming, Batman, Superman, always arriving to save the day, rescue the damsel in distress, and make the world a better place. Young boys are set up for the same false expectations, perhaps even more so, because it's up to them to provide the happily ever after, and what failures they are if they can't come through.

It's a wonder we've evolved to the point we have. I know quite a few good men who believe a woman are their equals, and I know a few good women who believe they are second class citizens. Now would be a good time to announce how I've never compromised myself, never expected a man to save me, and expected my happily ever after, right?

Bullshit. I bought into the fantasy hook, line, and sinker. I fell in love hard at 16, got pregnant, got damn lucky that he stuck around, and thought that life was going to be peaches and cream from there on out. I'd really like to go back in time and smack myself. I'm 43 now, and fighting every day. I'm just lucky that I have a husband who believes in me more than I believe in myself, and encourages me on every crazy journey I take. I'm struggling every day to empower myself, to be my own Princess Charming, and make my life what I want of it, not what I'm content to be given. And I'm my own worst enemy. I at least am adult enough to admit to myself that the discontent I feel in my life is self-inflicted. And it breaks my heart to see others, men and women both, who are desperately searching for the one person who is going to be the answer to everything, when all they have to do is look in the mirror.

So, all the uproar these days over women's rights, and how the politicians are denying us our equality and control? All the discussion about empowering women? How about women concentrate on empowering themselves first. I'm willing to bet when we stop expecting the men in our lives to save us, most of them will be more than willing to be our cheerleaders instead.

1 comment:

Shannon Blood said...

Kat, my dear, I love you greatly! Next time you're in a used bookstore, look for some Sheri S. Tepper, in particular, given the theme of your post, her book "Beauty" may intrigue you. I am heading to the TriCities the third weekend in October -- wanna come visit?