Close your eyes and envision a knight in shining armor...
... come on, now. Go ahead and do it ...
... what did you see? Was it a young man? I figured as much.
I've long railed against the princessification of our nation's young women — how 40 years after the modern feminist movement our society still teaches little girls that a good way to rise up in the social ranks is to look pretty and keep quiet.
I don't blame Walt Disney entirely, but Mickey & Co. shares a big chunk of the responsibility. Snow White was a beautifully animated film — and revolutionary, to boot. The music in The Little Mermaid ranks among the most joyous in the American cinematic cannon. And if were I to have had a vote in 1991, Beauty and the Beast would have received my Oscar endorsement over The Silence of the Lambs, no contest. Sorry Dr. Lecter.
But while I appreciate those films for myriad reasons, I'm not a big fan of the messages they deliver.
Snow White lives a miserable existence, dreaming (and singing) of a prince that will carry her away from her wretched life. And then he does — but not before she relies on seven other men to solve her problems with her step-mom.
Ariel the mermaid lives a charmed existence under the sea, and in an attempt to meet a prince, trades her voice for a set of sexy legs. Like clockwork, the prince falls in love with the pretty girl on the beach. And later he kills Ursula the Sea Witch while Ariel floats helplessly by.
Belle offers herself in trade for her imprisoned father — not a bad gesture, but then she proceeds to fall for the man-beast that is holding her in slavery. Um, yuck. In the end, she saves his life — not by any act of great bravery, mind you, but by simply falling in love with him.
And then there's Cinderella, who with a pretty dress and a bit of bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, manages to get a handsome prince to desire her hand in marriage without so much as telling him her name. I reserve a special brand of contempt for Cinderella.
Alas, to my great horror, it turns out you love her. In fact, you want to be her. And, on some days, you spend hours pretending you are her.
And to make matters more complicated, you pretend I am your prince.
We dance. You sing ("so this is love, la la la la, so this is love"). We twirl around as you hold the hem of your dress, ballroom style. The clock strikes midnight. You run away, kicking off one of your tennis shoes... um, excuse me... glass slippers as you go. I pick it up, find you and slip it on your little foot. And then you announce, confident that everything has gone as it should, that "now we can get married."
And so we do.
There is no way on God's Green Earth that I would refuse to play the part of your prince. If you want me to be your hero, I will be your hero. But I hope that someday we'll graduate to a game of make-believe in which you can be my hero, too.
And today I was given some hope, in the unlikely form of a Disney princess movie. The Princess and the Frog is a story about a pretty girl, yes — and it even ends with a princely kiss. But along the way it's about ingenuity and hard work, bravery and compassion. And there's really no questioning that the knight in shining armor is the girl in the pretty dress.
Yes, I suppose it's possible you can have it both ways. And either way, you'll always be my hero. Even in a shining tiara.
Though, on balance, I still prefer to think of you in the shining armor.