As a young child with a very active imagination, I used to love a good fairy tale, often picturing myself as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty or even Ariel getting rescued by the handsome prince. And if you, like me, enjoy fairy tales, this has been quite a year in entertainment! ABC’s Once Upon a Time helped boost the network’s ratings and finished as the top genre show for the 2011-12 television season. NBC also came out with a cop procedural called Grimm, based upon the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales.
Over the next year, five different movies will premiere based upon popular fairy tales. Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Bean Stalk, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White will all be featured in movies during 2012 and 2013. When I heard that there were two versions of Snow White hitting theaters this spring and summer, I was so looking forward to seeing the modern twists on the classic tale. However, after seeing the more kid-friendly Mirror, Mirror back in April and the darker Snow White and the Huntsman last week, one thought stood out to me – this was not the Snow White I remembered from childhood.
Fairy tales can convey messages and morals in often entertaining ways, and this new breed of fairy tales reflects a more feministic ideology.
In both versions of the tale, Snow White takes on a more active role in defeating the Evil Queen Ravenna. In Mirror, Mirror Lily Collins plays Snow White and transforms into an independent, sword-wielding fighter who decides to battle an evil beast instead of letting Prince Charming fight for her. She even says that “it’s time to change the fairy tale” when the Prince says that he is the one who is supposed to save her.
In Snow White and the Huntsman, Kristen Stewart (Bella from the Twilight series—come on, if you work with teenage girls, you know who this actress is!) portrays Snow White and becomes an almost Christ-figure, destined to save the kingdom from the clutches of the evil queen. This Snow White is more tomboy than delicate flower, leading an army into battle in the climax of the movie. In an USA Today article, the movie’s director, Rupert Sanders, described the performances of the two main female leads in this way: “I love to play against expectations . . . It is great. I’ve got two masculine performances from female actors.” The message may be subtle, but it is there:
“Women don’t need to be saved by men – gone are the days of damsels in distress—a woman should take the man’s role.”
This message reflects a world influenced by second and third-wave feminism, a world that sometimes proclaims men are unnecessary or that women are empowered when they take on masculine roles.
I couldn’t help but think of that message when I saw the trailer for Brave, a new animated fairy tale Disney and Pixar are releasing June 22, featuring Merida, a Scottish, fiery, red-headed princess who bests all her potential suitors in an arrow-shooting contest. In describing her character, the website says that this princess “confronts tradition and challenges destiny to change her fate.”
As believers, we must learn to view any form of entertainment with a discerning eye, comparing the values championed to the truth of Scripture. And, we must teach the women, students, and children we know to do this as well. Romans 12:2 in the Message (paraphrase of the Bible) states:
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (emphasis added)
When it comes to the feminist messages behind some of these latest versions of popular fairy tales, it can be easy to accept it “without even thinking” or to be dragged down to the culture’s “level of immaturity.” As a bit of a tomboy myself, the message that being “masculine” is somehow better has had an influence on my own life at times. When I was playing softball growing up, if someone told me that “I threw like a girl,” that was quite an insult! A lot of teenage girls that I do ministry with struggle with this message as well—they are not quite sure why, but they don’t want to be the “girly-girl.”
Whether they realized it or not, second-wave feminists in the 60s, 70s, and 80s made being a certain type of woman uncool and said that liking typical “feminine” activities was demeaning. “You like homemaking? There must be something wrong with you—true fulfillment can only be found in a career.” This was the message that women in my mother’s generation heard.
Fast forward a few years, and many women in my generation could adopt the first verse of Kelly Clarkson’s song “Miss Independent” as their theme. After all, is there anything bad about a woman who stands up for herself? The idea of an independent, empowered woman is music to the ears of many women my age who grew up watching girls and women take charge on TV shows like Alias, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Charlie’s Angels.
The problem comes into play when we start thinking that being “empowered” means becoming “masculine,” especially if what is considered “masculine” does not reflect biblical values.
You can see this line of thinking played out today with attitudes towards sexuality prevalent in our culture—the “empowered” woman is the woman who adopts a traditionally more “masculine” approach to sex (albeit, a “masculine” approach informed only by worldly ideals). Teenage girls (and grown women) today are being told that “friends with benefits” is empowering—hooking up or having a physical relationship with a guy somehow demonstrates a mature approach to relationships. While this is ridiculous, many teenage girls, even Christian teenage girls, feel pressured to “be like guys” (again, a very worldly view of guys) when it comes to emotions and relationships.
God created men and women as distinct, yet complementary beings (Gen. 1:27, 2:18). Women don’t need to be like men in order to be empowered. In fact, from a Christian worldview, empowerment comes from surrendering your life and rights to God in order to let Him control your life. This is a message worth taking to heart and not the message being offered from modern fairy tales.
The next time you enjoy the latest offers of Hollywood, just make sure do so with a discerning eye. As Romans 12:2 tells us, you and I must be careful that we don’t become so well-adjusted to the culture that we fit into it without even thinking.
Candi Finch serves as Assistant Professor of Theology in Women’s Studies at Southwestern and is nearing the end of her PhD studying systematic theology. She loves used book stores, getting to teach young women, and eating any food she doesn’t have to cook herself! Her secret ambition in life is to compete on Survivor or The Amazing Race. Connect with Candi on Facebook!
 “Women clash in battle of good vs. evil” Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today (June 1, 2012), 1D.