If you're one of the friends mentioned below, please don't think that this post is in any way written out of any offense whatsoever. IT IS NOT. It just got me thinking about what I want my boys to know about life and fairy tales.
Awhile back, a few of my friends were taking their daughters to see Cinderella. They invited me to go along with them. I couldn't because our afternoon was busy but I remember noticing that they didn't mention my boys. I thought one of two things.
1. It was an outing just for girls. No boys allowed.
2. For whatever reason, they thought my boys wouldn't want to go.
It hardly mattered because I couldn't go anyway and, if I could have gone, I'm sure I could have brought my boys. It's a free theater, after all. Well, I mean, it isn't free. But certain freedoms afforded to me by this country would, in fact, allow me to take them there. Not that I think my friends would have minded in the least.
Last week, I took my boys to see it at the dollar theater which, on Wednesdays, is the fifty cent theater (and you cannot beat that). They both loved the movie.
Today, I was talking about the fact that I'd taken my boys to see it and my friend, who only has girls, seemed genuinely surprised that my boys would want to see such a film.
I suppose I understand where the question comes from. Fairy tales and Disney movies almost always focus on--and title their works after--the heroine. The attention is given to the ballgown, the tiara, the glass slipper. The men are the supporting characters, underdeveloped and secondary to the feminine stars. He often doesn't even have a name. Prince Charming is the moniker given to Snow White's prince, Cinderella's guy and Sleeping Beauty's beau. Either that dude was a polygamist or some of these authors need to get more creative with their names. Where will my boys find themselves in these story lines? What will they learn?
Obviously, I think the stories could be a little more inclusive of men, develop the male characters better, give them names. But aside from these perceived failings, why do we live in a culture in which Cinderella is only for girls? Cinderella has been told and retold countless times by Basile, Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, folklorists, and playwrights (most of them men). It is represented in opera, ballet and theatre.
My boys loved Cinderella because they're children. The idea of a fairy godmother and magic and pumpkins turning into carriages fascinated them. A world in which they can transform their rags to riches is a world their imaginative little minds fully support. Matthew leaned over to me and excitedly asked, just before the clock began to chime, "Does the spell have to break?" As though his every happiness hinged on its lasting forever.
I want my boys to like movies that focus on strong female heroines just like I'd want my daughters (if I had them) to like films about football and dinosaurs. (Or dinosaurs playing football. I'm looking at you, Spielberg. There could be a real market there.) But more than that, I think that, in this film, my boys can find qualities to emulate.
This new version sticks with the general story line we're familiar with in the United States but adds a few different plot elements. ("Prince Charming's" name is Kit!) At it's core, Cinderella is the story of a girl who is kind and courageous though she suffers through dark abuses. It's the story of royalty falling in love with her for who she is and not what she can do for him. It's the story of a kindhearted monarch who will stop at nothing to find his one, true love. It's about the girl being found in a miserable situation by a stand up guy. He wants her...just the way she is. He wants to care for her and protect her but not because she needs him to, because he loves her the right way.
I want both of my boys to meet their Cinderella. (Although I hope, for her sake, that she isn't being horribly mistreated.) I want them to stop at nothing to find her. I want them to love her for her wit, her kindness, her tenderness, her tenacity, and her rags. I want them to love her when the carriage turns back into a pumpkin. I want them to earn her love, her respect, her hand.
We live in a world that says that boys shouldn't like fairy tales, that they should "age out" of Disney movies by the time they're four or five, that they should like movies about war and death and burping. My kids plenty like those types of movies too, don't get me wrong. But I'm going to ride the Cinderella train for as long as I can. Because in well developed heroines, my boys are often exposed to quality women. The kind I hope they find.
We need to stop thinking about Cinderella as a story for girls. The Brothers Grimm certainly didn't. There are enough knives, blood and pecked out eyes in that version to pacify even the manliest of men--and the strong, non-conformist women they've managed to woo.