Snow White sang lovingly, “Some day the prince will come, some day my love will come.” My then five-year old daughter, Little R, was mesmerized by the animated movie, “Snow White.”
“Mommy, I want to grow up like Snow White! I will have many friends!” I caressed her forehead, thinking that it was alright for a little girl to want to sing and dance and be happy like Snow White.
Then, I saw her playing with some neighborhood boys. Little R laid on the floor, pretending to be asleep. A boy rushed inside the room, yelling, “I will save you from evil!” He then had a sword fight with two other boys and he hit them with his sword. They pretended to die. He knelt down beside Little R and said, “I have saved you, wake up! I am your hero. Telephone me if you see any more evil!”
“Who are you?” Little R asked after she opened her eyes.
“I’m a Prince!”
Little R smiled, “Thank you for saving me.”
Then, they hopped onto his horse, went off together to his castle and lived happily ever after.
That night, I asked Little R why she needed to be saved by the prince. She said as a matter-of-factly, “Boys save girls like me and Snow White from bad people.”
I pondered about what she said for a long time.
Is this good for my daughter? Waiting for others to save her or for bad people to turn into good people?
It was the advice or counseling columns in newspapers and online forums that gave me the answer. Desperate, love sick and confused readers who write into such columns are mostly women. They are often jilted girlfriends, mistresses and timid wives. They often fall in love with men they hardly know within a short period of courtship and then they find out that the men gamble, womanize, are married or are involved in other vices. As if that is not enough, the women cough out their own money to bail the men out and please the men in many ways, often at the expense of their own self-worth. The incidences they describe show that they have been abused and manipulated. The women know that they are unhappy but they can’t see why. They believe that they can’t be independent and solve their own problems.
I thought about some of the women who have had similar hard times in life. What have they been saying to us friends? They have a deeply entrenched belief – they wish that men could come into their lives to save them from their various dire situation instead of doing something for themselves such as learning a skill to earn an income, or working hard to see the family through.
From childhood, girls are groomed to think that we need a prince to rescue and take us to fairy land. But the boys grow up seeing themselves as heroes, rescuing women and taking proactive action in everything they do. When the fairy land turns out to be a nightmare land for the women, they feel paralyzed, unable to move forward.
The realization led me to think about Little R’s problems in kindergarten and primary one - boys bullying her, calling her names because she didn’t look like a typical Malaysian.
Are the movies teaching my daughter to wait for someone to rescue her?
So I started giving Little R ‘mommy’s movie lessons.’
For Snow White, I explained, “Don’t eat anyone’s apple just because it is free, buy your own apples! If you grow your own apple trees, you will not have to worry about bad people giving you bad apples!”
When she watched Cinderella, the lesson was “Don’t leave your shoes everywhere and then wait silently, crying for the Prince to find you another pair. Learn to earn money and buy your own shoes. If a good Prince comes along, you can still marry him with your own shoes!”
For the animated movie, ‘Mulan’, I told her, “Use your brain to get out of something difficult, don’t be scared and don’t wait for people to save you.”
After that lesson, she saw the movie ‘Jason and the Argonauts’. The robots tried to kill Jason with swords, but he figured out how to beat them instead. The robots synchronized their attacks together, but it took them several seconds to react to new changes in his postures. If he stood up, the robots would swing their swords at him. So he ducked quickly after standing up and the robots ended up swinging their swords at each other and killing their own kind. When the robots saw him ducking, they swung their swords at him. However, Jason did a somersault in the air and the robots ended up swinging their swords onto each other’s legs, thus maiming themselves.
Both ‘Mulan’ and “Jason and the Argonauts” taught her not to wait for anyone to rescue her. She warned the boys, “I’ll tell the teacher.” But the boys would tease her for being a pansy, telling on them. So she learnt to defend herself by frightening them.
In one particular incident, she chased a boy who had pulled her hair earlier. She pulled the boy’s hair as she demanded he answer her question “Does this hurt? Don’t ever do this to me again!”
After a while, the boys learnt to respect her and no one bullied her.
One time, she managed to teach a lesson to six boys who had been teasing fat girls. She told them, “Catch me. If not, I will tell the teacher.”
She ran in a zig zag way, ahead of the boys who were chasing her from behind. They followed her to the right and to the left. The boys thought that they were going to get her as they were closing in on her in two groups - from the left and from the right. She suddenly spurted off in a straight line. The two groups crashed onto each other.
The crying girls cheered.
Now, this is my daughter.