And they lived happily ever after. . . . words in closing fairy tales, words that, taken literally, have inspired some modern Millies to eschew fairy tales for their daughters because, after all, we are the architects of our happiness and that happiness need not include Prince Charming or even a handsome man. Women sculpt their own happiness by following their passions, honing their talents, and sharing both with others as they see fit to do so. And, of course, so do men.
But reading to understand and explore the human experience means reading between and beyond lines. A fairy tale is more complex than its last words. A fairy tale recounts the struggles we all face, together and alone. A fairy tale is a tale about sorrow and triumph, about suffering, loss, and redemption.
Consider Cinderella in Disney’s classic version as well as Sondheim’s perspective in Into the Woods. In the animated version from 1950, friendly woodland creatures befriend lonely, put-upon Cinderella. On the other hand, Sondheim’s Cinderella is a woman on the verge of independence. She falls for the handsome prince reluctantly. When he proves to be charming and disloyal, her sense of self-worth lets her leave him easily with little residual heartache.
Both Cinderellas prove to be hard workers. They keep going in spite of setbacks, natural and unnatural hardships, and personal doubts. They put one foot in front of the other, marching onward, the truest testament to human hope ever witnessed. Hope is, after all, just getting up, showing up, trying once again. Hope is just believing that this day will surely be better than the day before; it is imagining a brighter future. Certainly hope is uncovering what this planet provides as gifts, blessings, beauty, and joy.
In demonstrating hope, both Cinderellas prove their mettle. They are not weaklings in dire need of a man to give them comfort and love. They give plenty of both to others. They are compassionate and forgiving.
Why then wouldn’t we want out daughters to watch Disney’s princesses? They are women with character, women to admire for tenacity, spunk, and spirit.
Still, I understand that a happily ever after ending without any regrets, rancor, or rage is rare. People can be foolish and foolishly take for granted the hearts of others, but even children know this. Science has shown infants without the ability to speak words recognize bad, narcissistic behaviors and prefer peers and adults who play fair, who show compassion and concern. Your daughters know that the world isn’t equal, that Prince Charmings are rare, and that sometimes wishes don’t come true because Fairy Godmothers are in short supply. Let them dream and imagine anyway. They could do worse than be as hard-working, forgiving, and kind as Cinderella.
“Read” Grimm’s Cinderella, Cinder-Edna, and Into the Woods. Take note of the admirable character qualities each princess possesses.
Write a letter to the parent who objects to her daughter watching Disney’s 1950 animated film Cinderella on the grounds that the film doesn’t send a strong feminist message.
Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also labors as a free lance writer while writing
weekly for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.