Everyone knows the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. We’ve all heard the bed time story and seen the 1937 movie made by Disney, the first in a long line of animated classics, which have dominated the childhoods of several generations. And for young girls, Disney films, especially the ones involving princesses, have enforced the notion of certain life goals for decades. These films portray young, pretty women, often in their late teens, falling in love with a man, and marrying him, so they can live happily ever after. It’s no wonder young women become obsessed with love and relationships when they have been told it is one of the deciding factors in their future happiness ever since they could first process thought. As such, they do almost anything to fit the model of a desirable woman to find a boyfriend, even changing their looks or personality.
What Snow White represents isn’t only femininity, but also a passive attitude. As a thirteen-year–old girl who hasn’t had much life experience she wishes to meet someone who will love her, never actively seeking him. Her stepmother, the evil queen, decides Snow White is just too pretty and that she must be killed in the name of queen’s weird sense of vanity. The huntsman, who takes Snow White out into the forest, is ultimately the one who decides not to kill the girl – all she does is faun and accept her fate. She runs into the forest, gets lost, and breaks into a home where seven dwarves live. They decide to keep her because she’s good at housework, and to protect her against the evil queen, while Snow White is just content to clean dishes with her animal friends.
She does make one decision in the story though, which is to trust the creepy old lady and bite the poison apple, and we all know how well that worked out for her. The dwarves build her a nearly indestructible coffin and stand guard over her until her prince comes. Who this prince is, and whether or not he’s a good person, is never mentioned – we just assume because he’s a prince, he’s trustworthy. I doubt anyone would dispute the fact that this version of Snow White is a good role model for the modern-day girl.
Slowly, the standard for female characters has been changing. Independent, smart, strong women have come to life on screen both through book adaptations, like Hermione Granger of Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, or simply original characters like Ellen Ripley of Alien and Beatrice Kiddo from Kill Bill.
And yet, proof that this obsession with finding true love exists in the form of Bella Swan, from the popular book series Twilight. She spends the majority of the series head over heels in love with a vampire, who would as soon kill her as kiss her and watches her sleep. She then decides at the wise old age of seventeen that she wants to be a vampire too. And hundreds of thousands of women call it true love.
But Snow White is back! But she’s not the same simple princess who’s waiting for a prince. She’s now a warrior, whose goal is to regain her kingdom and defeat the evil queen who has, essentially, ruined her life. She crafty, tough, and love isn’t top priority for this woman on a mission. From two blockbuster features, “Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” as well as being a main character on ABC’s hour-long drama “Once Upon a Time,” this fairytale princess seems to be growing in popularity after this make-over. But is that a good thing? Where did this fad even come from?
Over the next few weeks I will dive in further to answer three essential questions: Why Snow White? Why now? And should this new incarnation be praised or condemned? Or both? (Additionally, does any of this actually matter?)
In terms of research, I have been focused on reading gender studies on women, fairytales, and Disney, as well as history behind the production of Snow White. Thus far, I’ve been able to get a hold of Good Girls and Wicked Witches : Women in Disney’s Feature Animation by Amy Davis and From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender, and Culture by Elizabeth Bell, Lynda Haas, and Laura Sells – both about gender and Disney, to gain an idea for the theories surrounding the portrayal of women in the 1937 film. Heck, the first book even has Snow White and the evil queen on the cover!
I have also read the original story “Snow White and Rose Red” and will soon be interviewing playwright and mythology expert Laura Shamas. Additionally, I am patiently waiting for a copy of The Feminine in Fairytales, written by 20th century Jungian psychologist Marie Louise Von Franz.
That’s all for now! Next week, I’ll talk more about my research, and talk about all the previous princess fads and how we might have ended up with Snow White, instead of Sleeping Beauty or Belle as warrior princesses.