Author Archives: Sara Roncero-Menendez

Snow White Puts Her Big Boy Pants On: What this Princess’s Media Makeover Says About Modern-Day Femininity

Disney’s Snow White (1937) and Once Upon a Time’s Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) (2012)

Everyone knows the story of Snow White:  a young princess is forced to flee from a wicked, vain queen and finds herself in the company of a group of tiny dwarf miners, until her prince comes along and saves her from her poison-apple-induced sleep.  For years, children worldwide have watched the iconic Disney film and seen its characters plastered on every type of merchandise imaginable.  And the message this burned into the memory of little girls everywhere is clear: true love conquers all.

But take note, girls: Snow White has had a total media makeover— the sheepish, innocent girl of fairytale lore has been transformed into a fierce, lethal warrior princess, now more princely than girly, and is fully equipped to save not only herself, but her entire kingdom.  As the star of two major feature films, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, as well as ABC’s highly popular, hour-long drama Once Upon a Time, she is not likely to be doing the dishes with her woodland friends or making seven tiny beds each morning.  Instead, she is now determined to win back her kingdom from the evil queen who banished her, raising the stakes from simply living out her life in the eternal bliss of true love to directly challenging the queen for supremacy.  Snow White, with her new, almost blind determination toward her goal, is not just more aggressive in this incarnation; she’s practically oozing testosterone.  The new Snow White— in pants, no less! — represents a shrinking gender divide, enforcing the idea that a woman can only become truly successful by losing her feminine traits.

Snow White’s transformation from an inactive princess to a fearsome warrior is a product of our society and what movie executives know will sell.  Ultimately, this new manifestation of a nostalgic character may serve to “empower” modern women by changing Snow White into a self-sufficient fighter, but it also disparages them by turning the heroine essentially into the male archetypal champion, the new and improved fairytale maintains the same clichéd message of the original story about true love.

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Snow White, Warrior Princess: Be a Man!

“Fantasize about that wedding, four-year-olds! Doesn’t matter how young you are, you get those priorities in line early!…But really now, I think there’s just something insidious about getting little girls to fixate on romance so early. I mean this is one of those things which freaking rules your life as an adult, must we start on it before [they hit puberty]?”

The above quote is from a video by the Nostalgia Chick concerning Disney Princesses. This quote touches on exactly the issue about burrowing certain ideas and priorities into the heads of little girls, and why at the heart of the problem, nothing has changed with these new interpretations. The message lingers on, just in a less potent form.

But enough about that, let’s talk about pants. Or at least Snow White’s relationship to pants in these media.

What is it about being in a dress that just makes a woman go, “Nope, it’s frilly dress-up time. No rough-and-tumble today”? Is it just an accepted fact that once a character slips into anything but pants, she’s reduced to little more than dead weight with a smile?

One of these girls is less active than the others. Guess which.

Many gamers refer to it as the “Zelda Principle” – in the Legend of Zelda games, when Princess Zelda is in her pretty Hyrulian dress, she’s about as useful as a jar of marmalade is to a serving of fries most of the time. But when she puts on a pair of pants and masquerades as a man called Shiek, she can take on any enemy, do almost any task, and essentially save herself. And then we have an even more confusing conundrum with Tetra, a pirate queen who’s an expert thief, marksman, and overall master of the high-seas, but the second it’s discovered she’s Princess Zelda, she apparently forgets all her skills and needs rescuing. All this from the tri-force of wisdom, mind you! And there are no other major reoccurring female characters but her – the game’s even named after her despite the fact that she does next to nothing.

Yes, if you are a lady and you want to be a hero, pants are essential.  But it’s not just the garment itself, it’s the attitude associated with the garment. You have to act like a man as much as you dress like one, while retaining your femininity so the audience can relate to you. Often, these portrayals fall into one of two ways: too masculine, or too feminine.

Once Upon a Time’s Snow White is ping-pong match of both. When she’s in her dress, she’s shy, sweet, kind but ultimately a thing to be protected. Her strength is purely internal and emotional. But when she’s wearing pants, she’s tough, athletic, overly aggressive, borderline obsessed with victory. Mirror Mirror’s Snow White slouches, spits, grunts, and even fights like what one would expect of a man – but she’s still overtly feminine. Even Snow White and the Huntsman version of the character is so androgynous-looking that she could be easily mistaken for a man, even though her personality remains mostly unknown.

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Snow White, Warrior Princess: Mirror Mirror

When Snow White tries to save the prince in a turn about-way from the norm, he tells her that she shouldn’t, since the original went to a focus group and tested well. This is strange, meta, oddly-reflective humor Mirror Mirror exposes to its audience. Classy, classy stuff.

When I say I didn’t want to go see this movie, I mean I would have rather run around screaming in the night without shoes in Union Square, being chased by the police as the attack dogs nipped at my heels than pay money to see this movie. And why? Two very simple reasons: Julia Roberts. Tarsem Singh.

Julia Roberts has gotten old. And not because of her advanced age, but her act itself is stale. She somehow lost all her charm and whimsy and whatever else people saw in her before the mid-2000s showed the world the ruined state of her career, despite retaining her baby-faced good looks. And in the end, this movie is HER movie, which makes the whole point of advertising it as a “Snow White reimaging” a little backwards. More on that to come.

Tarsem Singh…where do I even begin with this one? He mystified audiences with the beautiful film The Fall. Years earlier, he mystified audiences at how terrible you could make an incredibly interesting concept with The Cell. I have yet to see Immortals, but having seen Mirror Mirror, I have come to one conclusion: Singh is in the wrong career. He should have been an art director, or an artist. He makes every scene pop with rich colors and detailed designs and costumes. But a director? No, he’s proven he couldn’t direct his way out a paper bag with a map.

But, duty calls, and I’m not going to do a straight review of it here. No, if you want to see me rip it to shreds critically, I’ll post it on my MoarPowah account, and will link it here later. No, what follows is a look into what this newly-evolved Snow White looks like…and I’m actually pleasantly surprised.

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Snow White, Warrior Princess: Madonnas, Cinderellas, and Villians, Oh My!

Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) from "Once Upon a Time"

Stereotypes – we know them, we fight against them, we scoff at them. But like it or not, they have stuck firmly to the portrayal of people in the media, especially for women and minorities. And while we know they are wrong, we indulge in these characters who are flatter than paper, and less substantive than air because they are easily likeable, or unlikeable, mostly because they fit to whatever the plot needs them to be.

There’s a Freudian theory known as the Madonna-Whore Complex, which basically states that men view women they are attracted to in one of two categories: the pure hearted Madonna, who he wants to be his wife and bare his children, and the whore, who he wants only to have a very frivolous, carnal relationship. With the first, he cannot achieve the sensuality he wants, and in the second he cannot count on her fidelity. This dualism is often seen in women in early film – most females are either purely good, or purely evil.

In a way, this theory follows most princess stories, where the two types of women are enemies. Cinderella and her stepmother. Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent. Snow White and the Evil Queen. While it would be difficult to say that all of these “whore” archetypes are supposed to sexual attractive, they are the fit for the women embodying only evil with no other depth, and in a way share attractive qualities. Cinderella’s stepmother is a woman of means and class, Maleficent has power and strength, and the Evil Queen was at one point the fairest in all the land.

A lot of this princess-related media tends to be allegorical – good vs. evil, beauty vs. beastly, kind vs. cruel. After all, the purpose of these stories was to teach children morals. So then a good question is what does this new re-vamped Snow White teach us? That you have to fight for what you want? That women can be strong and independent without compromising love? That producers know what sells now-a-days?

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Snow White, Warrior Princess: A Media Make-Over

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.

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