Snow White not a role model

April 22, 2012


“Someday, my prince will come.” — Snow White, 1937

In a hotel in Canada hangs this picture, someone’s mischievous take on Snow White a few years after happily ever after. She is posed in an anonymous suburban den. Behind her, Prince Charming slouches in a chair, slowly going to seed. Snow has a babe in arms and a few other rug rats scattered about the floor. She faces you with an expression that seems to ask, is this all there is?

It is less a comment on marriage than on the notion that marriage is the holy grail of a woman’s existence, the finish line of her life’s hopes, dreams and goals. That is a fable upon which the Disney company built an empire. But the fable is not confined to the multiplex. To the contrary, you can see it played out on a weekly basis in the headlines of any given publication in your local supermarket checkout line. Consider one of the most recent big stories from the Land of the Beautiful People.

It seems that one William Bradley Pitt and one Angelina Jolie Voight recently became engaged to be married. Already the celebrity gossip mills are buzzing with the critical question this raises: How will it affect Jen? How does Jen feel about it? Will Jen be OK?

That would be Jennifer Aniston, the wife Pitt famously dumped in 2005 when he and Jolie became a thing. If I were her, I think my response would be, please stop calling me “Jen,” as if we went to high school together.

But Aniston has become the poster child for this media-driven narrative of woman as love victim, tragically incomplete until her wedding day, if even then. She is joined on that poster by the likes of Sandra Bullock, Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Eva Longoria, and Khloe and Kim Kardashian.

Sometimes, it seems as if every cover of every tabloid and magazine has a headline about some actress or reality show personality and her crusade to find — or keep — a man. Either she has been dumped or he has cheated, or she is thinking of taking him back, or she is lonely without him, or she is struggling to conceive, or the wedding is off, or the wedding is back on, or she has found new love after the divorce, yadda yadda and yadda. It is life as soap opera story arc or country music lyric. And here is the thing: you will almost never see a male celebrity as the object of one of those headlines:

No breathless updates on Jon Hamm’s search for love. No headline coverage of Ryan Gosling’s struggle to conceive. No suggestion that they are incomplete until or unless those milestones are achieved. You have to wonder what lessons this teaches little girls.

Maybe you don’t think it teaches any particular lesson. Maybe you’re inclined to dismiss the narrative precisely because it is media created. Maybe you believe it says nothing about the mindset of real women in the real world. Maybe you’re right.

One the other hand, the fact that the narrative endures, that it continues to sell movies and magazines, suggests it has more resonance for more women than one would like to think.

There is nothing wrong with love or with wanting or seeking a life partner. But we should question the idea, implicit in the narrative, that finding said partner is the singular goal of a woman’s life, her only route to happiness, and that until she has achieved it she is incomplete, even if she is as accomplished as an Oprah or as celebrated as a “Jen.”

Back when Snow White sang, “Someday my prince will come,” waiting on a prince — and raising his babies afterward — constituted pretty much a woman’s entire range of options. Seventy-five years later, women have options their grandmothers could scarcely have dreamt. So is it asking too much that we relegate this tired narrative to the junk heap where it belongs?

Snow White is a fairy tale, not a lifestyle.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


FalseHopeNoChange 6 years, 1 month ago

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Laura Moriarty 6 years, 1 month ago

This line of thinking is irrational and categorically racist. You're saying that Pitts can't weigh in on the subject - not for anything he himself has done - but because of the color of his skin.

tomatogrower 6 years, 1 month ago

Yet you put Leonard Pitts into a "herd". He's been married over 30 years. And to the same woman. How about you? How long have you been married and how many times? I'd say in this age of easy divorce being married that long qualifies him as an expert. But you just can't get past his skin color can you? Sad for you.

Laura Moriarty 6 years, 1 month ago

It seems like your first post implied that it was inappropriate for Pitts to weigh in on marriage because of his skin color. Did I misunderstand you? Why do you think it's inappropriate for "a man like Pitts" to give his opinion on marriage? As tomato grower points out, Pitts is a married and responsible father.

I'm also not following your use of quote marks. Are you quoting someone? Or are all of these words (even "assuming") used ironically?

cato_the_elder 6 years, 1 month ago

There's nothing wrong with anyone working hard at whatever job she or he has and at the same time wishing for an ideal spouse.

Lighten up, Leonard.

Larry Bauerle Jr. 6 years, 1 month ago

If that is the art it chooses, it sounds like it's time to find a better hotel.

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 1 month ago

A woman "needs" a man like a fish "needs" a bicycle. FHNC-where did Pitts say anything about how to treat women?What does it say about the men in our culture if our culture produces the most single Moms. They're not producing them by themselves.

Armstrong 6 years, 1 month ago

Followed by the predictable and lame left response

tomatogrower 6 years, 1 month ago

In my 60 years I've noticed that it's usually ugly men who are so obsessed with the looks of women. I've worked with several overweight men who will make fun of any overweight woman who walks in the door. Of course, most of these guys are single still, because they can't get a good-looking girl to go out with them. I wonder if you are one of those guys I used to work with?

tomatogrower 6 years, 1 month ago

Hardly, outside beauty isn't important to me. And if the comments you make on this forum are an indication of your inside beauty, then I wouldn't even want to live next door to you.

puddleglum 6 years, 1 month ago

ugh, you would have to bring up the existence of ugly people, wouldn't you? being average looking is one thing, but maintaining beauty at my level is hard work. I am constantly adored and stared at. the attention is neverending. words flow like a waterfall from my cliff edged chisled chin. I am pretty. I try to take a minute and share my golden sparkling auro with those less fortunate, maybe I can bring their spirits up just a bit. everybody njoys looking at beauty which is why I must continue to be seen as much as possible. I have to do my nails. ta ta for now!

deec 6 years, 1 month ago

He states that the mags rarely gossip about men's marriages. The media does reinforce the idea that marriage and motherhood are the epitome of a female's existence.Look at all the magazines for women. They are devoted to things like fashion, so you can catch a man,or cooking and cleaning. . So do the religious institutions. Churches honor Mary because she got magically knocked up as a teenager. We know nothing about her except she was somebody's mom. There is even a whole political party that seems devoted to enforcing motherhood on women. There was an excellent book by Susan Faludi back in the '80's that explored how the media and popular culture reinforce traditional roles on women.

tomatogrower 6 years, 1 month ago

I have seen many girls and women feel like they are nothing, because they don't have a man in their life. They settle for less, because of that. They end up with men who beat them or sleep with other women. They end up wasting their energy on something that gets them nothing. They don't work on themselves to become a complete human being, then if they find a man who appreciates that complete human being fine. If they don't, so what? They are happy people.

I also think many of you are missing Pitt's point, as usual. He is saying that the media gives girls the wrong message. You can argue that girls shouldn't get their messages from fluff media, but they aren't the only ones. Boys get the message too. Girls who are an ideal weight and pretty are confused, because boys, who are influenced by fluff media tell them they aren't pretty enough. The boys think all girls should look like the clones in the magazines and movies. When I was young, girls were suppose to look like Twiggy. I mean yuck. She didn't even look like a girl, she looked like a boy dressed up like a girl. Yes, most people mature out of this stupidity, but think how much more happy being a teenager would be if the stupid media would lighten up. Girls, you don't have to get married to be happy.

tomatogrower 6 years, 1 month ago

Most adults are smart enough by now. But look which magazines are at eye level in the stores. Why do these magazines exist if they aren't popular? Why do so many people think that rich and famous is what you need to strive for, whether or not what they do to achieve that goal is legal or morally right?
I didn't used to think that the media influenced people, until I worked in schools. The kids all act like the teenagers they see on tv. This was just an observation, not a scientific study, but when the teacher would ask students in a class building activity what movies and tv shows they liked, the rude kids always named shows like Three and Half Men where the kids were disrespectful and the adults acted like kids. The respectful kids often watched things like Harry Potter where kids mostly behaved with some noble goals, or shows that had adults acting like adults. Yes, you could ask which came first the chicken or the egg, but I think all of us are more influenced by media than we care to admit.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 1 month ago

Disney's fascination with the narrative of women finding the right man is troubling, but not as troubling as Disney's fascination with the monarchy.

Snow White, Cinderella, the Lion King, and so on, are all glorifying the beautiful and benificent monarchy.

Princes, princesses, kings, queens, all deigned by god to rule over a squabble with aristocratic measure and empathy.

How has that worked out throughout history?

The very thing our Constitution attacks head on.

puddleglum 6 years, 1 month ago

north korea has been doing pretty well with it, lately

JayhawkFan1985 6 years, 1 month ago

I'm a big fan of Disney. I like their movies. I like their theme parks. I like their success as a company. The great thing about Disney is that people leave the movies and the parks just a little bit happier than they were before.

puddleglum 6 years, 1 month ago

yeah, like that one movie they buried.....song of the south. watch that and feel good. nothing against disney, he supported hitlers efforts along with henry ford II and george bush's grandpa. no big deal, really... alot of germans were on his side as well. I am neutral concerning disney, but he was a good illustrator and recognized talent around him.

JayhawkFan1985 6 years, 1 month ago

Clearly, you have a sparkling personality. I would bet that you're always the center of attention and life of the party.

JayhawkFan1985 6 years, 1 month ago

I doubt that. At 5'11", Mt 12 year old would slam you to the floor.

verity 6 years, 1 month ago

As usual, the usual posters completely twist what Mr Pitts is saying.

My experience over the past 60+ years has been exactly what he is saying. I've seen too many girls/women "settle" because they didn't want to be alone, too many girls rushing into an unfortunate and ill-advised marriage. Too much abuse and unhappiness as a result. It goes way beyond what Mr Pitts talks about to girls/young women having babies, whether married or not, because they think that is going to fulfill them.

It's not just the media that promotes this concept. It seems to be inherent in our culture. The excessive weddings that put young couples tens of thousands of dollars into debt. The bride's one big day where she is the center of attention, then it's over in a few hours---the culmination of the lifelong dream. The marriage may be over before the debt is paid off.

While we are making some progress, we need to make a lot more in teaching girls/young women to be strong and take control of their lives on their own, whether they marry or have a male significant other or not.

Yes, there are other role models out there, but the Snow White/Cinderella myth is very much alive---even to the point of suggesting that successful and powerful women, even married women, are lesbians. And this, I think, may be the crux of the matter---a woman can't be fulfilled without a man. Either something is wrong with her because she can't attract a man or she must not prefer men. That is probably also one of the reasons that lesbian, butch, etc are words that are often hurled as an epithet---a woman who doesn't need a man isn't really a woman.

tomatogrower 6 years, 1 month ago

Most of the things I see about men in the media seems to be to make marriage a dirty word. Something they should avoid.

puddleglum 6 years, 1 month ago

the culture model has been outdated for some time now...yet, when you go down the toy isle for little girls, what do you see?

this is where it needs to change. when I was a boy, I was pretty and I still am. but most of our toys were army related guns. cap guns. swords. bow n arrows... I loved hot wheels, but when groups of boys got together we played kill each other.... TV was no different.

Now I have lots of guns. but I make sure my boys do not have gun toys or watch hitler channel or any other violent crap. at first I worried that they may grow up soft, but I can say now that soft is not a problem at all....aside from being beautiful, this has been one of my proudest achievements.

Mike Ford 6 years, 1 month ago

snap what about that family values anti Jena Band of Choctaw my numbers in the black book of a DC sexworker David Vitter? typical rightwing GOP hypocrite....

Flap Doodle 6 years, 1 month ago

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Flap Doodle 6 years, 1 month ago

Of course, you recall that Democrat Barney Frank's SO ran a prostitution service from their home in the 1980s. Those role model MA voters kept sending him back to DC.

Katara 6 years, 1 month ago

Moms don't exist in Disney's world. Not one of the Disney Princesses has a living mother. Bambi's mother was killed. Pinocchio didn't have a mother. Dumbo was taken away from his mother. Peter Pan had no clue who his mother was. Mowgli lost his mother. So did Tarzan.

It is weird how many missing mothers there are in Disney's films.

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