Participants of my ongoing Saving Cinderella class have the option to a write guest post on the topic of the session they attended. This post is in response to Session 2: Damsel in Distress? Snow White, Puberty and Female Agency.
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The following was written by Abby Petree.
I’m an English major in college right now and — since English departments around the country bow to the power of feminism — whenever we’re analyzing some kind of text, one of the first things we look at is the role of women in the text. My professor will ask, “how much power does the woman have? How does she use that power?” It’s all about the power a woman has and her agency — how she takes action and uses that power.
When feminists look at Snow White, they see her as having no power or agency at all. Throughout the movie, she’s either asleep and saved by the prince, or being cared for by seven men. However, this reading of the princess totally ignores/misses two important things:
- Snow White actually shows a lot of agency in the first part of the movie. After fleeing for her life from the Evil Queen and running across the dwarves’ cottage, she doesn’t just sit back and expect the dwarves to take care of her — she uses her marketable skills to make a deal with them: housekeeping for room and board, as Faith Moore talks about in Saving Cinderella. The woods are dangerous, and there’s nowhere else she can really go, so she takes charge of the situation and uses her agency to land herself with a place to live.
- We can’t always save ourselves. The idea that we don’t need anybody has become hugely popular in our society today. I see it at college all the time. Girls stay out of relationships because they want to take care of themselves and be independent. The worst thing a girl can be is “needy,” both in romantic relationships and friendships. A lot of students struggle with mental health issues, but don’t reach out to friends for help, because they think if they need someone else to help “save them,” they’re a weaker person. Most inspirational speakers, artists, musicians, and similar figures will often say, “only you can save yourself.” And in certain ways, there is some truth to that, but it’s not an absolute rule. People need community. We need each other. Sometimes we can’t save ourselves. Snow White was targeted by an evil witch and poisoned — there was really no way she could save herself. I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, from literature and fairy tales and Disney movies, is that we all need each other. It’s not weakness, it’s not a lack of agency, it’s just being human, and that’s okay. And if the person saving you happens to be a handsome prince who loves you, that’s a bonus in my opinion.
I think the bottom line here is that, to feminists, agency is the be all end all for women. When they say this, they have a very specific image in mind of what female agency looks like. Sometimes the Disney princesses just don’t fit that image, but that doesn’t mean they lack agency at all.
Abby Petree is currently a senior in college, pursuing a B.A. in English Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing at William Jessup University. After graduation, she plans to start a career as a teacher and a writer, sharing her love of books with kids. Watching Disney movies might be the only thing she enjoys more than reading. She lives with her family in Northern California.