In the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about children, childhoods, and impressions that one may leave or take away from childhood. I think my personal studies on children’s rights within my graduate program are starting to take over my life. Regardless, this is what I’ve been thinking about lately! Still staying true to what I’ve been blogging about, my focus has been specifically on fairy tales. I’ve been mentally itching as I haven’t had the time to engage in leisure reading and there is unfortunately a lack of bookstores like Barnes and Nobles or Borders here in Egypt! I have been dying of thirst for the smell of new book pages when one flips through the variously placed books that sit so uncomfortably snug in their pre-determined alphabetical order waiting for curious minds to instruct their hands to remove them! I have to say that’s probably what I miss most aside from family, friends and food! Anyways, as I was saying, I’ve been thinking about fairy-tales lately. I remember whilst growing up, chatters about fairy-tales, mainly Disney productions, were constantly in the air. My cousins – from my father’s side, watched many of them… Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and so forth. The only ones I can vaguely recall are the Lion King, Bambi, and Cinderella… I still remember the first time I watched Bambi, when the mother was killed by the hunters I cried. I kept asking my mother why they killed her, I kept repeating that it wasn’t fair, “Why did they kill her?” I remember my mother just said that that’s life; life, death and unfairness, but that’s only one part, the other part of life is left to us, what we decide to do when we encounter each obstacle that arrives… I was only approximately 4 or 5 years old at the time. It’s funny the things that we choose to remember and those that we choose to forget about completely, or at least the attempt to store them away in hopes of forgetting. So why exactly am I writing about fairy-tales?
It all started the other day when I was trying to retain my sanity from all the stress. I started to think about my childhood – if one could call it that or even presume that thinking about it would even bring about any kind of sanity – but that’s what I did. I thought about some of the things I had remembered at one point but have so desperately tried to ignore for the last decade or so – possibly longer. Granted I know I’m not really that old yet, being only a month and a couple days in since turning twenty-three, but the point being that I feel incredibly old at heart. This perpetuating “old” feeling often translating into a peaceful yet unsettling kind of seclusion. Anyway, back to fairy-tales! I was thinking about them because they are often “love stories”. On frequent occasions I verbally critique them with friends when they reference names like “Disney” or any of the classic fairy-tales (like the ones I have already previously stated). To me, fairy-tales have always seemed like a brilliantly composed false advertisement – especially those produced by Disney. Take the classic Cinderella story. A beautiful maiden who suffers at the hands of her evil step mother and two step sisters. She’s subjected to the labors of the house until a castle ball invitation is sent, but she is prohibited from going and thus her fairy godmother somehow magically appears turning a pumpkin into a carriage and her mouse friends into a horse and carriage driver and off she goes to the ball where she meets Prince Charming before frantically racing the clock when it strikes midnight to return home. Of course she leaves a token of her presence at the castle – her glass slipper, and Prince Charming is left in a complete state of awe and is thus sprung into a frenzy of needing to find his true love. It’s implied that he searches high and low before arriving at her house, where having only met her once he has determined that she is his one and only. He finds her and of course no one else in the entire kingdom has her shoe size and thus he saves her from her evil stepmother and step sisters and they live happily ever after!
Why do fairy-tales bring such joy into people’s hearts? Why do so many people breathe a sigh of relief and contentment when such a spectacle is witnessed? Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but life is by no means remotely close to any kind of fairy-tale, quite the contrary! For one, everyone’s family is a bit crazy at times! We all have crazy parents and/or legal guardians and we all have problems. No family is perfect and there’s really no way of being “rescued” from one’s family as they make up who we are as an individual. I mean this in the sense that within a family (whether it is our biological or fictive family) one never solves problems by magically meeting a Prince Charming (or Princess Charming), get swept off your feet and ride into the sunrise or sunset. Relationships are built on communication and trial and error. Sometimes we fight, other times we don’t, but the key is communication. That’s not to say that it always works out as life doesn’t always go the way we want it to go and people make mistakes. The point is that we do have to start somewhere. In Cinderella, like many of the fairy-tales, there’s also this notion that each and every one of us has a soul mate. In Cinderella this is exemplified by the glass slipper she leaves behind. It’s implied that the Prince has searched the entire kingdom, yet magically NO one has the same shoe size.
So the concept of love? What does it even mean, what does it entail? Is it one’s physical appearance, material or financial well-being, social status or emotional connection? Maybe it’s all of the above? Look at Prince Charming, he is good-looking, he is persistent in trying to find her and let’s not forget he is heir to the whole kingdom! There’s also an intriguing aspect to their relationships. The spectator bears witness to Cinderella as a working girl – granted we know her step mother and step sisters are fairly well off, but we as the viewer are not 100% sure as to their true relations. Where is her biological family? Her father and mother? How did she end up with these people? The story is framed in such a way that she is “saved” and one can only make assumptions about what the missing details are in terms of her social status based on what is shown – which in this case has been juxtaposed to her stepmother and step sisters. Does this portrayal re-emphasize to young children that a Prince Charming ought to be financially and materialistically well off in order to be considered “socially acceptable”? I can’t help but wonder if these portrayals reinforce traditional notions of patriarchy, masculinity and femininity. Does a man have to be the provider or the bread winner of the family? Is a woman always a “victim” that needs to be “rescued” in order to live life? If these are the messages that fairy-tales like Cinderella are trying to convey then this is detrimental for both women and men. Furthermore, I think this begs the question of love, what exactly is this thing called love?
Given my very limited knowledge of fairy-tales, in the ones that I do know, I don’t believe I can pinpoint one in which the two “lovers” or “soul mates” have had a decent conversation. It seems to me that love is based on a superficial concept of social statuses, material and financial security and of course, on cannot forget the physically beautiful. A racial and ethnic bias also prevails within these fairy-tales as the two lovers involved are usually dark haired and fair skinned or blonde haired and fair skinned – exemplifying white, Caucasians. I guess one could argue that there is Pocahontas but I would argue that the message present in that animation differs from those prevalent in fairy-tale love stories – she falls in love with the white man which leads to the annihilation of her tribe not exactly the same kind of promise as those exhibited in tales like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In addition, to the lack of diversity in racial and ethnic backgrounds, why are all the relationships heterosexual? Why must we be confined and restricted to only certain categories? This seems to beg the question of what is love or yet, what does love have to do with anything at all? If love is supposed to be an emotional aspect of animals, a bond that one shares with another then this is where the irony begins.
If I am suggesting that relationships like the ones we see in fairy-tales ought to focus on the emotion called “love” then I myself have fallen into a stream of idealism. How often does anyone truly “love” someone to the point where all other aspects of life can be ignored or at least be set aside? In other words, how often do people historically and currently within the 21st century choose to be with someone simply because of love – this emotional bond – rather than base their decision on physical appearance, financial stability and/or social status? So knowing all this…why do I still feel like I am seeking that impossibility called “love”?
Human beings are an intriguing species; our mind is such a valuable yet invaluable asset. Valuable as we have the capacity and capability to critically analyze and comprehend the world around us, but also the world within ourselves. However helpful and useful that may be, it also functions like a double edged sword. Our emotions often take the best of us, either through the hardening of our hearts or by numbing us to such an extent that we become indifferent to certain things, emotions, feelings… What are we left when then? Where do we look to for comfort, for guidance, for hope? How can one recover from such an experience, I mean we do recover, we find ways of adapting to situations as they enter and leave our lives, but do we ever fully recover? Are we capable of fully recovering? I guess this is where I have left my heart…