The Snow White Conundrum

I write this wearing my silver tiara my boys gave me last Mother’s Day. I’m the queen, they say. Queen of the house, the one in charge. In our house, this is a matriarchy. I may appear to fit a more traditional, hetero, cis gender role as mother and wife, but my boys know who sparkles.

In reality, my husband and I split most our responsibilities. I cook, he cleans. I’m with the kids a majority of the day, but as soon as he’s home, I’m hands-off, and dad takes kid-duty. We discuss big decisions together and make choices as a couple.

At the end of the day though, I’m a bad witch, and what I say, goes.

Lately, conservatives have lost their minds over Snow White. Yet another elaborate propaganda tool to dismiss and discredit anything deemed “left” or “liberal.”

The Snow White conundrum is an exaggerated story concocted by conservatives. Another misfire as they try to comprehend cancel culture. Conservative media outlets and conservative politicians and pundents claim the left is going after Snow White and want to cancel her at Disney.

Eye roll.

Let’s put aside if there’s any veracity to this claim and dig into Snow White and fairytales in general.

Snow White is poisoned by her step-mother, leaving SW in a coma. A prince who has never met her, stumbles upon her glass coffin. And because she’s so beautiful, this prince, a straight, white man, feels he has the right to kiss a woman in a coma.

As young girls, as adult women, we are programmed to find this romantic.

When we analyze these fairytale stories, we discover the princess never has agency. And every story shares a common thread: Girl is living in shitty circumstances, so, a man must save her.

Reading/watching any iteration of these stories reveal the exact same plot. Just replace the names.

My childhood was filled with disfunction. By third-grade, I was depressed, swallowed by my life, unable to get myself out of bed. At nine, I was institutionalized for the first time.

Reading was my only solace. I devoured literature, all of it. Placed at a high school-level reading level by second-grade, I consumed books. From Alcott to Dickens, from Martin to R.L. Stein. And yes, fairytales.

I also was obsessed with Zena Warrior Princess and Red Sonja. I wanted to be a fierce warrior, able to battle my way out of trouble. I forced friends and my sister to pretend elaborate sword battles. And of course, I was always the leader. Zena in all her glory.

Conflicted messages constantly swarmed my path though. The older I grew, the more mixed signals flared around me. Eventually, Zena morphed into Rapunzel, locked in her tower.

I was certain I needed a knight in shining armor to save me. Fury blazed inside me about my circumstances, but I had no agency. I was not taught this. Burning, I nonetheless waited in my glass coffin, desperate for a prince to whisk me away.

I was groomed to be pretty and demure, literally told a man would never want me if I were otherwise. If I were my true nature. Fuck, I fit the mold. Thin, blonde, pretty. I played the part well.

It led me to believe my only worth was in my appearance. Decades later, I struggle with finding my self-worth now that I’m 40 with a body that has clearly carried children. I know this to be false, but emotional understanding is much more seductive than intellectual understanding.

I believed my purpose was to be a pretty princess, silent and demure. I found validation in the male gaze. When I found myself in uncomfortable situations with boys, I was programmed to think what I wanted did not matter. What I felt did not matter. I was made to please, made to touch, I better get used to it.

Consent was never a conversation.

My experience is not uncommon. Most women struggle with these conflicting messages. Even the fiercest feminist. For centuries, we have been surrounded by messages telling us that women exist for the male gaze. And men are surrounded by the message that their desire is of crucial importance.

Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, all these stories reinforce the idea that women must be pretty, cis gendered, silent, demure princesses who need a man to save them. It reaffirms the notion that when a man is attracted to a woman, he can place his hands on her whether she gives permission or not.

You can scoff at this. You can mock me for making a big, feminist deal out of nothing. But I don’t think this is nothing.

We don’t need to burn fairytale books. Disney does not need to excise every princess reference. We don’t need to hate fairytale movies. But we do need to better analyze the messages we surround our children with. We need to have open, honest conversations with kids. My husband and I already have conversations with our two boys about consent. They are four and eight, but when someone ask to not be touched, we don’t touch them. And if they don’t want to be touched, then no one should touch them.

It’s not cancel culture. It’s not left extremism. It’s not radical feminism. I’m not the first to address this subject by any stretch of the imagination. Others have written much more eloquently about this topic. But for the little girl who found her voice ripped from her, and for the young woman who found herself locked in a tower, I want to ride up on my white horse. I want to give them agency. I want to shatter the tower and teach them to communicate. I want to share pieces of my heart with them, show them what true love looks like.

It’s not a man, but a bright light deep inside them. With a little polishing, it might shimmer and shine, revealing their wishes are not as out of reach as they believe.

By Imperfection

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a mom and writer from Omaha, Nebraska but recently relocated to Urbandale, IA. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star. Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance marketer during the day, a creative writer at night. Her work has appeared in the Brevity blog, The Omaha World Herald, 13th Floor, Misbehaving Nebraskans, Hippocampus, Emerging Nebraska Writers and Random Sample Review. She has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her essay “The Body” was a McKenna Fellowship finalist, and her essay “Imperfection” was a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee. She is blind and writes frequently about disability. She’s working on a memoir about the disabled feminine experience. With the kids though, expect it in stores in about a decade.

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