The first Walt Disney movie ever presented to the American public was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. It achieved unprecedented international success and still is a childhood favorite today. As a result of Disney’s books and animated features, young American girls – as well as girls from other nationalities – grow up with these fairytales and their own dreams of being like Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. They imagine becoming good, beautiful women who work hard, and perhaps even put up with being abused, while patiently waiting to be saved or rescued by their own handsome prince. The prince and the liberation implicitly promise to fulfill the expectations of marriage, a castle-like home, and a life of “happily ever after.” In addition to this fantasy, American girls are raised with the ideal that America is the land of hope and opportunity; that “the American Dream” of success may be achieved by anyone who works hard and actively pursues it. This belief implies that the fairytale actually can come true if it is worked for.
Reality, however, rarely mirrors a fairytale and these fantasies greatly conflict with the actual challenges faced by modern-day women. Fairytale women are depicted as naïve, demure, and dependent creatures; Snow White and Sleeping Beauty remain in comatose states until awoken by the kiss of a true love. Real contemporary women have options and opportunities; they are capable to taking care of themselves and — dare I say it? — can even live a full life without a husband or children.
Becoming independent involves the desire (and support) to achieve autonomy from parents, build self-confidence and self-reliance, acquire marketable skills and abilities, attain financial stability and security, and develop loving relationships with significant others that are based on mutual understanding and respect. These challenges, unfortunately, are more or less difficult to overcome depending upon one’s upbringing or background, education, living conditions, economic situation, support systems, etc. Failures or setbacks may exacerbate insecure, needy, or manipulative tendencies, which could translate into a variety of corresponding negative attitudes and behaviors. The ways a woman thinks, feels, and believes about herself are directly reflected in the ways she behaves — or allows herself to be treated — in her relationships with others.
As a parent, I have tried to instill these messages in my daughter from infancy. How are you raising yours?