Capturing imaginations – finding the bigger picture

Sometimes awareness comes in startling revelations. Sometimes there is a moment so simple that the stunning part is how subtly it clued you in to tiny revelations accumulated over time.

I was sitting at the resource center and had finished up some small bit of work. I turned to the group of girls who had been playing together while waiting for me to finish working and join them.

“So you girls want to watch a Disney movie?” I asked.

Squeals of delight erupted and they clambered over to the couch while I pulled out the DVDs. “Which one do you want to watch?”

Without hesitation: “Cinderella!”

I chuckled over their love of an old Disney classic and was intrigued since I hadn’t seen it more than a couple of times when I was a kid. But as I watched it, it seemed to me to be such a stark contrast from my personal Disney favorite, “Beauty and the Beast”. “Cinderella” is a story that captured the imaginations of little girls of the 1950s and 60s and follows the traditional story line of an impoverished and used girl who must be rescued by magic and a prince to find love and freedom. Both Cinderella and her prince are thin on personality; they are primarily just pawns moved about by larger forces (some benevolent, like the King, some malicious, like the wicked stepmother). Slightly different from my favorite, where the heroine must overcome her own fear and prejudice to find love and freedom with a hero who looks terrible from the outside but has similar intelligence and sensibilities underneath.

But “Cinderella” is the one these girls want to see. And as we watch, the tiny memories started to accumulate into one larger revelation.

When I was at their families’ home on Saturday night, the girls were watching cartoons on TV and interspersed between the cartoons were popular music videos. These girls, all around ages 6-8 or so, were belting out the tunes at the top of their lungs. I laughed at the cuteness, though I felt a little disturbed because all (and I mean ALL) the songs were about two girls fighting over a man.

And then I remembered my cousins doing the same thing when we were teens: watching music videos and singing happily about betrayal and loss.

And I thought about all the popular Thai music videos I’ve seen, waiting in bus stations, sitting on the bus, playing in cafes and hair salons, and in shop windows…

Almost all of them feature a woman left behind by a man. A lover who moves on to be with another woman. Two women fighting over a man. Men make all the choices. The women are portrayed as scheming and over-crazed by emotions. And they haven’t the self-respect to walk away.

And as I looked at these young girls, the same age as my nieces, singing lovingly about heartbreak and affairs, jealousy and betrayal, I realize just how ubiquitous this theme is in Thai culture. How do we teach empowerment, when they’re taught to romanticize love triangles and inferiority to men at such tender ages? I’m not going to sit here and blame popular music for how these girls think. Rather, I believe that these songs strike such a chord with them because the stories are so deeply embedded in the consciousness of the culture.

In reality, most Thai women I know are actually incredibly strong. But they are also rather jaded on the whole idea of romance. I’d venture to guess it’s because what is portrayed as romance in the popular culture is really just women being weak.

I want love for these girls. When they get older, I want them to find joy in romance; stability, comfort and honor in marriage. (If marriage is indeed what they want.) I’d hope they don’t have to push away love to survive, for love and strength don’t have to be at odds with one another. In fact, they should support each other. What I don’t want is for these girls to sit around waiting to be rescued. I don’t want them to ever feel like they don’t have the power to make choices. It took forty years for the story of a generation to shift from “Cinderella” to the likes of “Beauty and the Beast”. I wonder what it will take to help even just one little girl see how much power she really has over her own life.

I wonder, if I ever have a daughter of my own, what story will capture her imagination?

What Disney film captured your imagination? What bigger picture did you see this week? Join in at This Heavenly Life!



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12 thoughts on “Capturing imaginations – finding the bigger picture

  1. I have a daughter so this really resonated with me! I loved it. I thought your observations are right on. I want my girl to have love, strong and true…yet I want her to know her own strength also. Pop culture is powerful force..hope the messages she learns in our home help add balance.

    I linked up my "Bigger Picture moment. That's where I found you.

    Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. Pop culture is a powerful force, but with the right support (and you would be that right support my dear) a daughter (or son) can fight what society expects or sees as normal.

  3. I'm a little mermaid fan. I was 8 or 9 when it came out and I super wanted to be a mermaid. I still know the whole movie by heart!

    And, yes, I agree with you. Even when I was growing up, I remember a lot of importance placed on if I did or did not have a boyfriend. It mainly came from my grandparents and extended family, but it made me self conscience and wonder why it mattered so much if I had a boyfriend. It's something I will not be allowing my family to drill my girls about when they're older.

  4. If you're looking for good Disney films for Children, Pinocchio is actually a great lesson in classical virtue theory. It's good enough that I show it (and provide interpretations of it) in several of my political theory courses. It doesn't cover romance, but it does cover what it means to become a decent human being through education and care for family.

  5. This is a huge thing for me because I have two daughters of my own. It is one of the most important lessons that I want them to learn: that they can make a difference, that they are powerful, and to never let a man dictate their life. So many women, even here in the states, make such poor choices because they think a man loves them, only to be disillusioned. I do believe in love, I've been happily married to the man of my dreams for over 15 years now, but he loves me back and supports every crazy thing I do! By the way, my favorite Disney movie is Mulan, go girl power!

  6. "Sometimes there is a moment so simple that the stunning part is how subtly it clued you in to tiny revelations accumulated over time." <— I feel like that is my entire life! lol. You say it so poignantly.

    I want them to know love, too! I don't even know these girls, but I know what it is to feel loved and to not feel loved. And I know the places we go literally and emotionally when we don't feel loved, and they are never good places. I'm glad you're in their lives so as to help them realize how worthwhile and lovable they are.

    Disney movie wise — I like Pixar's Finding Nemo now. But when I was growing up I was totally captivated by The Little Mermaid, which has both strengths and weaknesses.

    A great BPM this week, JAde. Thanks for sharing it and bringing thought to how we internalized these cultural norms through so many ways, including Disney movies!

  7. Like we don't have enough to worry about when it comes to our kids (being safe, eating right, etc) but we also have to worry about how pop culture is subliminally influencing our kids. It's hard, right? I think a great way to overcome this is to set a good example in the home of what genuine love is, and display positive characteristics for them to replicate.

    This piece was beautifully written, I love your perspective on the subject.

  8. I LOVE this post, Jade. The cultural differences and social outcomes noticed by watching Cinderella…fascinating. I've wondered, too, about how princesses are portrayed back then versus now. We've watched all of them, and we DO love them all, but I always find myself gravitating towards the heroines. The girls who won't stand for less than they deserve. The girls who trick the greasy Gaston into falling OUT of their door rather than being trapped by his flattery.

    (If you can't tell, Belle is my favorite princess :) )

    Ah, your thoughts here are so intelligent and thoughtful, I need to reread them to internalize them more. Thank you so much for sharing this revelation. It means so much.

  9. My favorite was Alladin. It came out when I was a junior in high school, and I fell in love with the idea of having the ability to change your "destiny". And those you cross paths with may be changing theirs as well. Though it doesn't pay to be deceitful. Honesty, sometimes gently, is the best policy.

  10. Oh this touched me.

    I have a daughter and she LOVES Cinderella, it's her favorite princess movie. I think it's mostly because their are no "bad guys" (in the dark, scary, mean monster variety, just a scary cat- according to her). There are mean people but they don't scare her. My husband and I have discussed how we need get some of the more modern princess movies, or have her watch more Beauty and the Beast or Ariel because despite disobeying their fathers they do appear be to be stronger role models.

    Thank you for continuing to share your stories of these girls, I pray that you can be that positive difference in their live that can show them that they don't need a prince to sweep them off their feet. That they can love and be loved and that they are worthy of love.

  11. Wow! Your first paragraph is so true! Imagining the powerful image of children innocently singing words without any true understanding. How does that shape you? Does that help or hurt you? Haven't I been that child too?

    My favorite Disney movie is The Rescuers. I had the story album, and would play it all the time as a child. The story's heroine was an orphan named Penny. She was not the most brave, the most courageous, the most smartest, the prettiest, she was just a girl who wanted a family to love and be loved in return. She fould herself in extraordinary circumstances. Those who came to her rescue were simple creatures, many different creatures (a not so subtle metaphor for the UN)who risked their lives to rescue one girl because they understood the great danger she was in and she asked for help. This is a story about love, but not romantic love. Hmm…makes me wonder.

    Jade you are so thoughtful in your observations. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I hope that all of the children you work with will see love in all its facets and dimensions and allow it to wash over them to allow flowers to grow and take root.

  12. I had trouble remembering my favorite Disney movie, because Disney cartoons were in a lull when I was growing up. Cherith brought back the memory of seeing The Rescuers when I was little! That was a wonderful movie. I loved Bianca, the white mouse who could never be ruffled. Now she was a strong "woman" character!