It’s been a while since my last post, I would apologize but the reality is that I am likely to be a repeat offender on this one. The simple truth is that blogging isn’t my day job and my day job has been quite demanding…. Anyway, enough with my non-apology apologies……
Some time ago I gave a public talk about the nature of superstitious beliefs and how traditional storylines, whether in media or in classic stories, help shape beliefs and gender stereotypes. My colleague Maggie, urged me to put my talk in writing, so I hope I won’t disappoint.
Let’s play a game (it won’t take long I promise) close your eyes (not yet) and form a picture about the subtitle of this article: “Snow White and the Cosmonaut (Russian astronaut)” OK now you can close your eyes for 10 seconds and picture that….I’ll wait….
Back? Great I want you to etch that image in your mind and make sure you can hold on to it to the end of this post.
For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember the details of the magical story of Snow White you can refresh your memory with this abridged and slightly tongue-in-cheek version or if you have the time this slightly more classic and detailed version. The premise of my talk was to ask whether stories like these were still the only way to delight children (Disney seems to think so). I questioned whether the cumulative effect of all the Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel etc etc.. narratives might be less than useful in our modern society. Take the Snow White story for example; sure it is interesting and has its charm but here are some of its (not so) hidden messages:
- Stepmothers are evil.
- Beauty is a woman’s most valuable asset and is how she determines her self-worth (she’ll even kill for it).
- Mothers are threatened by their daughters.
- Men only care about women’s beauty (why else do all fairy tale Kings marry evil witch second wives) ..so be pretty girls!
- A woman’s place is in the home (Snow White doesn’t go to work she’s chillin’ at home cleaning up after some damn dwarfs!)
- And the most obvious one: every woman needs a Prince Charming to rescue her. By the way this last one is quite hurtful to men , who also feel like they have to be the constant knight in shining armor ( but that’s for another day). (On a related note how many wives does Prince Charming get? Snow white, Frog Princess, Rapunzel, Princess Fiona.. just saying….)
- Don’t even get me started on the magic kisses, the temporary deaths, the spells and the talking mirrors (The original iPAD Siri?)
But … the story IS charming, so the question becomes: “What less-disruptive-but-equally-exciting-and-perhaps-more-inspiring-story can I tell my kids?” Funny you should ask, (please take a minute here to reinforce the image of the sub-title “Snow White and the Cosmonaut” that you previously conjured up) now the story:
(Not such) A long time ago in the small village of Maslennikovo, Russia, there lived a farmer and his wife, a textile worker. They gave birth to a healthy baby girl who they called Valentina. When she turned eight, Valentina like other girls in the village went to school. But life was hard in Maslennikova, Valentina’s father was killed when he went to war and she eventually had to drop out of school and work in the textile mill at sixteen. But like most girls Valentina was adventurous and fell in love with parachuting and sky-diving which she did in her spare time as a young woman. Now word of her skill spread and brought attention to Valentina. Soon, the country’s Chief Rocket Scientist chose her to train as a cosmonaut! Valentina trained hard and studied hard and was chosen out of 500 other young women! At the young age of 26, she flew her first and only space mission becoming the first woman to ever go into space. She orbited the earth 48 times!
When Valentina returned to earth she became an international hero! She inspired thousands of her fellow Russians as well as many others to follow their dreams and she married a fellow cosmonaut, they had a little girl of their own who became a doctor! Because of Valentina Tereshkova and other women like her, little girls (and little boys) all over the world can dream of going to space or achieving whatever dreams they go to bed with, even if they come from small villages or poor families.
I’m of the opinion that human history is full of wonderful stories like this, about men and women who have changed the course of our history for the better. Our history is more inspirational and delightful than the made up stories that we choose to tell our children at night. These stories are just as charming and certainly more inspirational then any Grimms fairy tale!
Now here’s my question for you: when I asked you to picture Snow White and the Cosmonaut…. Was the Cosmonaut a woman? If not…. then maybe… it’s not just our kids that need these stories…….. Just a thought.
Thanks Maggie for making me write this.
Wikipedia: Valentina Tereshkova.