Where are the Strong Mamas?
I have a very strong and healthy relationship with my mother. We live 3,000 miles and three time zones apart, but we still find time almost every day to speak to each other, laugh, catch up, cry, vent, and tell about our daily lives. We have done this for the past seven years – my four years of undergrad and one year of grad in New Jersey, and my two years of teaching here in DC.
Recently I went back to read some books from my childhood about princesses and animals and all the Disney movies that were ever made, and I noticed something alarming – where were the strong mothers? Where is a young girl to turn to see a strong, loving mother? Sure, Snow White’s stepmother is strong, but evil and scary as well. Her birth mother is dead. Sleeping Beauty’s birth mother hides behind her equally useless father. Belle’s mother is dead; Ariel’s mother is dead; Cinderella’s mother is dead; Bambi’s mother’s death makes me sob every time. Even more modern stories have missing mommies – Nemo loses his mom in the first scene, Alice’s mother is submissive, and Rapunzel is caught in a tower away from her mommy. In Disney’s latest princess movie, The Princess and the Frog, Tiana is trying to fulfill her mother’s dream of opening a restaurant – sans mama.
It seems to me that a story isn’t a story until we have a properly motherless character. Even Spiderman is raised by his aunt and uncle! Urgggg. What message is this sending to our young girls? What message did I grow up with as a child? Stepmothers are always, without a doubt or question, evil to the point of being witches? Almost never true in reality. That I can only go out on adventures by myself, facing evil at every turn, and come out alive and married to a prince? Dangerous and only true for Kate Middleton.
I have come to the conclusion that we need more Strong Mama Stories. These SMSs can come from the public life – look at Gwyneth Paltrow and her mother Blythe Danner. Not only are they both successful actresses in their own right, but together they support Planned Parenthood, writing letters, calling for action, and being spokeswomen. Both have played incredibly strong women, including Danner’s part in Meet the Fockers, as a strong mother with a strong relationship to her on-screen daughter. There are more examples – Hillary Rodham Clinton is a Strong Woman, a Strong Mama, and our Secretary of State! Rosie O’Donnell has built her family by adoption, has a child with Down’s Syndrome, gone through painful separations, and has always spoken as a strong woman about protecting her family. Many people would not use the Osbourne family as an example of much but chaos, but you can always tell that Sharon is constantly looking out for her children. She is a tough cookie, putting up with Ozzie, and a strong mama who is still loving and kind. Lastly, an example of a SMS for young boys has to be one of my favorite women of all time – Diana Windsor. Throughout my young life, I idolized her for being a real live princess, living in a castle, in a royal family, wearing pretty dresses. But what I didn’t understand until later in my life, what a path-maker she was – her humanitarian work, protecting and raising her boys well and worldy, and even finding love for herself despite being constantly in the public eye. She was and continues to be a Strong Mama.
Mothers are treated as disposable in literature and film, which is not okay in real life! My own Strong Mama is fit to be a queen in a castle, but she would be supportive, loving and kind, instead of the evil queen of Snow White, or the absent mother of Princess Tiana.
So where do we go from here? There is a gap in ages from when you are watching Disney princess movies to when you are in awe of Diana’s mothering capabilities. Why the switch? What we really need is a Disney movie about a mother-daughter duo, more like The Incredibles than Snow White, saving the world and coming home in time for dinner and homework. Dear Walt (or heirs of Walt), is that too much to ask?
Image from: http://ungenius.wordpress.com/2010/08/