Fairy tales and our current Princess Culture are often a visual representation of the struggle of women and young girls; especially those tied to fundamentalist Christian culture. They are a promise of happy ever after, and philosophy on how to get there with symbolic obstacles that must be overcome along the way. While often holding elements of the oppressive, they also holds truths about current aspects of our culture that strip away power from women and girls. At the same time it shows them a likeness of themselves working through the obstacles and waiting to get free.
Even if the intention were to dictate a gender narrative to young girls and women Fairy Tale stories can still tell the truth. Julia Cameron has written about the power of writing, and how when you put pen to paper you can't lie. In this way I think it is interesting how in encouraging Princess Culture and selling a narrative, not even Disney can stray from truth. By saying what they believe through their chosen narratives; they are telling the truth about the experiences of women and young girls.
In previous posts I discussed how Prince Charming is a metaphor for what happily ever after can mean to women in our culture who are seeking love, respect, and stability (not just romance). I also discussed in reference to a beautiful christian girlhood how Prince Charming also represents escape.
The reason Prince Charming represents escape is that he is part of the story progression where a heroine/princess has to overcome obstacles and maybe even an abusive family dynamic (Cinderella) and then as the Prince he comes in to take her away from it all. He also represents escape because no where is it suggested that our heroine/princess would have left on her own. Either because she is following the path of beautiful christian girlhood and puts her family's needs above all else, or she lacks the means necessary to leave and is tangled up in a tower.
There are many young girls and women who become tangled up in a tower, with little hope of leaving unless by some miracle a.k.a Prince Charming. The tower walls don't have to be real stone to be the perfect prison. In my personal experience the tower was made up of these things; Home School education, Isolation, educational neglect, abusive narcissist parents (both of whom are Mother Gothel types) and prescriptions to fundamentalist beliefs.
I recently read blog posts from Libby Anne and NLQ discussing the Duggars. The posts mentioned the Duggar children and their education at home, and how it affected their ability to establish personal independence and leave home. What I took away from the posts was how difficult this would be for them to accomplish. The depth of their education at home is very limited, with little or no opportunity to gain job type skills. This seems especially true of the Duggar girls, who are even further discouraged from education and outside opportunities. My experience of leaving the tower (home) at eighteen was a struggle. I had always assumed that it was all my fault, that I didn't try hard enough, was not smart enough, and didn't sell myself confidently enough. It wasn't until reading these blog posts that it really struck me how much my own education and situation played a primary role in my struggle. I was home schooled; my parents reasons varied, they were willing to send me to the local high school for some coursework and eventually enrolled me in a local running start program. However my education prior to that was limited and was furthermore neglected.
I think the ways in which I was limited educationally were not always based off of my parents fear of secular culture (surprising) but was one of the natural consequences that can come with home school. In home school you are relying on individuals (parents) to teach you, and relying on their education level and ability to teach in a constructive manner that results in learning growth. Also adding in the element of self focus (narcissism) to my primary teacher Vaarsuvius, in addition to little patience or emotional control and you end up with educational inconsistencies. They tried, they did, but they were not made of the stuff that teachers need to be made of. With that element of narcissism they took everything personally, and finally and slowly they just gave up and let my education go. This narcissism (and abuse) also fueled their neglect of other needs in the educational realm. They never fully pursued anything to help myself or Other Child with our learning issues and disabilities. And despite the great swaths of great books and other things that developed creativity in Other Child and myself we both lacked in fundamentals, the basic education components. Other Child is dyslexic and can hardly spell (to this day), our world History lessons were not thorough, nor were Geography, Geometry and Science. I never learned the periodic table of elements. Anything science oriented was often dismissed because we lived on a farm and had living science to educate us.
I wonder if it was just Vaarsuvius inabilities and frustration that made them bail on our education, or if other subtle elements were at play; by crippling us in this way they were making it really difficult of us to ever leave home. In fact being a co-dependent user (narcissist) they probably wished that neither Other Child and I ever left home. It took Other Child much longer to pull away from home than it did me, but it was a struggle for both of us to get on our feet and in the end both of us had help and support through our relationships. I think about this element with Vaarsuvius as well because I remember when I was thirteen or fourteen asking about going to work at McDonald's so I could save up for a car. Vaarsuvius was quick to shut that down, and told me I was too young. Which would have been fine because at the time I probably was too young, but I don't believe that was their whole intention. The intention behind them quashing my idea seemed to be control. I had come to them with some sense of confidence, self motivation and they had to crush it. I never felt good about going out and pursuing any job after that, and my confidence before that had already been dwindling. I ended up doing what I had been trained to do, take care of children. My first real job was babysitting. After that Vaarsuvius shoved me into a job at their company because "I needed to work and be responsible". But they pushed me for it needing to be at their workplace. They were also pushing me into this realm of thinking where I should not be confident about getting a job, or going to get one of my choosing. It was only okay if it was of their choosing.
When I left home the job I found that I would be good at was in reality my only viable option. Nanny. Especially a live in position where I would not have to worry about finding my own place and paying rent right off of being on my own for the first time.
Childcare was also the only career area in which I had any strong skills or resume credentials. I had no office or computer skills, my typing is barely passable. Even though I can now write re-search papers, when I started my first English courses in community college I did not know what the tab key was for, or that I was supposed to use it for correct format. Math was my personal demon. I struggled with it because of the way my mind processes things. This involves my being ADD and having several learning disability aspects that impact my mathematical understanding.
A Home school education did not adequately prepare me to engage socially or be a part of our larger culture. I was somewhat isolated in a rural area growing up; being home schooled made me feel like an outsider when I left home and moved to a more populated area. Being around more people who were not fundamentalist often led to situations and sources for embarrassment because of all the things I didn't know. What was this innuendo thing? What had I said that meant something else? My media consumption was also fairly limited up until that point, and I am still only now catching up on film and television series.
Leaving home at eighteen was not permanent. I actually had to pack up and move back home due to financial difficulties. I chose to move in with Other Parent instead of Vaarsuvius (did not know or remember the sexual abuse at the time). My permanent departure from the tower was not until I moved in with my boyfriend (now spouse). I had felt ashamed that this is what it took for me to be able to make it outside of home. While I still found work and helped to support us as best as I could, I had not been one of those girls that left home, went to college, got a job, their own first apartment and was completely independent. Though now I realize how much I was set up to be the Princess who would not be able to escape from her tower.
As someone who wanted to feel confident, independent, capable and espoused feminist values; having been the Princess tangled up in the tower is painful and sad. Seeing the reality of my independence stemming from finding my Prince Charming can also make me sad, even though my relationship was certainly a full partnership and not just a rescue scenario. Part of this sadness comes from trying to distance myself from the purity and marriage focused culture that I grew up with. I developed a lot of self judgement through how I viewed those beliefs and because I could not separate myself from them entirely. I did not like to think of myself as someone who could not be independent and instead had to be rescued. But in a way I did end up needing a partner to help me co-pilot my rescue.
The Duggar girls seem to face a similar climb down from the tower. It often looks through their circumstances that the best chance for escape would be Prince Charming and marriage. And as with Cinderella's story; no where do we see it suggested that our heroine/princesses the Duggar girls would leave home on their own outside of a Prince Charming. They are following the path of beautiful christian girlhood and put their family's needs above all else. They also seem to lack the means necessary to leave. Perhaps they too (even if secretly) want to feel confident, independent, capable, and have their own self determined values. I wonder if what may be perceived as passivity and a complete willingness to go along with their families wishes and choices in partners for them is instead passive resistance, going limp noodle.
Through reading about the Duggar girls I am beginning to understand myself better. I have started to have a broader understanding of the culture I came from and judge myself less. My struggles stemmed from educational neglect as well as the unconscious philosophies of my parents rooted in fundamentalism and enacted with narcissism. I feel less inclined to judge the Duggar girls for choosing marriage, even to partners they do not seem to be head over heels for. I do not know if the Cinderella or Rapunzel story resonates with the girls, but their lives seem to center around a Fairy Tale type narrative. Marriage is happily ever after, the promise of better things and a life outside the tower.
The Princess narrative while not seemingly empowering is actually a glimmering manifestation of hope. It has really resonated with me and perhaps even unconsciously for the Duggar girls too, because none of us were set up to succeed and be independent women in our own right.
It is important to be able to see yourself through a mirror such as the one created through Fairy Tales. It helps you feel that you are not alone. We can say to ourselves "look Rapunzel went through this and came out on the other side, her struggles are similar to mine, I can do this". When as women and girls we are not given narratives of self confidence, independence, and we are instead diminished; it is important to have a narrative or story for us to hold onto. It's our way of steering by starlight (love this term from Martha Beck), having something to guide us until we can escape from whatever tower that holds us.