Archive | children

Cinderella: Heroine or Doormat?

Cinderella: Heroine or Doormat?Earlier this week, I went with my sisters and mom to see Disney’s Cinderella in theaters. I can’t watch anything these days without questioning what it is teaching my ten and eleven-year old sisters. I had heard various reviews of this latest princess movie and was eager to develop my own opinion.

The question is simple: is Cinderella a good role model or not? However, folks have been drawing various conclusions since the trailer for Cinderella first released last year. The first controversy I heard was over the size of her waist. Some people were offended that another female protagonist would succumb to the “skinny fever” that seems to run rampant in Hollywood, but I don’t see it that way at all. Cinderella is set in the mid-1800’s, a time period in which corsets were the custom. The girls are all obviously wearing corsets in the new movie (there’s even a humorous scene involving lacing a corset) and that is only historical accuracy. Cinderella looks healthy, lively and petite, not emaciated. So as far as the body type issue, I have no complaints.

The second controversy, which has surrounded princess movies of all types in the recent years, is of course: is she a strong, female lead? This is a loaded question, because “strong female lead” is not a Webster’s dictionary definition, but a matter of opinion. However, my blog is a place just for that, so, in my humble opinion…

Some movies cast an undoubtedly bad light on women. I actually refused to go see the latest James Bond for that reason. For centuries, woman’s main source of power has been seduction and I don’t want to support that idea for another decade. Women are immeasurably creative, resourceful and resilient and I would love for my little sisters to see that reflected in movies.

So let’s dissect!

(Spoiler warning for the 2% of the world that doesn’t already know this story.) The movie begins with Ella as a baby and young girl. She is full of joy and surrounded by love. From a young age, she is quite the conservationist, often caring for seemingly forgotten members of their household, especially the mice. True to the fairytale, Ella’s beloved mother falls ill and dies while Ella is still young. As she lies on her deathbed, she gives Ella this piece of advice: No matter what happens, always be kind and have courage. 

This simple advice becomes Ella’s mantra and a main theme in the movie. When Ella’s father remarries and brings the Lady Germaine and two stepdaughters into the home, Ella reminds herself to be kind and have courage and is able to treat them with kindness, even though they are rude and insensitive. The new “family” doesn’t start off seeming cruel or abusive, but rather like many real blended families start off. Things are awkward, the kids don’t get along well, everyone has to adjust to a “new normal.”

Ella and her father appear to have a mutual understanding that these three new family members are more than they bargained for, but are both hopeful things will smooth out. When Ella’s father leaves for an extended business trip, things take a turn for the worse. The stepmother starts to show excessive favor to her own daughters and begins to belittle Ella. When word comes that her father will never return, Ella is the only one who grieves him. All her stepmother seems to care about is the loss of income. The household is released and the work is left to Ella.

Is Ella submissive? Yes. Does this make her a bad role model? Not necessarily.

Ella evidently clings to the last wishes of both of her loving parents: to be kind, to have courage and to try to make this new family work. When it becomes clear that she and her stepfamily will never truly be a family, Ella continues to keep her promise to her mother, but she does not cower or give up on her own dreams. Ella continually makes the most of what she has, remains hopeful and goes to great lengths to improve her own life while still being kind to her cruel stepfamily.

Ella is submissive to her stepmother, not because she thinks she has no value or is too afraid to cross her. Ella’s courage is unwavering throughout the entire movie. She is submissive because she promised to be kind. She is submissive because she has the courage to love the unlovely people in her life.

I think what is really bothering people about having Cinderella as a role model, is not that she’s weak, but that she’s good. We’ve come to associate bravery with rebellion. I think many people want to see movies with main characters more like Lady Germaine than Ella. As Jo March says in the 1994 Little Women, “Women should have a vote, not because they are angels, but because they are people. Men do not vote because they are good, they vote because they are male.” Women are exhausted of feeling our only character choices are goodness and seduction. There is so much more to 51% of the people on this planet. And because of this, we’ve fled from “goodness” and replaced it with so-called onscreen equality.

Lady Germaine is clearly a hurting person. She has been widowed twice and is greatly disappointed in her stupid daughters. She is afraid of her penniless future and obviously harbors a deep envy of Ella. In order to feel she has any standing at all, she must continually put Ella down. At one point, she actually cracks a little and rails at Ella for being young, beautiful and good. She cannot stand Ella, purely because Ella is everything she wishes she was. She particularly hates Ella because Ella does not hate her back.

But, of all her strengths, this is Ella’s greatest. She is perhaps the bravest of Disney princesses because she does not give in. She does not begin to hate or even to flee. The world may very well not be able to see her as a role model, but as a Christian, I think she’s a heroine. She loves, she serves, and, in an extremely touching scene toward the end, she forgives. Lady Germaine scarcely seems to comprehend the words, “I forgive you” but they make quite the impact on the audience.

Does the prince save Ella? In a sense, he does. But the future he is able to provide Ella with is more of a reward for her good heart and hard work than an avenue of salvation from another hero. “Kit” (as the prince is called) is dazzled not only by Ella’s beauty, but the ways she contrasts with the other girls. She is humble, brave, has a mind of her own and isn’t afraid to speak it. Kit clearly marries Ella because he loves her, not because he pities her or wants to promote himself.

In the midst of her trying home life, we see Ella blowing off steam (which is when she meets Kit) and defying her stepmother’s wishes (attending the ball.) She does not decide that this is her lot in life, or resign herself to “her place.” She is tempted to believe the things that are said about her, which we can all relate to, but she chooses to believe what the people who loved her said about her. 

When Kit finds out who she really is, we don’t have that awful fifteen minutes of miscommunication onscreen love stories usually give us. She comes clean completely and boldly approaches him as “Cinderella,” as if to say, “I know what they say about me, but I’m not afraid of that identity. My life has not been easy, but it has only made me stronger.” She asks if the prince would take her just as she is, and he asks the same of her. If that’s not equality, I don’t know what is.

Finally, Ella does not seek revenge on her stepfamily on any level. She forgives them and moves on with her life. Justice is served outside of her hands. The “happily ever after” feels like a fitting reward for a resilient, brave, and yes-good-woman. And Cinderella feels like an anthem for the virtues movies seem to have forgotten lately: quiet courage, bold love, firm perseverance and humble happiness. It’s a reminder that we really do want the good guys to win and we really aren’t tired of happy endings.

Cinderella provides everything your little sister is hoping for: glass slippers, fairy godmothers, animate mice and a dashing prince. What they might not expect is to be inspired not only by the ballgowns, but also by the morals of this famous princess. As a sister, an equality advocate and a movie-goer, I give Cinderella five stars.

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yearning for heaven (unashamedly)

prepared a heavenly city I have been thinking about baby names. My niece or nephew inspire such topics. It’s weird to think that, if you were named after someone, you were named after an imperfect person. Even Biblical characters (except Jesus, obviously) were sinful. Name someone “David” and you’re naming them after an adulterer and liar. Name someone “Moses” and you’re naming them after a cowardly murderer. Noah and Abraham both participated in gross failures. The “heroes” of the New Testament are no better.

I used to read history books written for Christian schools, and I don’t regret those lessons because, as a little girl, I did learn a lot of good things. But as I get older and realize those mini-biographies were not complete, that the founders of our faith and our country were riddled with impurities and moral failures, it can be depressing. Like learning your pastor or your favorite teacher or your parent have let themselves slip in some crucial area. It’s disheartening. Like when my sister found out Emma Roberts is not exactly like Nancy Drew. Bubbles burst.

And yet, what good would it do to pretend someone was perfect? And what good would it do, to pretend I was perfect? Would that point anyone any closer to Jesus?

We idolize good people, strong people, brave people. We search high and low for pure things, true things, excellent things. But we so often come up empty-handed. Oh the contrast that heaven will bring! We will not miss this place, where good things were splattered with the mud of the earth. I nod along with Jeremiah who cried out, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9.)

We think of newborn babies as the most pure, unadulterated, innocent creatures. But where do they come from? The bodies of sinful parents. And how long before they make a name for themselves in this sinful world? No time at all. We dive for pearls and come up with seaweed. My heart hurts when I see babies born with maladies, children taught to hate, people used as slaves, beauty disgraced and bodies sold for service. But that’s where the hope comes into the picture, hidden and oft-passed-by like gold veins laced through the rocks. My heart hurts when I see these things. 

As long as we care, as long as we feel the pain, as long as we lie awake at night thinking this is not the way things should be, we have hope. Because that means that this is not our home. That means that Heaven is right around the corner. That means that the things we thought were good and pure and holy are going to pale in comparison to the things we see next. That means that, though parents and pastors and teachers and leaders will fail us and break our hearts, our hearts will be mended and we will never be disappointed by treachery of hellish schemes again. We will never receive bad news again. We will never bury children again. Children will never have to “be the grown up” again. We won’t have to wonder if war and violence are ever permitted. We won’t have to debate women’s choices. We won’t have to feel guilty for the things we have. We won’t have to look away when we feel someone is peering into our own soul.

We’ll hug each other’s souls. 

There will be no cowardice and no slavery and no violence and no disgrace. Just this grace: “But such saints as these look forward to a far better place, a heavenly country. So God is not ashamed to be called their God because He has prepared a heavenly city for them.” Hebrews 11:16

Sometimes it sounds negative or grim or even suicidal to long for heaven, as if we cannot bear another moment on earth. But when I hear little children talk about heaven, their eagerness is truly pure. They are not embarrassed to say they are excited to walk on streets of gold and see those saints they had to say goodbye to. It’s real to them, and God is not ashamed of them.

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in which I discover a super weapon against racism

While I’m voraciously reading about the Ferguson issue (and all the issues that have spawned from it,) Sam is reading To Kill a Mockingbird for school. The irony is a little much.

It’s his first time, so I try to warn him, but when he closes the book he says he still wasn’t prepared. And yet, he says it’s his favorite book he’s read for school so far. Considering the fact that he and three of our other siblings are black and my parents, four of our other siblings and I are white, race isn’t a topic that gets brought up too often at Eyrie Park. It’s become a bit of a nonissue because of the community we are a part of. When I say “school” I mean Classical Conversations, and our campus is about as diverse and accepting as they come. Our newest little sister would be “caucasian” on a census, but she comes from a country where she, as a Roma, was considered a racial minority among white people. As a matter of fact, Romas have been greatly discriminated against in Latvia and the “token” black person is usually met with a readymade fan base, they’re such a novelty!

My friend Diane is a white mom to black children. She recently shared a Youtube video with me of Jane Elliot’s “Angry Eyes” experiment conducted at a college. Basically, students are split into two groups, those with brown eyes and those with any other eye color. The brown-eyed students are instructed on how to treat the “blueys” when they enter the classroom. There is to be no respect toward them. They are to assume certain things about them and blame it on their eye color. The experiment is well worth watching (to the very end!) and left me with lots to think about. I found myself wondering how the experiment changed those particular students. Was that group more likely to marry outside of their race? Were they more understanding of others, even later in life?

Then I started thinking about my siblings and I. What sort of changes could we bring to the world based on our unique upbringing and family situation? Sam and I both get a little choked up talking about the last chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird. We feel mutual feelings about the ending. I get the sense we’re better prepared for a diverse world than the average teenager and twenty-something, but it’s not because of Harper Lee’s excellent novel. It’s not because we’ve had so many conversations about race. It’s because we live with each other, we’re used to each other and we love each other very much.

"love and diversity" two sisters walking to school

If we can be comfortable with each other in our own home, why couldn’t we be comfortable with…anyone?

I was recently in line for about four score and seven years at the utilities office. There were two ancient black ladies in line behind me and they shared their entire life stories with each other while they stood there. They never spoke to me and I never spoke to them. To be honest, we had little in common. They had both lost children to cancer. They went to the same church. They were about a hundred years older than me. And still, I had the urge to turn around and put my hands on their wrinkly arms and say, “Just so you know, I am not intimidated and I am not trying to intimidate you. I’m just a quiet person and I don’t need to butt into your conversation. But I’d be happy to talk to you. I actually love old black ladies.” You will all be happy to know that I did not say these things. There’s still a part of me that doesn’t want to be seen as a lunatic.

The only time I’ve lived in a place where I was the minority was in Haiti. Though white people were seen as important, rich and arrogant, we were definitely judged but the color of skin. It was like we had a special place at the top of the food chain in their eyes and yet they weren’t afraid to mock us. I was often referred to as “ti blanc” (“little white,”) and gawked at. However, we literally lived at the orphanage. I had about ninety black friends all of the sudden (and zero white friends.) Though we were “missionaries” and they were “orphans,” I still got to experience being the odd one out. I remember keenly a time when I was about eleven, sitting on the cement playing “jacks” with little pieces of chicken bones with a large group of Haitian girls, thinking, “Wait, wasn’t there something different about y’all when I first came?” I could recollect the uncomfortable feeling of stepping out of the van and being a white girl surrounded by black people, but the feeling had gone away. I will never teach kids to be colorblind. It’s a silly concept born from white privilege that indicates we need to overlook something about black people in order to accept them. However, when you’re a kid, colorblindness (even to yourself) can sometimes occur naturally. It might have helped that I had no mirror and literally did not see my own white face for months at a time!

I tell these two stories to admit one thing: I have been ignorant. Jane Elliot said,

“White people’s number one freedom in the USA is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white… And our number two freedom is to deny that we’re ignorant.”

I do not have much experience with diversity or racism. Ninety percent of my friends are white. However, I have had the unique opportunity to grow up in a multi-racial family. Just as I wondered hopefully about those students in Jane Elliot’s experiment, I wonder about my siblings and I. Will we be the minority in the world by seeing everyone as truly equal? Will we be the ones who see color and don’t discriminate? You see, ending racism isn’t about stopping the hate (though that does indeed need to happen.) It’s very much about realizing how ignorant we are about other people and seeing ourselves as they see us. It’s very much about equal opportunity, not just to vote and work and run for offices, but to interact with folks of other races as we do with folks of our own race. For the white girl to sit next to the black girl at the dentist’s office. For the black guy to be able to ask the white girl out on a date without feeling like a joke. For children’s books featuring hispanic kids to not have to have their own section at the bookstore. For Asian actors to be the star in movies, not just a supporting role.

The reasons why many adopted kids are black and many adoptive parents are white are sad ones, which I won’t go into right now. But the power of this possibility is a strong one. As is the power of any other race combination, whether through adoption or marriage. The same power is possible for anyone who lives their day-to-day life with someone of another color. When we truly accept someone of another race without having to “overlook” our differences, but actually celebrate them, we create a super weapon against racism.

I used to think ignoring racism was the best way to snuff it out. There are definitely times when “disengagement” is the best policy. However, I’ve learned that racism isn’t a candle that merely needs the oxygen of conversation to live on. It’s a cancer that feeds on people’s minds. Now I realize that intentionality is necessary. I never thought I’d be quoting Chris Rock, but in a recent interview the comedian said something very poignant.

“But the thing is, we treat racism in this country like it’s a style that America went through. Like flared legs and lava lamps. Oh, that crazy thing we did. We were hanging black people. We treat it like a fad instead of a disease that eradicates millions of people. You’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down.”

Though I wouldn’t make Mr. Rock my role model, I agree with him on this point. Racism is an age-old problem, but that doesn’t make it “okay.” And his proposed solution isn’t a passive one. It cannot be passive because racism itself is not passive. It isn’t a fad. It’s not Kim Kardashian’s latest photo or Jennifer Lawrence’s latest tweet. It’s not something that will naturally blow over.

But with an unnatural intentionality, with a persistent effort, I believe in us. I believe we can do it. In your home, in your school, in your office. In your city, county, state and in the U.S.A. and then, perhaps, the world.

My newest little sister with the hazel eyes looks up at me and says, “If I marry a brown man, I gonna have brown babies?” I explain that her children would look a little like her and a little like him. “Oh, then I want to marry a brown man!” She exclaims. “I love it, brown people!”

 

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choosing to love {already}

ultrasound picture

Last Wednesday, my sister and her husband took my family and I completely by surprise and announced that they’re expecting their first child this summer! I was astonished that I hadn’t already caught on, seeing as they currently live with us and “sister vibes” are totally scientific. The family erupted in tears of joy, shouts of excitement, hugs and questions. It was a truly wonderful day.

I can hardly express how excited I am! For one thing, I get to become an aunt. It’s not every day you get a new title. I can’t wait to dote on a baby in our own family! I don’t remember any of  my siblings’ births (weird, right?) so I’m still intrigued by the process. I am also thrilled for the expectant parents who have wanted to start a family for a while now. When the baby is born, four people will become grandparents. Three people will become uncles and five people will become aunts. Two people will become parents. Wow.

It feels kind of crazy to already love the baby so much. I mean, Caitlin’s not even showing yet. Though I know the baby’s DNA is already determined, we don’t yet know it’s sex. We don’t know if he or she will have brown hair or blond…or red! We don’t know much about the baby at all. And yet I love it.

Funny thing is, there’s only one thing we can really know about Wee One: we will all love it and we will love it until it hurts. And he or she will hurt us. Will will call him or her “perfect,” but they will make mistakes. We talk about spoiling and coddling the baby-and we will!-but the baby will at some point fall and scrape a knee or bust a lip or make a choice that makes us cringe. We know that, and yet we choose to love. Already.

This morning while I read in The Book of James, something triggered a thought about an old friend. It hurts my heart to remember her because I thought I’d have her forever, but I don’t. I sometimes wonder if there a lot of people I was supposed to grieve for a long time ago, but moved on instead. Why do we have to lose people? Why do we all hurt each other so much? I ask God. For a moment, I don’t ever want to introduce myself to someone again. That could lead to a relationship and a relationship could lead to more pain.

There was the baby who was meant to be my sister and was taken way too early. My friend’s little one who never left the hospital. The painful memories and awful possibilities are endless. However, there is no doubt in my mind that love is worth it. That’s all I came here to say today. Whether your loving a person who hasn’t even been born or a child who was born to someone else and now needs you to parent them, LOVE. Whether it’s your spouse who isn’t quite as charming as the day you wed or the sister whose words sting worse than the words of an enemy ever could, LOVE. Whether they’re in a womb at 8 weeks old or on their deathbed at 104, today is a great day to start loving and never stopping.

That’s what God does for us, right? Loves us starting before time, knowing how much we will hurt Him, and prepares a place in eternity to continue loving, loving, loving us.

Come on, Wee One! We’re all ready to welcome you with open arms, no matter what you look like, no matter what you do. See you this summer!

-Aunt Everly

 

 

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