I will always remember the first time my daughter watched Disney’s Cinderella. She was sitting on our couch at home, her eyes glued to the TV screen, and on her face stretched an expression of deep longing. She might have been no more than two. I looked on in dismay. I admit I am often appalled by the mistakes I make as a parent, some of which I had no idea would be a mistake until I see the results. As I gaped at Eden’s wide-eyed admiration of Cinderella marrying Prince Charming, I could not believe I had been guilty of such a horrifying mistake. Here I was, teaching my daughter at the tender and impressionable age of two, that nothing in life matters more than catching a man.
Feminism is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the theory of the political, social and economic equality of the sexes” as well as “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” Though I might not call myself a feminist — I do not actively pursue women’s rights, nor do I feel particularly discriminated against as a woman — there is one aspect of traditional literature which I dislike: that the girl almost always gets together with a guy by the end of the story. Why, oh why do so many novels, whether it be romance, adventure, dystopia or fairy tale, have to have a love story as part of their plots?
Young adult literature today abounds with strong heroines: Calla of the Nightshade Trilogy, Katsa of Graceling, Elisa of Girl of Fire and Thorns. I might not be crazy about The Hunger Games, but Katniss is a strong, capable woman, a born leader. All these young heroines are upstanding examples of the strong woman. Gone are the damsels in distress, weak and fragile maidens. Instead we find girls who are leaders, warriors, hunters, all of whom are intelligent and physically strong.
But despite the independence of each of these literary girls, their respective novels include love plots which are nearly as important as the main action, and — spoiler alert — other than Elisa who at least at the end of book one finds herself standing alone at the head of her nation — each of these female leads ultimately attaches herself to a boy. I wonder, do our novels still send a message to young female readers that no matter how many achievements they attain, still none is more important than that of catching a man?
To come back to my two-year old daughter, gazing starry-eyed as Cinderella marries her prince, perhaps I could argue that it is in our blood, in our nature as women, to yearn for love. Perhaps no matter how many Elisas triumph over their enemies alone, our wish as women is also to establish a family and a home? And I wonder, is it that bad to teach our children the importance of connection, love and intimacy? In Hebrew we say, “It is not good for man to be alone.” There is little doubt in my mind that being alone is also not that great for a woman. In the end, I do believe, love conquers all.