The Calculus book I use sometimes uses intricate algebra to find very involved ways to present an answer in the simplest form. Although I encourage students to manipulate terms to see how they arrived at the given answers, I sometimes find myself telling my students that “the meaning of life is not to match the answer in the back of the book.” This, of course, avoids the question of exactly what the meaning of life is. I thought of this recently as I spent a lovely afternoon with a friend and her daughter watching a production by Disney.
I recently attended a production of “Disney on Ice” with a friend and her young daughter. This gave me a chance to sit back and watch the telling to three different Disney stories, and to, in a sense, see them in a way I had never seen them before. I left that production having enjoyed myself but with the definite feeling that I was not sure I was happy about what the entertainment industry was presenting to our daughters. After all, the whole production was called “Dare to Dream.”
The production showed bits of three Disney movies, but also included references to almost every Disney love story. As I watched the many little girls sitting near us, many dressed up as princesses, marvel at the glitz and glamour, I found myself wondering about what it is that we are teaching our daughters. It was obvious that most of the stories were about how a princess meets her prince, and few other dreams were deemed worth mentioning, except in passing. However, what I was most disturbed by was the presentation of mothers, or lack thereof. While we may be used to Cinderella’s evil stepmother, I was taken by surprise by the mother in “Tangled” who kidnapped a baby princess and raised her as her own, for her own purposes. Although actually about a kidnapping, as an adoptive mother, I could see how this could send a negative message about adoption. I was also surprised to realize how many stories revolved around being beautiful or maintaining one’s youthful beauty (“who’s the fairest of them all?”)
My own daughter is past the age when she is interested in the Disney love stories, but I wonder what I have taught her by bringing some of these stories into our home. I hope that when she makes decisions about what dreams to pursue, they include a wider range of dreams than just finding the right prince so she can become a princess. After all, since her earliest days her own beauty and apparent claim to royalty has been recognized, as she, as an infant, was often called “the princess baby.”