Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child

While we’re in the mode of criticizing Disney, I was fascinated by Tracee Sioux’s rant against Hannah Montana.  It’s a great read, if only for the passion displayed:

But, if it’s a choice between YOU and ME in my daughter’s life. Well, I pick ME. Because I add quality and you, well, you don’t. When your snotty, bratty, disrespectful banter comes out of my daughter’s mouth – well, to be completely truthful, I feel like slapping her. I don’t. But, really, it shouldn’t take so much effort to stop the impulse.

Also, you’re not really age-appropriate no matter how small you make the t-shirts or commando market to Kindergarteners and pre-schoolers.

She’s right – Hannah Montana (and none of the other programming marketed at tweens) is not appropriate for a 6-year-old, IMHO.  In a few years? Sure, but by then, tweens will be on to the next big thing.

As an aside, if you treat child-rearing as an expression of your politics, (if you read Tracee’s blog, you know this is true about her, she makes no bones about it) all I can say is that you are in for a rude awakening in a few years.

But, that’s not what I wanted to talk about.  Later in the rant, she links to an older article in the LA times by Rosa Brooks.


At first, I thought it was satire.  I read it three times to make sure.  SHE’S SERIOUS:

You didn’t think Disney was going to stand idly by while you engaged in those little feminist critiques, did you now? Pause for a moment to consider the fate of the princesses’ mommies in those Disney movies. “Cinderella” and “Snow White”? Mothers killed off by mysterious illnesses. “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”? Mothers all missing; presumed dead.

Disney really has it in for mommies: Even when you leave princess-land, it’s the same pattern. Bambi’s mom? Shot dead by a hunter. Nemo’s mom? Eaten by a barracuda. Of all the major princesses, only Sleeping Beauty (a.k.a. Aurora; like all criminals, she often goes by an alias) has a nuclear family, not that it does her any good. But given Disney’s track record, I wouldn’t want to underwrite her mother’s life insurance policy.

Now, I’ll admit that it is kind of interesting that in so many Disney stories, the mother is absent or killed off.  More on that in a minute.  But to infer that Disney does this as reaction to feminist critique?

Sigh.  It’s so stupid, I can’t even mock it. 

My theory is more literary (hello?  not everything is political.  In fact, few things that matter in life are). 

There are few things in the world the evoke more sympathy than being a motherless child.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but fatherless (either in reality or in practice) children are a dime a dozen.  And they have been that way for centuries, thanks to wars and workplace dangers.  It’s just the way of the world that we have more sympathy for the motherless child than the fatherless child.

I’m sure there are other reasons, but these fairy tales span centuries, and the theme has been around far longer than feminist theory.  Smarter people than me could try to explain why the mothers all die in fairy tales, but if you try to blame it on the patriarchy without backing it up, I will have to remain in mocking mode.


3 Responses to “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”

  1. Busy Mom Says:

    (hello? not everything is political. In fact, few things that matter in life are).

    I want that on a t-shirt.

  2. nm Says:

    OK, then, a little backing up for you: take a look at Diane Owen Hughes’s “From Bride Price to Dowry in Mediterranean Europe,” or Christiane Klapisch-Zuber’s classic article, “The Cruel Mother: Motherhood, Widowhood, and Dowry in Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century Florence.” Feminist theory didn’t invent patriarchy, it just helps to explain why it works the way it does. Or would you complain about people designing catapults before Newton had come up with the formula to explain the theory of gravity?

  3. Katherine Coble Says:

    Smarter people than me could try to explain why the mothers all die in fairy tales,

    There are many ways to interpret fairy tales. Depending on which of a half-dozen Rosetta Stones you use, you will get a different answer.

    In the Freudian interpretation (See Bruno Bettelheim), the death of the mother represents the protagonist’s awakening into sexual awareness.

    For hundreds of years it was deemed that the mother was the true caregiver of the child. Fathers brought home food and mothers cooked it. The mother was also the nuturer who saw that the child got to school, got their chores done and even got a spouse when the time was right. The loss of the mother represents the protagonist’s utter alone-ness and need to face the challenges in the world.

    Most fairy tales are a thumbnail view of the Hero’s Journey. The quickest way to get a hero off the ground is to kick him out of the nest and remove anyone who would keep the hero locked in the normalverse. Can you imagine Frodo’s mommy insisting that he stay in the shire?
    The Greeks kept the mother around, because in most Hero stories from Greece the mother was the human half of the hero. Saving her and/or her honour was the highest aspiration of the Greek. As sexual mores changed, other societies found it simpler to kill off the mother.

    You’ve accidentally, I presume, stumbled across one of the Feminist interpreters of Fairy Tales. A fairly new form of FT analysis, Feminist deconstructors have been around for several decades.

    These folks attempt to use fairy tales as a key to deciphering the folkways of the society where the story originated.


    Like Music Theorists, structural analysts of the fairy tale attempt to discern overall meaning by analysing the patterns. Fairy tales are very similar to one another, yet very different from other narratives in some key ways.

    I’m so glad the dozen and a half college hours I have in Fairy Tale analysis can be put to good use somewhere. ;-p

    I’d provide sources, because I have about a half dozen for each point, but i don’t want Akismet to eat my post.

    The short of the long is that those feminist criticisms you link to are nothing new at all in the world of fairy tale analysis, but they’re not the be-all and end-all, either.

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