Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Considering Cinderella

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 20 April 2011)

I love a good fairy tale. Who doesn’t? Especially when that tale entails a “rags to riches” story. I grew up in an abusive home where my mother physically, emotionally and verbally abused me for the entire time I lived in her house, so I often wished for a prince to come and save me from the tormented life I lived.

For a long time, I thought that prince would be my father whom I had never met. I would sit and daydream about the day he would come back and get me (on a white horse in a knight’s suit), to take me away from the abuse. Little did I know at such a young age that living with my alcoholic father would have been just as bad as living with my abusive mother.

Eventually, my prince did come in the form of a young Guyanese man who would one day be my husband. It is so nice when fairy tales end with a “happily ever after.” The truth, however, is that all those years of abuse did a number on my mind and my prince would have to help me through many years of mistrust and abandonment issues. Not so happy, eh?

I wish there had been some fairy tales that highlighted strong young women who fought for their rights instead of meek ones who accepted their plight until a man came along and saved them. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that my prince loved me enough to help me through the hell I went through while growing up, but I so wish I had been taught to be strong enough to stand up for myself.

Let’s face it, not every story has a fairytale ending. Reality is too often very harsh and I cannot help but wonder if we are not hurting our little girls more by teaching them fairytales that encourage them to wait for a man to save them, rather than teaching them to be strong enough to handle reality on their own.

Being taught how to face my harsh reality as a child probably would not have changed my circumstances of having an abusive mother, but it might have taught me how to better deal with that reality so I could have healed much sooner. It might have even helped me find a way to make the abuse stop, instead of waiting for someone else to make it stop.

In any case, I am positive that waiting around for my prince to save me only locked me into many years of fear, beatings and soul-wracking rampages. I only reached out for help one time and after that just accepted my plight. I was just like Cinderella, who resigned herself to washing the floor on her hands and knees until a Prince knocked on her door.

The truth is that I am not that weak little girl. I never was. I was beat into being meek and compliant and just like Cinderella, I accepted my predicament even though I dreamed of being free. I never had a fairy godmother or little mice to help me through those tough years – because that was a fairytale, not reality.

I wonder how many young girls and even grown women went to see Cinderella this past weekend and left wistfully hoping their Prince will come and save them? How long will they wait? What kind of torture will they face until the Prince comes or until they realise there is no Prince?

These old fairytales are wonderful to entertain our children, but we must teach them to be strong enough to face the real world. Even as adults we escape into the fantasy worlds of movies, television shows and video games in hopes of losing ourselves in another reality besides our own.

Even the Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds, wants to get lost in the Cinderella fairytale. According to the Guyana Chronicle, when he spoke at the event on Saturday evening, he “urged the gathering to use the Cinderella story as motivation to work together for a harmonious Guyana. ‘…despite the real world out there…that is full of sadness and violence, if we commit ourselves to work for love, peace and happiness then we can have the Guyana we want.’”

It is so easy to want to get lost in a fairytale. It is much easier than doing the hard work we must face each day in reality. However, teaching our children to escape reality and base their lives on fairytales is counter-productive to constructing a strong and capable society. Children need to be taught that fairytales are just that – fairytales.

Then we need to teach them how to best face the reality of their lives so they can grow up with the most advantageous tools possible and become valuable, productive members of society. This includes the girls. Trying to protect girls from the real world only makes it even more difficult for them to cope when they are adults who live in it.

Instruct girls to be strong, inquisitive, smart and adventurous. Let them get dirty. Let them stand up for themselves. Teach them to stand up for themselves. Encourage them to have an attitude that is ready to take on the world. Teach them wrong from right and then let them fly. Otherwise, the next generation will still have Cinderella’s waiting for their Prince to come.

Check out this alternative to Cinderella 

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