Commentary: When Snow White is smarter and stronger than politicians

The Kansas City StarJune 5, 2012 

The war on women rages on in the political arena.

No, really. We’re targets: House Republicans are dragging their feet over expanding the Violence Against Women Act. If they don’t sign off, they’ll deny new protection from domestic violence for women who are lesbians, Native Americans or immigrants.

Is it all right for women to be stripped of the right to make decisions for themselves? It feels like it. In Kansas, the Heath Care Rights of Conscience Act recently became law, allowing pharmacists and doctors to push their moral and religious beliefs on women. They can now refuse to prescribe or administer a drug they “reasonably believe” might result in the termination of a pregnancy. It gives the provider full control. And recently Missouri lawmakers passed similar legislation.

How did we get here? Why does it feel like the women’s rights movement never happened and women are suddenly second-class citizens? Politicians will have you believe we are pampered princesses, damsels in distress who need to be saved from ourselves.

And then I turn on the television and the world looks different. Somehow, it looks better for the ladies. We aren’t weak on the screen. We are Hannah Horvath owning our quirks on “Girls,” Kate Beckett solving crimes on “Castle,” Olivia Pope fixing problems for the president on “Scandal.” Even when we are princesses, we can save the day. The “Once Upon a Time” fair maidens aren’t soft and whiny and hypersexual. They fight for themselves.

In the real world, women are being stripped of their rights. But Hollywood is pushing forward an image of women as we truly are — independent, strong and brilliant. It reminds me of how “The Cosby Show” dispelled racial stereotypes and what “24” did to pave the way for the possibility of a black president.

And I wonder if this new wave of girl-power TV shows is going to snap us out of this prehistoric political time warp we’re in. This year, while politicians have been playing with our rights, heroines have taken over.

Whether we’re talking about Katniss Everdeen and “The Hunger Games” or Merida, Pixar’s first princess who isn’t interested in marriage in the upcoming “Brave,” women are front and center. The new “Snow White and the Huntsman” redefines fairy tale princesses.

This Snow White, as played by Kristen Stewart, is powerful. She is gutsy. And she isn’t asking where her true love is. Instead, she asks who will fight for justice alongside her. “Who will be my brother?” she cries.

I watched it with a 17-year-old high school athlete who loves Chris Hemsworth of “Thor” fame, who plays the huntsman. But after the movie, she wasn’t focused on him. She was talking about how refreshing it was to see women ready for war instead of rescue.

“I feel like the way women have been portrayed in the past makes it seem like you need a man to save you or you need a man to feel like a woman,” says Taylor, a soon-to-be-senior at North Kansas City High School. “And girls believe it. They buy into it. But in ‘Snow White,’ she isn’t saved. She gets help, but she also helps herself. She prevails.”

Taylor believes that if Hollywood continues to push images of strong women, it will change the way women and girls feel about themselves. I think so too. But I also hope that life imitates art in the way that men start to remember that we aren’t weak little princesses captured by their politics.

We don’t need men to make decisions for us. As we go to war for our rights, it would help if men fight with us. Or as Snow White would say: Who will be our brothers?

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