"Someday, my prince will come.” — Snow White, 1937
In a hotel in Canada hangs this picture, someone’s mischievous take on Snow White a few years after happily ever after. She is posed in an anonymous suburban den. Behind her, Prince Charming slouches in a chair, slowly going to seed. Snow has a babe in arms and a few other rug rats scattered about the floor. She faces you with an expression that seems to ask, is this all there is?
It is less a comment on marriage than on the notion that marriage is the holy grail of a woman’s existence, the finish line of her life’s hopes, dreams and goals. That is a fable upon which the Walt Disney Company built an empire. But the fable is not confined to the multiplex. To the contrary, you can see it played out on a weekly basis in the headlines of any given publication in your local supermarket checkout line. Consider one of the most recent big stories from the Land of the Beautiful People.
It seems that one William Bradley Pitt and one Angelina Jolie Voight recently became engaged to be married. Already the celebrity gossip mills are buzzing with the critical question this raises: How will it affect Jen? How does Jen feel about it? Will Jen be OK?
That would be Jennifer Aniston, the wife Pitt famously dumped in 2005 when he and Jolie became a thing. If I were her, I think my response would be, please stop calling me “Jen,” as if we went to high school together.
But Aniston has become the poster child for this media-driven narrative of woman as love victim, tragically incomplete until her wedding day, if even then. She is joined on that poster by the likes of Sandra Bullock, Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Eva Longoria, and Khloe and Kim Kardashian.
Life as soap opera
Sometimes, it seems as if every cover of every tabloid and magazine has a headline about some actress or reality show personality and her crusade to find -- or keep -- a man. Either she has been dumped or he has cheated, or she is thinking of taking him back, or she is lonely without him, or she is struggling to conceive, or the wedding is off, or the wedding is back on, or she has found new love after the divorce, yadda, yadda and yadda. It is life as soap opera story arc or country music lyric. And here is the thing: you will almost never see a male celebrity as the object of one of those headlines:
No breathless updates on Jon Hamm’s search for love. No headline coverage of Ryan Gosling’s struggle to conceive. No suggestion that they are incomplete until or unless those milestones are achieved. You have to wonder what lessons this teaches little girls.
Maybe you don’t think it teaches any particular lesson. Maybe you’re inclined to dismiss the narrative precisely because it is media created. Maybe you believe it says nothing about the mindset of real women in the real world. Maybe you’re right.
One the other hand, the fact that the narrative endures, that it continues to sell movies and magazines, suggests it has more resonance for more women than one would like to think.
There is nothing wrong with love or with wanting or seeking a life partner. But we should question the idea, implicit in the narrative, that finding said partner is the singular goal of a woman’s life, her only route to happiness, and that until she has achieved it she is incomplete, even if she is as accomplished as an Oprah or as celebrated as a “Jen.”
Back when Snow White sang, “Someday my prince will come,” waiting on a prince -- and raising his babies afterward -- constituted pretty much a woman’s entire range of options. Seventy-five years later, women have options their grandmothers could scarcely have dreamt. So is it asking too much that we relegate this tired narrative to the junk heap where it belongs?
Snow White is a fairy tale, not a lifestyle.