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I am a child of the 80’s. I was raised on Disney movies like, Cinderella, Snow White, and Beauty and the Beast. I can belt out every lyric to the theme song from Karate Kid: Glory of Love, which celebrates the prince charming narrative. “I am a man who will fight for your honor, I’ll be the hero, you’ve been dreaming of….”
I grew up in the suburbs of Texas. The world taught me from an early age to be a good girl, smile, be nice, be skinny, pretty and agreeable.
My young spirit didn’t want to be “good.” I wanted to question everything, be a force, loud and rebellious, center stage, in the action, making things happen.
I found my way somewhere in between. I was extremely shy. I watched everything from a silent distance. “Out there,” I was terrified, and yet, in the safe space of my “home” felt free, unabashed, and vocal.
I spent a lot of time outdoors doing stereotypical “boy” activities. I was a competitive athlete from an early age and liked to win. I remember asking my dad after my first co-ed soccer game (co-ed, meaning I was the only girl), through tears and frustration, “Why didn’t anyone pass me the ball?” My dad’s response, “It’s just the way it is right now, you are really good, they are just scared of you.”
I also loved traditional “girl” activities, brushing the hair of My Little Ponies, being the best “mom” to my cabbage patch kids, and dressing my little brother up like “Annie.”
Somewhere in between, I became me. I’ve had to feel the anger, the sadness, the injustice, the power, the shame, the fear… to unravel, recreate, and own, how to imperfectly develop into who I am today.
I have acted out many characters on the road towards healing: the princess, the shy girl, the tomboy, the valley girl, the social justice warrior, the angry feminist, the athlete, the loner, the bleeding heart, the party girl, the Christian, the crazy one, the wounded animal, the Buddhist, Yogi, Martial Artist.
These days I’m wiser, softer… yet still uncompromising and relentless when it comes to debunking the blind acceptance of social norms. I don’t claim to have anything figured out and in the same moment, I do not apologize for what I say.
As a Female Black Belt, through Fit to Fight Defensive Options, I’d like to open the discourse on how Cinderella and Disney princess narratives, can perpetuate behaviors harmful to women.
According to the Cinderella story, in order for girls to succeed, they need to fit into the narrow view of what is beautiful, as well as being kind, generous, self-sacrificing, the epitome of patience, and forgiveness—just to name a few. Essentially, taught to be as passive and as gentle as possible.
These “Disney Princess” values are beautiful character traits, but in a fairytale where only one gender (female) is taught to uphold these values, while the other gender (male) is encouraged to be bold, take action, be heroic, protect and fight back, we have an issue.
Why is this paradigm problematic when discussing Women’s Self Defense?
- As long as you are a “good girl”,you will be rewarded with marriage and long lasting happiness.
Excuse me, rewarded with what? In the Cinderella story, young girls are taught that if they are kind, virtuous, do the right thing, are gentle to woodland animals and evil step sisters, wake up smiling, with every hair in place, they too, might be rewarded with marriage, a prince, or life long happiness.
The whole idea of “needing” to be married is absurd. As a Masters of Divinity grad, Buddhist Chaplain, End of Life Care counselor, I love ritual. I have witnessed the power ritual has to heal, marking time individually and within communities.
That said, the idea a woman is not complete or something is “wrong” with her because she’s not married is bullshit. Historically, a married woman was considered “property.” Domestic abuse was protected under the institution of marriage. Three women are killed every day by their partners, boyfriends, husbands, and exes.
As a woman, I am not an object to be “won.” I am a whole and complete person because of who I am. I do not need a man to define my worth. If I find a man or a woman who I love, choose to be in “partnership” with, and we agree on the institution of marriage, it’s a huge reason to celebrate. But not a necessity for validation.
2. ALWAYS smile, keep every hair in place, and pretend, “You woke up like this.”
Fuck the unattainable idea of perfection. What does that even mean? I understand and acknowledge, there is a biological difference between men and women. I have had many hard conversations with men around this issue. I do not fault or blame men for being wired more “visually,” and in the same breath, we are not objects to be gawked at, won, or controlled.
But what bastardized systems unfold when women are socialized from an early age, “pretending, aka, lying”, to be twenty four- seven, well tempered, perfectly made up, hair did, needed areas sucked in and up. (hence the creation of spanks)?
News flash: ugly crying is a thing. Being messy, sweaty, dirty, natural, can still be feminine. Who created the parameters of what it means to be a woman, and why do I have to follow those rules if it’s not what makes me happy? Who is the mysterious Wizard of Oz, behind the cloak, calling us to this so-called truth?
I do not blame men or women, it is much bigger than black and white mentality. We are dealing with historical injustice, that does not go away with the right to vote, it still breeds under the surface and needs to be brought to light, for all genders to be liberated and free.
3. Wait for someone else to save you.
Cinderella waits patiently for her charming prince to come save her. She is portrayed as frail and fragile, needed a strong man to be her hero. This is extremely problematic when we are talking about Self Defense. If I, as a woman, only feel protected with a man around, I will then need to depend on a man, to be safe in the world. There will always be an underlying anxiety, that whispers, “You’re not okay alone.” Size does matter when we are discussing self defense. Biologically, men are built different than women.
But what if, from an early age, a woman can also undergo conditioning, to be strong, learn to use weapons, save herself and others, be independent and self sufficient? Using another 80’s music reference from Bonnie Tyler, “I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero til the end of the night, he’s gotta be bold, he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be larger than life.”
What is this song teaching our children, both male and female? I equally empathize with the socialization of men, encouraging, be the protector, be strong, be fearless, never show weakness, and have lots of money if you are to be desired. The lie goes both ways.
4. Red lips, rosy cheeks, and impossible waistlines are a thing.
In the Cinderella story, young girls are conditioned to think classic beauty will attract a man to take care of you. Through Cinderella’s rosy cheeks, red lips, hair of gold, and non existent waistline, the ideal prince, immediately swoops in to save the day and rescue Cinderella from her abusive household, to live happily ever after.
Instead of wearing the tattered dress she found of her mother’s, Cinderella’s fairy godmother, magically makes her into the belle of the ball, further instilling the value, “Looks are what matters.”
As times change, different female “attributes” have been added to the list of “beauty” Big lips, big butt, big boobs, and ageless skin.
How is this problematic when it comes to women and self defense? The amount of money women spend on make up, clothes, and body altering surgeries is astronomical. Butt jobs, boob jobs, lip injections, botox, hair removal, just to name a few. I am not saying these are bad in and of themselves. If a woman freely chooses to express herself in these ways, so be it. But imagine a world where women instead spent time and resources on getting stronger, training in something they love, being free and alive in their bodies instead of altering to fit an unattainable ideal? If the world tells me I am an object, I am at risk of internalizing this reality. It will be more difficult to interact as a human being, who has the ability to set boundaries and make choices. My self esteem and body image will suffer.
5. It’s okay to tolerate verbal abuse.
Cinderella was emotionally abused by her step mom and sisters. She was kind, gentle, did not talk back or rock the boat.
I live in DC. When any women walks down the street on any given day, there will most likely be at least three male cat-callers. We are taught to take it, ignore it, laugh it off, smile awkwardly, cross the street.
What would happen if instead we stood up for ourselves. Fought back? I understand women are generally physically smaller and when we are talking about self defense size matters greatly. But what if we were socialized in a different way? What if Cinderella, set boundaries with her step mom and sisters and said you can’t treat me like that. Even if she knew there would be confrontation? It is a systematic issue, that still needs to be addressed in order for gender equality to fully take place.
In conclusion, we are in desperate need of creating new stories. Women should feel liberated to be gentle and strong, fragile and ruthless, quiet and vocal, adorned and messy, a force and scared. Men should be able to feel all the same things. I am hopeful, as we work together, we can imagine new narratives for all genders to express freely who they were born to be and are courageous enough to become.
Join me in my upcoming Women’s Self Defense Programs.
Women, Wine and Self Defense Weekend:
Women’s Self Defense Series at Yoga Heights
Women, Wine and Self Defense, Friday nights