Most women and girls have read the book “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott and many of us have seen the movies that followed. This past week, my daughter and I went to see the latest rendition of this popular movie. It was beautifully done with great acting. I recommend this movie whether you are a “Little Women” fan or not.
When I was a little kid my maternal grandmother, “Mammy,” spent a lot of time with me. Not only did I learn practical lessons about life from her, I subconsciously learned what it was like to be a loving and giving person. While I haven’t always followed her example, I know she was a big influence on the adult I became.
One of the things that I recall about Mammy is that she always offered visitors to her humble home, whether family or friends, something to eat. It might have only been a homemade biscuit and jam or perhaps a glass of iced tea, but something from the kitchen would be provided.
She was also a good neighbor. My grandmother could be called upon to help deliver a baby or sit with a sick friend. She had no telephone but would be fetched in person by a knock on the door of her tiny little house.
Many memories of Mammy include flowers. She raised various types and two kinds stand out in my memory. First were the hollyhocks:
Hollyhock is an odd name for a flower, but oh the potential of these plants in Mammy’s hands. She spent hours with me making beautiful “girls” who we then used in all kinds of pretend stories and adventures. All it took was a toothpick for the backbone that held everything together and a stalk of hollyhocks. Different size blooms, inverted, made the attire and a head was fashioned from an unopened bud. Facial features could be made by piercing the bud with the toothpick. The puncture points then darkeded for eyes, nose and mouth. Each girl ended up looking like a southern belle ready for a plantation ball. I wish I had some hollyhocks so that I could create one for you, but this marked-up photo is the best I can do. I hope your imagination does the rest.
“I know what it is like to be brought up with unconditional love. In my life that came from my grandmother.” Andre Leon Talley
Bedtime was a mixture of feeling both happiness and dread. After our prayers, Mom or Dad and at times both, would tuck us in and give us a hug and kiss.
That felt so good. Then we heard those words I dreaded, “Sleep tight” and Dad would usually add “don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
Before they left the room I had already grabbed my little sister’s gown or pajamas and was holding as tightly as I could. I wasn’t worried about bedbugs. I had never seen a bedbug. I was worried about something much more significant, losing my sister!
Ever since they put her in my bed and told me to take care of her, I’ve slept tight every night to be sure she doesn’t get lost. She’s such a little girl (I’m big) that she could get lost so easily.
Recently I read the true story of young women who lost their health and their lives due to exposure to radium on their jobs. Several aspects of this tragedy stand out in my mind, but especially the fact that girls were hired as young as thirteen to work six days a week. Throughout the years that followed they were still referred to as “girls” no matter their ages. The radium dial companies they worked for kept important information about the dangers of radium from them and treated them as expendable. These young women had no way to know that the pretty glow that showed on their clothes, hair, and bodies was slowly poisoning them.
As they suffered tooth loss, amputations, sarcomas and extreme pain these brave women eventually fought courageously for the truth and for monetary compensation. Their suffering and their efforts resulted in workplace regulations still in place today and even safeguards in the manufacture of the atomic bomb.
I highly recommend “The Radium Girls”by Kate Moore. The story begins around 1917 and covers the WWI and WWII eras and well into the 1970s. The results of the courage of these “ghost girls” protect us all even today in the 21st Century.
“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of.” Bethany Hamilton
Since the “Year of the Woman” 1992, 1993, 1994, etc., at least one woman has remained in a position of power, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. We owe tribute to her. She deserves all the recognition and honor that has been bestowed upon her to this point and more. This eighty-one year old may look frail, but I see her as strong as steel. Ginsberg is not the only woman who has served on the Supreme Court or even the first. She is not the longest serving Justice, either, but she was appointed in 1993, almost twenty-five years ago and she serves with strength and dignity.
Is it possible that the so-called “me too” movement currently sweeping the US will be the turning point for women? Is it likely that women will finally be treated with equity? I want to be optimistic, but I am not, at this point, even hopeful. What will it take? I do not know, but I do know what is at stake.
At stake is every inch of progress made to date. At stake are healthcare and childcare and the overall economic stability of women and their families. In 2016 the pay gap for women was 20%! According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research if progress continues at the rate of the past fifty years it will be 2059 before there is pay equity between women and men. For women of color, it will be well into the next century. https://iwpr.org/issue/employment-education-economic-change/pay-equity-discrimination/
What is the answer? If only it were that simple, but there are many changes that must be made and while men are important to this cause and their support is essential, it is women who must step up.
Run for office
Vote in each election
Expect (demand) more
We might begin by recognizing their strength and intellect ahead of their appearance
Support other women politically, in business and personally.
These are a few things that come to mind at the moment but there are many more. Let’s not be afraid of the fight. The suffragettes endured real physical pain for the right to vote and if you aren’t sure about that, I challenge you to see the 2004 movie, “Iron Jawed Angels” now available free on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOrD0tH_WaM
If you have not seen this movie, please watch it, show it to your daughters and your granddaughters. While we’re at it, let’s include the men and boys. We all need to know this history.
“Paradoxically, the most constructive thing women can do is to write, for in the act of writing we deny our muteness and begin to eliminate some of the difficulties that have been put upon us.” Dale Spender
Whether we write, speak or teach . . . . No matter how we lead, the important thing is that we be not mute!
I have a lovely neighbor who I’ve known for five years. Her name is Nancy. For some reason each time I think of her I think her name is “Marilyn.” She doesn’t look like a Marilyn and I have no idea why this thought comes to me.
Several years ago I met a very nice friend of my daughter’s and her name is also Nancy. I immediately started calling her “Helen.” She does look like a Helen, I think, but it is not the name her parents chose for her.
Last year a met a friend of a friend whose name is . . . you guessed it, Nancy. Guess what I thought her name was? “Janet,” I called her Janet in emails about our meeting. I still think of her as Janet. Since she is a Viet Nam vet I’m very glad that she is so pleasant and understanding.
After much thought, I believe I have figured out what is wrong with me concerning this name. As I shared in a post on October 26th of last year, once I was Nancy.
In spite of learning so much more about Beauty and the Beast, I still suspect that Beauty and many other females in fairy tales suffer from Stockholm syndrome. I would prefer this story:
A close review of old stories for children, even nursery rhymes, and songs, contain thinly veiled topics that few would find healthy for young children. Some subject matter that comes to mind includes poverty, patriarchy, arranged marriages, cannibalism, incest, and beastiality. (I sure wish I had not used Google to find the correct spelling of that last word!)
The country of origin seems to have little influence on whether the tale is age appropriate. Beauty and the Beast was written in France as we learned in the last post, Aesop’s Fables are from Greece, Hans Christian Andersen was Danish and the Brothers Grimm were German.
Again I am guilty of jumping to conclusions without complete information because when I started reading full versions of many nursery rhymes I found that I was only familiar with part of the story. For instance, I had only heard the first verse of Baa Baa Black Sheep. Did you know that the last verse is about a zebra? There are workable theories that this rhyme is based on slavery or unfair taxing, but we won’t go there today.
Again I had not read or heard all of Little Bow Peep. Did you know that when she found her sheep it “made her heart bleed” because of the loss of their tails? I’m not sure what it is about tails but TheThree Blind Mice had theirs surgically removed by the farmer’s wife!
Poor Humpty Dumpty is mortally crushed in a fall. Everyone knows I suppose that Peter held his wife captive in a pumpkin shell and Jack sustained a skull fracture which Jill tried to replicate as she came tumbling after.
Maybe it is the nurse in me, but I see emergency departments filled with these casualties. Perhaps you’re seeing it reported on cable news or from the viewpoint of law enforcement.
I would be willing to bet that you have either sung “Rock-a-bye Baby” or had it sung to you. Did you, like me, picture that sweet fragile baby crashing to the ground when the windstorm breaks the limb upon which its cradle was hung? Could it be that the words really do not matter at all? Is it conceivable that the only thing that matters is that someone is lovingly singing a lullaby?
You may wonder what these four posts entitled Beauty are about and if so my job here is done. I want you to wonder, to question. I am interested in thoughts this series might have prompted. I would like to know your opinions, your favorite or least favorite children’s story, whether you reached any conclusions. Please share in the comments. Thank you.
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes is brilliant. It seems much more like an adult tale than a child’s, but regardless there is such a valuable lesson contained in this story. It isn’t sing-song verse nor does it rhyme. It does not frighten but manages to carry a profound message.
I have thought about those quotes from well-known men and my thoughts follow each in red:
“A beautiful woman with a brain is like a beautiful woman with a club foot.” Bernard Cornfeld This crook millionaire is dead now.
“The highest prize in the world of men is the most beautiful woman available on your arm and living there in her heart loyal to you.” Norman Mailer And besides all the women he had relationships with, he married six others, one whom he stabbed twice in the abdomen.
“There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.” Tom WolfeHe has a Ph.D. from Yale and has had an outstanding career as a writer. Since he has only had one wife one would assume she must be a really good cook.
“It’s the combination of marrying a beautiful woman three decades younger and my iPad that keeps me young.” Bruce ForsythHe was married three times and lived to be eighty-nine so apparently, his last young wife, a beauty queen, did keep him young. Or perhaps it was just the iPad?
“Surrounding myself with beautiful women keeps me young.” Hugh Hefner This old fart finally died in spite of all his beautiful Playboy Bunnies.
“My addiction has always been to beautiful women, being surrounded by them.” Corey FeldmanYeah, well okay, but you are no prize and you are also only 5’5” tall so it is doubtful they surround you for the reason that you believe.
BEAUTY – Maybe only skin deep, but so very essential for the female it seems.
BEAST – Was he really?
As I said earlier I often come to my conclusions and hold steadfastly to them without knowing the whole story. All I knew was that Beauty fell in love with a big hairy animal. I saw that as unacceptable on every level. Why must a female be so needy as to accept this as her fate? One reader pointed out that Beauty was good-natured and kind and that her virtues were rewarded. I had not gotten close enough to give much consideration to anything except what I saw as inequality.
My Granddaughter (the same one who insisted I watch Frozen) knowing my strong feelings about the lack of egalitarianism in fairy tales as well as life, in general, asked me recently if I knew the backstory of Beauty and the Beast. I did not, but I do now. She explained that he was not really a beast, but a young prince who had been cursed by a wicked fairy. Only the love of a beautiful young girl could break the curse, but he was not allowed to tell Beauty that. She referred me to a group of podcasts that tell an earlier “non-Disneyfied” version of the tale. As I listened to the podcasts I learned that this was a complex story involving multiple cultures, families, communities, and fairies both good and bad. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/tales/id1345709834?mt=2
It was shocking to learn how long this story has been around and how much it has and yet has not changed over the centuries. My interest being kindled I began to research more about the origins and found that the original was written in France in 1740. The original author was Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve but in an interview with the BBC http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-35358487 Dr. Jamie Tehrani stated: “Some of these stories go back much further than the earliest literary record and indeed further back than Classical mythology – some versions of these stories appear in Latin and Greek texts – but our findings suggest they are much older than that.” If this researcher is correct then such stories began as oral tales perhaps as long as 4,000 years ago.
Another interesting theory is that the Beast was based on a true story. There are paintings from 1580 of a man named Petrus Gonsalvus who had long hair on his entire body and face, a condition called “hypertrichosis” or “Ambras Syndrome.” Gonsalvus as a child was abducted to the court of King Henry II who was reportedly interested in peculiarities. He was kept on as a court jester until the death of the King. After a marriage was arranged by the late King’s wife through trickery he was allowed to leave with his surprised (horrified?) wife. They had seven children, three of whom had the same genetic syndrome and who were removed from the home to please other wealthy royalty.
The original tome by Barbot de Villeneuve was first abridged in 1756 and then again in 1889. Since that time it has evolved through books, on stage as an opera and ballet and in movies. It has even been on television including The Hallmark Hall of Fame. When I’ve considered TheBeauty and the Beast up until the past couple of weeks I had no idea that its history went back perhaps to the Bronze Age. Does that make its story better? Does it make it more acceptable? Apparently, it does for it to have endured so long and to have been enjoyed by so many.
Some reader comments indicate you may be expecting an actual book, but I am sorry it does not exist. I’ve only gotten to the title because I know that actually writing the book would be an enormous waste of time. No publisher would be interested in a book with my title.
Handsome guy, right? My book would have him falling in love with an ugly hag. Can you picture him dancing with or kissing such an old woman? Of course, you can’t because it has never happened and it never will. There’s no money in that story! There is no reality in that story.
For centuries, however, the opposite plot has been accepted and even expected. The book Beauty and the Beast has been read to children for generations. The three movies by the same name have been attended by families since the first one was released in the 1940s. I would love to know how many children may have asked their parents why the beautiful girl was in the arms of the big hairy monster. I wonder how many parents were uncomfortable with the storyline.
“Handsome and the Hag”
Some food for thought:
“A beautiful woman with a brain is like a beautiful woman with a club foot.” Bernard Cornfeld
“The highest prize in the world of men is the most beautiful woman available on your arm and living there in her heart loyal to you.” Norman Mailer
“There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.” Tom Wolfe
“It’s the combination of marrying a beautiful woman three decades younger and my iPad that keeps me young.” Bruce Forsyth
“Surrounding myself with beautiful women keeps me young.” Hugh Hefner
“My addiction has always been to beautiful women, being surrounded by them.” Corey Feldman
As a parent, I have often felt quite guilty about not watching cartoons and other animated children’s programs with my daughters while they were growing up. A few were acceptable, but those based on fairy tales definitely were not. A reader recently commented here that fairy tales are often very dark and I agree, however my main objection has always been that females are portrayed as weak and submissive and their value equated with their physical beauty.
Snow White wasn’t even alive until a male came along and brought her to life with a kiss. At least I think that’s what it was about. Sometimes I take a quick look or hear a few words and then establish my emphatic opinion. I’ve recently learned that is often the wrong approach. Regardless, I am sure that black and brown little girls find it difficult to identify with Snow White.
When our daughters were small their Father watched cartoons and children’s stories with them on TV. I don’t think I ever watched even Bambi all the way through, but I remember the word “twitterpated” and was surprised when I looked it up just now and learned it did not have the sexual connotation that I had always believed.
I did not have patience with musicals either. A couple of years ago my grown-up granddaughter asked me to watch the animated movie, Frozen, with her. It was not her first time to see it and I felt she wanted to see if I’d softened up any over the years so I agreed. Perhaps it is because our family is not musically inclined but I’ve just never heard any of us break out in song. It is unnatural! The main characters, Elsa and Anna were undeniable beauties, of course.
Beauty and the Beast
Photos courtesy of Disneyclips.com
That brings me to the story Beauty and the Beast which I detested long before the smash hit Disney movie was released last year. I loathe the very name. Why would a beautiful young girl fall in love with an ugly hairy monster? Each time I heard the title I would think, “How could they in this day and age? Aren’t we even trying to encourage little girls to be strong and independent?” Of course, I have not seen the movie. Aware that it was an age-old children’s book I even felt a little superior that, as a parent, I had not read this book and others like it to my daughters.
For many years I have fantasized about writing my own children’s book and it would definitely have a different theme than those relying on beauty to determine a girl’s worth. I’ve had the title for so long that if I even begin to talk about it my granddaughters chime in with it before I can get it out.
My children’s book idea coming up in the next post! Stick around.
There is little doubt why there were very large families at the beginning of the 20th Century. The Complete Guide to Prevention and Cure of Disease, which was no doubt the prevalent thinking of the time, provided a very long and detailed chart outlining fertile and barren periods in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, it was dead wrong. The chart lists the days at the beginning and end of the cycle as “probable fertile” and the middle of the cycle which is we now know when ovulation occurs as “probable barren.” By accident, a couple of the “probable fertile” days may have been in fact fertile.
Birth control is not a subject of these chapters on Sexology and I am glad. No way would I care to describe here the method most common at that time. We’ll just move on to determining whether the “babe” will be a boy or a girl. This book seems very confident in opinions regarding choosing the sex of a child.
Will the “Babe” be a boy or a girl?
We know today that the male sperm determines the sex of a baby. We’ve had more than a century to study and learn, so it is unfair, I suppose, to make fun of the 1910 thinking. But hey, that’s up to you. Here’s what the manuscript says in direct quote or paraphrase:
“The ovary is undoubtedly the predominant factor.”
“Nutritional disturbances” such as diabetes are more likely to lead to the birth of a girl.
“Emotion” is a factor in sex determination and the soul pervades every element of our bodies with either pleasure or pain.
To conceive the desired sex, during intercourse (or coitus as Sheldon of “Big Band Theory” would say) ones’ mental recollections should be pleasant and calm.
Experiments were made using cows and horses resulting in eight (8) different conditions that influenced the sex of a calf or colt, including the age, strength, health and work history of each animal parent.
These animal observations were then applied to human parents.
Want a Boy?
The husband must partake of “substantial food, exercise in open air and indulge in light literature.” He should also not “indulge” himself for a few days prior to intercourse. The wife should eat a vegetarian diet, exercise daily to almost fatigue and spend some time with older women. She should also take certain extracts which are listed.
Want a Girl?
Do the opposite! The wife should eat animal food, not “indulge her passions” and keep all her “vigor for the desired time.” The husband should do “exercise to fatigue,” and take a “sitz bath of cold rock-salt water” morning and night.
Final Sexology Warning
Above all take “Care of the Passions.” The book cautions that those who are reckless in this respect will “Produce disorders of the nervous system. Messengers of evil or of good are ever passing” through the reflex centers of the brain, stomach, and genitals and “to touch one is to touch all.”
I agree because one of Oprah’s statements, in particular, bears repeating and remembering: “What I know for sure is that speaking the truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”
Thank you, Oprah and Lula. While truth has always been crucial, this is a time when women must not only be truthful but also demand truth from others. Truth, spoken by both women and men can bring about, finally, the transformation needed for women and girls to truly be equal . . . in respect, in compensation, in power.