The Toxic Gender Role Dance

Okay, I'm attempting to simmer down. I just finished another viewing of the animated Disney classic, "Sleeping Beauty."

Like a lot females out there, I have a complicated love/hate view of this fairytale princess depiction.

Over the years, I have bought into, absorbed, aspired to be like and have been resentful of this ingénue archetype. I have run the gamut of emotions, largely because of the all-important beauty factor which is mandatory for our young princess heroine.

It was all I could do to get through this latest viewing of the film.

For, right off the bat, we have our staple Disney music, chiming in, emphasizing just how beautiful our "Sleeping Beauty" is...
"One gift, my gift of beauty, gold of sunshine in her hair.
Lips that shame the red red rose. She'll walk with springtime
wherever she goes."

Sure, no problem there. I always walk with springtime wherever I go. Sounds completely realistic.

And, eventually, we're at a critical moment in the story: our lead character, Aurora, is age sixteen, the magic age of blossomed beauty.

However, unfortunately, central to our fairytale plot, this reality is also entwined with a death curse from our villain, Maleficent.

As Roseanne Roseannadanna famously quipped, "It's always something."

Anyway, back to Aurora.

As she faces her sixteen-year-old self, one of her trusty-dusty protector fairies places a crown on the teen's head and punctuates the moment with rhyme...
"A crown to wear in grace and beauty/as is thy right and royal duty."
(Me, rolling my eyes) Here we go again.

However, before we all lose our crowned heads, let's get an animated reality check of what young Aurora does after this adornment: she cries.

And, as strange as it may sound, I appreciate that moment and see a profound, truth-telling lesson there. Beauty does not instantly, perfectly and forever make a person happy. It is not the all-encompassing "cure-all."

"Fearfully and wonderfully made..."

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… Psalm 139:14

I often write about and explore this scripture. It has been instrumental to my own healing of image and disorder issues.

And, at first glance, yes, we can focus on physical appearance.

Indeed, how many benefits come when a person can accept and embrace his/her face and body, as is?

Yet, in solely focusing on the physicality of that scripture, we do ourselves a disservice. We ignore, downplay or malign any and every other component of who we are.

"Fearfully and wonderfully made," in short, is not just about appearance.

So, with that in mind, let's look at a number of attributes to also acknowledge and honor. Embracing the totality of who we are, body, mind, spirit and soul is healthy.

And isn't that what recovery is all about?

A Good Sense of Humor:

A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken. Proverbs. 15:13

I can already hear the murmuring and giggling. You and I know what this phrase means. It is often code for "ugly."

We have heard this wording used to describe a person, usually female, who is less-than-aesthetically- pleasing. It can be a desperate selling point when arranging a blind date.

Yet, this good sense of humor thing cannot be underestimated.

"Humor is mankind's greatest blessing."
~Mark Twain

Indeed.

Science has even weighed in on the health benefits of a merry heart.

  • Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
  • "Laughter is the Best Medicine" http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm

Therefore, let's get to guffawing!

And again, returning to our sweet little Aurora, we really don't see much wit emanating from her.

While she is, of course, sweet natured (she's our heroine, after all), if there's any humor captured within the fairytale, it usually involves those adorable Disney woodland creatures being, well, adorable Disney woodland creatures. And the interplay between those critters and Aurora has more to do with how enchanted they are by her beauty, including her beautiful voice trilling ingénue melodies.

No one was astounded by her clever observations or her sardonic wit.

Nope.

Just a beautiful blonde damsel singing her beautiful blonde head off in the forest.

Moving on, we still have more "Fearfully and wonderfully made" attributes to cover.

Personality:
Once again, this word is also often used to describe "ugly." It is as if personality and beauty cannot occur simultaneously.

So, with that being said, let's hold up Aurora and see how she registers. Apart from her sweet nature, does she really have a personality to her?

"Sugar and Spice and everything nice" is a rhyming ideal we often set before the female gender. But is that at the expense of a deeper human being?

Where is personality encouraged in Aurora?

In her exile to the woods, in an attempt to save her life, did she ever question, let alone, challenge, why things were as they were?

Did she find it necessary to expand her world view? Probably not. She simply carried on, singing, interacting with cute animals.

She did, however, mention her displeasure about not being around people, but it didn't go any further than that. Part of the reason, perhaps, was that she voiced this complaint to woodland creatures. Still, there was no teenage rebellion, no attempt to discover herself. Just sweet disposition Aurora.

Now, I'm not against a sweet disposition; indeed, that is a personality trait. Neither am I encouraging youth rioting. No.

But, in the case of many a fairytale princess, Aurora included, as long as the beauty criteria is met (and it is), that seems to be where the character development stops.

And again, that's a disservice - to both genders.

For we need to embrace the contradiction, the complexity, the duality of who we are. We need to stop suppressing, denying or judging those realities.

Human beings are multifaceted. We can be sweet...and not so sweet. We can be patient and impetuous. We can be spontaneous and deliberate. We can be thoughtful and silly. We can be so much, co-existing simultaneously.

And, that's not to be condemned. It's to be celebrated.

After all, look Who is doing some celebration about imperfect us already?

The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

If we dare to look at the trait of personality for its potential, we see there is power and benefit. And again, that can transcend beauty.

"When we read about the lives of famous people, we often see how personal values guided them, propelling them to the top of their fields. This is the power of every individual's personality."~"Power of Personality," http://www.personalitydevelopment.org/power-of-personality.html,/em>

We're still not done; we have more "Fearfully and wonderfully made" traits to explore.

Kindness:
This attribute is powerful, possessing tremendous relevance and meaning.

According to The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, some of the benefits include:

  • A rush of euphoria, followed by a longer period of calm, after performing a kind act is often referred to as a "helper's high", involving physical sensations and the release of the body's natural painkillers, the endorphins. This initial rush is then followed by a longer-lasting period of improved emotional wellbeing.
  • Stress-related health problems improve after performing kind acts. Helping reverses feelings of depression, supplies social contact, and decreases feelings of hostility and isolation that can cause stress, overeating, ulcers, etc.
  • A drop in stress may, for some people, decrease the constriction within the lungs that leads to asthma attacks.
  • Regular club attendance, volunteering, entertaining, or faith group attendance is the happiness equivalent of getting a degree or more than doubling your income.
  • ~"The Health Benefits of Kindness," https://caydenskindness.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/the-health-benefits-of-kindness

So, with all of those perks, you would think there would be more emphasis on its importance in our culture.

Yet, from the earliest ages of childhood, we see a quite different reality concerning the kindness issue.

  • 160,000 students miss school every day because of intimidation or the fear of an attack.
  • Nearly 10 percent of high school girls say they've been in a physical fight within the past 12 months."
  • ~Centers For Disease Control and Prevention Report, 2004"Chicks and Cliques Confronts Mean Girls," ABC News http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2674112&page=1

These statistics were given a pop culture name via a 2004 movie which was box office gold, "Mean Girls."

And, although Aurora was not considered to be a mean girl, we did not, necessarily, see intentional acts of kindness from her.

This is not to "bully" our "Sleeping Beauty."

Rather, it's to illustrate how, again, our attention appears to stop at her beauty.

That shouldn't come as a surprise.

After all...

…the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

Yeah.

Still, that doesn't get us off the hook. We are instructed we need to be kind. And the Proverbs 31 Woman template certainly doesn't provide us any excuse.

She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. Proverbs 31:20

But it's not just directed at the female gender; kindness is the call to everyone.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32

And, that's what makes the kindness trait so powerful - and dangerous if it is absent.

Whether it's females or males, what is the message being taught?

    Do we place an enormous amount of pressure on the females to be kind, at all cost, while giving males an excuse to ignore the character trait because, "boys will be boys?"

    Do we reinforce how, really, all that matters is the outward appearance?

    Do we model the toxic gender role dance, teaching both sexes to disregard anything which doesn't appear as an outward manifestation of aesthetically pleasing image and beauty?

Anything short of appreciating, modelling and living the spirit of kindness, again, does us a disservice.

We need to wake up to that truth.

Moving on to our next "Fearfully and wonderfully made" trait, we turn our attention to... Wisdom.

WISDOM is the principal thing. Therefore get WISDOM... Proverbs 4:7

But do we always get it?

Come on, what do you think?

Nevertheless, again, there are benefits concerning intelligence: and that's just involves the information factor.

  • The brain is a physical organ, and like other organs or muscles in the body it can be trained to be fitter and more efficient.
  • Your IQ is not just your ability to solve problems – it is a measure of your overall brain fitness and efficiency.
  • Brain plasticity – the ability of brain to reorganize itself by growing new brain cells or connections.
  • Energy supply to the brain – particularly when it's working hard
  • With a smarter brain, there are all-round cognitive benefits for attentional focus and grit, problem solving efficiency, learning capacity and memory – much like there are all-round physical benefits to being in good shape physically. ~"High IQ & Intelligence Benefits," http://www.highiqpro.com/high-iq-benefits

Indeed, data, facts and figures all scratch the spiritual surface of this life-altering characteristic. For wisdom is the application of vital resources...
"the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment."

And, if we look to Aurora for this trait, we are left wanting.

A large part of that lackluster display of wisdom is her age. She's all of sixteen years old. Not to pick on teenagers, but there is a wisdom which only comes with age.

Life experience - or the lack thereof - impacts the reality of wisdom.

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Proverbs 4:6-7

And, as mentioned earlier concerning the personality trait, there did appear to be a lack of complexity to Aurora.

This was even in spite of her traumatic circumstances: death curse wished upon her, uprooted from her parents and exile to the forest to live hidden from view.

That naïve perspective, therefore, did not trigger the much needed discernment required, especially as she wandered into encounters with
Maleficent and, of course, that dreaded spinning wheel.

As isolated, young and unquestioning as she was, she did not pause to consider such things as ulterior motives, jealousy and reality of a dangerous world.

Nope.

Perhaps it had to do with, again, those cute woodland critters. I suppose if you're inundated with enough adorable bluebirds and squirrels, harmonizing with you, telling you how magnificent you are, life might look quite rosy.

And, again, the harmful fairytale message surfaces. It states how being beautiful is, indeed, enough to save you and, of course, make your way in the world. There is no need for knowledge, critical thinking and going beyond surface level images. Just go along your merry little way and be beautiful. It's nothing to worry your pretty little head about.

Scripture, however, contradicts fairytale. Indeed, there is spiritual importance placed on wisdom.

Again, we return to the Proverbs 31 Woman.

She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue. Proverbs 31:26

We just can't seem to get away from her. Yet, however unfairly, there is the expectation- if not full-on pressure- for the female gender to, in one way or another, "have it all together." Unrealistic? Yes.

Yet, no matter how we slice it, wisdom is doable. After all, we each have the fruit of the spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

The question we need to answer for ourselves is this: do I cooperate with that fruit?

I know. It's maddening.

Yet, there IS method to the madness.

I am focusing so much of the inaccurate image message of "Sleeping Beauty" and other like fairytales precisely because the sentiments they espouse have little-to-nothing to do with actual, relevant life. They promise an arrival of a perfect Prince Charming (snicker here) and a "happily ever after" kingdom in which no one ever has a bad day again.
Now, I am a romantic; I "love love." But come on!

And this leads back to the de-emphasis of what is truly important: those non-superficial character traits. Yes, it is about the inner beauty stuff trumping the outer beauty.

It's not because beauty is bad. Rather, it's because the comprehensive, complex person has a better chance to experience the opened door of potential.

But as it is written, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9

What if, all this focus on the external distracts us - and keeps us - from our truly unique untapped potential?

What if we miss out on our purpose by obsessing on some subtle form of fairytale mirror?

Or worse: what if we never see ourselves - and accept ourselves - as the spectacular, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, purpose-filled creation of the Most High?

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him. Colossians 1:16

That would truly be a shame.

Furthermore, it would be negligence of our true "right and royal duty."

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. Romans 8:17

There is simply too much greatness in us to permit that from happening, save one thing: our will.

What will we do then with that?


Copyright by Sheryle Cruse.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Sheryle is the author of
Thin Enough: My Spiritual Journey Through the Living Death of an Eating Disorder.
Visit her web site: http://www.freewebs.com/daughterarise

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