Many fairy tales portray two women at odds with each other: a virtuous, innocent young woman being victimized by a cunning, ambitious older woman. We are meant to root against the older woman who can think for herself and the naive (usually blonde) young woman wins every time. This is especially evident in The Grimm’s “Snow White,” where a dark, evil witch attempts to kill the pure, young girl so that the witch will once again be the fairest woman in all the lands.
When we read fairy tales, we write off these disturbing notions of ideal femininity (innocence and virtue over ambition or wit) because of the social norms of the time that they were written, but Disney is still creating movies with these two dichotomous feminine roles and women who are eternally childlike, obedient and one-dimensional are beating out women who are ambitious and daring even today. The entire time I was reading “Snow White,” I imagined Taylor Swift (who won over both Lady Gaga and Beyonce at the Grammy’s in 2010) in my head.
There is still that deep dichotomy in modern culture and it is used to oppress women through a sexual double standard, establishing extremely rigid rules for female sexual behavior while allowing male sexual behavior to range from abstinence to promiscuity without similar social judgment.
The wide appeal of Taylor Swift seems a desperate attempt to infuse our increasingly socially liberal country with a palatable conservative ideology by means of a complacent, repressed feminine ideal. The insistence on conservative role models over the often-criticized oversexed women of pop music means girl-bashing boy-crazy rain-soaked anthems sung by a woman valued for her “purity” over her intelligence or even her talent.
While we like to believe that these “antiquated” notions about the ideal woman are, if not gone, at least being challenged today, we still find ourselves dressing up as Disney princesses and humming Taylor Swift songs under our breath. We still root for the girl in the bleachers over the cheerleader.