Snow White not much of a feminist after all
I suspected, going into Snow White and the Hunstman that it likely wouldn’t live up to its promotional bill as a feminist reboot. Gone, we were expected to excitedly believe, is the helpless princess waiting for the kiss of life from her handsome prince and in her place, a serious ass-kicking heroine.
Snow White and the Huntsman promised big and got many feminists excited in the process. Some feminist writers have praised the film for its so-called feminist sensibilities. Time’s Erika Christakis calls it an ‘a triumph of feminist storytelling’ because of its ‘fully dimensional’ female leads.
But does it deliver? Short answer: No. The screenwriters get credit for allowing Snow White (Kristen Stewart), to lead an army into battle against her evil stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who wants to eat her heart, thereby killing two birds with one stone; disposing of the only woman more beautiful than she is, and securing herself everlasting youth in the process. And beauty.
What had feminists excited was the rejection of the part of the original tale where the passive princess is saved by her prince. Rather, our 21st century Snow White, battles the evil queen literally to the death.
Except this is not really what happens (warning: serious spoilers ahead). Whilst Snow as she is affectionately called, does indeed don a suit of armor in order to take on her evil (aren’t they all?) stepmother, the skills she applies to destroy the queen (thrusting a dagger into her heart) is one taught to her by the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth). This would be the same Huntsman who shares the film’s title despite being a smaller character than Ravenna who shares equal screen time with Snow. A nod, perhaps, to all the male moviegoers that there’s something in here for them too? Cant be real action movie without a hero.
Then there’s the fact that Snow would not even have been able to engage in this bitter duel on account of being unconscious and all after taking a bite of the queen’s poison apple. So in actual fact, Snow White was saved by a man, not once but fully two times.
But none of this is as irritating –or damaging- as the film’s treatment of feminism and the beauty, purity and aging (horror of horrors) of women.
First to the feminism. In short feminists are expected to approve of the film because Snow kicks some evil witch butt. But who is this evil with whose butts gets kicked? Charlize Theron’s Ravenna is a Male Rights Advocates (MRA) wet dream, or worst nightmare depending on how you look at it. The quintessential ‘man-hating’ feminist (sample line: ‘Men use women!) who uses her past mistreatment at the hands of nameless men to destroy other men, and women too, because why not?
A favoured claim of MRAs is the ‘feminists don’t want equality they want to be superior to men’ argument and, unfortunately this film does nothing to dispel that. Ravenna hates men. Really, really hates, them. Not just powerful men, or evil men, or the specific men who wronged her. No, like all good angry straw-feminists Ravenna hates all men. She hates them so much she even killed a young, handsome man who was just the type she would have fallen for in her youth and who no doubt ‘would have broken (her) heart’.
Snow White, on the other hand, is as pure of heart as she is of body. In fact, the film goes to great lengths trying to flex its feminist credentials by informing us that Snow is loved ‘as much for her defiant spirit as her beauty’. Animals are drawn to her. Bridge trolls are placated and humbled by what can only be described as her feminine mystique. But still the fact remains, she is only a threat to the queen, and therefore of interest because of her physical beauty. Because the queen cannot stand not being the fairest in the land.
And what exactly is meant by ‘fair’? This is not just a reference to physical beauty but purity. Snow White has what the Queen can never regain, no matter how many souls of virgins she inhales- her virginity. ‘Only by fairest blood is it done, and only by fairest blood can it be undone.’ Indeed.
But all this pales in comparison to the film’s treatment of aging, which, frankly it seems to regard as a fate worse than death. But only for women, of course. There are many men depicted in various stages of their life cycles, but this warrants not a mention. Men are permitted to age. Women cannot for fear of being portrayed as ugly and haggard.
The irony of Hollywood making a commentary about the perils of aging for beautiful women should not be lost on anybody. Still, director Rupert Sanders valiantly tries to give Ravenna a back-story that implies her evilness stems from her correct realisation that an aging woman is worthless in a society that values women only for youth, virginity and beauty, but he does all of nothing to dispel this notion. Once the film has established Ravenna is a product of a sexist world that disparages women for having to audacity to age, he sets about destroying her.
As she lays dying, the blood draining from her wretched heart, her face dries up, her wrinkles deepen and multiply and we are forced, oh horror of horrors, to come face to face with the despicable sight of…an old woman.
Despite its new ‘feminist reboot’, what Snow White and the Huntsman tells us is neither new nor feminist. It is, as one astute blogger put it, “an attempt to gloss over the fact that at the heart of the original tale the message is that the aging vain woman should step aside in favor of youth and beauty.”
In the end, 36-year-old Charlize Theron is killed off by 22-year-old Kirsten Stewart. And if that isn’t the ultimate metaphor for the fate of Hollywood’s female actors, I don’t know what is.