Monday, June 23, 2014

Frozen In Time: Why Disney's View of Women Fails To Be Progressive

Frozen has been a topic of conversation with some of my young female clients and I finally sat down with the DVD the other day to watch it. While Disney certainly created beautiful scenes and wonderful music, I was mainly eager to be introduced to a newly empowered Disney princess. Certainly the song “Let It Go” seemed all about embracing your true nature and personal power. How refreshing I thought to not have a princess in a coma, kidnapped, locked up, tricked or treated as a slave. Maybe even someone who didn't need to be rescued by a charming prince. I was certainly ready for a princess that was powerful, strong and who could use her abilities to govern wisely.

But, no, I was wrong. In Frozen, Elsa, the princess, has to be isolated and locked away, her powers a danger to everyone. Really Disney??? Are we still so unwilling to portray female power in a positive light?

If this story had a male prince with similarly out of control powers what would have happened? From Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter exceptional powers would be tamed and controlled through support, practice and wise counsel. Luke could consult with Yoda and Harry had Hogwarts and Dumbledore watching over him. In other words, a male would have been portrayed as mastering his powers and then with confidence taking on whatever leadership was needed. Why couldn't Elsa's parents have provided this for her? There could have been great scenes of her practicing her powers, making silly mistakes and then getting better and then taking full control of herself and her powers.

So, what instead, happens to Elsa? Elsa, having had no support or guidance, is fearful of her powers. After her coronation, she recognizes her lack of control, and fearing she will harm others, escapes. The song “Let It Go” comes from all the pent up frustration of having to suppress her exceptional powers. Of course, we've all felt this way. Either we've never been recognized for our uniqueness or have been asked to deny it. I think this universal feeling is why the song has been so popular.

Elsa belts out the song, elated at being able to exhibit her power and in so doing creates a magnificent ice castle and a new image. Elsa's physical transformation, though, is disturbing. She lets her hair down, dons a shimmering dress and is suddenly becomes a sexy Barbie doll. This is not a strong image of real power; it is, in fact, an image of dis­empowerment. There are no symbols of strength; her only freedom comes from her isolation. She is still fearful of her powers. Why couldn't her escape to the forest and high mountains have included finding a wise wizard or the original troll king to tutor her in managing her own powers?

When her sister Anna, comes to find her she is still fearful of hurting her and sends her away. Anna, though, isn't easily deterred because she is so glad to have Elsa back in her life. Elsa then resorts to creating a snow monster to scare her away. Perhaps I'm naive about movie plots, but couldn't this have been a perfect opportunity for the sisters to have an honest talk? Couldn't Elsa have told her about what happened when they were young and why she had to stay so guarded and fearful? Anna, whose memory had been erased, could then have understood their separation as not rejection, but her sister trying to protect her. Together they could have come up with some solutions.

I know the movie's moral is about sisterly loyalty and love and I'm all for sibling solidarity. I'm glad we were not subject to the “saved by the prince's kiss” theme, but this entire movie and even the ending were a disappointment to me. I was just hoping that this time Disney might have provided us with a fully empowered female heroine. Guess it's going to take awhile.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Complete Apology

My last blog was on apologies.  I thought I had found an effective formula for making a sincere apology, but I'm reconsidering my formula based on a blog I've just read.  It adds an aspect to apologies that I hadn't fully considered.   

At a teacher's training, blogger Jo Ellen was taught an approach to apologies that includes having the offending party consider why their behavior was wrong and how they'd change it in the future. I think this is an important expansion to the idea of apologies. My formulas for apologies focused on showing empathy to the person who was offended, but I think asking the offender to consider their own behavior is equally important.  Too often we say “we're sorry” automatically without truly considering how our behavior was out of line. When we have to think about our misbehavior, we articulate to ourselves what social norms we've crossed. We can't engage in excuses or blame someone else. This self reflection is not easy, and can make us uncomfortable or even ashamed, but perhaps this discomfort is needed to motivate us to change and consider new ways of acting in the future. 

So, what would adding this element to the example in my original blog look like? In my example, the offender is 15 minutes late for an appointment. The extended apology might sound something like this:    

“I'm sorry that I kept you waiting for 15 minutes. This is wrong because it annoyed and    inconvenienced you. I was not realistic about my schedule and being late is something I need to examine. In the future, I will not schedule things with you if I can't be on time. "

This is fully taking responsibility for behavior that has been hurtful. It articulates why it was wrong and what changes can be expected in the future.   

Jo Ellen also has a step that requests forgiveness: “Will you forgive me?” While I have a step that is about making amends, “How can I make this up to you?” I think that formally asking for forgiveness is important.  It's slightly different from making amends and should precede making amends.  Making this request gives the offended party the opportunity to choose whether or not to forgive. Whether the relationship is restored is now in their hands and it reverses the earlier power dynamics. Now the offender is vulnerable and dependent on the offended party's response.  Perhaps it equalizes things; perhaps this new balance creates the possibility of repair to their relationship.     

I have wondered if the step of making amends is necessary. It would seem that if you forgive someone, you do it without conditions. You accept that they are sorry for what they've done, they have understood the impact on you and will make changes in their behavior in the future. This sounds pretty thorough, but perhaps making amends allows an additional opportunity to check for any lingering feelings of resentment. What if the apology, while complete and sincere, doesn’t feel equal to the offense? Or what if this has been a repeated offense and only now is being truthfully addressed?  In either case, something more might be needed. 

Adding amends then makes sense. It might act as a safeguard to assure that things really feel resolved for both parties. If things feel resolved the offended party would just assert that they don't need anything else to happen.Yet, if something else is needed, an additional act might make the difference. In my example, maybe being late was a frequent offense, so agreeing to do some service would indicate a serious commitment to change. A repair act might be paying for dessert or arranging an outing to the movies, or performing some chore, etc. It will be unique for each person, but hopefully it will be a reasonable request that acts to equalize things and restore the prior friendship.

While these new elaborations might seem cumbersome, hopefully their thoroughness can best reduce resentment and get relationships back on tract. Below is my new formula for giving a complete apology.

“ This was my fault and I'm sorry for ... 
   a. Be specific - being late, calling you names, not telling the truth  

“This is wrong because.......
 a. Describe how your behavior was misguided 
 b. Describe how it hurt the other person    

“I keep you waiting and wasn't thinking of you. You were inconvenienced and made to feel unimportant.”
“I was unkind and called you names. I didn't act like a friend and it hurt your feelings. “
“I told a lie and acted like I didn't do something when I did. You told the truth and got punished and I didn't.”

 a. Emphasize what you will do differently in the future. Not what you won't do

“I'll watch the time and I won't be late when we've scheduled a time to get together.”
“I will keep my mean words to myself until I've calmed down.”
“I will tell the truth even when I'm afraid of the punishment.”


“ How can I make this up to you?”

Here is Jo Ellen’s blog “A Better Way to Say Sorry”