Monday, January 25, 2016

I’ve recently begun to wonder how accurate my view of the role of women in the 1930’s (and other decades) truly is. I’ve always assumed that women were housewives and didn’t work outside the house, yet at the same time I knew that couldn’t be completely true. Women were nurses, and teachers, and librarians, and secretaries. Heck, during WWI and WWII, they worked in the factories while the men went overseas to fight in the war.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints 
I can hear you asking, “But Mary, what does this have to do with Snow White?” Well, let me explain.

When I first came up with the idea for these posts, I thought it would be interesting to see how the role of women in society was reflected (or not) in these classic stories and movies. Did the female MC role development from damsel in distress to savior of the prince/kingdom follow the changing role of women in society? Well, if you go by the dates the stories were written, the answer would be no.  But I’ll talk more about that when we get to Mulan. For now, let’s take a look at Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

"Offterdinger Schneewitchen (2)" by Offterdinger 

In the Disney animation film of 1937, Snow White is portrayed as a domestic worker. She cooks and cleans for the dwarfs in exchange for her room and board. How does that relate to women in the 1930’s? According to the US Census, out of the eleven million working women (24.3% of women 14 and older) almost ⅓ worked in domestic or personal service. Therefore, I find that Snow White is a good reflection of society’s perception of the working woman.

But, then Prince Charming comes into the picture, and things change. It isn’t a leap to assume that Snow White marries Charming and leaves her working days behind her. And, in the 1930’s, it appears to have been similar for the working woman.

It was frowned upon for married women to hold jobs. Single, working women were seen as “helping out their families”, yet a married, working woman was perceived as “taking a job from a man”. During the Depression, laws were even created to prevent more than one family member from working for the government.

"Franz Jüttner Schneewittchen 2" by Franz Jüttner
In conclusion, it appears that Snow White is a good representation of women in the 1930’s. I also believe that if Snow White was adapted to the screen today, there would be some stark differences in the way the famous Disney Princess would be portrayed. Our movies have moved away from the helpless damsel-in-distress to women who can and do fight for what they want/need. Not that they don't ask for or receive help, but they aren't waiting on the sidelines for the guy to save the day. I think a modern interpretation of Snow White would have a smarter heroine, one who didn't fall so easily for the evil queen's tricks. What do you think?


  1. Please be right that a modern woman would be more savvy than SW. Great images and I really enjoyed reading your blogpost. :)

    1. Hi, Cathy! Thanks for stopping by.

      A modern SW would have to be more savvy. I can't picture a current one ignoring all the warnings of the dwarfs to not talk to any strangers.

      Glad you liked the pictures. I had fun looking through some old images and picking these from them.

  2. This gave me some food for thought. We assume that everyone in our culture enjoys all of the new situations that arise in a given decade, but many are still left behind, depending on income level, etc. There are still a lot of "Snow Whites" that are victimized by step parents, and their lives have a different trajectory: neither rescue by a Prince Charming or a personal "getaway" to a new life of their own making. It's our ideal that young women become self-sufficient and make their own way in life, but many don't. I think, though, new versions of old tales can put out the ideals to inspire them.

    1. What a great point, Elizabeth. All of us view the past (present and future, too!) through our own "colored glasses." The experiences we've had in life color our outlook different than those with different experiences. So, looking through my "colored glasses" while researching, I didn't stop to think about how someone in a different life-experience would relate to Snow White.

      I hadn't really considered Snow White's tale from the perspective of she was bettering her position in life, as to me, that's more Cinderella. But, if you look at the story as her fleeing for her life from her abusive step-mother, and creating a new life where she is safe and happy, I can see the correlation.

      Perhaps a modern version focusing on this perspective would be something to help someone find the tools and resources they need to find their own safe and happy life.

      Thanks for putting those thoughts out there! I can feel a story brewing from this discussion!

  3. What a concept to look at these characters through a new lens. When I was reading about Snow White working for the dwarfs, it got me thinking about today's minimum wage increases. Would Snow White as a modern-day princess be able to make it on a $9.00 an hour paycheck? I wonder. Thanks for the fun thought!

    1. Thanks, Meg!

      Hmm. $9/hr. I think if Snow White was a modern, resourceful young woman she would be able to make due at that rate. She'd certainly have to forgo the balls and be a penny pincher, but for the short term, I think she'd do okay. Unless she didn't listen to the dwarfs again, and gave all her money to the poor old woman who wanted her dead!!


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